A Straw That Obtains Water from Soil and a Thermal Energy-Generating Water Purifier Among the Winning Entries In Smithsonian-Cricket Media's Invent It Challenge


Natural disasters have been on the rise for over a decade, threatening the lives and homes of people and their loved ones across the world, but if the highly original concepts and inventions proposed by students around the globe as part of the 7th Annual Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge are any indicator, help in preparing for and getting relief from such disasters is on its way. Cricket Media, in partnership with the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, is pleased to announce the winners of this year's annual challenge, which received more than 210 entries from across the U.S. and Pakistan.  

The 7th Annual Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge asked students ages 5-21 to think about a real-world natural disaster preparation and relief issue such as access to clean water and food, medical supplies, assistance with locating family members including pets, and recovery from disasters and to devise an innovative solution. For their entries, students were required to follow seven key steps in the invention process, including identifying a problem, conducting research, sketching their ideas, building a prototype, testing the product, refining it, and marketing it to potential users. The eight winners-three teams and five individuals-and 19 honorable mentions were evaluated by a panel of judges from the Smithsonian and Cricket Media.

"Droughts affect millions . . . more than other natural disasters," says California-based Kavi. The 9-year-old created "Super Soil Straws," a combination of a synthetic root that digs into the ground to obtain water and a solar-powered generator to help those affected by drought while also providing a means to bring power to remote areas. He adds, "If you live in an area that had trees or brush, you know there is water below you in the soil to be found." Eleven-year-old Hamsini, from Virginia, captured the award in the individual 11-13-year-old category with the AquaSol ("pure water . . . anytime, anywhere"). Addressing the issue of gaining access to clean water following a disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, AquaSol is meant to be a portable water purifier, providing a means to use stored thermal energy to purify water anytime, anyplace. EDD (Emergency Disaster Drone), created by a 14+ year-old team from Missouri, is an innovative new product that combines GPS and drone technology to help people stranded during natural disasters contact rescue teams and get the food and medical supplies they need, before they are rescued. Their innovative use of wireless technology with inexpensive materials seeks to reduce the possibility of loss of life due to the time it takes to find and rescue people affected by natural disasters.

The winners of the team 11-13 age category built a Catastrophe Kit for Kids to help "families prepare for the worst, by providing portable shelter, warmth, comfort, guidance, and protection." The invention is a multipurpose waterproof backpack that contains a variety of materials such as a water catcher, emergency light, whistle, a convertible poncho that can be transformed into a tarp, tent, blanket, or slide, and a PVC pipe kit that can be used to build a chair, cane, table, and other objects one might find necessary in a natural disaster. David, a student in Massachusetts and winner of the individual 5-7 age category, invented an application that can help people locate shelters for their pets in the event they are displaced by a natural disaster. His award-winning entry focused on the issue of people not evacuating areas that are going to be hit by hurricanes because pets are not allowed in emergency shelters. People can use the application to locate regional and distant pet hotels along their evacuation routes. As he says, during Hurricane Katrina "an estimated 200,000 people stayed in their homes . . . over 40% [of those who stayed] refused to leave because they didn't want to leave their pets behind." This year, the ePals Choice Award winner, which received more than 538,000 online votes, is the "Catastrophe Care Kit for Kids" created by a team of 11- to 13-year-olds from New Jersey. The kit provides survival resources such as shelter and warmth for those affected by natural disaster.

"We deeply believe in the importance of and cherish the opportunity to stimulate kids' inventiveness and critical thinking by empowering them to innovate and problem-solve for real-life problems rather than hypotheticals. It's not an exercise in a vacuum. Given the anticipated impact of climate change on the intensity and frequency of natural disasters, it is unfortunately clear that this generation's future will present numerous challenges stemming from natural disasters and that their lifetimes will be ones in which problem-solving will be paramount. That being said, in reviewing the hundreds of entries from this year's Invent It Challenge, it is also clear that, in the future, we can look forward to immense creativity from this generation, in the form of all manner of life-saving solutions to consequences and adversities caused by natural disasters and climate change," says Laura Woodside, Vice President of Education Products at Cricket Media. "From numerous devices that provide access to clean water and energy in the wake of a disaster to an app that makes evacuation from disaster areas easier by helping individuals locate pet shelters, we've been amazed, inspired, and encouraged by the ingenuity, the degree of scientific inquiry, and the realizability of the ideas put forth by this generation's young innovators."

"We are greatly impressed and inspired by the ingenuity of this year's submissions," says Jeffrey L. Brodie, deputy director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It is encouraging and uplifting to see young people able and ready to respond to some of the world's most complex challenges with creativity, collaboration, and optimism. These young inventors are role models for future generations of like-minded problem solvers."

Complete List of Individual Winners, by Age:

  • Ages 5-7: Anafi- David H., Longmeadow, Massachusetts
  • Ages 8-10: Super Soil Straws - Kavi S., Irvine, California
  • Ages 11-13 (Tie for first place): Aqua Sol: Pure Water . . . Anytime, Anywhere! - Hamsini R., Herndon, Virginia
  • Ages 11-13 (Tie for first place): Doggo I.D. Rescue Collar - Ariana V., Troy, New York

Complete List of Team Winners, by Age:

  • Team Ages 5-7: CEG Suit Safe (Los Angeles, California)
  • Team Ages 8-10: FilTurbine Guttering System (Ozark, Missouri)
  • Team Ages 11-13: Catastrophe Care Kit for Kids (Whitehouse Station, New Jersey)
  • Team Ages 14+: EDD (Emergency Disaster Drone) (House Springs, Missouri)

Videos and other details of the top winning inventions and the 19 honorable mentions are available here. Up to three (3) winners are eligible to receive an official U.S. patent application provided by the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP. "We are pleased to assist these young inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow with their first patent filing," says Neil Jones, a lead partner in the Nelson Mullins patent group. Additional age-specific prizes available to the winners include a hands-on behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C.; an invitation to attend the 2018 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo-sponsored by The STEMIE CoalitionTM; camp registration fees to attend a Camp InventionTM summer program; a selection of engaging books from the Smithsonian; art supplies and the "Spark!Lab Inventor's Studio" from Faber Castell; and for honorable mentions, one-year digital subscriptions to any Cricket Media magazine.   

ABOUT THE YOON FAMILY The Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge is a collaboration between the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and Cricket Media. The challenge is named in honor of Dr. InBae Yoon, a Korean American inventor who passionately believed that everyone is inventive. His lifelong commitment to drawing, tinkering, and prototyping his ideas resulted in over 200 U.S. patents. The Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge celebrates his legacy as an inventor and educator and aims to inspire the next generation of innovators.

ABOUT CRICKET MEDIA Cricket Media® is a global education company creating high-quality print and multimedia products for children, families, mentors, teachers, and partners that improve learning opportunities for everyone. Led by our 11 award-winning children's magazines and our customizable research-tested collaborative learning platform, we are committed to creating and supporting innovative learning experiences that help children safely explore and engage with their expanding world.

ABOUT SPARK!LAB Spark!Lab is a hands-on invention activity space operated by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The Lemelson Center engages, educates, and empowers the public to participate in technological, economic, and social change. Through historical research, educational initiatives, exhibitions, and public programming, the Center advances new perspectives on invention and innovation and fosters interactions between the public and inventors. 

ABOUT NELSON MULLINS Nelson Mullins is an AmLaw 100 full-service national law firm with offices from coast to coast. The firm's Intellectual Property group has assisted a broad spectrum of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to individual inventors, such as the winners of the Annual Spark! Lab Invent It Challenge, to obtain protection for their inventions, trademarks, and copyrights and to enforce and defend those rights in courts throughout the country. 

Image: Sebastian Dooris | Flickr 

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