Here’s a type of news story you see popping up a few times a year (especially during a slow cycle): a “twelve-year-old schoolgirl” has invented this, or a “group of African schoolchildren” have invented that. Sometimes these blurbs are missing names, and often they omit the kids’ countries of origin as well, as if Africa were the same monolithic blob from Cairo to Cape Town. And when news like this crops up, we browse articles on HuffPo, we glance at a few headlines on CNN, and – after a short period of whizbang-wow amazement – we quickly forget what we’ve seen.
But that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the kids who have achieved so much, and it’s not fair to the rest of their generation, who have had to memorize the names of Mendels and Keplers and Darwins and Maxwells as if they’re the beginning and the end of the story; as if everything worth discovering or inventing had been covered by the end of the nineteenth century, so the rest of you can go home now, thanks very much. As if the only things accomplished in a STEM field were done in a high-tech laboratory by a team of scientists in sterile white lab coats.
Well, that’s not remotely true. It’s time to call these girls by name, and give them the respect they deserve. Write these down, tell your friends about them, and – better yet – tell the kids in your life about them, too. Give them someone (several someones!) to look up to, and give their science teachers a break from having to explain why learning chemistry, biology, and physics might be a handy thing to do.
There's no cross domain hackery or tracking voodoo, it's just some sweet jQuery animations.
Please, think of the animations.
In the meantime, enjoy the html version below. I guess. If that's your thing.
Learning to ride a bike is generally not much fun for either the child on wheels or the parent tagging along after, heart in throat. Worse still is when the little tyke takes a spill off her little trike – no amount of bicycle-seat steadying on Mom or Dad’s part is going to help when Junior goes over the handlebars.
Based on the backpack her mother made her wear in order to keep a grip during her own early cycling days, Sky Ballentyne of Herefordshire in the United Kingdom assembled a harness for small children to wear while weaning from their training wheels. The harness fastens over a child’s shoulders and around their chest, and has a handle attached to a strap crossing the back. That way, when a miniature cyclist loses her balance, it’s her that Mom or Dad hangs onto and the bike that goes flying – not the other way around. Ballentyne came up with the invention (charmingly called the Crikey Bikey) at the age of eleven, after taking a tumble off her own bicycle. I'm pretty sure when I fell and scraped my hands and knees while learning to ride a bike, my response was to lock myself in my room and cry while listening to an Amy Grant tape, which makes Ballentyne a better person than me in pretty much every possible respect.
Richo.Fan on Flickr)
Imagine a flashlight that you’d never have to fumble batteries into during a pitch-black power failure – and then be glad that someone out there did more than just imagine such a thing. At least year's Google Science Fair, Canadian teen Makosinski debuted her new invention: a hollow flashlight constructed out of a material known as Peltier plates. A Peltier plate works when a temperature gradient is created between the front and back of the tile; this creates a voltage difference that allows the plate to function as a generator.
In the case of Makosinski’s flashlight, the temperature differential is created from nothing but the heat of the user’s hand – heat that would otherwise be lost uselessly to the environment. Like many engineers, Makosinski was seeking a way to make use of this type of “waste” energy to do real work, by applying the three R's of reduce, reuse, recycle to heat and electricity instead of plastic yogurt cups and canvas grocery bags. In this case, recycling the heat from the operator's hand is enough to provide about twenty minutes of LED illumination, before the temperature inside the cylinder catches up to that of the outside. At the very least, that should be more than enough time to find another flashlight and fumble the batteries into it.
Brian Hoffman on Flickr)
It’s amazingly frustrating to notice just before dashing out of the house that your cell phone’s battery is on its last legs. Should you stay in and wait for it to charge up? Or risk running out the door without your omnipresent phone? Given time, supervision, and lab space, most of us would come up empty-handed when asked to address that particular problem, but Californian high schooler Eesha Khare used the opportunity to design and construct a prototype supercapacitor that would be able to partially charge a cell phone (or other device) at super speeds.
While Khare’s supercapacitor charges very quickly, the cost is energy density: less energy bang for your fraction of an energy buck. But since no one needs a fully juiced-up phone to rush out the door to catch the bus or get to the store, a half-charged phone is a tradeoff most of us would be willing to make when we’re in a hurry. Insert your favorite stereotype about teenagers and mobile phones here – but make it fast, because Khare’s prototype only takes twenty seconds to charge up a phone.
Sergii Korolko via Shutterstock)
Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and Bello Eniola
The prospect of spending some extra quality time in the company of your own urine might not have immediate appeal. But what if it could get you six hours of electricity that you wouldn't otherwise have? Many people in rural places rely on generators to provide them with power, and as far as renewable resources go, urine comes in a fairly vast supply. Nigerian fourteen- and fifteen-year-old inventors Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola debuted their urine-powered generator at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos two years ago, wowing the judges and making science teachers everywhere swoon (or sigh, if their students can't find hydrogen on the periodic table, let alone harness its combustion to power a generator).
The device uses an electrolytic cell to remove hydrogen gas from water, removes the residual moisture from that gas, and then burns it to generate power. If free electricity from urine sounds too good to be true ... it kind of is. The electrolytic cell in the device requires an input of energy greater than the output gained from burning the hydrogen, which means a net loss across the system. But in certain circumstances, the loss of energy may be a net gain – in cases where water is at a premium, for example. Disposing of waste urine while simultaneously getting back some of the energy you have to use in the process? Now there’s an idea that will hold water.
orangecrush via Shutterstock)
Confession: I’m guilty of whining when the water in the Brita pitcher hasn’t gotten cold enough. That's pretty sad on my part, considering that there are more than a billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water. Most people do, however, have access to sunlight – and that’s the crux of Deepika Kurup’s water purification invention. At the age of 14, the New Hampshire junior high student figured out a way to clean up contaminated water using a sunlight-powered reaction. The UV light reacts with titanium and zinc oxides to produce cell-killing free radicals, wreaking havoc on any bacteria present and making the water safe to drink. (There’s no word on the resultant water temperature.)
For her efforts, Kurup won the grand prize of $25,000 in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. I wish I could give all of these young inventors and scientists $25,000 in grant money - or more - and their own lab to get busy in ... but in the meantime, I’ll be content with having a few awesome stories to share with my own daughter (and son) when they get a little older.
NUM-Photo via Shutterstock)
(top image via
Bill Ward on Flickr)
Aimee Ogden is a writer living in Wisconsin with her soon-to-be-year-old twins, dog, and very patient husband. She loves pancakes like Leslie Knope loves waffles. You can also find her on Twitter or at her blog, Fake Geek Mom.
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