The annual Young Inventors Awards program challenges kids to design and build gadgets that solve real, everyday problems. Not only does the contest spur creativity, says Brian Short of the National Science Teachers Association, it also teaches a valuable lesson in problem solving: "Any complex tool can be broken down into several simple tools." Here are three semifinalists from this year's competition, along with comments from the inventors.
Easy-Lift Trash Can
Tony Jarecki, 11
Our trash can is tall, and we stuff a lot of things in it. I had trouble pulling the bag up, unless my dad held the barrel. So I got a trash can, cut a door out, and put on hinges and a latch. I also put on a towel hanger to drape bags over, and a toothbrush holder for twist ties. We keep the can in the garage, so it's handy to have those there.
Mitchell Weiss, 13
At first I really wanted to do a saw or something to cut wood. But I cut the grass at home and I thought, well, why not make my job easier? You work it like a regular bicycle: You pedal it to turn the back wheel, which pushes the front lawnmower wheels, which are attached to the blade. Using the mower is harder than I thought it would be. You need higher gears to make it easier to push over bumps.
Rachel Kaminsky, 9
It's for kids who are maybe 7. A few months ago, I saw my brother and his friends, and they always had their shoes untied. I wanted them tied. I
researched "shoelace helper" on the Internet and learned that people with one arm have a special way of tying their shoes. That gave me the idea. How it works is kind of hard to explain. We made a video with instructions to show you, because you can't look at it and know it's
a shoe lacer. Last year, I invented an onion slicer.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.