Michael Worden is a tireless, self-funded tinkerer interested in everything from deep-fat frying to heart defibrillation. Before going back to school at Arizona State in Tempe, where he is a senior in industrial design, Worden worked full-time at an Arizona door and supply company, but managed to develop literally hundreds of inventions in his spare time. These include an antilock bicycle brake and a centrifugal fryer that spins the fat out of food.
Renowned designer Patricia A. Moore, visiting professor of industrial design at Arizona State, calls Worden "a creative genius with a remarkable capacity for developing a realistic approach to the design of a product." Marketplace success continues to elude Worden, but he perseveres: "I love the process," he says. "It's a Rubik's cube, the puzzle of figuring something out that no one else has ever done before." A pair of Worden's inventions:
Inspiration: His father, a carpet layer, spends a lot of time on his knees. With existing kneepads and shin guards, the kneecap pushes against the thighbone and can damage skin, nerves, ligaments.
Invention: Plastic device attaches just above the ankle, extends up the shin, and then arches over the knee, using the cantilever principle to distribute weight along the full length of the shin and prevent the kneecap from pushing against the thighbone.
Development phase: Patent pending; several working prototypes. Negotiating a production contract with a California company.
Inspiration: Most defibrillators deliver just 4 percent of their electric current to the heart because of impedance from hair, skin, muscles, fat, and air in the lungs. After suffering a shock and noticing a tingle in his arm, Worden wondered if he could deliver a current to the inside of each arm where there is less impedance, and have the current follow the veins and arteries directly to the heart.
Invention: Worden's low-power unit has electrodes that are roughly the size of a 50-cent piece.
Development phase: Nonworking prototype incorporating extensive research. Has done full patent search. Needs independent confirmation of concept. Medical companies show interest, but no bites. And the theory remains unproven.