National School Inventors Challenge

The best young inventors of 2009

We called upon the youth of America to come up with an invention that IMPROVES OUR WORLD. Here are the finalists.

There's nothing more American than our "Spirit of Invention." And to see if that spirit can still be found in today's youngsters, Popular Science launched its first National School Inventors Challenge. Students of all ages, from coast to coast, were asked to submit invention ideas that would "improve our world."

Mike Haney, Andrea Childs and I had the daunting task of picking the winners of this inventors challenge. We looked at over 300 entries from schools across the country. As judges, we were all impressed with the students' creative solutions to various problems from diabetes to water purification.

The entries came from across the nation. I had the opportunity to visit an amazing class from Miami Coral Park Senior High School. I was so impressed with their intelligence and the very serious approach they took to solving the problem of commuting to work in an environmental friendly vehicle. Their solution was a solar powered bicycle. You can see the class in action on Popular Science's website.

If you are worried that the next generation lacks the ingenuity of past generations -- you can stop worrying. After visiting that class and reading through all of the entries, I'm convinced the future of the planet will be in smart creative hands.

Mike, Andrea and I tried to pick entries that proposed a real world working solution to a problem -- so "money trees" were out. We also wanted inventions that truly met the challenge of trying to "improve our world."

Just about all of the entries showed sincere ingenuity and the ability to think outside of the box, but we had to pick what we thought were the best of the best. It wasn't easy. A few ideas we agreed to unanimously; however several entries sparked heated debates. When the discussion ended and the arm twisting was over, we ultimately agreed to these inventor entries:

Mark Westlake
St. Thomas Academy, Mendota Heights, MN
Invention: Safe Electric Motorcycle
The 15 students in Mr. Mark Westlake's Co-Curricular Club came up with and built a safe electric motorcycle designed for urban commuters. This motorcycle will go 40+ miles on a single charge. The decided to build a reinforced cab, harness, and roll cage to protect the driver. By protecting the driver from the weather and other cars, the inventors hope it could find a market with urban professionals going to and from work. This club built a working model and included photos of the process, step by step. The final product has a very fun futuristic look that captures the imagination. I don't know about you, but I want one.

Carrie Richter
Norton Middle School, MA
Invention: The Road buddy Life Saving System
Ms. Richter's 8th grade class came up with an invention that is all about preventing sleeping at the wheel. The class came up with a seat cushion monitors the driver's pulse rate. When the rate drops below 53 beats per minute (I'm told that means the driver is sleeping), the massage action quickly turns on to wake up the driver. The entry points out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that about 100,000 crashes each year are due to driver fatigue.

Kaitlyn Easter
Jay Upper Elementary School, Oklahoma
Invention: Smoking Tube
This 5th grader wanted to solve a problem that really hit home. Her father smokes and she did not want to be exposed to his second hand smoke. Her invention is a tube that attaches to a rolled down window. The smoker sits next to the tube and blows his/her smoke to outside world.

High School Runners-Up (3)

Name: Michael Gallagher
School: Saratoga High School
Invention: The Garden Consultant

Name: Tim Wilczynski
School: Lyme-Old Lyme High School
Invention: Inside Out Water Filtration Cartridge Cleaner

Name: William Baltazar
School: Miami Coral Park Senior High School
Invention: Solar Bike

Middle School Runners-Up (2)

Christine King
Williams Middle School
Invention: Active Vacuum Panel

Michael Word
Kealing Middle School
Invention: Efficient Autonomous Irrigation System (EAIS)

Elementary School Runners-Up (3)

Jeremy Parmet
Home School
Invention: Climate Colors

Emily Tate
Jay Upper Elementary School
Invention: Tornado Wall

Marisol Rivas
Moriches Elementary
Invention: Glow in the Dark PJ's