These teens saw things that needed fixing and did something about it
Inventor: Dasia Taylor
Infection-Detecting, Color-Changing Stitches
Sometimes people get cuts and injuries that require stitches. And sometimes, despite our best efforts to keep those stitches clean and slathered in antibiotic ointments, those stitches get infected.
When Dasia Taylor was 17, the Iowa high schooler read an article about how there was a kind of stitches — known as “sutures” (soo-churs) in medical terms — coated with a special kind of material that can sense important changes in a wound (through electrical impulses). The “smart” sutures could then send that info about wound temperature, infection, and so on to doctors and patients. That’s all well and good in the United States, Dasia thought. But what about in developing countries, where people can’t afford such an expensive thing? What about places where technology isn’t so advanced?
She also learned that in in low- and even middle-income countries, 11 percent of surgical wounds get infected. (In the United States only two to four percent of surgical stitches get infected.) Ta-da! Dasia landed on the topic for her science fair project. She used beet juice (yep, borscht!) to dye surgical thread, developing a kind of stitches that change from bright red to dark purple if a wound gets infected. That was in 2019, and she won several regional and state awards for the project. But it didn’t end there. This past year, she became a finalist in America’s most prestigious science and math competition, the Regeneron Science Talent Search.
The science behind her stitches is actually kind of simple: It’s all based on pH (how much acid is present in a solution). Human skin has a pH of around five. If a wound gets infected, the pH rises to around nine. “I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,” Dasia says. (Beet juice turns from bright red to dark purple at a pH of nine.) “That’s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So, beets is where it’s at.’ ”
From there, she tested different stitching materials to see which kind of sutures would hold the dye best. She’s hoping that these color-changing stitches will soon be working for patients in developing countries, too. That way, they can get medical help as soon as possible, rather than waiting until an infection becomes very serious. The idea still requires a lot of research and development, and Dasia is waiting for her patent. Nevertheless, it’s a project that can’t be beet.
Inventor: Shubham Banerjee
Braille-Printing LEGO Machine
Shubham was just a curious California eighth grader who started thinking about blind people and wondering how they read. He started looking up things about braille and was shocked to discover that braille printers can be very expensive (like $2,000, as compared to regular inkjet printers, some of which can be purchased for even less than $100).
He realized that with a price tag like that, many blind people wouldn’t be able to print their own reading material. “I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this,” he says. And then he went an invented his own… using LEGO.
Using a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit and lots of trial and error (uh, seven separate attempts, to be exact), Shubham was able to develop a braille printer he calls Braigo (Braille + LEGO) at a much lower price point: $350. And it weighs only a few pounds (compared to a normal braille printer than can weigh around 20 pounds). The Braigo prints on paper, making raised dots rather than inked designs.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, fewer than ten percent of 1.3 million blind Americans read braille. But that could change if braille materials become cheaper and more accessible. Many blind people currently rely on voice-to-text technology.
Shubham made his dream into a reality with the help of his father, who invested in making it into something “real.” It helps that his father works at Intel, a technology company; he got the company interested, too, and they also invested in the idea. Shubham used the investment money to team up with engineers and others to develop and test the printer for the general market.
“My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people… using my braille printer,” Shubham says. He even created an open-source document (i.e., free available instructions) for anyone who wants to buy the Mindstorms kit and try creating their own. “I just think of myself as a guy who wants to solve random problems,” he says.
While we’re on the subject of young people who changed the world and we’re talking about braille, we’d better mention this interesting factoid: Braille was invented by a teenager!
Louis Braille was three years old when he lost his vision due to an accident and subsequent infection. (It was 1809, so unfortunately things like that were much more common in those days.) By the time he was 16, he was a student at the National Institute for Blind Youth, in Paris, France. Whenever he wasn’t in class, he was outside poking holes in paper. But he wasn’t doing it out of frustration; he was actually being quite constructive and creative: trying to invent a way to represent letters and numbers that could be felt rather than read.
Until that point, blind people could only read by tracing raised print letters with their fingers. It was really slow-going, and very few people mastered the process. Writing was even harder. Louis got the idea of holes in paper when he heard a retired military officer speak about a note-taking system he had invented for illiterate soldiers. Because they couldn’t read, they needed a way to send notes to each other that could be understood — and could also be deciphered in the dark (so the enemy couldn’t find them by their fires or lanterns). Louis spent three years working to improve the officer’s idea. By 1824, he’d invented braille. And it’s still used today in almost every known language, from Afrikaans to Zulu.
Will Butler, of the San Francisco nonprofit LightHouse for the Blind, says about braille, “It’s the only code that allows blind people to fully comprehend concepts like punctuation, homophones, and other grammatical details note-for-note the way a sighted person could. For that reason, braille is essential to literacy, particularly for those who have been blind from a young age.” And to think it was developed by a 16-year-old!
Inventor: Shiven Teneja
Teen-Built Air-Purifying Device
When Shiven Taneja of Ontario, Canada, found himself at home from school during the height of the Covid Omicron wave, he decided to make the most of his time. He had heard about the need for special air-filtering devices for seniors, and he figured he would try to build some himself.
The purifiers, called Corsi-Rosenthal devices, are DIY air-filtration systems that suck impurities and toxins from the air. But just because they’re DIY doesn’t mean they’re easy — they were originally designed by air-filtration experts. Constructing them requires lots of bending and squatting, so Taneja felt like it would be a lot simpler for him to put them together than for older people to do it.
Taneja offered to build some of these boxes for those who need them and managed to put together around 20 of them on his winter break. “I decided, well, getting the materials [and] actually building it might be hard for elderly people, so I decided I would build it for them,” he says. He charges just the cost of the materials ($150 for each unit, whereas store-bought filters of the same quality can cost $800) and it takes him about an hour or two to build each one. “I had the time. So I felt like, why not just do it?” Taneja says. “I wanted to do my part, despite just being 14.” He adds, “It feels really good, especially when I deliver a box. Knowing that something I created can help someone, it’s a really good feeling.”
Inventor: Gitanjali Rao
All Kinds of Techy Stuff
Gitanjali was named TIME’s Kid of the Year in 2020. That’s because the then-15-year-old from Lone Tree, Colorado, has been doing lots of work with technology to solve the world’s problems. So far, she’s confronted contaminated drinking water, bullying, and other problems. Gitanjali realized that if she wasn’t going to try to fix things, there wasn’t necessarily anyone else who would — so she got to work.
She started researching the drinking water issue at the ripe old age of ten, using carbon nanotube sensor technology. (Don’t worry, I don’t know what that is either — and neither did Gitanjali’s mom!) From there, she moved on to writing programs to catch bullying in its early stages using artificial intelligence (AI). Her process is: observe, brainstorm, research, build, communicate.
“I don’t look like your typical scientist,” Gitanjali says. “My goal has really shifted not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems, but to inspiring others to do the same as well.” Even though she’s just a teen, she’s already designed her own science labs, contests, and workshops, and partnered with STEM organizations, museums, and even science organizations in China and England. She’s currently trying to figure out a simple and cheap way to detect parasites in water. She hopes to one day figure out an easy way to clean up litter. What’s her ultimate goal? Creating a community of young innovators to find solutions to all kinds of issues. “If I can do it,” she says, “anybody can do it.”
Inventor: Param Jaggi
There’s a lot of talk about all the bad emissions that vehicles like cars, buses, and trucks put out. That’s why we’re seeing more and more electric and hybrid cars. But what if cars actually sucked up carbon dioxide? That’s the idea behind the Algae Mobile, a carbon dioxide-eating, algae-filled car add-on that 19-year-old Param has been working on.
“My parents tell me that since an early age I’ve been tearing apart my toys and always trying to invent new things and put new things together,” Param says. Param broke a lot of stuff throughout his childhood, but sometime in middle school he actually started creating and building things instead. He’s still walking around with a screwdriver in his pocket.
His first project was to create an environment-friendly biofuel for cars. He sold that method to a Fortune 500 company. By age 17, he had launched a company called Ecoviate, which researches and develops tech solutions to energy and environmental problems. Next, he worked on a device that would attach to the exhaust pipe of vehicles. Containing a bunch of algae-coated plates, the device would actually clean the air, filtering out CO2, as the car runs. Changing the algae filters could be done at the same time as an oil change.
He also invented a smart watch that traps body heat and converts it into energy, which can then be used to keep the watch running — and to charge a cell phone. Sounds like Param’s making pretty good use of his time!
Inventor: Jordan Reeves
Glitter-Shooting Prosthetic Arms
An ambitious girl from Columbia, Missouri, was born with only half of her left arm; it stopped developing below the elbow. That girl, Jordan, is making the most of it. When she was ten, she went to a STEM workshop for kids with disabilities, where they were urged to think imaginatively about their situation. With a 3D-printer on hand, Jordan had a cool idea: Why not design herself a prosthetic arm that could shoot glitter from the end? It wouldn’t be so useful, but it would be awfully fun, cool, and sparkly.
The prosthetic, which looks a bit like a unicorn horn, was dubbed, “Project Unicorn,” and it garnered a lot of publicity. It encouraged Jordan and her parents to start a nonprofit, called Born Just Right, to advocate for kids with disabilities. Since then, she’s been featured in all kinds of projects, including some by famous brands like LEGO. Jordan just wants to show kids that limb differences can be a gift.
Not everyone is going to be a famous inventor or even come up with amazing ideas for new things. But everyone notices where there are empty spaces in the world. By doing things like davening and acts of chesed, we’re taking steps to fill those spaces. And when we do, we’re fulfilling the words of our Sages. As it says in Avos (2:16), “He [Rabi Tarfon] used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” And “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Avos 2:5).
So, You Want to Be an Inventor?
You don’t have to be a scientist — or a genius — to invent things. But you do need a lot of curiosity and imagination. What should you do if you have a great idea?
- Talk to a few friends, family members, and teachers to share your idea. What do they think? Do they have any ideas about how they would design or make it?
- Develop a prototype. That’s a working model of your idea.
- Test it out by trying to use it in different ways and circumstances.
- Show your model to people who can give you their input and ideas.
- See how you can make it better.
- If it’s a really, really good idea that you and other people think has merit, ask an adult to help you take it farther by showing it to pros in the field, demonstrating it to companies who may be interested, or getting a patent.
8 Surprising Inventions by Kids & Teens
Did you know these things were invented by really young people?!
(Robert Patch, age 6, 1963)
Swim flippers [for hands]
(Benjamin Franklin, age 11, 1717)
(Frank Epperson, age 11, 1905)
(Chester Greenwood, age 15, 1877)
(George Nissen, age 16, 1930)
(Ralph Samuelson, age 18, 1922)
(Joseph-Armand Bombardier, age 19, 1926)
(Albert Sadacca, age 15, 1917)
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 905)
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