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High schoolers show off inventions at MIT

From the beaches of Miami to the mountains of Alaska, high school students will journey to MIT this weekend (June 18-19) to demonstrate their new inventions, which range from sea level (a pothole detector) to the sky--a miniature robotic helicopter for use in mountain ranges.

The 10 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams, who received grants of up to $10,000 each from the Lemelson-MIT Program, have been working since October to invent things that will benefit their schools or communities. During the nine-month grant period, each team identified a problem, explored solutions and built a prototype. That experience will culminate this weekend with invention showcase.

The students collaborated with individual mentors and organizations to create their new devices. For example, the Perry Hall High School InvenTeam from Maryland aligned with the Museum of Industry and NASA to develop a solar-powered water-testing device to monitor the Chesapeake Bay. The Gulliver Preparatory School InvenTeam from Florida consulted with the Transportation Security Administration to design inspection-friendly luggage in response to growing security concerns and time constraints in airports.

"My students had their real 'eureka' moment when we traveled to Overbrook School for the Blind and put a face and a purpose on our project," said Germantown (Penn.) Academy teacher Susanne Johnston. The Germantown InvenTeam used its grant funding to create Shop Talk, a barcode scanner with a voice synthesizer that reads a product when scanned.

"I think my students were blown away by the excitement of the Overbrook students when they heard about what we wanted to do," said Johnston. "They wanted to know if they could try it 'right now' because they knew how much it would help them. In fact, I think my students felt a little guilty because it wasn't done yet. It has given them great inspiration to keep going until it is done."

Many of the InvenTeams' projects focused on problems in their communities. The North Miami Beach Senior High School InvenTeam developed the Batholift, a device to help the elderly or disabled enter the bathtub or shower. The team from Agawam, Mass., worked to create the RoadIron to prevent and detect potholes. Iowa's Linn-Mar students used their passion for robotics to design a workstation for a quadriplegic person who needed assistance in her job affixing self-adhesive address labels. The worked closely with her to develop a workstation that overcame the obstacles she faced.

Showcase presentations are open to the public and run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, June 18 and from 9:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on June 19 at the MIT Tang Center. For more information on the schedule and events, see

Next fall, 15 new Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grants will be awarded to inspire invention and encourage problem-solving beyond the classroom, and encourage teenagers to pursue invention as a career.

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