When we think about conveniences in our everyday lives, it’s easy to forget about the idealists who struggled in their quest to fulfil those needs and how young, but determined, they were.
For example, take Ann Makosinski, the 15-year-old Canadian lass who invented a battery-free LED flashlight and won top prize at the 2013 Google Science Fair.
Inspired by the story of her friend in the Philippines who failed at school because she had no light to study with once it got dark, she designed and built a thermoelectric flashlight that transforms the heat from your hand into a source of energy without the need for any batteries or electricity.
Her device, which she calls the Hollow Flashlight, uses Peltier tiles, a device that produces energy when one side is heated and another side is cooled, to help the light last for over 20 minutes.
I listed Ann first because I admired one of her quotes about her invention: “You can’t just sit around waiting for new technologies to evolve and for the Earth to save itself! We all have different but important roles to play in this world!”
Young Philo Farnsworth played a big part in agriculture. When his family moved from a log cabin in Utah to a new house in Idaho with an attic full of Popular Science magazines, ideas started going off in the 14-year-old’s head.
Before long, he had converted most of the family’s household appliances to electrical power. But it was when he was plowing one of the fields on his family’s farm that an even bigger idea came to him.
Looking at the straight rows of dirt he was making in the ground, he suddenly saw how he could invent a television — by breaking down images into parallel lines of light, capturing them and transmitting them as electrons, and then reassembling them on a screen for people to view. So, in 1921, Philo, now 15, had the sketches, diagrams and notes to make an electronic television system and, by 21, he transmitted his first electronic image and held the earliest public demonstration of a working TV. By the time of his death in 1971, the average television set included about 100 items that he patented.
Laboring away on his family’s Virginia farm at the start of the 19th century was never going to stop Cyrus McCormick from changing the world. At 15, he invented a lightweight cradle for carting harvested grain, followed by the first reaper, a crude cast-iron machine with triangle-shaped knives attached to a bar that harvested up to 15 acres of wheat, compared with only 3 acres before.
Spreading the word to neighboring farms, he won farm owners over by massively lowering labor costs and increasing harvest yields. Cyrus won international awards and is credited for helping to bring about the era of industrialized agriculture.
Inspiration also struck 15-year-old Param Jaggi in 2008 while he sat at a stop sign behind the wheel of a car in Plano, Texas. Watching the exhaust from the car in front of him slowly waft more pollution up into the atmosphere, he figured, why not just turn that into oxygen?
He ended up designing a small device that plugs into a muffler and removes almost 89 percent of the carbon dioxide from a car’s exhaust through a live colony of algae that sucks in the CO2 from the exhaust, applies photosynthesis, and then releases both oxygen and sugar back into the air. Jaggi applied for a patent in 2009 and has been trying to better the filter’s design since then.
Louis Braille’s story starts when he was 3 years old. He was playing in his father’s shop in Coupvray, France, and somehow managed to injure his eye. Though he was offered the best medical attention available at the time, it wasn’t enough — an infection soon developed and spread to his other eye, rendering him blind in both eyes.
While a tragedy for him, had this accident not happened, we wouldn’t have Braille today.
Braille received a scholarship at age 10 to attend France’s National Institute for the Blind. The school taught its students to read by touch, with specially made books. However, the books were large and expensive to make, and almost impossible to read, with some weighing over 100 pounds.
In 1821, a French soldier visited the school to introduce sonography, a code language read by fingertip to help soldiers communicate at night without light or making noise.
Braille studied sonography closely and, in 1824, when he was just 15 years old, he invented a simple system of small, raised dots that were read by touch.
Students learned and read Braille’s system much faster than sonography, so it quickly became the standard language at the school, and for blind people all over the world.
There were many others to include in this article, but space won’t permit me. These are just a couple of determined young people who made the world a better place today.