Ladders are notoriously ornery. Unless they rest on level surfaces, they rock and sway, unnerving even a few seasoned ladder-climbers.
But Timothy Kenny, a fifth-grader from Bernardsville (N.J.) Middle School, has a solution.
His "Ladder Increaser," a step ladder with adjustable and extendable back legs to stabilize uneven surfaces, just won a national prize in the Craftsman/NSTA Young Inventors Awards Program.
Founded in 1996 and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, the contest challenges young students to channel their imagination and creativity in practical, scientific directions.
Each participant, supervised by a parent and a teacher, submits a diagram of the invention, a 3- to 7-page log describing how it was built, and a photograph of himself or herself using the tool. Up to $5,000 in bonds (funded by Sears, Roebuck & Co.) goes to the winners in two age categories: Grades 2 through 5 and Grades 6 through 8.
Rachel Kaminsky, a fourth-grader from Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley, N.J., is another of this year's notable young inventors. She created a device to help children master tying their shoes. The "Shoe Lace Helper" is made from a wooden base, a dowel, a coat hanger, and some clothespins. (At my own elementary school, the only tool at our disposal was a short verse about a rabbit that runs around a tree and then dives into its hole. Because this rhyme utterly failed to enlighten me, my only alternatives were to stick with Velcro or trip over my shoelaces.)
The Young Inventors Award Program was started to "encourage children to get involved in science and to honor their creative ideas," stated home-improvement expert Bob Vila in a press release. Those ideas often start with very ordinary observations.
For example, Rachel says she conceived her Shoe Lace Helper after "watching my brother and his friends walking with their laces untied." She worked on a few prototypes before developing the final model. Despite some setbacks, her mother says she was intent on making a workable device.
Like many of her fellow participants, this is not Rachel's first invention. This year she also invented a cup holder that fits onto a pocket, freeing the user's hands for other tasks. Last year she constructed an onion cutter that also minimizes the vegetable's unpleasant odor.
Here are a few more creations by young people who may just follow in the footsteps of famous inventors like da Vinci, Marconi, and Tesla:
* The "Pedal Powered Lawn Mower," by Mitchell Weiss, is made from a bicycle and a push mower and allows you to mow your lawn while seated in an environmentally friendly way.
* The "Slingo 2001," by Jimmy Zimmermann, lets you rest your arm while it throws a ball for a dog to retrieve.
* The "E-Z Shovel" - a swivel wheel attached to the back of a shovel - by Scott Houser, cuts down on the labor of moving dirt and snow.
* The "Five Day Cat Feeder," by Jordan Cross, stores premeasured amounts of food to feed your pet.
* The "Ultimate Mailbox," by Christopher Cushman, has adjustable heights, a flexible body that makes it more durable, and a flag that is automatically raised when the door is opened.
* The "Bendable Broom," by Peter J. Hosinski, allows you to sweep in those hard-to-reach areas.
* The "Rescue Tube," by Tessa DiGiacomo, slides out onto the ice, bringing lifesaving equipment to someone who has fallen through it.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor