WATSONVILLE — Thomas Edison, who is perhaps best known for inventing the incandescent light bulb, also created the phonograph and the world’s first motion picture camera, among other things. Each of these radically changed the world.
Lying at the core of Edison’s work is a quote that is attributed to him: “There’s a way to do it better. Find it.”
That is the foundation of the California Invention Convention, which tasks young people with finding a problem and creating a solution for it.
Students from across Santa Cruz County are participating, and it could very well be that some of them will change the world with one of their creations.
Watsonville Charter School of the Arts fifth-grader Nathan Flores said his love of making music inspired him to place braille characters on the fret board of his guitar, to help blind people to find their way up and down the guitar neck.
He hopes his invention will help blind people play the instrument.
And there is a chance that it will.
Nathan’s invention won the Most Marketable award at the California Invention Convention on April 14 in San Jose. He also earned a provisional patent for the creation.
He is now headed to the National Invention Convention in Dearborn, Mich. on May 31, joined by WCSA classmates Lillia Young and Mateo Adolfo.
“I’m really excited,” Nathan said. “I mean, it’s awesome that I was chosen to go to Michigan. My parents are really proud.”
A total of 11 students from Santa Cruz County are going to the national event.
Nathan’s creation got its start back at school, where every student created their own invention.
A panel of judges evaluated those of the fourth, fifth and sixth-grade students, and sent 25 winners to the San Jose event.
Lillia’s invention is Book Teller, an app that helps students find classroom books that interest them based on title, author, genre and reading level. The app also allows for student reviews of the book.
“I like to read, but I didn’t know what I wanted to read next,” she said of her inspiration.
Lillia also earned a trip to the national event last year for a device that cleans trash from rivers.
Mateo, who broke his foot playing basketball with his sister, soon discovered the difficulty of visiting the beach while using crutches.
And so he affixed plastic discs to the ends of his crutches, and thus was born the sand shoe.
“You don’t sink in the sand, you don’t slide in the sand,” he said. The gadget is easily attached or removed with the aid of a small patch of Velcro.
WCSA Principal Amy Thomas said that inventing helps the school in its efforts to instill science, technology, engineering, arts and math – a nationwide effort known as STEAM – into its curriculum.
“The engineering really stood out for me,” she said. “That’s where all the jobs of the future are going to be.”
The invitation-only event in Michigan is sponsored by the STEMIE Coalition, an acronym that combines science, technology, engineering and math with Invention and Entrepreneurship.
California Invention Convention director Brenda Payne said that inventing gives young people essential life skills.
More than 20 schools in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties participate in the program.
“What we are trying to instill in kids is creative thinking and ways to solve problems that will stay with them for their entire lives,” she said. “They may not become inventors, they may not become engineers, but they will have the skills to solve problems.”