Turning Ideas into Inventions

Kids, learn how to turn your ideas into inventions through inspiration, education, and iteration and by listening to the wisdom imparted by four real-life inventors, Juan Gilbert, Suzie Pun, and teenagers Stephanie and Elizabeth Vicarté.


00:14 Bob Hirshon, narrator: If you've ever jumped on a trampoline, eaten a popsicle, worn earmuffs, or watched television, you've used products invented by kids. They did it and you can, too. How?

Well, it all starts with inspiration: Identifying problems and using your imagination and creativity to come up with possible solutions.

Then, education: Having a strong base of science and other knowledge you'll need to develop your ideas.

And, then, iteration: Turning your ideas into practical solutions by designing and prototyping them and overcoming setbacks until you get to a final product.

00:56 Elizabeth Vicarté: "The first thing you have to do is come up with an idea, obviously."

01:00 Bob: Elizabeth Vicarté and her sister, Stephanie, are young inventors who won a $3,000 prize for creating the VectORB, a remote-controlled, fan-powered ball that won the Kid Museum Toy 2.0 Contest. Now, they're developing and testing air filters to help people with allergies. Elizabeth says they often turn to friends and family for inspiration.

01:22 Elizabeth: Listen to them: what kind of struggles they're having and see if you can improve upon that. If they're having a problem with a product, if they're complaining about something, look at that product and see how can I make that better?

01:34 Bob: Juan Gilbert is a AAAS Lemelson Invention Ambassador. That means he knows a lot about inventing stuff. Dr. Gilbert teaches engineering at the University of Florida, works on advanced computer interfaces, and invented improved voting systems. He says the first step to becoming an inventor is to think about problems you'd like to solve.

01:55 Juan Gilbert: So, think about what you did this last week. Was there something that you did that you said, "I don't like the way this is done. This should be easier." Is there something you wish you had that you don't? Start there. And the answers to those questions are the fertile grounds for innovation and ideas and invention.

02:17 Bob: Write down your ideas in a notebook or in an invention idea folder on your computer. The Vicarté sisters have dozens of invention ideas and they're always adding new ones.

But just because you have an exciting, creative idea, doesn't mean it's a good idea. So the other element you'll need in your invention toolkit is education. Strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics knowledge can help you avoid unfortunate situations like this one.

Suzie Pun is a AAAS Lemelson Invention Ambassador who invents lifesaving medical technologies.

02:52 Suzie Pun: So if you want to invent and develop technologies, you'll need, I think, two broad sets of skills. One, of course, is just the background knowledge so that you have the tools to design what you need. And those are really important: that's why your math and your science classes that you're taking are very important. They give you the fundamentals that you'll need for inventing.

The other side, I think, are maybe what people call soft skills, which is the ability to work in teams, the ability to communicate, to talk with people. And I've found over the years, that those two really go hand-in-hand. It is difficult to be an effective inventor without having both of those sets of skills.

03:37 Bob: Being able to work with others will be especially helpful in the iteration stage of your invention. That's when you turn your great ideas into practical solutions by creating designs, making prototypes and testing them, overcoming setbacks, and refining your ideas until you reach your goal.

03:54 Stephanie Vicarté: It's easy to have an idea and know what you want to do, but it's hard to complete that and take that to the final stages.

04:03 Bob: To make your invention a reality, it's a huge help to have a team and a supportive place where you can work on your design. Elizabeth and Stephanie have each other and a lot of helpful friends and grownups at the Kid Museum. You might get support at school or at afterschool programs, museums and science centers, and even at libraries. A lot of them now have maker spaces where you can invent and build new things.

This sort of dangerous, catastrophic failure is something you need to avoid, but every inventor runs into roadblocks.

04:36 Juan: We like to say if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. Essentially, failure is part of the process. You're going to have failure.

04:46 Suzie: So I've seen three responses to failure. One, is that it completely demoralizes the person; they're unable to go on. The second is that they continue to try the same thing over and over and over again. And then the third is that they are able to change their way of thinking to address their failure. and it's really only that last one that I think is a productive response to failure.

05:10 Juan: People who are successful went through the same thing you're going through. It's natural, it's normal, it's part of invention. You will have failures.

05:18 Elizabeth: You have to just stay strong and don't get up one morning and say, "You know what this is taking forever. I can't do this anymore."

05:29 Bob: So now you might be saying, "Well, sure this is all fine for some braniac kids, but I can't even come up with a science fair project."

05:34 Suzie: Science fair was the worst time of the year for me. It was just torture. I could not come up with anything. My parents, my dad, helped me a lot on my science fair projects. When I told him that I was elected for this Lemelson Ambassador for Invention, he just laughed. He said you've come a long way from those science fair projects.

05:57 Stephanie: As long as you have the persistence and the will and the passion especially to build it, then it's possible. There's nothing stopping you.

06:07: Suzie: Don't be afraid to invent. If you see a problem, don't assume that someone else is going to solve it. You can solve it.

06:15 Bob: So what are you guys sitting there for? Why don't you go invent something?!

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