The Sweet Smell of Inventions

By Vickie Chachere
USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2012) – A device that uses UV light to kill smelly and potentially dangerous bacteria on kitchen sponges, a holiday tree watering system disguised as an ornament and a easier way to charge smart phones were the winning inventions Friday at the University of South Florida Young Innovator Competition.

AlexKimball1 300x165, Academy at the LakesAlex Kimball, a fifth grader at Academy at the Lakes in Pasco County, won in the elementary school category for her Sweet Spot for Sponges, an invention that incorporates germ-killing light into an aluminum case that can be both decorative and functional.

Katie Burcaw, a sixth grader at Martinez Middle School in Hillsborough, turned her annoyance at watering the family Christmas tree into the Tree I.V., designed to help those with limited mobility keep their trees and house plants watered.

And Ariane Custic, a ninth grader at Clearwater High, withstood tough quizzing from the judges about her integrated wall outlet/USB port which she said not only would make charging smart phones easier but reduce the use of dangerous elements in the manufacturing of computer components but allowing users to plug the USB end of a charging cord directly into a wall outlet.

Alex Receives Her Check 300x200, Academy at the LakesEach student won $1,000 and additional prizes for their inventions, which were judged on originality, functionality and market potential by a panel of expert and celebrity judges. Karen Holbrook, USF’s Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Global Affairs, commended students who had taken everyday problems and searched for solutions.

“We are celebrating the spirit of innovation – something good and honest about the human spirit,” said Anton Hopen, founder of the Young Innovator Competition and USF’s outside patent attorney.

Fourteen young inventors from across the Tampa Bay region showcased their original creations and competed for top awards after being selected from a record-breaking 536 entries from across the eight-county Tampa Bay region.

John Maciel, an Oak Grove Middle School 8th grader, was awarded the Accuform Signs award for safety innovation for his idea for hydro reactive clothes that change color when they become wet, turning to bright colors that will aid visibility in water rescues.

Burcaw’s Tree I.V., which connects a large tree ornament to a length of clear tubing that allows the user to pour water into the ornament and have it drain into the tree’s water bowl, also won the Outback Top Trademark Award. She explained to the judges her inspiration for the invention was the task of having to crawl under the family Christmas tree to water it, a process which caused ornaments to fall and got sap and needles in her hair.

“I thought: Why not use something already on the tree to water the tree,” she said. “There are only 319 shopping days until Christmas, so you better get a head start.”

Video: Amy Mariani | USF News

The evening was buzzed with charming new ideas for practical, yet creative new devices. James Walker Jr., a fifth grader from Spessard Holland Elementary School in Polk County, presented his “PowerPlant” an artificial houseplant/solar power generator that could be used to produce additional power for small devices. Asked where he might sell his invention by HSN host Bill Green, Walker answered matter-of-factly: “HSN.” The youngest competitor, second-grader Hans Preta, introduced his lamp/flashlight device, saying: “I thought of the idea for this light when I was little.”

Aashi Patel, a third-grader at St. Paul’s School in Pinellas County, came up with the idea for her Eco Shower timing system, out of that age-old mother of invention: necessity. The device uses ultrasonic technology to measure the gallons of water used.

“I came up with this idea because when I take a shower in the morning, I take a long time. My dad tells me I am wasting time and water,” she said. “And I am late for school.”

Middle school winner Kimball passed around a smelly sponge for judges to illustrate her point of just how yucky bacteria can be. Introducing herself, she announced: “Hi, I am Alex Kimball and I am here to solve your stinky sponge problem!”

Custic said she hoped her invention not only would eliminate cumbersome adaptors that connect the USB cables to outlets for smart phone charges, but might also lessen the harmful metals and chemicals used in the adapter manufacturing from leeching back into the environment when they are discarded.

The 536 invention entries from schools in eight counties were received for the competition. The entries were then culled by members of USF’s chapter of the National Academy of Inventors to the field of the 14 finalists representing elementary, middle school and high school categories.

The winners received a package of prizes which include $1,000 for the top invention from each of the three school levels. Winners will also earn an additional $1,000 for their respective schools to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives.

The winners were selected by a panel of innovation experts, including infomercial pioneer Kevin Harrington, the CEO of; Home Shopping Network host Bill Green; former Bay News 9 anchor and inventor Jen Holloway and USF innovation leaders. The Young Innovator Competition was founded and is led by the non-profit corporation, Innovation Express, founded and led by Hopen, a USF alumnus and Tampa patent attorney.

In addition to a cash prize awarded to the winners of each of the three categories, the successful inventors are granted honorary membership in USF’s Chapter of the National Academy of Inventors and are honored during the university’s annual celebration of research achievement, ResearchOne.

The Young Innovator Competition was devised by Hopen’s daughter, Anna – herself a young inventor – to promote innovation and creativity in young people by motivating them to solve problems and think of new ways to improve our daily lives. In doing so, children discover why education gives them increasingly more powerful tools and resources to solve bigger problems and challenges, Hopen said.

For more information on the Young Innovator Competition, click here.

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