Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mother of Invention

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

The Mother of Invention

In today’s world, necessity and profit might be called the mother and father of invention. If you want to get rich, find a need and invent something to fill it. The road from hatching the idea to the final product is a long and sometimes painful one filled with failure and setbacks.

Thomas Edison, one of America’s most prolific inventors, was issued 1,093 patents. As a child, he was thought to be not suited for formal schooling, so his mother home schooled him. He said of her, “My mother was the making of me. She was so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” He grew-up to be a scientific genius who was admired worldwide.

North Carolina is well known for its inventions. Such products as Pepsi, the Gatling gun, Vicks Vapor Rub, the UPC or barcode, M-1 carbine, Krispy Kreme donuts, putt putt golf, the control-alt-delete function, a machine for carding and spinning cotton, and many more had their start in NC. A high pressure water device which made the debarking of logs more efficient for the lumber industry was created in Elizabeth City. Nannie Hunter of Elizabeth City was not satisfied with the smell of soap and was granted a patent for her improvement of the manufacturing of soap.

Every year local students enter science fairs at their schools and some projects are chosen to be taken to the regional and state science fairs. While going through the process, kids learn the scientific method and basic principles of science as well as hone their research skills. It is this same process that can lead to invention and discovery.

Port Discover does outreach programs in schools that request them, works with homeschool groups, and guides students who come to the center about how to do a science fair project. Along with science, the kids learn organization and planning skills.

When I taught in middle school, I was one of the advisers of the Science Olympiad team. Each year we would travel to East Carolina University to compete in events designed to test the students’ scientific knowledge, their ability to solve problems, and to invent and build things. Trial and error were a big part of the learning process in many of the events.

One of the highlights of the day was always the egg drop. The kids were provided materials from which they would have to create protection for a raw egg that would be dropped from the top of a stairway. The kids practiced at home before they entered the competition and tested their ideas about what might work. Everyone joined in on the excitement and cheered.

The value of failure is an important part of the learning process. Thomas Edison found the filament that would work in a light bulb after close to 10,000 attempts. Perseverance counts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

People To The Rescue!

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

People To The Rescue

Anyone who has a pet knows that there is a special communication between people and animals. Just ask about someone’s pet, and you will hear stories about unspoken communication. Animals know much more than we give them credit for.

Recently, when our area was shocked by a tornado, an earthquake, and a hurricane people observed that animals in all kinds of environments reacted to the impending events in unusual ways. Many wildlife biologists agree that animals can sense when air pressure drops or vibration occurs.

Even at Port Discover, we saw what may have been animal reactions the day before Irene’s arrival. Our resident corn snake, “Cornelia” slithered out of the educator’s lap and tightly wrapped herself under the chair bottom. The Cope’s Gray tree frog went AWOL for a day and was found not far from his home.

Biologist at the National Zoo in Washington, DC reported that lemurs, orangutans, and a gorilla were restless and made noises before the earthquake that shook the east coast. Reports were that snakes began writhing and flamingos huddled together.

Animals have good cause to express fear when faced with disaster because often they are defenseless and abandoned. During the tornado in Joplin, MO 160 people were killed and the SPCA took in 1,300 lost or abandoned cats and dogs. Only 300 were returned to their owners. An adopt-a-thon held after the storm drew 5,700 people from 24 states that wanted to rescue the homeless pets.

The ASPCA recently reported that in a survey they learned that 42% of pet owners claimed that they would not evacuate if their pets could not go with them. After Irene more than a dozen animals were taken to the Norfolk SPCA from shelters in NC that were overflowing.

As the clean-up began after Irene, more than 100 baby gray squirrels that had been knocked out of their nests were found. My grandchildren in Wilmington were given two baby squirrels to care for by their neighbor who is a veterinarian. He has coached them through the rehabilitation process. After being fed formula for a couple of weeks, they are now dining on cranberries and cheerios. They will eventually be released in an area where they can successfully get back to the life that Mother Nature intended.

Wildlife that is rescued by people should be released into an area away from the neighborhood where they were nurtured because they might continue to expect food from the humans that cared for them. Squirrels have been known to become aggressive in such situations.

There is much to be considered when rescuing wildlife, and it is much more complex than simply feeding them. You can become a certified wildlife rescuer if you sign-up and complete training. Websites such as and have information about how to pursue that goal.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” People to the rescue!
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