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.

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