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CONTACT: STEPHEN PRADARELLI
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
e-mail: stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu

Release: March 24, 2000

UI to host Invent Iowa 2000 April 2

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ever notice how hours spent moving a computer mouse can leave your palms sweaty? Or how easy it is for soap to slip out of your hands in the shower? Or how tough it is to find a disco ball when you really need one?

Some Iowa students have thought about these annoyances a lot and have come up with some pretty novel ways for dealing with them. Their inventions, and hundreds of others from across the state of Iowa, will be evaluated at Invent Iowa 2000 Sunday, April 2 in the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus. An open house from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the IMU Main Lounge is free and open to the public.

The program, sponsored by the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and the UI and Iowa State Colleges of Engineering, will bring together students in third-grade through high school to demonstrate inventions that they think will make life easier for people -- or at least more entertaining.

Take the "Don't Sweat It Mouse." Ronnie Cooper, a junior from Hanlontown, noticed how classmates learning how to use the computer got anxious and repeatedly wiped their hands on their pants. So he disassembled a computer mouse, installed a 12-volt fan and punched holes in the top of the mouse to allow a cool breeze to blow across the computer user's palm.

Fifth-graders Lauren Ruppert and Whitney Hoogerwerf of Iowa City figured there had to be a better way of cleaning up in the tub and shower than handling a slippery bar of soap. The fifth-graders melted some glycerin soap in a microwave oven, poured it into an empty deodorant container and, voila, "Soap Stick." To further improve the grip, they attached no-slip shower strips to the outside of the dispenser.

Then there's the handy-dandy "Personal Disco Ball," the brainchild of fifth-graders Karissa Morton and Danielle Aldridge of Des Moines. The portable disco ball is made from a Styrofoam ball embedded with plastic pieces colored by the students and is illuminated by a light bulb rigged to a battery.

Now in its 13th year, Invent Iowa is no mere science fair. Students are encouraged to develop inventions or innovations that generally meet the requirements for a patent in the United States. In other words, they must be "new, useful and non-obvious." To make the experience more meaningful, students are encouraged to keep journals chronicling their inventions from concept to completion.

To reach the state convention, inventions must first pass the muster at local and regional meets sponsored by the state's 15 Area Educational Associations. Last year's Invent Iowa state competition was held at Iowa State, which has agreed with the University of Iowa to alternate campus sites each year.

In addition to the competition this year, the UI College of Engineering is offering participants hands-on activities and tours of the Seaman's Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences, the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research's Salmon Project and the UI Health Care Patient Simulator Program. The simulator program centers on an anatomically accurate, computer-automated, adult-size mannequin that doctors and surgeons can use for new procedures and medications without endangering a real patient's life.

While Invent Iowa encourages practical inventions, more fanciful creations get equal consideration so long as students put some thought into them. The primary objective, says Invent Iowa state coordinator Laurie Croft of the Belin-Blank Center, is to have the students go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic and use real-world problem-solving skills.

"Invent Iowa is really about self-discovery," Croft said. "Not only do the students have to use math, science, writing and other skills when planning and assembling their inventions, but they have to think about how they can make the world around them a better place. It's really remarkable the kinds of ideas they come up with."

Other examples of the roughly 300 inventions scheduled to compete at Invent Iowa 2000 include an "All-Weather Wheelchair Umbrella," invented by Nick Wahlert, a fifth-grader from Anita; the "7-Day Pet Feeder," a pet food dispenser fashioned by third-grader Alicia Meier of Tipton; and "Learn-To-Tie Shoestrings." The last, invented by fourth-grader Tim Weideman of Anamosa, uses color-coded shoelaces and an accompanying instruction sheet to teach young children how to tie their shoelaces.

Some of the inventions are more enigmatically named. The "Nose Cup," created by fourth-grader Kasey and sixth-grader Kellee Harmeyer of Elkhard, is a drinking cup with two handles and a deep notch cut along the rim so a person drinking from the cup can tip it further without bumping his or her nose. Davenport fifth-grader Andrew Taylor, an avid hockey player, assembled PVC pipes and a fan to create the "Raunchy Equipment Smeller Better Machine" -- a device that both dries and deodorizes sweaty athletic gear.

For aspiring gymnasts there's the "Super Quick Multi Splitz Machine," a spring-loaded platform created by Shannon Verwoert and Natalie Schneckloth of Cedar Rapids to make splits less painful. And Iowa City sixth-grader Courtney Fisher, who plays softball, thought it took too darned long to pull on and remove traditional elastic leg pads, which require players to take their cleats on and off. Fisher's "Easy-Off Sliding Pads" employ Velcro straps for quick and easy use.

More information about Invent Iowa is available at the Belin-Blank Web site: www.uiowa.edu/~belinctr/special-events/.


EDITORS NOTE: Students' inventions will be evaluated during a closed session from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 2. Media interested in interviewing students can do so during the open house portion of the convention between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. The inventions will be on display in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union, and in several surrounding rooms. Recognition ceremonies will be held in the second-floor ballroom from 2:15 to 3 p.m. for third- through fourth-graders, and from 3:15 to 4 p.m. for sixth- through eighth-graders. For more information, contact Steve Pradarelli at (319) 384-0007.