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Charles Johnson
2000 Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprentice

Charles Johnson
Photo by Duane Laverty
 

Charles Johnson's inventions have helped his arthritic grandmother start her car, saved his young cousins from dangerous falls down stairways, and one day may even prevent train-vehicle collisions at train crossings. While Johnson may not be Superman, he is committed to inventing devices to assist others. Johnson won the Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship in 1999 for his unique inventions to solve everyday challenges he encountered.

Johnson's first invention was the "Baby Buzzer"—a mat with a device that sounds a buzzer when stepped on, alerting parents when babies are close to staircases. His other inventions include "Carthritis," a device created from a modified ice scraper to help arthritis sufferers start their cars, and "Bovine Twine," digestible, environmentally safe twine for baling hay.

According to Johnson, his best invention is a train-detecting device that he developed after researching fatalities at train crossings across the United States. Charles theorized a system where the front of the train would give off radar signals, while cars would be equipped with a radar receiver. As a car approached a train crossing, it would detect the train's radar and the driver would be alerted in time to stop.

To foster Johnson's interest in health and safety, he was paired with Invention Mentor Dr. Carmen Egido, director and general manager of the Applications and Content Architecture Laboratory at Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Oregon. During his apprenticeship, Johnson was involved in the study of "extreme knowledge workers" in medical settings, and Intel's "user-centered invention process," which involves the development of ideas to prototypes, and to the finished product.

According to Johnson, "The apprenticeship truly opened my mind to new ideas. I learned so much about technology and the new ways of communicating that will soon be in our homes and in the workplace. I will place much more emphasis on the technological aspect of medicine than other future physicians will because of my experiences."

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Charles Johnson
Photo by Alan Borrud
 
MIT