2000 Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprentice
|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
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