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Train Detecting Device

Charles Like many inventors, Charles Johnson started inventing around the time he started grade school. However, with his high school graduation approaching, he has already produced a portfolio of health and safety inventions that few young inventors can match.

Johnson was born in Hamilton, Texas in 1981. In kindergarten, he upgraded his design efforts from building with Lego® blocks to entering the national Invent America! contest, and won its Creative Excellence Award. Since then, he has never stopped identifying problems in the world around him and inventing ways to solve them.

Some of Johnson's earlier inventions were convenience items, like the "Ski Slings" that make it easy to transport and identify one's skis. But his interest in safety-oriented inventions was there from the start. From his own experiences looking out for his small cousins, Johnson created the "Baby Buzzer," a warning device that discourages babies from crawling onto staircases while alerting their caretakers of the potential danger.

Soon thereafter, Johnson created a device designed with his grandmother in mind: "Carthritis," an adapter that makes it easy for persons with arthritis to turn a car key in the ignition. This won him his first Inventor of the Year award, at the local Invention Convention (a contest he entered every year, from kindergarten through eighth grade). Then, switching to an entirely new field, Johnson invented "Bovine Twine": baling twine that can be eaten by cattle along with the hay bales fed to them, rather than ending up on the ground as non-reusable refuse.

Two other inventions from Johnson's grade school years combat major transportation hazards. First, his extensive on-site investigations led to his solar-powered "Bridge De-Icer" system (1993). This invention pumps warm water (or, alternatively, electric current) through the road surface of bridges --- which if untreated tend, as highway signs often warn, to freeze before surrounding road surfaces.

Second, after a series of fatal accidents at Texas train crossings, Johnson spent his eighth-grade school year doing a vast amount of research and consulting with civil engineers. The result was his favorite invention to date, the "Train Detecting Device." This is basically a radar detector, inexpensive and easy to install in a train engine or motor vehicle, that warns drivers well in advance that a train is nearing a crossing, and warns engineers in the same way of approaching cars and buses --- whether or not the crossing signals are functioning. For this effort, Johnson not only caught the notice of many commercial and governmental civil engineers, but was also named local Inventor of the Year again, and National Champion of the 1996 Invent America! competition.

Through his years at Hamilton High School (1996-2000), Johnson has continued to pursue invention projects. He has also become President of the school's Student Council and National Honor Society; Texas State Champion in the 800 meter run, fourth in state in Cross Country, and District MVP in Basketball; Special Olympics Volunteer; and an active member in many other extracurriculars.

Charles Johnson's most recent honor was winning the second annual Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship . After spending three weeks this summer working with Dr. Carmen Egido at Intel's Applications and Content Architecture Laboratory, Johnson will continue his education --- and, doubtless, his inventing --- at Texas A&M University.

For a profile of last year's Lemelson-MIT Invention Apprenticeship winner, Krysta Morlan, click here.

[April 2000]

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