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Young inventor Krysta Morlan may be a college student, but she has already demonstrated talent in the field of assistive technology with her inventions and her initiative. Diagnosed at three years old with a mild form of cerebral palsey, Morlan knows well the challenges posed to those with physical disabilities. When she was in ninth grade, the Vacaville, California native underwent close to a dozen surgical procedures to help improve her condition. After enduring hip to ankle casts in the California heat, with no way to alleviate the pain and discomfort, she invented her first device, the "Cast Cooler."

Morlan The Cast Cooler, which Morlan created with the help of her father, funnels cool air into the wearer's cast through a plastic tube, using a modified aquarium pump and a nine-volt battery that powers a small electric motor. With her invention, Morlan entered and won third place in the Duracell/NSTA Scholarship Competition. She then applied for the Lemelson-MIT Invention Apprenticeship, which she won in 1998.

For her apprenticeship Morlan was paired up with Colin Twitchell, Director of the Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Twitchell helped Morlan assemble the prototype for her next invention, a water bicycle for therapeutic and recreational uses.

Morlan was inspired to invent the waterbike after enduring months of boring physical therapy in the pool after her surgeries. In creating the waterbike, Morlan learned to make computer drawings and work with modeling tubing. The final product was a semi-submerged, fin-powered bicycle, with a rudder to steer. The bike's body was made with light PVC tubing and foam to give it the correct buoyancy. Morlan created the bike for people to be able to use as part of their physical therapy in a swimming pool. However, it can also be used recreationally. One of the big draws for the device, Morlan said, is that it is colorful and fun-looking, unlike most "adaptive" equipment, and she believes disabled people, especially kids, would be more apt to use equipment like this than dull, medical-looking adaptive devices.

Morlan's waterbike was featured in "National Geographic World" in May 2000 and Morlan herself was listed in "ID Magazine" that year as one of the "Fresh Forty" designers under the age of 30. She has served as a role model for teens, especially those with physical disabilities, for the past several years and has written articles for the online magazine "Beyond All Barriers" on Disability Central's ActivTeen Web site. "I've really enjoyed talking with young people about my love for science and inventing," she said. "It's great to hear the excitement in their voice about inventing and know that I played a small part in putting it there."

Morlan has always loved science and hopes to pursue studies in adaptive technology as well as genetics in college. She has attended UC Davis and will soon attend Solano Community College, but she has yet to determine a major. She is especially interested in the possibility of helping to find cures for people with genetic disorders.

[July 2003]

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