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The Lemelson-MIT Program has announced that Charles Johnson, a 12th-grader from Hamilton, TX, is the winner of its second annual high school invention apprenticeship award.
Charles began inventing at an early age, mainly to solve problems that he faced around his house. One of his early inventions, for example, was a "Baby Buzzer" designed to help keep his baby cousins off of staircases. Between the fifth and eighth grades, Charles invented a series of devices aimed at helping others, including the "Carthritis," a device to help his arthritic grandmother start her car, and "Bovine Twine" -- environmentally friendly, edible twine for baling hay.
More recently, after becoming intensely interested in the increasing number of train-vehicle collisions in Texas and nationally, Charles developed a train detecting device which warns motorists of oncoming trains. He wants to pursue a career in medicine, a desire he believes is directly fueled by his interest in invention.
"Charles is inspiring. He's one of those people who sees all the problems in his world as opportunities, and more than that, he sees solutions," said contest judge David Levy (SB 1987, SM, PhD), winner of the 1996 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, an annual invention award for MIT students. "Basically, he's an inventor at heart. I love what he has done so far, and I am eager to see what he does in the future."
Administered by MIT, the Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship is designed to provide hands-on experience in a scientific and technological environment. Depending on career interests, the winning student is paired for up to three weeks with a leading scientist, technologist, engineer or entrepreneur anywhere in the country who serves as "invention mentor." Charles's invention mentor will be Dr. Carmen Egido, director and general manager of the Applications and Content Architecture Laboratory at Intel Corp. in Hillsboro, OR
"Dr. Egido sounded very interesting. Her work to integrate computers into the home could also be applied to the medical field -- for example, to develop a way of alerting others of a medical emergency," Charles said. "Besides, I know that I'll need computer knowledge in anything I do, and this apprenticeship will be a great way for me to gain such knowledge."
Last year, Krysta Morlan, an 11th grader at Vacaville High School in California, received the inaugural Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship. She spent two weeks last summer at the Lemelson Assistive Technology Center (LATDC) at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, developing a prototype water bicycle that has both therapeutic and recreational uses.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 17, 1999.