Conserving the Patent Model Collection

This is a guest post by Joan Boudreau, Curator, Graphic Arts Collection, National Museum of American History.

2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the granting of U.S. patent number 43649, to John Joseph Charles Smith for a “machine for cutting printers type.” Smith’s patent drawing and model offer a view of the invention for his type-cutting machine. The machine sawed individual letters from cast-metal strips. The strips could be made by Smith’s companion invention of the same date, U.S. patent number 43648.

jjcsmith patent drawing

The three-dimensional patent model (measuring approximately 4″x10″x13″) resides in the Graphic Arts Collection at the National Museum of American History alongside some 400 other patent models relating to the printing trade. These patent models have been a part of the national collections since the early 20th century.

jjcsmith patent model

Smith’s model is one of 31 patent models recently surveyed for their conservation and preservation treatment needs, thanks to a small “Staff Projects” funding grant from the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. These small internal grants fund museum work related to invention and innovation at the National Museum of American History and around the Smithsonian.

During the last several years, staff at the Museum have been preparing to load information and photographs of the hundreds of graphic arts-related patent models to the web. (View our work here.) It became clear during this process that a small number of models, which had not seen much use (i.e. for research or display) in the last few decades, were in need of conservation treatment, mostly because of ferrous metal corrosion (or rust, in non-technical terms).

The Staff Projects grant from the Lemelson Center, as well as assistance from the Museum’s Preservation Services team, allowed for the hiring of a conservation specialist who inspected the models needing attention and prepared an in-depth report. The report included treatment needs and a conservator’s time requirements for each model. Now, armed with this important information, we are able to better understand the funds required to actually treat the models, preserving them to a stable condition. We will soon be out applying for grants and seeking other types of funding.

The conservation of objects relating to our American national heritage, including the history of American technology, is good museum practice, and, in fact, one of the missions of the Smithsonian—preserving our nation’s heritage for future generations. The patent models in the Graphic Arts Collection are unique, three-dimensional representations of inventions that factored into the United States’ place of dominance during the Industrial Revolution, which emphasizes the importance of their preservation.

Over 200,000 inventions were patented between the years 1790 and 1880, the period when parent models were a requirement of the patent application process. Some of the inventions and inventors of the first half of the 19th century are represented  in a painting commissioned in 1857 entitled “Men of Progress” by Christian Schussele. The painting, a Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery holding, depicts an imaginary gathering of successful inventors—Cyrus McCormick, Charles Goodyear, Samuel Colt, Samuel Morse, Elias Howe, Richard M. Hoe (representing the printing trade), and thirteen others—thought to have “altered the course of contemporary civilization.” The painting, also depicting representative patent models, applauds these men and their contributions to the fields of agriculture, armaments, communications, energy, engineering, medicine, textiles, and transportation.

men of progress

“Men of Progress” speaks to the depth and breadth of American inventiveness, and to the central role invention and innovation play in the history of the United States. The existence of our patent system is representative of the intellectual property protections offered by the U.S. government, a response to the concept of equal freedoms for all.

Very few patented inventions ever become successful in the marketplace, for a variety of reasons. It is not immediately clear whether John Joseph Charles Smith’s type-cutting invention was ever even manufactured. But we can say that the patent model represents just one of Smith’s many patented inventions (overall, according to Smith’s 1914 obituary in The New York Times, he had been granted 60 U.S. and foreign patents), and more broadly the thousands of inventions patented between 1790 and 1880.

The patent models in the Graphic Arts Collection represent only four percent of the some 10,000 models in the Museum’s collections transferred to the Smithsonian from the U.S. Patent Office in 1908 and 1926. The models reside in various collections at the Museum, in accordance with the subject interests of our different curatorial units. Today you can view about ten percent of the patent model collections online, and patent models dating from 1836 to 1880 are listed in a two volume publication prepared by Barbara Janssen. (Volume 1, Volume 2.)

Richard M. Hoe is depicted in the painting "Men of Progress." This is a patent model of his flatbed cylinder press dated 1844.

Richard M. Hoe is depicted in the painting “Men of Progress.” This is a patent model of his flatbed cylinder press dated 1844.

Each of these patent models has a story to tell. Some, like those representing the works of John Joseph Charles Smith, can be told in connection with each other; many more represent the only patented invention of an individual. The Museum’s collection of patent models offers an endless repository of yet-untold stories of American technological history.

What We’re Reading

A round-up of articles we found interesting, funny, disturbing, or otherwise distracting this week….

Titanium Bullets, Rocket Sleds, and C-4: How the U.S. Tested the Safety of Nuclear Batteries on Wired. The title is pretty self-explanatory. Check out the awesome pictures and technical drawings to find out how the Department of Energy went about “smash[ing] them, blow[ing] them up, shoot[ing] them and break[ing] them.”

Hopkins researchers on Snowden, NSA leak on WAMR-ABC2. This was an interesting take on the privacy v. security debate—that the government is setting standards that open secure systems to backdoor hacking. And especially interesting given our upcoming symposium, Inventing the Surveillance Society (October 25).

CDC Threat Report: “We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era” also on Wired. This article couldn’t help but get us thinking about the innovations that will be needed if and when antibiotics no longer meet our healthcare needs.

Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction on The Atlantic. A new class at MIT “mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present.” Building prototypes based on science fiction? Sign us up!

What were your “must-read” technology/innovation articles this week?


Joining the Boys Club: Cindy Whitehead and Skateboarding

Editor’s note: This post is by Natalie Scavuzzo, an intern in the National Museum of American History’s Office of Public Affairs. Natalie is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Film and Media Studies.

One of the highlights of my time interning at the National Museum of American History was the opportunity to help work on the Lemelson Center’s Innoskate event, where I met Cindy Whitehead. Cindy hails from southern California and has been active in the male-dominated pro vert skateboarding circuit since the 1970s. Cindy is one of the only women ever to be featured riding vert in the centerfold of a skateboarding magazine and, following her skateboarding career, has been working professionally as a self-proclaimed “Sports Stylist.”

Cindy Whitehead skating vert in the 1970s.

Photo courtesy of Cindy Whitehead.

Cindy Whitehead speaks at Innoskate.

Cindy speaks at Innoskate about skate fashion. Smithsonian photo by Tyrone Clemons.

After meeting Cindy in person at Innoskate 2013, I asked her about her unique skateboarding and career experience.

How did you get into skating?
I grew up in a beach community in southern California. A lot of people surfed and, eventually, skateboarding became popular. I’d go to the beach with friends to hang out and cruise and do tricks. My favorite parts of skateboarding were being with my friends, being outside, and enjoying that freedom. Just being able to push off and seeing where you end up.

Did you ever feel like the skating scene you joined in on was a “boys club”?
Well, we were always jumping in and joining the boys club whether or not we were invited or not! The boys were always welcoming and couldn’t have been nicer or more excited for us to participate. More girls should join up!

There are people out there in the world that sometimes do not believe that girls belong in certain things, like sports or upper level management. That is just a very, very antiquated way of thinking.

Are there any organizations pushing for girls to get out there and skate?
Yes. There’s plenty—my own Girl is Not a 4 Letter Word, Skateistan, Long Boarding for Peace, there’s so many out there. More girls skate abroad than skate here. Skateboarding gives skaters a lot of freedom and girls are finding out what boys have known all along. Skateboarding gives them somewhere to go, to hang out, to do a sport, and go outside.

Do you have any words of wisdom for girls looking to start skating?
Some people don’t think you belong, but the majority of people think you do. Believe. Go out there and do what you want do and push ahead. It’s fine, there will always be a few naysayers in anything you decide to do.

What does it mean to be included in the Smithsonian?
We’re all still talking about it, still amazed that we’ve been embraced—it’s an honor. To be honored here alongside the guys, it’s an amazing thing.

Skateboarding clothes donated to the national sports collection.

Objects donated from Cindy to the national sports collection. Photo from Cindy’s Instagram (@SportsStylist).

I believe Cindy is a great example of a woman who proves that you don’t need permission from “the guys” to achieve success. By staying true to herself, Cindy is a trailblazer for female skateboarders and women in general.

Doctors Inventing Auto Safety

Editor’s Note: This post is by Lemelson Fellow Lee Vinsel. Lee is an Assistant Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

This summer I am a fellow at the Lemelson Center, where I am researching the history of automotive safety, focusing on the story of safety in the early period of auto history, from 1900 to 1940, which remains underexplored by historians. My research here has brought me face-to-face with a theme that scholars at the Lemelson Center are currently exploring, namely the role that geography and local networks play in innovative thinking.

The Lemelson Center is developing an exhibition called, Places of Invention, which examines the roles that places and communities play in fostering inventive and innovative activity. Places of Invention focuses on some neat examples of hotspots of innovation: the growth of scientific communities in Washington, DC, in the late 1800s; the rise of manufacturing industries in Hartford, CT, during the mid-19th century; inventive activity around Cambridge, MA, spurred on by World War II military spending; the emergence of Silicon Valley in California and “Medical Alley” in Minnesota during the 1960s and 1970s; the birth of Hip Hop in Bronx, NY, which forever revolutionized popular music; and contemporary research in energy research in Fort Collins, CO.

With my research focus, it’s no surprise that I am particularly interested in the role locality has played in influencing automotive safety. Detroit is a famous example of the power of place in shaping technological change, as reflected in works like, Robert Szudarek’s How Detroit Became the Automotive Capital. Often historians focus on the kinds of inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs who play a direct role in improving the technologies and companies at the center of the local economy. In Detroit, for instance, this central focus would be on the famous automotive firms and the people that worked for and with them. I argue that this focus is too narrow—people of seemingly unrelated expertise sometimes become involved in innovative hotspots. My research includes the role that medical doctors played in improving auto safety.

One example is Dr. Claire Straith. Straith was a plastic surgeon at Detroit’s Harper Hospital who played an important role in improving the practices of reconstructive surgery. According to Straith’s family, on weekends he often went from hospital to hospital, working on people who had been injured in automobile accidents. Most of the people injured were women and children who were sitting in the right-front passenger seat—what Straith called the “Death Seat.” Straith’s experiences led him to become critical of automotive design of the day and to create safety technologies.

Beginning in the early 1930s, Straith installed homemade seatbelts in his own car. He then created and installed crash pads on his car’s dashboard, especially on the passenger side. Straith patented at least two of these devices—the Smithsonian has one of his crash pads in the national collections. The pads were marketed directly to consumers, though few people bought them. However, Straith remained a vocal critic, and he fought tirelessly to get automakers to install safety technologies in their products.

The Straith padded dashboard is demonstrated in this photo by the inventor's daughter, Jean Straith Hepner, and granddaughter, Grace Quitzow. Photo courtesy of Grace Quitzow.

The Straith padded dashboard is demonstrated in this photo by the inventor’s daughter, Jean Straith Hepner, and granddaughter, Grace Quitzow. Photo courtesy of Grace Quitzow.

Some companies listened. Walter Chrysler met Straith, which led to Chrysler engineers building some of Straith’s ideas into the company’s 1937 line of cars. Straith continuously criticized the sharp metallic knobs on cars, which frequently gouged and disfigured people in crashes. The 1937 Chryslers featured recessed knobs on the dashboard. Straith also influenced Preston Tucker, who built safety features into the 1948 Tucker Sedan.

The auto industry was heavily focused on the annual model change during this period, and companies would introduce safety features as part of the publicity of one year’s models, only to backslide and remove the features the very next year. It was not until the mid-1960s—when the federal government created mandatory safety standards—that safety technologies became a permanent fixture of American automobiles.

Straith was not the only medical doctor in the Detroit-area to innovate around auto safety. Another leader in the field was neurosurgeon Elisha Gurdjian, who worked at Wayne State University’s hospital. Gurdjian was also bothered by the kinds of injuries he saw coming into hospitals. He realized that doctors knew far too little about the biological mechanisms of concussions and other trauma-induced brain injuries. He also realized that investigating concussions would involve the study of forces, which lay well outside his own expertise. For this reason, Gurdjian teamed up with a young Wayne State professor in mechanical engineering named Herbert Lissner. The two men began conducting experiments on how forces acted on bodies, using both human cadavers and living, anesthetized, non-human animals (mostly dogs).

While Gurdjian and Lissner’s fundamental contributions were to medical science—especially a field known as impact biomechanics, which they helped found—they also created some innovative experimental apparatus and technical procedures involving already existing technologies. For instance, the two researchers used strain gages, which were usually used to test industrial materials like metal and concrete, to study the strength of bone. They also removed an elevator from an elevator shaft at Wayne State and put an ejection seat in it. They then proceeded to “drop” bodies down the shaft and use pneumatic systems to shoot bodies up it to study the effect of forces on biological systems. No doubt this is innovation, even if it is innovation that we would rather not think about.

Many of Gurdian and Lissner’s experiments were quite grisly, so I will pass over the details here. (For some entertaining accounts of biomechanical studies at Wayne State, see Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; interested readers can also contact me at leevinsel (at) gmail (dot) com for a paper I wrote on the topic.) I also believe that some of their experiments on living animals were clearly unethical, but it is impossible to deny that their research played an important part in improving automobile safety. Indeed, when the U.S. government created automotive safety standards in the mid-1960s, regulators built Gurdjian and Lissner’s findings of how much force the human body could tolerate directly into the new federal rules.

Medical doctors in Detroit, the automotive capital, made fundamental and early contributions to auto safety. In the end, it took a whole movement, including safety advocates like Ralph Nader, to create national safety standards in the United States, but we owe the innovations of Straith, Gurdjian, and Lissner a great deal.

Interning at Innoskate

Editor’s Note: This post is by Joel Pelovitz, an intern working on the Innoskate and Places of Invention projects. Joel is a recent graduate from Muhlenberg College with a degree in history and business. 

As a returning intern this summer, I had the pleasure of aiding in the preparation and materialization of the museum’s first ever Innoskate event, which occurred Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22. By gathering together some of the world’s most pivotal and influential skateboarding icons—both riders and industry gurus—the Center hoped to gain valuable insight into key innovative strides in technology, skating technique, and cultural impact/adaptations since the sport’s inception. What resulted was a captivating and thought-provoking experience that drew crowds of all generations and backgrounds. The participants—a group consisting of skaters, including famed skaters Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen; designers; media personalities; and engineers—donated their skateboarding history to the National Museum of American History’s collections, held discussion panels on invention, and gave skateboarding demonstrations on a ramp built specifically for the event!

Donors to the national collections included Robin Logan, Mimi Knoop, Laura Thornhill Caswell, Patti McGee, Di Dootson Rose, and Cindy Whitehead.

Donors to the national collections included Robin Logan, Mimi Knoop, Laura Thornhill Caswell, Patti McGee, Di Dootson Rose, and Cindy Whitehead.

Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk talk about their inventive process during one of our panels.

Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk talk about their inventive process during one of our panels.

Chris Haslam was one of the many pro skateboarders who showed off their skills on the ramp we constructed outside of the Museum.

Chris Haslam was one of the many pro skateboarders who showed off their skills on the ramp we constructed outside of the Museum.

Traditionally, skateboarding has not been considered academic and is often negatively represented in conservative culture as a result of its association to punk movements. The nature of the event—a supercharged fusion between scholarly inquiry and heart-pounding visual display—allowed for the participants to be accurately represented as inventive minds by sharing their collective knowledge and experiences. As a former skateboarder, Innoskate intertwined my interests for history and skateboarding, creating new perspectives that I had never before considered! My involvement has also evoked further interest into the themes of progress and ingenuity that skateboarding embodies. As for the participants, I have never met a more compassionate, down-to-earth, and appreciative group of people. For the future, I hope that this event not only helped the public reevaluate skateboarding as a constructive endeavor, but also compels us to recognize and appreciate the creative qualities that exist everywhere, especially those beyond our conventional perceptions.

Nikola Tesla’s Place of Invention

Today we host a lecture by noted historian and Tesla biographer W. Bernard Carlson in which he will explore Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.

In a blog post on Gotham Center, Carlson writes about Tesla’s place of invention, Manhattan:

Leonardo da Vinci’s studio in Milan. Thomas Edison’s laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey.  Jobs and Wozniak in the family garage in Los Altos, California.  Although we tend to think about creativity as an abstract, cerebral process, invention actually takes place in specific locations that inform the design and content of a device.  For Nikola Tesla, nearly all of his creative work took place in Manhattan, and where he worked, lived, and played profoundly shaped his inventions.

Read more about Tesla’s relationship with New York City.

Spaces of Invention

Faculty and students all over the country are transforming their learning spaces into Places of Invention.

How do we know?

On March 22, the Lemelson Center hosted our partner NCIIA (National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance) and a student invention showcase, part their annual conference, Open Minds. Part of the program was “Spaces of Invention,” six Ignite talks by students and faculty who describe their Design Kitchens and maker spaces from the collegiate through K-12 arenas. Speakers include:

Judging the Invent It! Challenge

UPDATE: Check out the winners here.

In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! Challenge. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries!

Members of the Lemelson Center team served as judges. As we prepare to announce the winners, they reflect on the contest.

Tanya Garner:

I was definitely surprised by the total number of entries for this year’s contest, of the 30 videos I viewed it was a real treat for me to see so many girls taking on challenges ranging from  fashion mishaps to  handling smelly garbage (as if there was any other kind).

A ten year-old New Jersey inventor created the “Catcher Robbery Report,” a unique system that enabled a camera hidden in a secret compartment of someone’s backpack to remotely send a photograph and data about the thief to the victim/police, which I thought was an interesting problem to address.  Also, I thought the eleven year-old inventor from Turkey cleverly addressed the familiar problem of “stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night into total darkness on your way to bathroom or kitchen for a drink of water,” by creating a pair of “slippers sunshine”—portable motion sensor lights placed in the front of the shoes to help guide the wearer to their destination.

Tricia Edwards:

My favorite part about judging the Invent It contest was seeing the range of problems and challenges the students set out to solve—everything from how to keep your nose warm in the winter to a binder that’s stylish and easier to carry to a snow and ice scraper that you can use from inside your car. (I have to admit that as a person who really dislikes winter and cold weather,  that one was a personal favorite!) Each of the inventors obviously took the “Think It” part of the invention process seriously. I was also amazed at how many of the entries had a strong “Sell It” component. It was clear that the students understood that invention isn’t just about having a great idea; it’s about knowing how to get that idea to market. I was particularly struck by the number of entries that used celebrity endorsements in their marketing. Martha Stewart and the Food Network’s Guy Fieri both made appearances in the entries I judged! All of the student inventors showed so much creativity, ingenuity and inventive thinking, and I am already looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!

Laurel Fritzsch:

One of my favorite things about judging the ePals contest was getting to see all of the creative solutions kids had for the variety of problems they tried to solve. One little boy was trying to solve his problem of getting too hot when he was sleeping and another was trying to wake up sleepy drivers. The boy who tried to solve his problem of being hot may not have come up with a world changing invention but his solution of replacing some of the pajama cloth with mesh was creative and he went through all the steps an inventor would—including making a prototype, testing it out, and developing ways to improve it. The boy who developed a way of waking sleepy drivers also genuinely went through the steps of an inventor and both boys had a real passion for solving the problem they identified. The best part of judging the contest was seeing pictures or videos of the kids with their inventions. Their pride really came through.

Michelle DelCarlo:

I was surprised that some kids decided to address very serious issues, such as childhood obesity. The invention was a wristwatch-style device that would count calories and alert its user when they hadn’t exercised or ate too much. I was impressed with the level of seriousness most kids took in physically creating their prototypes. Some included images of themselves using sewing machines, stapling, or using interesting materials. I didn’t think they would take it so seriously, so that’s awesome.

Invent It! Challenge: Kindergarteners Solving World Hunger and Arguing Siblings

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by teacher Pat Genovese, whose kindergarten class participated in the Invent It! Challenge where Spark!Lab and ePals challenged students to solve real-world problems through invention. The winners will be announced February 4 and you can vote on your favorites.

In my Kindergarten class, our first semester theme focuses on the big idea that anyone can invent, even kids. In anticipation of the ePals/Smithsonian Invent It! Challenge, students saw a PowerPoint presentation about kids’ inventions that help people, videos of children inventors explaining their ideas, and Inventoons, cartoons about diverse innovations. We read a book about inventor Margaret Knight, learned about the inventions of Leonardo DaVinci, participated in a SKYPE session with a NASA scientist, and explored the inventors honored in the National Gallery For America’s Young Inventors. Students were then ready to work in collaborative groups to brainstorm problems they saw either at home or school, with an emphasis on serving others. It was amazing to witness students’ perception of the world around them and their unique approach to resolving problems.

The biggest ‘aha’ moment occurred in the group who wanted to feed people in their community and then realized that they could solve the global problem of hunger. They invented the Amazing Super Growing Plant Food. This was an incredible insight by five and six year-olds, inspired by the Invent It! process.

On the other end of the spectrum was the group that wanted to solve the problem of arguing siblings. They discussed numerous options, but had difficulty deciding on a tangible invention idea. One student recalled the inventions of Mattie Knight and was excited to share her idea of using a kite. The students decided to invent a cooperation kite that features kind words and pictures of Bible stories to remind children to share and be compassionate. They were excited to inform me that the benefit of their invention is that siblings have to cooperate to fly a kite.

I was continually impressed that my Kindergarteners were able to work in collaborative learning groups on an interdisciplinary project requiring critical thinking skills. My students were able to celebrate their creativity and realize that even though they are small, they can still help make our world a better place.

Calistoga Elementary School 5th & 6th graders decide to… Invent It!

Editor’s Note: In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! contest. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries and winners will be announced February 4. But you can help boost this STEM activity by weighing in with your choices of the best student  inventions.

The following is a guest post by teacher Matt Gudenius his class’s participation in the Invent It! contest. Matt’s post first appeared on the ePals Global Community.

Throughout the last few years at Calistoga Elementary School (Calistoga, CA), advanced students have been using ePals resources in various ways, such as writing to email penpals in Italy as part of an Italian-themed GATE program.

Many of these students also take part in the school’s 5th/6th STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Academy, a project-based learning curriculum designed to extend and apply advanced math skills through engineering and design projects in the areas of robotics and architecture. The idea behind our Academy is that standards-based skills should not just be learned, but should be applied—along with technology tools and techniques—to solve real-world problems. We are always looking for problems to solve and ways to solve them!

So when we received news of ePals/Smithsonian’s 2nd annual invention contest, we were all ears! Being very apropos to our problem-solving projects students were already engaging in, we decided to set aside our LEGO MindStorms robotics and Google SketchUp CAD models for a little while to take part in the opportunity to learn about the process of invention in a broader, more general scope.

We took our time to explore the processes and PowerPoint template provided on ePals, and proceeded to carefully work our way through the steps. The very start was the hardest part! Thinking of problems to solve—when the sky’s the limit and there are no constricting parameters—can be very difficult! Students made claims like “There aren’t any problems to solve!”… to which I replied “There are always problems to solve. Even if they have been solved in certain ways, there are always ways things can be improved.”

With that, students began brainstorming. One challenge is that many students tried to think of an invention before first thinking of what problems needed to be addressed, or the multiple different alternative methods that could be used to solve them. This is a backwards approach to the premise: “Necessity is the mother of invention“, so they were instructed to take a step back and try again; to specify a problem first, then brainstorm possible solutions, and finally to pick one (or a hybrid combination of solutions) that best fits the need.

Once this process was complete, the spark had ignited and we were off to the races—there was no stopping the creativity, diligence, and problem-solving going on inside student brains! Some students came up with grandiose solutions involving electronic components or computer technology (we are, after all, working with robotics!) Others took heed of my advice that “The simplest solution which gets a job done is often the best solution.” These students may not have had the complexity or the “wow factor” of the more technical ideas, but the beauty is that they had the know-how and materials to actually create and test prototypes of their inventions. This is truly invaluable, and it underscores the importance of not biting off more than you can chew!

Although we used the Invent It! PowerPoint template as a guide, we decided it would be best to add a few more details that seemed to be missing. For example, directly after Think It and Explore It comes Sketch It… which we did, but we decided that pictures alone were insufficient to explain how the invention worked. So we have added a “Describe It” slide to go along with Sketch It, in which both words and pictures are combined to explain the construction and function of the invention. This also helps mimic the actual format of real-life patents. And to see examples of just how simple or complex patent drawings can be—and how they use letters and numbers as labels to help illustrate the written text—we took a look at a brief history/evolution of patent drawings.

Additionally, we—especially for those of us who were not artistically-inclined and had ideas too complex to build as prototypes—decided that it would be great to use computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create virtual models of our inventions to give accurate visual representations of them. So students set to work using Google SketchUp to create 3D computer models to scale.

At the end of the day, we’ve learned a lot from this process and feel proud of our completed inventions. We hope to participate again next year!