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Inventor Settles on Quake Idea


Worried about The Big One? Inventor Charles-Marie Nicolai may have come up with something that could make you rest a bit easier.

His invention: a six-inch-thick rubber pad that is placed between a structure and its foundation. The rubber pad creates an earthquake-resistant foundation. It can be fitted into existing as well as new structures at a low cost, said Nicolai, 42. Potentially, this invention could save millions of dollars in property damage as well as lives, he added.

"I always find a quick solution to difficult problems," he said in a heavy Belgian accent. "I love impossible things."

Nicolai has a history of overcoming odds. He arrived in Los Angeles from his native Belgium in 1972. He has experienced financial woes, worked odd jobs and, for a time, even lived on the streets.

But life turned around for him when he purchased a drafting table and enrolled in courses to study contracting at the College of Marin. He started doing various project designs and became a general licensed contractor for home construction and remodeling. He moved back to Los Angeles, where he has continued to design and put ideas together in his Nicholas Canyon home.

Earthquake-proof ideas aren't the only inventions on Nicolai's drafting table. He has also created conceptual plans for a glass honeycomb-shaped space station and underwater mass transit system for San Francisco Bay.

He acknowledges that some of his ideas are rather futuristic, but he hopes to someday see some positive results from his work.

"I always have a big list waiting for me on my drafting table," he said. "You have to keep digging, digging and digging until you have it."

He has a patent on his earthquake pad and hopes it will be available in the near future.

But Nicolai, who has become a successful builder, designer and entrepreneur, says he isn't interested in making money from his inventions.

"Money is not happiness. . . . I get pleasure from doing the work," he said.

UCLA medical students Brian Lee and Bert O'Neil have been selected for the Research Scholars Program in Bethesda, Md.

Lee and O'Neil will spend a year enhancing their research skills and preparing for a career in biomedical investigation under the joint offering of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

Lee, of Santa Monica, has been treasurer of his medical school class at UCLA and holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University. O'Neil, of Los Angeles, graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in biology.

Ilene Straus, principal of Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, has been named Outstanding Secondary School Principal for the state of California.

Straus was recognized by the state and her colleagues for being a model administrator for adults and students. She will attend the awards ceremony during the Symposium for Excellence in Education that will be held in Washington this fall.

Dr. C. Gordon Frank has been appointed chief of surgery for a three-year term at St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica.

Frank, a specialist in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, has been on staff since 1976 and maintains a private practice in Santa Monica. He is also an assistant clinical professor of thoracic surgery at the UCLA School of Medicine.

He lives in Marina del Rey.

The American Heart Assn. recently honored two Santa Monica residents with 1991 Heartsaver Awards at a recognition dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Steve Wagner and Istvan Kerekes were recognized for using their knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation to save a life.

Wagner performed the Heimlich maneuver on a fellow employee who was choking on food in the employee cafeteria. Kerekes saved a man by performing CPR on him at a wedding reception.

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