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Gadget Makers Aren't Kidding

Education: As Irvine science fair proves, students take their inventions seriously. A 12-year-old girl topped the field of more than 400 with her 'painless window blind' creation.


If you've ever wanted to peek out a window without having to open the entire blind, Amy Kasahara has a solution for you. She calls it the "painless window blind"--a window covering that can be opened one small section at a time.

"You can use it for a doggy door or just to have more privacy," says 12-year-old Amy, a seventh-grader at Lakeside Middle School in Irvine. "I was eating lunch at a restaurant when I thought of it--for no particular reason."

Amy's invention won the grand prize Saturday at the 15th annual Astounding Inventions of the Future, a celebration of children's innovation and creativity at Irvine Valley College.

In competition were the inventions of more than 400 first- through eighth-graders representing 40 schools in Irvine, Tustin and Laguna Beach.

"We want to encourage as many kids as we can to be interested in science," said Mark Sontag, curriculum coordinator for math and science at the Irvine Unified School District and an organizer of the event. "This is an opportunity for them to be creative by coming up with something useful on their own."

Indeed, there seemed to be no shortage of creativity as the children took turns demonstrating their inventions to the panel of judges in the college gymnasium.

Courtney Boutwell, 8, said she came up with her idea for a wireless remote-controlled coffeemaker after watching her parents struggling to get out of bed in the morning.

"Sometimes it takes them a pretty long time," said Courtney, a student at Tustin's Nelson Elementary School.

Janelle Jarvis, a third-grader at Loma Vista Elementary School in Santa Ana, said she invented her Sun Sensor motorized umbrella to protect herself from the sun regardless of its position in the sky. Plug in the motor, she said, and the umbrella will automatically rotate with the sun to keep you in perpetual shade.

And Johnathan Babbs, 8, said he built his radio-controlled backpack on wheels--called a Zoompack--to avoid the strain of having to carry it to school.

Just lay it on the ground, he said, turn on the remote control and--zoom!--it will follow you anywhere.

"My cousins have really heavy backpacks," said Johnathan, a third-grader at Red Hill Elementary School in Tustin. "I thought there should be a better pack that doesn't hurt your back."

Other inventions unveiled at the contest included the Ele-Fountain, an adjustable water fountain that can be electronically lowered to mouth height for children; pudding tubes for easy access to dessert; a cane equipped with a radio and cell phone to make it "easy to walk and listen to music and talk on the phone at the same time"; clips and magnets to help keep one's shoes tied; a "dripless" ice-cream cone stuck through a tray; socks sewn with Velcro to keep them paired in the wash; a water sprayer attached to an alarm clock for difficult-to-wake children; a "hammer helper" holding a nail on the end of the hammer to eliminate banged thumbs; and eyeglass wipers to clear lenses in the rain.

"This builds self-esteem," said Eileen Lenson, whose 10-year-old, Rachel, invented the wipers. "Life is very challenging--they see all the things they can't do, so this focuses them on something they can. Self-esteem is the foundation of everything--if you have self-esteem, you're willing to take risks."

Winning entries--some of which, in the past, have ended up on national television with Jay Leno or David Letterman--were given prizes ranging from white ribbons to a $200 savings bond awarded to Amy for her painless blinds.

"I'm overjoyed," said the youngster, who plans to attend UC Berkeley, Stanford or Harvard for studies leading to a career as a veterinarian. "I didn't think I'd win."

Any other inventions in her noggin? "Not at the moment," she said. "Right now I'm focusing on this one."

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