This Month in STEM: National Inventors MonthApr 25, 2023
Have you heard of the Engineering Design Process before? If you’re an educator who currently works in a classroom, chances are, you have. However, if you’ve been removed from the education world for a bit, you might be wondering what this is and why it’s important to National Inventors Month.
The Engineering Design Process is used in STEM Design Challenges, where students are given a problem to solve by inventing a resourceful device using materials provided to them. While the exact wording of the Design Process tends to differ at times, the general concept remains the same among all who teach this process. Students start by defining and researching the problem, creating possible solutions, drawing a blueprint, developing and experimenting with that prototype, and then improving upon it based on the results. This teaches students that often the best inventions are not created in the first round. Additionally, they learn that the best innovations require research, creativity, collaboration and most importantly, persistence.
This is where National Inventors Month comes in! Many of the groundbreaking inventions we use and love today were created by innovators who followed this very same process. During this month, we explore just some of the many inventors who have made a difference in the world, keeping in mind that we are helping our students adopt the mindset of an innovator when they engage in the Design Process so that they may one day be celebrated during this month.
Here are some inventors who may not be as known as those like Henry Ford or Alexander Graham Bell, but who created inventions we use and love today:
- Thomas Jennings (1791-1956) was the first African American to hold a patent. He lived in New York City, where he was born free during a time of slavery. Jennings created a process called “dry scouring,” or dry cleaning.
- Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) filed a patent in 1966 for a home security system. She also created the closed-circuit TV.
- Ralph H. Baer (1922-2014), known as “Father of the Video Game,” created the first gaming consoles.
- Patricia Bath (1942-2019) was the first African American female doctor to receive a patent. She is known for inventing the Laserphaco Probe. This tool uses a laser to vaporize cataracts and only requires a 1-millimeter insertion into a patient’s eye. This invention revolutionized cataract surgery for many!
- Ann Tsukamoto (1952-present) is making a difference in stem cell research. She holds multiple patents for technological tools that isolate multiple types of stem cells.
- Ajay Bhatt (1957-present) invented USB technology. This allows us to charge our phones and plug additional components into our laptops, like a mouse, keyboard or hard drive!
*These inventors and this information came from this list which contains even more information about inventors who may not be well-known, but made significant advancements nonetheless.
Some inventions made a difference in the world of medicine, some in computer technology, and others in everyday lives, like Jennings’ dry cleaning innovation. There are a plethora of fields that experience problems or have tools that need updating, meaning there are a variety of inventions still waiting to be created.
For National Inventors Month, brainstorm with your students, children or family some everyday problems they face. What ideas do they present to alleviate some of these difficulties? How might we improve upon inventions that exist, but are not perfect? Challenge them to use the Design Process to create a prototype of an invention that would make a difference in our everyday lives. You never know, they might end up applying for a patent!
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