Young Innovators Present Winning Inventions At USF

A few Tampa Bay area students have created household gadgets meant to make life a little easier. 

Alex Kimball, Katie Burcaw and Ariane Custic entered prototypes of their innovative ideas in the University of South Florida's Young Innovators Competition on Feb. 10, 2012, at the university's Patel Center and walked away with money for themselves and their schools as well as other prizes. 

Alex Kimball, 11, a fifth-grader at Academy at the Lakes in Pasco County, won in the elementary school category for creating Sweet Spot for Sponges, an aluminum case for household sponge storage outfitted with a germ-killing LED light.

Kimball says her desire to keep the kitchen clean was the impetus for her creation. "Sponges are the No. 1 place for germs in the whole house," she says. "So I wanted to help fix that." She says the circuitry was the big challenge. "We ended up with an LED light," she explains. "Then we had to figure out the circuitry. And we had to find a divider to keep the sponge dry." 

Katie Burcaw, 12, is a sixth-grader at Martinez Middle School in Hillsborough. She created a large ornament outfitted with concealable tubing that makes watering a Christmas tree easier without bending under the tree. She calls it the Tree IV. 

Burcaw says her annoyance with watering the tree inspired her idea. "It was at Christmas time and it was my turn to water the tree," she explains. "And I kept getting sap in my hair and water on me. So I got an ornament off the tree, cut holes in it and attached a clear tube to the bottom so you wouldn't be able to see it against the Christmas tree. I attached a hook to it so it clicks onto the tree."

Ariane Custic, 15, a ninth-grader at Clearwater High School, created an integrated wall outlet/USB port, which not only makes charging smart phones easier but reduces toxic materials used in manufacturing its computer components by allowing users to plug the USB end of a charging cord directly into a wall outlet.

"For me this invention is perfect," she says. "I have so many things to charge: my phone, my iPod, my Kindle. So I knew it would make my life a whole lot easier. I did research to see if there was anything like it out there. There really wasn't."

The 2012 Young Innovators Competition was the fourth in an annual series. The competition is hosted by Innovation Express, founded and led by Anton Hopen, a USF alumnus and Tampa patent attorney. In addition to cash prizes for the girls and their schools, each was granted honorary membership in USF's Chapter of the National Academy of Inventors and are honored during the university's annual celebration of research achievement, ResearchOne.The winners were selected by a panel of innovation experts that included CEO Kevin Harrington, Home Shopping Network host Bill Green; former Bay News 9 anchor and inventor Jen Holloway and USF innovation leaders.

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Sources: Alex Kimball, Katie Burcaw and Ariane Custic, USF Young Innovator Competition 
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