Featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 – twice – Param Jaggi gained a reputation while still in high school, when he invented a world changing device to convert the carbon dioxide emitted by cars into oxygen. As a child, Jaggi pursued projects related to saving the environment and world problems. By the time he was learning to drive in 2008, and still passionate about the environment, Jaggi sought to invent a device that would reduce his carbon footprint, after seeing the amount of fumes released from a car. At just 17 years old, he built his bio-reactor. Filled with algae, and therefore named the Algae Mobile, the device fits over a car’s tailpipe, allowing the algae to convert the toxic gas. His invention won Jaggi an award from the Environmental Protection Agency.
While diving with his family in Greece, 16-year-old Boyan Slat was shocked to see so much plastic in the sea. Millions of tons of plastic have littered the world’s oceans over the last few decades, and Slat was shocked to learn that there was no clear solution for cleaning up the sea. He became determined to do something about it. Rather than attempting to clean the ocean by picking up the litter, which would take thousands of years, Slat designed a system that would allow the litter to come to him. By creating an array of floating barriers anchored to the seabed, Slat’s invention would catch and concentrate floating debris, while allowing sea life to pass through it. The collected plastic could then be recycled or made into oil. Having already raised over $2 million, in 2017 Slat is set to deploy a pilot device near the Japanese island of Tsushima.
The trampoline was first conceived by George Nissen when he was just a boy, and it’s probably one of the most fun toys on the planet. While visiting a circus with his parents, Nissen became fascinated by the trapeze artists as they bounced and flipped onto safety nets. In love with the act, he imagined how exciting it would be if the gymnasts could just keep bouncing and flipping when they dropped. As a University student, Nissen worked with his gymnastics coach Larry Griswold on bringing his bouncy dreams to life. They later went on to form the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline and Tumbling Company in 1941, selling the trampoline around the world and even getting orders from the US forces, which wanted to use it as a training tool. By the mid 1960s the trampoline invention was so popular that Nissen no longer bothered to enforce the patent. But, as popular as the trampoline became, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that Nissen actually achieved his lifetime goal. Trampolining was finally inducted into the Sydney Olympics, receiving the respectability as a sport that Nissen had dreamed of as a child.
Braille is the tactile writing system used by blind and visually impaired people. But did you know that a child invented the revolutionary communication system? Born in 1809, Louis Braille was blinded in both eyes when he was just a few years old. But nonetheless he was able to excel in his education, earning a scholarship to France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth. While there, Braille learned about ‘night writing’, a code that had been devised by Captain Charles Barbier. Made up of dots and dashes impressed into thick paper, the code allowed soldiers to communicate silently and without any light. Inspired by this, Braille set about creating his own system, specifically for the needs of the blind. By 1824, at the age of 15, Braille’s system was complete. But his school refused to teach it. Braille spent the rest of his life refining and extending the system, but it wasn’t until 1854, two years after his death, that the Institute finally adopted the system. Braille’s invention eventually spread throughout the French-speaking world and today it is used internationally.
Having been a child prodigy, Blaise Pascal grew up to become one of France’s most celebrated mathematicians and physicists. Influenced by his father’s role as a tax accountant, at the age of 18 Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator – this was in the year 1642! The calculator used metal wheel dials to perform additions and subtractions, and it was also able to perform more complicated tasks, such as division and multiplication. Incredibly, it used similar techniques to those employed by modern computers. After making 50 prototypes of his invention, he presented them to the public. This led to King Louis XIV of France granting him exclusive rights to design and manufacture calculating machines. Although the calculator didn’t become a successful commercial venture, it marked a step forward in employing the use of machines to make boring tasks easier.
Now an international sport with millions of participants, water skiing was first demonstrated in the summer of 1922, when 18-year-old Ralph Samuelson invented it. Skilled at the water sport aquaplaning, which required standing on a board while being pulled by a powerboat, the adventurous teenager came up with the idea for water skiing as a new take on snow-based skiing. Experimenting with both wooden barrels and snow skis, Samuelson eventually made water skis out of pine boards, bending the tips by softening the wood with boiling water. Samuelson’s skiing attracted attention from the local community, but he failed to register his invention for patent, which later went to inventor Fred Waller. However, 50 years after his invention, Samuelson was recognized for his role in the sport and made the guest of honor at a celebration for the water skiing 50th anniversary, in 1972.
A hot day isn’t complete without an ice pop, but it took the innocence of a child to invent this delicious summertime snack. Frank Epperson was just 11 years old when he was mixing a drink of powdered soda and water. He became distracted and forgot about the drink, leaving the glass with a mixing stick on his front porch on a cold night. When he found it again, it was morning and the drink had completely frozen. Epperson was excited by his accidental but tasty invention. He named it the Epsicle and seventeen years later he was serving it at a local ball. The frozen treats were a massive hit, which led Epperson to experiment with a variety of flavors. A quick name change to Popsicle and the rest is essentially frozen confectionary history.
Eesha Khare [ee-shah koo-ha-ray]
A self-professed ‘typical teenager’, 18-year-old Eesha Khare was away from home with a dead cell phone when she came up with her futuristic invention, which allows cell phones to be fully charged in less than 30 seconds. Having been fascinated by inventive science her whole life, Khare used the opportunity to develop a supercapacitor. The energy storage device holds a great amount of energy in a small amount of space, meaning that people wouldn’t have to rely on electrical outlets. Not only could the device charge phones, but hypothetically it could be scaled up to charge electric cars as well. Khare submitted her invention to the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award and came in as runner up, winning $50,000. Impressively, her design caught the attention of big corporations including Intel and Google.
Children get a bad rep for watching TV for hours on end, so it makes sense that the man who made it all happen was a child himself. Philo Farnsworth was just 15 years old when he had the idea for the world’s first electric television. An electronics whiz kid, Farnsworth sought to revolutionize the image scanning method of the time, which was purely mechanical and involved scanning an image through a spinning disc with holes, before the image was projected onto a screen. Having been inspired by watching the back and forth motion of plows in fields, a young Farnsworth came up with an innovative way that images could be scanned electronically, as a series of lines. Farnsworth drew up sketches of his invention and presented the idea to his chemistry teacher. Four years later he was actually able to realize his idea with the help of funding from his friends. The invention worked and Farnsworth secured his place as one of the forefathers of television.
For the last 39 years, the US state of Maine has marked the first day of winter by celebrating Chester Greenwood Day, in honor of the 15 year old who invented the modern day earmuff, all the way back in 1873. An avid ice skater, Chester Greenwood would often find that he’d be forced to cut his fun short, due to his ears becoming too cold. As he was allergic to wool caps, Greenwood approached his grandma and asked her to sew together some ‘ear muffs’ made of wire, beaver fur and cloth. Although he was initially mocked for his strange ear protectors, Greenwood’s friends soon realized that they served a real purpose, and before long everyone was wearing them. As an adult, Greenwood built a small factory and began mass-producing his ear protectors. When WW1 broke out, Greenwood’s factory was enlisted to provide earmuffs for thousands of troops, and by 1936 the company was producing 400,000 pairs a year.