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Great Minds at Work

Clifton students bring creativity to life during Innovation and Invention Fair.

Maybe there really is an easy way to achieve world peace. For Alyssa Oakley and Natalie McCarthy, fifth grade students at Clifton Elementary, the answer comes in the shape of a red felt flag, covered on both sides with the flags of all 181 nations in the world. In the middle of their flag is a drawing of the globe, with two hands clasped in the center and a dove resting just above the planet.

“This is a flag the represents peace,” said Natalie. While watching the news one night, she started thinking about all the horrific stories coming out of Iraq and other war zones.

“We’re dying over hatred and religious and political reasons,” she said.

“We lose lives and we’re making the world a smaller place,” said Alyssa. “There’s no peace. Countries need to stick together.”

Their flag was one of several dozen submissions to Clifton Elementary’s second annual Innovation and Invention Fair, where students in first through sixth grades are asked to come up with creative solutions to a problem in their daily lives.

Alyssa and Natalie believe their flag could be adopted by the U.N. and flown in countries around the world.

“If people buy these, maybe it can make them think of why there are fights,” Natalie said. “We can work together and make it a better place.” If people around the world saw their nation’s flag united with other countries, it might lead them to think about the similarities people share instead of their differences, she said.

Some of the other inventions were more traditional and functional, like the trebuchet called the Jackinator 2007 made by brothers Ian and Will Mitchell.

“I wanted to build this for fun, but Ian said we could use it for our problem,” said Will.

Their family has an active and energetic yellow lab at home, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, a playful puppy that wears them out. By building the trebuchet to launch tennis balls, it helps the boys and their parents play with the dog longer.

“Sometimes it can go farther, but 109 feet is the farthest we can make it go,” Ian said.

A trebuchet is like a catapult, the boys explained, except it uses a counterweight instead of a spring for launching things forward.

“You pull the arm back and the bricks in the bucket lift up,” Will said. “When you let go of the bar, the bucket goes down fast. It takes two kids to work it but only one grown-up.”

The boys and their dog have been enjoying their creation at home.

“Our dog likes it a lot,” Ian said. “My mom’s arm got tired throwing the ball but now she likes it too.”

SOME OF THE inventions were a bit more futuristic, like the Esca-Silde made by fourth graders Afsha Bhatia, Courtney Detone and Emily Fisher, who called themselves “ACE.”

A long conveyor belt enclosed in a tube would lead thirsty patrons to a juice stand on hot days in amusement parks, explained Afsha.

“There are a few stations along the way," she said. "The first station has a laser light show, the second station is the mister and the third has a bubble machine."

At the top of the slide is a juice bar, Courtney said, and using the Esca-Slide would keep people cool and happy while waiting in line.

“One time, I saw a guy beat up someone else because the line was long and he didn’t want to wait,” Afsha said of a particularly memorable trip to a water park.

“This way, you don’t have to walk up long stairs and get blisters,” Emily added.

To keep outdoor pets from having frozen water bowls in the winter, Savannah Willet, Genevieve Munch and Miranda Mangahas invented the “Un-Freezy,” a solar-powered attachment to a water bowl that keeps water above 32 degrees.

“My cat’s water bowl always freezes outside during the winter,” said Savannah. “We thought we’d use solar power to heat it.”

Turning the bowl over, she explained that a metal heating element would be charged by solar power during the day. A small solar panel would also be charged when the sun is out to continue to power the dish at night.

“We thought we’d use tin foil under the bowl as insulation,” said Genevieve.

Although the girls tested the bowl and it didn’t quite work the way they wanted, the invention was still a success.

“We had fun making it,” Miranda said. “It was fun making the drawings and trying to put it together.”

AFTER SCHOOL on Thursday, Feb. 22, the students stood by their projects and waited for the judges to examine their work. These were not just any parent volunteer judges, but representatives from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

“I’m very impressed by these students,” said judge Donald Champagne. “They’re really inspiring at this age and they take it very seriously.”

Fellow judge Suchira Pande said she enjoys looking at younger students’ submissions more than their high school counterparts.

“They’re really into their projects and many of them are very practical,” she said.

The judges said they did not find too many of the projects entirely out of reach, from the solar-heated dog house to the school bus modified to give students some quiet on the ride home. While not all of the projects could be built and on the market right now, the judges agreed there were some possible future hot-sellers in their midst.

“The solar-powered dog house was very intriguing,” Champagne said. “This whole program presents Clifton very well.”

More than 100 students participated in the Innovation and Invention Fair, said parent volunteer and coordinator Kari Meyer.

“This pushes innovation training and teaches young children to be creative at an early age,” she said.