March Madness for the Mind at the Smithsonian

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Has this ever happened to you?

After purchasing a set of new speakers for your living room entertainment station, you set aside a few hours on Saturday afternoon to make the switch. A few hours turns into an afternoon as you navigate through heaps of wires coming out of the DVD player, flat screen television, Blu-Ray device, satellite TV box and two game consoles, just to get to your old speakers. If only there was an easier way to disentangle this fire hazard.

Have you heard of the Torch Cord™?

Developed by the Clarksburg High School Coyote Inventors of Maryland, the Torch Cord™ is the easiest way to conqueror the "endless tangle" of cables that come attached to our favorite electronics. Just apply pressure to a Torch Cord™ and the entire length of the cable will light up, showing you its path and identity.

Clarksburg High students pitched their innovation to museum visitors, reporters and potential investors during the "March Madness of the Mind," showcase at the American History Museum last Friday. The event, held annually by the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance, highlights inventions designed and produced by high school, college and graduate students around the country.

Several of the innovations, like the Torch Cord, are still prototypes, requiring more money to finalize and mass produce. That invention is one-part idea and three-parts fund raising is part of the learning experience for the students. Fortunately, one of the purposes of "March Madness for the Mind" is to help young innovators practice their ability to sell their product, as well as pair them with investors and advisers.

Another highlight from the showcase was a mountain-bike inspired wheelchair, a useful way for disabled people in developing countries to get around on rugged terrain. The California Institute of Technology grads pitching the innovation came up with the idea while seniors in college, then went on to start the non-profit Intelligent Mobility International, which is testing the wheelchair in Guatemala. The company was featured on Popular Mechanics Top 10 New World-Changing Innovations of the Year list in November 2008.

Also on display was the SociaLight, not the social networking site but an inexpensive lamp using LED bulbs that’s being tested with off-grid rural communities in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. Several portable lanterns by other companies are already in development, but what makes this innovation different, say the college students from New York’s Cooper Union who developed it, is that people can be taught to create and maintain the product using locally available materials.

Whatever they had to show, the students, dressed in suit jackets and blouses, were engaged, on point, and didn't let an opportunity pass to discuss their prototypes. Excellent strategy—you never know if there's a venture capitalist hiding behind that fanny pack.

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