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Young inventors' ingenuity on display
during state Invention
(April 5, 1999)

The home court of the national champion Huskies, Gampel Pavilion, hosted exhibition play of a different sort March 27 when 2,000 participants, including 600 youthful competitors, assembled for the 16th annual Connecticut Invention Convention.

"Engineers are inventors. We take problems ... and devise solutions. These children already are engineers, they just don't know it."

Amir Faghri Dean of Engineering

Sponsored in part by UConn's School of Engineering, the Invention Convention brought together students in grades K-12 from across Connecticut, whose inventions previously won in local competitions. The School of Engineering brought the Invention Convention to Storrs, for the first time in the event's history, with the objective of inspiring more Connecticut students to pursue academic training and careers in engineering.

"In the last decade, Connecticut has suffered a dangerous decline in the number of engineers graduating from its colleges and universities. If the state and Connecticut industry are to reverse this ominous trend, we must intervene now. We must be proactive in inspiring even very young children to become engineers," said Amir Faghri, dean of the School of Engineering.

"We are proud to have acted as a co-sponsor of this remarkable event. It's a natural fit for us because engineers are inventors. We take problems - from the mundane to the most sophisticated - and devise solutions. These children already are engineers, they just don't know it. We hope that after today, they do."

For the estimated 2,000 attendees, the inventions were by turns a source of amusement, wonder and promise. Each exhibit comprised a working model of the invention, brief statements of the problem and the solution, and an inventor's log detailing the invention's components and assembly.

The exhibits offered ample testimony to the pragmatic ingenuity of even young children in solving everyday irritations and problems. Among the hundreds of inventions displayed were diverse devices to alert residents of mail delivery, dry water-soaked boots and shoes, automatically water indoor plants during a homeowner's absence, measure precipitation, organize hair accessories or winter hats and gloves, and keep bed covers in place.

Ramesh Malla, associate professor of civil engineering and the event coordinator and member of the Connecticut Invention Convention Board of Directors, said, "Many of the parents told me the venue in Gampel, the fine lineup of speakers, and the program made this year's Connecticut Invention Convention event the best they had attended."

During the 90-minute judging of exhibits, parents, competitors and visitors were free to explore campus and visit the exhibits and working demonstrations of the School of Engineering's six departments and interdisciplinary majors.

The day's events began and concluded with presentations. John Cassidy, senior vice president of United Technologies Corp., urged parents to encourage their children's innate curiosity about the world. He also described the pioneering work of aeronautical engineers at Sikorsky Aircraft and Carrier Corp.

Prasum Desai, an engineer at NASA-Langley, thrilled the audience with slides of the Galileo, Pathfinder, Mars Lander, and Stardust missions. Channel 30 meteorologist Brad Field treated the audience to a brief primer on weather prediction and the effects of El Nino and La Nina on global weather patterns.

Charles Baumgartner, president of the Connecticut Invention Convention, and Faghri also offered opening remarks. Baumgartner, who works for GE Industrial Systems, one of the Invention Convention sponsors, said the convention's board would like to partner with UConn's School of Engineering again.

Nan Cooper