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Science Project 1974
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In 8th Grade, I invented a safety feature for electrical outlets. It uses an attachable magnet that goes on the male plug (and stays on the plug when you unplug the appliance) and a magnetic reed switch inside the electrical outlet. The current doesn’t turn on inside the outlet until a magnetic field is present. That keeps kids with forks or knives poking into the outlet from being electrocuted.

I won 1st place in Physical Science at the school and the Regional Science Fair that year. I didn’t get to go to State because I was only in 8th Grade. If I had been a Freshman, I would have been invited to go to State competition.

My Dad commissioned a law firm in 1975 to do a patent search. They found in Argentina (U S Patent 3,868,160), someone had a similar invention that used a magnet and two others (No. 3,846,598 and No. 3,699,285) that used the ground prong to push the circuit into a closed state and one other (No. 3,596,019) that was just like my idea except it used a pin attachment on the plug to turn on the circuit in the outlet. Another similar invention was a power cable coupler (Patent 3,496,500) intended to be used in marine environments that had a sliding collar with a magnet in it that matched a reed switch inside the coupler housing and actuated it after the cable was plugged in and locked. I never saw those items on the market. The lawyer said otherwise it was a perfectly patentable idea.

Other ideas I’ve had but other people patented first:

Legos with batteries, wires, lights and motors inside and put together to form a circuit. I have a rejection letter from Samsonite (the US license holder of Lego products at the time). Now Lego is selling my idea.

Dental Floss Picks (I came up with this idea in the mid ’70’s too, but didn’t do anything with it)

GPS Enabled Polaroid Cameras (now Ricoh has announced a GPS Enabled Digital Camera)

Urinal Toy (pee on a sensor and get a high score)

I have a couple more ideas that I haven’t seen patented yet… but can’t afford the process of getting the patent! It is frustrating waiting too long and seeing your ideas make someone else money.

Are there any other frustrated inventors out there?

Science Pub RVA connects you, science & liquids once a month at The Camel
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Photo by Cambirai McCuee of @CMRSPhoto

The Camel has super-sized their screen making their venue even more appealing for community endeavors such as Richmond’s own science cafe.