Five questions with John Madland the BCM 2018 Lemelson Award for Invention winner - Society for Science Skip to content

Five questions with John Madland the BCM 2018 Lemelson Award for Invention winner


John Madland is a high school freshman from Salem, Oregon and the winner of the 2018 Broadcom MASTERS $7,500 Lemelson Award for Invention. John entered the competition with his friend Mihir Joshi and created a novel method for blocking solar radiation using magnets. Read more about John and his project here.

Who, if anyone, is your fictional STEM idol (Iron Man, Sandy Cheeks, etc.)?

My fictional STEM hero is Mark Watney from the movie, The Martian. I admire him because he never gave up and he used his creativity to solve life or death problems with limited resources. For example, he used hydrazine to make water so he could grow potatoes. I, like Watney, also like to use what I have on hand for unusual things. Last week while trying to build a pneumatic Halloween prop, I discovered I could use irrigation tubing to connect the prop to the air compressor. I finally got my jumping skeleton to work and we had the scariest house in the neighborhood.

What would you invent if you had all the money in the world?

If I had all the money in the world, I would create a mini fusion reactor to power a neighborhood. There would be many benefits worldwide with a distributed power system like this. First of all, the fuel is a major component of water and can be easily separated. One seventy-thousandth of water contains deuterium which is the fuel for such a reactor. Some other benefits would be that a fusion reactor is carbon neutral and only produces helium as a waste product, which is currently a limited resource. When there are natural disasters, whole cities wouldn’t be wiped out because the power would be provided locally.

Which moment in your life made you feel the most accomplished?

Probably the time in my life when I felt most accomplished was participating in the Broadcom MASTERS finals. First, I loved getting to work with other people who are curious about the world in the same way I am. I also loved getting to use my knowledge of all the different aspects of STEM in the challenges. Finally, I liked talking to the alumni and all of the guests and speakers.

What would you tell your 5-year-old self if you could talk to them today?

When I was five, my Montessori preschool teacher taught me to read using circuit diagrams and got me hooked on Snap Circuits. I would tell my five-year-old self to keep learning more about electricity and pursuing my passion because great things will come of your curiosity.

What’s next for you?

For a long time, I have known that I would need to learn to weld to be able to build the projects I want. If I can figure out how to wire 240v power to my garage, I will buy a welder. The first project I want to build (once I learn to weld) is a vacuum chamber for a Farnsworth–Hirsch fusion reactor for science fair next year.

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