For the fourth year, The Lemelson Foundation is giving $100 awards to outstanding young inventors in Society Affiliate Fairs with middle school participants around the country. The prize was especially created to reward young inventors whose projects exemplify the ideals of inventive thinking by identifying challenges in their communities and creating solutions that will improve lives.
When Mason Anderson was a 6th grader at Kaneohe Elementary in Kaneohe, Hawaii last year, he was challenged by one of his teachers to think about problems in the world and how they could solve them. Inspired by his 4-year-old dog Bella, Mason thought about the problem of dog poop going to landfills in plastic bags. “I tried to think of some ways to solve that problem, and I thought about composting it,” Mason explained. “Then, I created a plan, and I started building.”
Mason shared that he wanted to find a safe way to dispose of the poop because it creates methane and also contributes to pollution via the plastic bags. Composting seemed like the safe solution because he could transform the dog waste into something helpful: new soil. “I think composting is important because it helps the environment by creating something new out of something old,” he said.
Mason’s invention, the Dog Compoopster, uses motors to power a fan, which mixes the dog poop, and it uses a motor to power a pump, which pumps water into a bucket. The device also has dispensers that can be activated using magnets. Mason built his prototype out of repurposed materials, including soup cans, an old candle holder and old RC helicopter parts.
“All the features on the Dog Compoopster help the dog poop turn into compost faster,” Mason said.
Like many inventors, Mason didn’t get it right on the first try. He ran into problems with his water pump, which pumps water into a bucket from the ground. He quickly learned that in order to pump water straight up, he needed a lot of power. “When I initially tested my water pump it leaked and it didn’t pull water up into the tubing,” Mason said. He tried improving the seal with tape and using a different fan design but those changes didn’t fix the problem. Then, Mason refined the pump with metal instead of plastic, and added an RC motor, which is stronger than the DC motor he had been using. But, it still didn’t work.
Mason finally found success when he took off the tape and used a strong bonding glue, which provided a strong seal for his device. Mason shared that his favorite part of the process was seeing his finished project work. “This is the best part of building something,” he said. “Seeing it finally function properly after all of the effort you put into it.”
Mason, who won the Lemelson Early Inventor Prize for his work, is proud to have created a semi-automatic composter. “When I was researching composters and how they work, I was really surprised that there were no automatic composters out there. They all require multiple steps and constant supervision.”