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Homework Helper: Getting Inventive

When creativity is harnessed for useful ends, that is when we get amazing inventions. Can you think of a better computer? Somebody did. Otherwise there would only be a few of them; they would be really slow--and they would take up entire rooms! Or, how about a cell phone? Those were inspired by the communicators on the original Star Trek series.

Virginia educators (and librarians!) are very interested in helping kids realize their potential in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Indeed, Virginia has a history of producing some very inventive people.


Famous Virginia Inventors include:

  • Thomas Jefferson: Possibly our most inventive president, Jefferson designed a better plow, a secret cipher device, a Great Clock, a space-saving ladder to repair the clock, a portable copying press, a better polygraph, and more.Lewis Latimer
  • Lewis Latimer: Born a slave, Lewis Latimer is considered one of the most important black inventors in America. He worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the patent for the telephone and improved on Edison’s light bulb design.
  • Matthew Fontaine Maury: Nicknamed “the Pathfinder of the Seas,” in addition to the modern sciences of oceanography and meteorology, Maury invented the first electrically-controlled submarine mine to be successfully used in warfare.  He also was instrumental in laying the first trans-Atlantic cable, having done soundings to determine where it should be placed. He was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.
  • Cyrus McCormick: invented a revolutionary type of mechanical reaper that was able to be mass-produced, saving farmers much hard labor. He made other innovations and founded what eventually became known as the International Harvester Company.

Discovering Homework Help

Whether you want to be an inventor or just have a science fair project or report due for a major grade, the library can provide you with lots of source material. Check out our lists, Fantastic Inventions and For Young Inventors, to get ideas for science projects, links to contests, and background information on famous inventors. You can find more for your reports through our Research page. Best bets for elementary school students: Encyclopaedia Britannica for Kids (includes tips on writing research papers and science reports) and Kids InfoBits.

More advanced readers may wish to try Access Science, Biography in Context, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Be Inventive and Competitive

Got a great idea for an invention? The National Museum of Education sponsors several fun contests and maintains the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors for national winners in invention competitions or those who hold patents.

Places to Go

Science happens every day and everywhere.  But there are certain places within an easy driving distance where inventive dreams are really celebrated:

The National Inventors’ Hall of Fame and Museum
http://www.uspto.gov/about/offices/opa/museum.jsp#heading-1
Located on the United States Patent and Trademark campus in Alexandria, Virginia, the museum has a rotating main exhibit, a digital electronic portrait gallery that brings famous inventors (and presidents) to life and a theatre that is currently showing the video, XTRAORDINARY Innovations, which uses the X-games as an example of how important patents and trademarks are to all aspects of our society. The Hall of Fame features a display of the 470 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees. From June 21-23, 2013, the USPTO and the Smithsonian Institution are combining forces to “celebrate ingenuity and cutting-edge technology” with a show of some of the latest inventions called Innovation Expo 2013.

The National Museum of American History
http://americanhistory.si.edu/
Invention has always been a big part of American history.  Inventive minds might enjoy these online exhibits: America on the Move;* Lighting a Revolution;* Edison Invents;* Invention at Play;* Magic Lanterns, Magic Mirrors;* On Time;* and Spark!Lab.*

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
http://airandspace.si.edu/
One of the most popular of the Washington, D.C. museums on the National Mall now has another location in Chantilly, Virginia--the Udvar-Hazy Center. Both museums have amazing exhibits of aircraft and spacecraft and IMAX theatres.

The U.Va. Computer Museum
http://www.cs.virginia.edu/about/museum/
A look at the early days of computers, from the 1960s through the 1970s, not forgetting the punch cards, slide rules, and vacuum tubes. Links to other online computer museums, too.