Shark Tank is a favorite program of mine as I have an invention in mind that I know would make me millions of dollars (or at least thousands). I love watching the marketing pitch these entrepreneurs give to the “sharks” and enjoy guessing whether they will be given a chance or not. Some great success stories from the show include Ava the Elephant (medicine dropper), Citi Kitty (cat toilet training kit), Chord Buddy (learn to play guitar chords) and Copa di Vino (single serving glasses of wine). While these may have an impact on our lives at some point, the show got me to thinking about inventions that have impacted our Ag in the Classroom presentation.
For years we have been showing students a demonstration on the properties of hydrosorb, which amazes all who witness it. On a whim I decided to call the USDA and see if I could talk with someone about its invention and learn more about the uses of this product. After leaving a message about my question, I was quite certain I would never hear back from anyone. To my surprise, a few days later I received a call back from one of the actual scientists who worked on the “Super Slurper” product. Mr. George Fanta was part of the team of Super Slurper scientists who received the Inventor of the Year Award from the Association for the Advancement of Invention and Innovation in 1976, along with numerous other awards. Mr. Fanta explained how the Super Slurper came about (mainly by accident) and the excitement it created with its many potential uses (the compositions find many applications including their incorporation into products such as disposable diapers, surgical pads and sheets, and paper towels). I was enamored to be speaking with an actual scientist, but had a hard time keeping up with his very technical explanation of polymers and their properties. I was instantly regretting not taking more science classes and feeling overwhelmed with the information being presented. STEM wasn’t a term back in the day when I was in high school or college. I believe the common phrase was “college prep” coursework and the expectation was if you were going to college you took science and math to ensure success at the next level. I am quite certain that when I was 16 years old, I would not have found a discussion on starch-graft copolymer compositions which absorb to be of much interest. But fast forward many years and somehow it is fascinating information! If only every student could have the opportunity to talk directly to an inventor. Mr. Fanta explained what how his team’s research on this project led to several patents (for example: US3935099 A) and this group of scientists went on to discover more inventions such as corn packing peanuts, which we also demonstrate in our Ag in the Classroom Program.
Too bad Shark Tank wasn’t around when Mr. Fanta and his team created the magical powder that WOW’s all during our classroom presentations. It is science at its best and could have made one of the sharks a fortune. I guess they’ll have to wait for my product pitch, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. So to all you sharks out there, keep experimenting and keep inventing. You never know when you will change the world with your product. To quote Mr. Fanta’s message to all students, “Be a scientist and keep your eyes open. Look for something new and unusual; always keep investigating!”
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