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When the Da Vinci Science Center adopted its slogan – Open for ExSCIting Possibilities – in 2011, it did so to reflect the spirit of curiosity, optimism, and hope that science and technology ignite in people of all ages.
That spirit has been reflected in the organization’s engagement with a record number of 93,503 participants in its 2012 fiscal year and its recently-launched Year of the Human Body with St. Luke’s University Health Network, the largest community education initiative in the history of both organizations.
Before these recent successes, the Center’s most popular story was the achievement of young William Schopf of Whitehall, Pa. As a 10-year-old participating the Center’s Inventor Lab program in the fall of 2007, William conceived the truly ExSCIting Possibility of a wind-mill battery charger for solar-powered vehicles that would work more efficiently and allow a solar car to operate at night. While the idea seemed to be a fantasy, the program’s leader, a retired chemist with more than 40 U.S. and international patents, saw its promise. Frank K. Schweighardt, Ph.D. – who has gone on to serve as the organization’s interim CEO and become its Chairman – helped mold William’s idea into a working scientific concept strong enough to be considered for a United States Patent.
It is fitting, therefore, that the stories of William Schopf and the Inventor Lab program add new chapters while the Center opens the most powerful chapter in its history. William, who is now 14 years old, has been notified that his invention has earned him United States Letters Patent Number 8,274,169. The issue date on his patent, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, is just a few days after another young inventor began following in his footsteps.
“The success achieved from William Schopf’s embrace of a life of science and Dr. Schweighardt’s skillful mentorship in bringing William’s science to life continue to inspire our work of being, as our slogan says, Open for ExSCIting Possibilities,” said Troy A. Thrash, who succeeded Schweighardt as Da Vinci Science Center CEO in March 2009. “It is that spirit that has lifted our organization to greater achievements and propels us toward a future that symbolizes the quintessential early-21st century American success story.”
With mentoring from Dr. Schweighardt, William created a device that features wind turbine-style blades affixed to the front of a vehicle. The blades twist uniquely to generate maximum wind power efficiency for any electric car’s generator in the same manner that a wind turbine powers a building’s electrical grid. What makes his system an unexpected success is both its ability to produce electricity during the day and at night and its ability to generate electricity at any wind speed. What makes his system unique is its use of a thixotropic fluid to control the angles of the turbine blades in order to maximize their output. This quality was the basis for William’s U.S. Patent.
The term thixotropic refers to a fluid that can change its viscosity – its ability to flow – when a force impacts it. The wind’s force on the turbine blade converts the gel-like thixotropic fluid to a more freely flowing liquid. A popular example of a thixotropic fluid is ketchup, which flows from a bottle when the bottle is struck or squeezed. William’s secret thixotropic fluid consists of fine clay and an edible oil. The thixotropic liquid flows more freely at higher wind speeds, causing the blades to rotate to their optimum angle, which causes the blades to turn more quickly and generate more electricity.
William’s invention idea took top prize at the Da Vinci Science Center’s first Inventor Lab Saturday Morning Showcase in June 2008. Schweighardt subsequently arranged for him to file provisional patent paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the help of John Lushis, a local attorney at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A., of Allentown, Pa.
Nearly a year later, when William had proven his idea, Schweighardt arranged for independent patent agent Harod Masteller to donate services worth more than $10,000 in filing William’s full patent application. Masteller is now retired and living in Ohio.
In the meantime, William has followed Dr. Schweighardt’s example by becoming Da Vinci Science Center volunteer shortly after his 14th birthday. DSC volunteers must be at least 14 years of age.
As William Schopf’s patent story grows, the winner of the Da Vinci Science Center’s 2012 Saturday Morning Inventor Lab Showcase, Ambrose Cavalier of Saylorsburg, Pa., filed in Sept. 2012 provisional patent paperwork on his idea for a specially-designed bottle cap that allows users to adjust how much syrup or other thick, slow-moving fluid flows from the bottle.
The Year of the Human Body is an effort to inspire interest in medical careers. The project includes the appearances of the feature exhibits Bodies Revealed and GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body, a public mini-medical school simulation produced by Temple/St. Luke’s regional medical school, and several additional public programs. The Year of the Human Body also is supported by Capital BlueCross, Daiichi Sankyo, and Discover Lehigh Valley.