COEUR d'ALENE - When Beth Brubaker looks at Invent Idaho, the student invention program she co-founded 24 years ago with Diane Garmire, she sees our nation's future, and it's bright.
The program challenges students in first- to- eighth-grade to identify real-world problems and brainstorm to develop creative solutions.
"They can be problems in the child's everyday life or in the world around us, such as environmental problems or energy issues," Brubaker said.
This year's North Idaho regional Invent Idaho competition, held Jan. 25-27 at the Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d'Alene, attracted more than 200 young inventors from throughout Kootenai, Shoshone and Bonner counties.
Post Falls third-grader, Jessica Holte, winner of Best in Show for grades 1-4 at the regional event, designed a device to make life a little less stressful for kids her age.
It's a milk dispenser the Genesis Prep Academy student calls "EZ-Moo."
"I always spill milk when there are full cartons, and I thought about inventing something that might help other kids not to spill as much," Jessica said.
Jessica, who's considering becoming an inventor when she gets older, and possibly an author and animal caretaker, told The Press that while working on her project, she learned it was important to be patient.
"Just because it takes a lot of time doesn't mean that it's impossible," Jessica said.
Mason Magee and Landon Chang, a pair of eighth grade students from Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy, won the Best in Show award for grades 5-8.
The boys' invention is called the "QMediR," a device designed to quickly provide an individual's medical history to emergency responders.
Mason Magee said the QMediR is a combination of a QR scanner, a black light, a medical database and an ultraviolet tattoo.
"When people with special medical issues get hurt they usually have a necklace or bracelet to inform the EMTs of their medical issues or disabilities," Mason told The Press.
A QMediR user will have something a little different, Mason explained, a personal QR code tattooed on his or her arm, using special ink only visible under a blacklight inserted in a special QR scanner. When the scanner reads the QR code, user's medical information will be displayed on a smart phone or scanner. Password protected codes are available.
Mason said he was motivated to design the QMediR because his brother Carson has life-threatening food allergies and is a Type 1 diabetic.
"This past summer, as a gift, he received a medical ID dog tag with a flash drive inserted into it," Mason said.
Medical information can be stored on the flash drive where it is accessible to first responders and health care professionals.
Mason said he quickly thought up the QMediR concept, a faster, easier way for medical personnel to access potentially life-saving information.
"Through my research and thought process, I realized it takes a lot to go from an idea to marketing and patenting a product," Mason said.
The two Best in Show winners are among 64 local children invited to compete in the state Invent Idaho finals set to take place March 8-9 at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The North Idaho regional winners will go up against student inventors from southeastern Idaho and the Boise area to compete for the grand prize, a $1,000 scholarship to the University of Idaho (to be held until they are college age) and a private dinner with Forrest Bird, inventor of the respirator and ventilator, and his wife, Pam, an expert in the technology transfer process and the author of "Inventing for Dummies." The Birds reside in Sagle, the home of the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center.
Invent Idaho co-founder Diane Garmire said it's been exciting to watch the program grow since she and Brubaker got it going in 1989.
"It's like a living thing. It's something that we keep changing. I guess you could say we continue to invent the invention program," said Garmire, a Coeur d'Alene resident who teaches gifted and talented students in the Spokane School District.
A new award will go to a student this year for an invention with a medical application, and they're expanding the games category to include toys, making room for kids to invent more technical play items.
This year the program has moved, for the first time, outside of Idaho, to Washington, where there is a student invention competition coming up in May.
Brubaker and Garmire recently founded a nonprofit they call "I-cubed," to support Invent Idaho and make it possible for the program to be put in place nationwide.
The Invent Idaho model can be duplicated in any state, Garmire said.
The nonprofit's name is the letter "I" to the third power, she explained: "Invent, imagine, inspire."