Friday, January 27, 2012
All over the country, amazing science is happening without institutional or government funding. We visit inventors working in garages, basements, even a Quonset hut on a farm.
Rachel Zimmerman works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, but she was an amateur inventor first. In seventh grade she created the Bliss Symbol printer, which allowed people with cerebral palsy to communicate quickly. "The nice thing about being 12 years old is that nobody is telling you what you can and can't do."
NASA now hosts competitions for garage inventors like Brian Turner, trying to harness their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. "I've never seen the box, nobody's ever shown me the box," Turner says, "and it's like, 'am I thinking outside the box?' Beats me." Turner is the captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, a motley crew of tinkerers working on a prototype for a space elevator.
A couple hundred miles to the west is another amateur inventor from Kansas. Since childhood, Frank Polifka dreamed of inventing a machine that could harness the power of a tornado. The retired farmer invented the Windhexe, a "tornado in a can." Anything that goes into the machine, comes out a fine powder — be it a wine bottle, an aluminum can, or even a chicken. "I thought I might be able to sell it to the mafia," Polifka says laughing.
(Originally aired: January 25, 2008)
Video: Frank Polifka's "Tornado in a Can"
Slideshow: Discoveries Off the Grid
Somewhere Over the RainbowArtist: Bill FrisellAlbum: Further East/Further WestLabel: NonesuchPurchase: Amazon