If you could invent one thing that would make your neighborhood, town, or school better, what would it be? 

High school engineering teams in the United States asked themselves this question in order to qualify for the 2021 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Grant, which awards up to $10,000 to turn their ideas into real-life inventions having to do with environmental sustainability, personal safety, or health care. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not only did the teams have to figure out solutions to difficult problems, they had to do so remotely. 

“Despite challenges this year, the students and teachers are valuing the time they have to develop as creative problem-solvers, learning science, technology, engineering, mathematics concepts — and even computer science — as they build their inventions,” Lemelson-MIT Program Executive Director Stephanie Couch told MIT News. “I am truly impressed by their resolve and tenacity to carry out these invention projects that will positively impact society.” 

Thirteen student engineering teams came up with winning ideas. They included:

  • A boot sanitation device for firefighters;
  • A wheelchair system that helps disabled people access items that are hard to reach;
  • A vehicle device that records interactions between police and civilians during police stops;
  • A machine that activates a sprinkler system in the event of a fire, including forest fires, when it senses embers in the air;
  • A system that helps hearing-impared athletes communicate during games by sending visual cues to team members, coaches and referees.

“This journey has taught me that even as a teenager, with determination and hard work, it is possible to change the world in small, simple ways that can make a big impact,” InvenTeam member Varshini Vijay, whose team invented the hearing-impared device for athletes, told The Patch. “It’s a learning experience that I will never forget. It would be incredible to see the use of our invention in games!”

See the full list of winners.

STEM educators are encouraged to submit their students to the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam application for the 2021–22 school year.

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What do planes, Fortnite, and your shower have in common? They were all developed with the help of engineers!

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Explore engineering through IEEE TryEngineering games and activities, or read about the different engineering fields. You can also read interviews with engineers, and find a university near you that offer programs that fit your interests.