CURWOOD: Energy efficiency is kid's play. At least it is for Michael Torrey, Annie Austin, Kate Flor-Stagnato, and Jonathan Ioviero. These fourth, fifth, and sixth graders are all winners of the Energy Inventors Contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Owens-Corning. The winners of the contest had prototypes of their inventions built at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California, and they were invited to see their ideas at work. We caught up with the kids in New York City in the middle of a media tour to show off their inventions. Let's start now with you, Michael. Describe your invention for me, if you could, please.
TORREY: My invention is a miniature hydraulic power plant. It uses the power of running water from your faucet to turn the turbine, which turns a magnet, creating electricity in the motor. And then you can use it as energy for your light bulbs, fence, and stuff.
CURWOOD: Now, I'm a little confused as to where the turbine is. Is it in the supply pipe? Is this in the faucet as it comes out? Or is it in the drain?
TORREY: No, you replaced -- where the water comes out?
CURWOOD: Mm hm.
TORREY: You replace that with -- you put a tube there, and you connect it to the turbine. It's like a box. And then, so, the turbine is in there, and you hook it up to the box, and then it starts turning. The box is connected to the motor, and the motor is connected to the circuit board.
CURWOOD: How did you come up with this idea?
TORREY: Well, I know about our electricity and water crisis, so I tried to help that, both of them.
CURWOOD: What's this experience been like for you?
TORREY: Biggest experience of my life. It's never happened to me before. I didn't know anybody was going to pick me, because, I mean, you never know that you're going to win. You always think that it's a contest, you never win.
CURWOOD: All right, Annie, you're on.
CURWOOD: Now, could you describe your invention for us?
AUSTIN: Mm hm. It's a device that monitors energy, the usage of it. And it's when you -- it's got two lights, one red one and one green one. And the green light tells you when you're using just the right amount of energy. And the red light says -- tells you when you're using over the amount that you're supposed to. And you are supposed to turn off things like lights and the TV or radio or something like that. Anything electrical.
CURWOOD: How did you come up with this idea? Were you looking at lights or thinking about how to save energy, or -- where did this notion come from?
AUSTIN: I'd just been recently, like, running around turning off lights and stuff. Because I realized that energy is an important thing that we need. Because if we don't we're going to be in the dark like California, which we were where I live, actually, just a few days ago. So, we need energy and if we don't have it, we're stuck. And there's no nice way to say it, we are stuck. So, I just basically sat there and realized hey, we need to do something about this, you know?
CURWOOD: Now, what was it like, then, to come to a laboratory where scientists were working on your invention, in fact putting it together?
AUSTIN: It was really fun. I had a really nice time with Rick Diamond and Tony Hanson and all the team and everything. It was really nice.
CURWOOD: Now, what do you think you might do when you're older, a little bit older?
AUSTIN: I don't know. Maybe this, but some other things as well. I have so many things, I haven't really decided yet.
CURWOOD: Thank you, Annie, for taking this time with us.
AUSTIN: You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Jonathan, can you describe your invention for me, please?
IOVIERO : It's a little box that you put next to your door. And when you leave your house you press the search button and it will search the house for lights that are left on. And then it will tell you which lights are on, and you can choose to leave them on or turn them off.
CURWOOD: Wow. How did you come up with this idea?
IOVIERO : I'm always leaving lights on in my house.
CURWOOD: What's been the best part of this whole invention contest?
IOVIERO : Getting to see my invention built and using it.
CURWOOD: How would you feel if your invention were installed in your house?
IOVIERO : I'd be happy.
IOVIERO : Because then I wouldn't have to run downstairs to turn lights off.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us today, Jonathan. Hi there, Kate.
FLOR-STAGNATO : Hello.
CURWOOD: How are you?
FLOR-STAGNATO : Good.
CURWOOD: Kate, you have an invention. I'd love it if you could describe your invention for us.
FLOR-STAGNATO : Okay. It's a beeping air conditioner. When you turn it on, like, the air comes out, and if the window's open it will beep. And then if you close that window, and then there's another window open, it will beep, too. And then if you close all the windows, then it stops beeping. And you won't want to hear the beep because it's annoying, so you'll keep your windows closed.
CURWOOD: Uh huh. Now how did you come up with this idea?
FLOR-STAGNATO : I leave my windows open when the air conditioning is on, a lot.
CURWOOD: You do?
FLOR-STAGNATO : Yes.
CURWOOD: Now, is this the first time that you've been around a bunch of scientists and technicians and a laboratory?
FLOR-STAGNATO : Mm hmm.
CURWOOD: What was that like?
FLOR-STAGNATO : It was fun. And cool.
CURWOOD: Well, congratulations.
FLOR-STAGNATO : Thank you.
CURWOOD: Thank you so much for taking this time with us, Kate.
FLOR-STAGNATO : You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Kate Flor-Stagnato , Jonathan Ioviero, Annie Austin, and Michael Torrey are winners of the Energy Smart Schools Contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Owens-Corning. They joined us from the NPR studios in New York City.
(Music up and under: The Beau Hunks: "Little Dancing Girl")
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