The recent death of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, has caused the entire world to take note of his unique knack for invention. In our daily life, we don’t often think about how the iPod or iPad or iPhone in our hand came to be. Most of us take inventions for granted. But not Nathaniel Newman ’09, whose life has been forever changed by Graland’s Gates Invention and Innovation Competition.
“People like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have created products that define how we live and how we interact with fellow human beings,” says Nathaniel. “I think that the Gates Invention Program has the potential to foster an inventor who creates something groundbreaking.”
Graland alumnus Charles C. Gates ’34 believed that all kids are natural inventors, unafraid to explore new ideas or to take old ideas apart. With his inspiration and generosity, he endowed the Gates Invention and Innovation Competition in 2000 to reward invention and innovation. Graland students in fifth through eighth grades are encouraged to explore ideas, take risks, and ultimately invent a product that might make a difference in the world.
Nathaniel first competed in the program as a fifth grader. “In collaboration with Alex Patel ’09, I built a modified (not necessarily improved) trashcan,” he says. “The innovation was too bulky, poorly designed, and was not functional. However, it was an important introduction to the competition and exposed me to each facet of the invention process.”
As a sixth grader, Nathaniel collaborated with Derek Lewis ’09 to develop a neoprene sleeve fitted for Otter Pops, frozen yogurt tubes (like GoGurt) and Pedialyte pops. The duo received a “patent nod,” indicating their idea might warrant being taken to the next level.
“Derek and I worked with the patent attorney through the arduous patent process, and filed in March 2007. After receiving initial restrictions from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we divided the initial patent into three separate patents, which were approved in March 2011,” Nathaniel reports, understating the fact that they were granted a US Patent – no small feat! Their “idea was adopted without consent or compensation” by General Mills, which was disappointing but it was “flattering that a business as large as that saw market potential in our product.”
In eighth grade, he partnered with Ryyan Chacra ’09 “to build an alternate tent door that employed a cinch rather than a zipper.” The two garnered an endorsement from the esteemed blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer, and although they did not receive a patent nod from the judges, they have been pursuing a patent on their own, which is still pending.
According to Kristin Ryder, who directs the Gates program at Graland, “Nathaniel embodies what Charles Gates envisioned – allowing students to tinker, improve and see beyond themselves to improve the market place and, perhaps, the world.”
“Nate is someone who took his learning to heart at a young age,” says Diane Wallach ‘69, Gates’ daughter, who believes passionately in the program her father began. “He understands that creativity is dynamic and volatile; it takes persistence, but can easily become a way of living that extends well beyond a product idea or the classroom. Keep an eye on this young man. I suspect we may see more from him in the future.”
Now a junior at Kent Denver, Nathaniel’s inventive creative juices continue to flow. He is involved with Teens4Oceans, a nonprofit, student-run educational organization that facilitates a connection between students and the ocean.
“I’m working diligently on several cutting-edge submersible technologies through Teens4Oceans that are set for release at the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) trade show in Orlando in November,” he says. “These technologies represent a collaborative effort between students, engineers, and intellectual property professionals to create an innovative tool for submersible data collection. Although creating a model capable of withstanding harsh oceanic conditions was a challenge, we’ve created a prototype capable of resisting strong currents, extreme pressure, and other conditions associated with prolonged deployment in the ocean.”
What advice does Nathaniel have for the next generation of aspiring Graland inventors?
“I advise them to welcome problems rather than be discouraged by them,” he says. “Solving problems is an integral component of the Gates Invention and Innovation Competition and is a valuable life skill. Perseverance allows you to circumvent limitations that you place upon yourself.”
For more information about the Gates Invention and Innovation Competition, contact Kristin Ryder
via email or phone, 303-336-3770.Click to read our full interview with Nathaniel Newman.