In garages, basements, a Quonset hut and even NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, home inventors are creating amazing things in the 21st century.
“I think some of the advantages that amateur inventors have over professionals is that they don’t have the preconceived notions as to what should be possible,” said Rachel Zimmerman, the inventor of the Blissymbol printer.
Zimmerman now works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She still thinks a lot about inventing, but with a growing family, she knows an inventor’s life has its limits.
“I’ve never seen the box, nobody’s ever shown me the box,” says Brian Turner, a garage inventor in Kansas City. “And it’s like, am I thinking outside the box? Beats me.”
Turner is also the captain of Space Pirates, a team that’s answered NASA’s call. The Pirates have entered NASA’s Beamed Power Challenge, to develop technology that will take mankind to space with a space elevator.
Halfway across Kansas, to the west of the Turners, lives Frank Polifka, a retired farmer.
Ever since he was a kid, Polifka has dreamed of harnessing the power of a tornado. Now he’s invented something that does, all out back in a Quonset hut on the farm he shares with Ruth, his wife of 47 years.
The Windhexe is a squat, six-foot-tall metal contraption comprised of a large funnel supported by four legs. Four jets set around the rim of the funnel blow compressed air into it. As the air whips around the inside of the funnel, it forms into a high-speed vortex. Think of it as a tornado in a can.
Polifka’s invention grinds all kinds of things into powder. There’s a company in Missouri that’s using the Windhexe for poultry processing, and waste disposal and mining firms have shown interest.
“I think that amateur inventors definitely keep a bit of a spark of childhood in that they’re still asking questions, wondering how the world works, wondering how they can make it better,” says NASA’s Rachel Zimmerman.
Photo by Elsie esq.