When Zoe Eggleston constructed her eighth grade science project, a simple device for determining if ice on a pond was thick enough to walk on safely, she had no idea where it would take her.
Last month, her ice-measuring device was awarded official U.S. Patent No. 8,299,931, and that has helped her get accepted at Florida Tech, one of the many college engineering programs she has applied to.
On Thursday, Nov. 8, it took the 17-year-old Newtown High School senior to the Municipal Center where she was recognized by the Board of Education for her achievement, which she attained with the help of a free representation by the patent law firm McCormick, Paulding & Huber.
The patent attorneys filed her application and saw it through to approval as the prize for topping the competition at the 2009 Invention Convention, an annual event for elementary and middle school students from across the state.
"It really opened my eyes about what I could do,” Zoe told the board. She showed off the prototype she built for her science class project, which teacher Beverly Andracchi encouraged her to enter in the statewide competition.
The device consists of a float with a length of PVC pipe extending through it, with an electric motor designed to lift the pipe by remote control. When the pond surface freezes, it locks the float in place, but the pipe can still rise as a visual signal to observers safe on shore.
Zoe said if the ice is thick enough, it will freeze around the lower portion of the pipe and prevent it from rising. But if the ice is thin, the pipe will be free to signal to the observer that it is not safe to walk on the pond.
She told the school board members that when she built the device, she had never heard of a patent before.
In fact, Zoe is a special education student who struggles with reading and had never exceled in school. But she is fascinated by science and technology, and since winning the McCormick, Paulding & Huber Patent Award, she has been a student advocate for encouraging younger students to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
Zoe said she plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering in college.