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Drought-driven device brings boy award

The “Water Miser” propels a fourth-grade student to the finals in a nationwide young inventor’s competition.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


LUTZ -- Taylor Drane figured there had to be a better way.

photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Taylor Drane of Schwarzkopf Elementary demonstrates his winning invention, the "Water Miser." He won a $5,000 prize in the inventor's competition.
Taylor, a fourth-grader at Schwarzkopf Elementary School, had seen how the prolonged drought had affected the yard at his Odessa home. And his science teacher, Janette Thibodeau, had told the class all about evaporation.

So Taylor went to work and invented an irrigation device he dubbed the "Water Miser" as part of a class project.

For his effort, Taylor was named a finalist in the 2001 Craftsman/National Science Teachers Association Young Inventors Awards Program. Nearly 3,400 students entered the nationwide contest, and Taylor was one of 12 finalists in the second- through fifth-grade category.

Taylor's "Water Miser" is a five-gallon bucket with a plastic pipe extending from the bottom that can be sunk into the ground. "It conserves water while watering plants," Taylor said. "It lets the water go straight to the roots of the plant instead of sitting on the dirt where it can evaporate."

Taylor won a $5,000 U.S. savings bond, as well as a trip for himself, his parents and Thibodeau to the national awards ceremony in Chicago in September. That's when the top two winners of an additional $5,000 bond will be named.

Thibodeau had all 75 students in her gifted science classes come up with an invention. About 45 of them entered the contest.

"There were some really neat things," Thibodeau said. "You'd be shocked by some of the things that came out of their minds."

Taylor worked with his dad, Jerry Drane, an engineer at Jabil Circuit Inc., to perfect the device. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The bucket holds the water. The pipe attached to the bottom of the bucket is cut off at an angle, creating a sharp point to penetrate the ground. The water seeps through the pipe into the root systems of plants and grass.

Bob Vila, of This Old House fame, is the spokesman for the inventors program and said making the finals was "an incredible accomplishment, especially considering how ingenious so many of the entries were."

In addition to the actual invention, students had to write an eight-page report describing the tool, submit diagrams and photos of it, and submit the package for judging.

Thibodeau challenged her students to "choose something that bothered them and come up with an idea to change the situation," she said. Given the serious drought that has plagued central Florida for the past two years, Taylor's invention was born of necessity.

Taylor didn't learn about the prize until last week, when he was honored at an awards ceremony at school. Thibodeau had been informed just a day earlier.

"Don't you just know his teacher was bursting at the seams," Thibodeau said. "That really put me on cloud nine."

Taylor says he will probably save the $5,000 prize for college, and he plans to attend the University of Florida when he graduates from high school. But he doesn't plan on becoming an engineer like his dad or an inventor.

He said he wants to be a pro football player.

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 813-226-3464.

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