A Letter to Future Inventors
Dearest Future Inventor,
Yes, you. Do you know how smart you are? Very smart. I can feel the wheels of curiosity spinning in your mind. I can see the sparkle in your eyes as you discover new things. I can hear the wonder in your questions. Every question. I still ask questions, too.
You were born to be an inventor. Yes, you. If we are going to create a kinder world, a healthier world, a more sustainable world, then you need to share your creativity. Chances are no one has told you that you can become an inventor. Chances are you have yet to meet an inventor who looks like you. Chances are you have never stepped foot into a research lab. Chances are you do not think you are smart enough. Even if those things are true, guess what. Today is a new day — a day with new truths — the day you learn that you are on your path to invent great things!
No one goes through life without failures, without self-doubt. I certainly have had my fair share of failures and that dreadful imposter syndrome. But what I know for sure is that science education infuses us with resilience and design thinking skills that help us transcend life’s failures. Experiments will fail, but you can start over at any time. You are not and never will be a failure.
I grew up in the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, Dominica — home to only 70,000 people. One Saturday, my mom and I completed my first science experiment. I was five. We squatted on the chipped stone steps of my great-grandmother’s house, observing what happened as we mixed sand, sugar, ink and Bello Hot Pepper Sauce in water. THIS was the moment I fell in love with science — it was fun and simple, and I could do it at home. That is the promise that the Camp Invention® program offers you — an opportunity to fall in love with science and inventing.
When I was your age, I saw science everywhere. Biology was feeding leaves and water to caterpillars while patiently waiting for them to metamorphose into butterflies. Zoology was learning the hard way that I must only replace the water for guppies with river water, not tap water. Hair chemistry was collecting hibiscus leaves, sitting with a basin on those same stone steps and grinding the leaves to produce a thick paste so Mom could shampoo my thick afro. Chemistry was knowing that I could float in the Caribbean Sea because of its high salt content, but I dare not try floating in the rivers because I would sink. This was my science-infused childhood. Just as I saw science everywhere, I know you can see it, too.
My dad, a civil engineer, identified and nurtured my love for both chemistry and literature. When I was in high school, he strongly recommended that I pursue both with equal fervor. Today, I am a biochemical engineer, an inventor, and an author because of his foresight and steadfast encouragement. But the truth is, the words “inventor” and “patent” were not part of my everyday vocabulary until I pursued my graduate degree at the University of Michigan. My Ph.D. adviser Dr. Shuichi Takayama is an inventor, too, and he helped me give birth to my inner inventor as he mentored me through my dissertation research. But, Future Inventor, I don’t want you to wait as long as I did before learning that you, too, can become an inventor. Promise me that you will give science a try. It is OK if you approach it with hesitancy. Promise me that you will not quit. Promise me that you will never lose your curiosity. Promise me that you will learn as slow as you can or as fast as you can. Speak your future into existence by proudly saying your name after the words “Future Inventor.” You are going to invent the most amazing things — I just know it! I cannot wait to use your marvelous inventions one day!
Inventor Arlyne Simon