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Leaders in Innovation

Get to Know Arlyne Simon: An Innovation Hero

Heroes come in many forms: from doctors and nurses on the front lines treating patients with COVID-19, to teachers across the country who continue to ensure students in their care receive the best education, to all those who seek to make the world a better place.

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we believe that innovation deserves to be celebrated, and that our Inductees and collegiate inventors are heroes for not only developing solutions that improve people’s lives but for helping to inspire the next generation of innovators.

Arlyne Simon, a biomedical engineer, patented inventor and author, is a shining example of an innovation hero. Simon, a 2013 Graduate Finalist in the Collegiate Inventors Competition®, is on a mission to encourage more girls and women — especially those of color — to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.

Read below to learn more about Simon’s story, and why she believes so strongly in helping transform today’s students into the inventors of tomorrow.


An Early Interest in Innovation

Simon grew up on the small Caribbean island of Dominica. One day, her mother came home with a present: a book titled “Simple Chemistry” filled with experiments that could be conducted at home. At just 5 years old, she remembers working through some of the activities with her mother.

“I was 5, and I remember her getting these jars in the kitchen. Us being on the step outside, adding sand and water, stones and water, salt and water, hot pepper sauce and water. And her asking questions like, ‘Which one do you think is going to dissolve in the water?’” Simon recalled in an interview with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

These experiments stand out in Simon’s mind, as her graduate school research explored the water solubility of different polymers.


A Supportive Environment

While pursuing her graduate work at the University of Michigan, there were times when Simon felt discouraged and battled “imposter syndrome” because many of her colleagues were frequently publishing in academic journals. Even though she had already filed for an invention disclosure, a rare achievement at any age, at times, she still felt like she did not belong.

Simon attributes an amazing support system for helping her complete her graduate education. A day after defending her doctorate work, a conversation with her dad made her realize that she could provide support to women and girls, especially those who might feel out of place studying STEM subjects.

After reminding her dad that she was the only woman in her lab, she began thinking about how she could help others feel more comfortable pursuing their interests in STEM.

“I think that conversation with my dad sort of just stuck with me for a little while,” Simon said. “And so I would ask myself often, ‘What can I do to increase the number of girls who have a desire to pursue STEM?’ I loved reading, I loved STEM outreach, and so that’s when I decided to write about a girl inventor called Abby – and that’s how “Abby Invents” was born.”

Approaching each of the “Abby Invents” books as a way of writing to her younger self, each story embraces the idea that no one is ever too young to innovate, and that the act of invention is a magical process that kids should not be afraid of, but instead embrace as a part of their identity. In each title in the series, “Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons and “Abby Invents The Foldibot,” the main character earns a patent and creatively introduces kids to the importance of intellectual property.

In a study recently published in the Journal of STEM Outreach, researchers that include NIHF education team members found support for this type of approach, demonstrating that invention education, a pedagogy that challenges students to invent solutions to  real-world problems, creates a safe space where children can develop their identities as creators. 

“I really think inventing is magical,” Simon said. “I mean, you identify a problem, you brainstorm and then you come up with a technology that didn’t exist before. And I think if we position inventing in this sort of way for kids, then they’re going to grow up with these crucial thinking skills.”


Check Out a Special STEM Activity Designed by Arlyne Simon

In collaboration with Simon, NIHF is excited to offer a free STEM activity that families can enjoy together inspired by her latest book, “Abbey Invents The Foldibot.”

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