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article imageVideo: Self-taught African prodigy Kelvin Doe dazzles MIT experts

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 22, 2012 in Technology
Freetown - Kelvin Doe, 16, from the African country of Sierra Leone, has become the youngest person ever to be invited to MIT's "Visiting Practitioner's Program," after he invented batteries and a generator using materials picked from trash bins in his neighborhood.
CNN's What's Next blog reports that Doe was forced to rely on his own originality when he realized he could not afford to purchase off-the-shelf batteries to power his home radio station project. According to What's Next, "Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems."
The young engineering prodigy is wowing MIT experts.
According to The Huffington Post, Doe manages a community FM radio station he started in Sierra Leone, from where he broadcasts news and plays music under the name: "DJ Focus."
The precocious teenager, in a video produced by @radical.media, for THNKR YouTube channel, said: "They call me DJ Focus because I believe if you focus, you can do an invention perfectly."
Among his inventions is a battery which he built from scratch to light homes in his neighborhood, and supply power to his FM radio station. The Huffington Post reports he built the battery from a combination of soda, acid and metal wrapped together using a tape.
He explained what inspired him to create the battery: "The lights will come on once in a week, and the rest of the month, dark."
According to What's Next, Doe assembled the acid, soda and metal in a tin cup, left the mixture to dry and then wrapped a tape around the cup to make his first battery. It took Doe several trials to build his first functional prototype for the battery. What's Next comments that since then, he has never had to buy a battery at a store.
According to What's Next, after Doe built the battery, he set himself the task of building a generator to power his radio station. He assembled a home-made generator using a half-broken down voltage stabilizer he picked up from a trash bin. He used a motor, plug and other components to build the generator in his backyard and began supplying electricity to his home. Neighbors began coming to him to charge their mobile phone batteries and soon, he was supplying power to his FM radio station, equipped with a custom music mixer, a recycled CD player and an antenna that allows his neighbors tune in to his regular broadcasts.
What's Next reports that the enterprising teenager is now expanding operations of his news/FM station by employing his young friends as reporters and challenging them to go out and interview people at local events such as at soccer games and parties.
The average age of his crew is 12.
According to The Huffington Post, MIT discovered Doe during Innovate Salone, a national high school innovation challenge organized by an international group called Global Minimum. The Innovate Salone program was launched by a Sierra Leonian doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, David Sengeh.
According to The Huffington Post, Sengeh recognized Doe's special talent immediately he saw his inventions. In the THNKR video, Sengeh, said: "It's very inspirational. He created a generator because he needed it."
According to The Huffington Post, before Doe attended the Innovate Salone, he had never traveled more than 10 miles from his home. However, with Sengeh's help, in September, he made a trip to New York for the 2012 World Maker Faire, where he sat on a "Meet the Young Makers" panel with four American inventors.
Doe so impressed participants at the World Maker Faire that he was selected as a resident practitioner with the International Development Initiative at MIT. He was also chosen to be a guest presenter at the Harvard School of Engineering where he will receive training to gain more practical knowledge and skills.
The Huffington Post reports Doe said: "Whatever things I've learned here, I will share it with my friends, colleagues and loved ones."
What's Next reports that Sengeh, the Sierra Leonian doctoral student at MIT who discovered Doe, is involved in biomedical engineering research at Harvard and MIT. He is working on the next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces. He explains the motivation behind his MIT project:
"I am motivated to do this work by the needs I have seen in my country, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. "
Sengeh is probably referring to the high incidence of physical handicap in his country after years of bloody civil war. He continues:
"At the MIT Media Lab, I have access to immense resources and expertise. But it has become apparent to me that when I take the prostheses back to Sierra Leone, the machines and technologies needed to maintain them will be left at my lab."
He writes about his attempt to meet the challenge:
" I... launched a national high school innovation challenge, called Innovate Salone... In March 2012, we asked students to invent solutions to problems that they saw in their daily lives. Six weeks later, 300 students submitted applications encompassing some of Sierra Leone’s toughest problems. Some of them proposed new ways of providing quality education via the radio. Others suggested new agricultural programs for their communities. Eight finalist teams received several types of assistance: $500 to develop a prototype for their ideas; access to a network of local and international mentors; an invitation to a 3-day immersive summer innovation camp; and an additional $1,000 if their initial prototypes were still considered feasible, innovative, and especially promising after the first phase of development. Kelvin and I crossed paths through the Innovate Salone program."
According to Sengeh, while at the "Visiting Practitioner’s Program” at MIT, the young Doe presented his inventions to undergraduate students at Harvard College and MIT. Doe also had the opportunity to meet and interact with technology visionaries like Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab and education leaders like President Drew Faust of Harvard University.
Sengeh writes about his awareness of the vibrant but untapped brain resource in his native Sierra Leone:
"While Kelvin indeed has special talents, he is not the only young person in Sierra Leone ready to embrace opportunities like this. Since the launch of Innovate Salone, I have encountered young boys and girls who are pursuing their dreams. One girl has started boiling leaves because she wants to launch a fragrance company. Another young man, who has taken classes on MIT Open Courseware, is making huge strides in creating a robot in his house."
He writes with optimism:
"The youth of Sierra Leone are ready and capable of transforming their country. By providing them with resources and creative freedom, we can spark the joy of discovery that results in innovation and ultimately, national development. [But] I understand that a basic set of tools and a supporting platform are needed to transform good ideas into projects that impact an entire community. Innovate Salone is hoping to make those tools and that support widely available."
The YouTube video (see above) showing Doe's invention has gone viral with over 1.5 million views. An African YouTube user, BrokeCreole, comments on the video:
"There are millions of students like this in Africa. No one gives them attention. I am happy that this young child gets the support. We need more videos like this."
Digital Journal recently reported the story of three high school girls in the neighboring West African country, Nigeria. The teenage schoolgirls, fourteen-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola, from Lagos, created a powerful urine-powered generator. The girls presented their invention at the fourth annual Maker Faire to wide acclaim.
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