WASHINGTON -- When 8-year-old Erica Gorochow of Potomac built a straw designed to cool scalding liquids, she never imagined it would be an idea hot enough to win her a national title in a 1992 inventors competition called Invent America!
Erica's cooling straw won out over a gadget that keeps fizz in soda, a device that helps blind people shop and two other student inventions to seize the championship in the category for second-graders.
Nine champions -- one from each of nine grades -- were honored at an award ceremony Thursday at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Erica and 44 other regional finalists spent the week in Washington displaying their inventions and awaiting the announcement of the national winners.
Commerce Secretary Barbara Hackman Franklin placed a medal around Erica's neck and presented her with a $1,000 savings bond during the awards ceremony.
Maryland's other regional finalist, Frederick Zeleny, an eighth-grader from Boonsboro, received a $500 savings bond for designing batteries powered by noise pollution.
Earning special mention, but not ranking among the finalists, was a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat designed by a Wisconsin fourth-grader.
Ms. Franklin said Erica's straw and the eight other national award-winners amazed her.
"When I read about the inventions, I literally couldn't believe it," she said.
Invent America!, which began in 1987, involves 31,000 schools ,, nationwide.
The non-profit U.S. Patent Model Foundation runs the contest with funding from corporate sponsors.
Contest Chairman J. Morgan Greene read the winners a congratulatory letter from President Bush.
"Each of you is continuing the great American tradition of industry and progress," the president wrote.
pTC Erica and her cooling straw reached the national level of competition after winning titles at the local, state and Southeast regional levels.
But Erica said she was surprised the judges, a panel that included a Nobel laureate and National Invention Hall of Fame inductees, selected her cooling straw as the best of the national finalists.
The straw, which Erica calls a "hot sipper," consists of two lengths of flexible plastic tubing, one inside the other. The outer tube contains plastic beads that surround a thinner inner tube.
The straw is kept in a refrigerator, cooling the beads, which then chill the drink as it is sipped.
Erica said the plastic beads -- her cousin's idea -- become cold enough to reduce the temperature of any liquid by 50 degrees.