Youthful inventor creates a winning doorbell pager Teen's nTC device flashes, vibrates and chimes, then becomes intercom

April 09, 1996|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

Jewel and John Verde have gotten used to bright lights flashing behind their Gambrills home and buzzing sounds coming from the bathroom. It's only their son, John Jr., perfecting one of his inventions.

The 16-year-old Arundel High School junior's knack for fiddling has paid off.

John won third place and a $1,000 savings bond in a contest sponsored by Duracell, the battery company, and the National Science Teachers Association for an invention that pages people to let them know someone is at the door.

This was John's third entry in the contest, but his first time in the winner's circle. He said he came up with the idea for the Bell-A-Page because he got tired of waiting for someone to answer the door when he forgot his house keys.

"I used to come home from school and I'd ring the bell for a half-hour," John said. "I figured I could build this thing so I wouldn't have to wait outside."

His paging device, which vibrates, flashes and/or chimes whenever a guest rings the doorbell, was among 10 third-place winners.

The Bell-a-Page also has an intercom that allows the resident to talk to the person at the door, and the device is powered -- of course -- by Duracell batteries, 14 to be exact.

Mrs. Verde said her son always has turned to science to solve problems. When his youngest brother Louis developed a habit of splashing water from the tub all over the bathroom, John -- then a second-grader -- made a mat to go around the tub that would buzz whenever it got wet. Louis kicked the habit.

John also wowed neighborhood children with concoctions he created in his basement laboratory.

Just a year ago, Ms. Verde said she stepped onto their deck to check on what appeared to be lightning coming from her backyard. It was John setting off magnesium bombs that illuminated the entire woods behind their house in one of his Friday night neighborhood science shows.

Two years ago, John took his talent for science and creative problem-solving to the Duracell National Science Teachers Association Scholarship Competition -- an annual event that promotes practical applications of science.

His invention, a tick remover made from the case of a soldering gun, was embellished with an optional stun function after family members were bitten and harassed by a neighborhood dog.

It did not fare well.

"Duracell doesn't like things that hurt animals," John said.

Turned down but not turned off, John entered again last year with a remote device to launch model rockets, another of his hobbies. He won a fifth place and a $100 savings bond, but he wanted to try again.

Last month, he took the Bell-a-Page to the competition and vied with nearly 700 other students for scholarship awards. John said the major problem was figuring out how to keep the device from draining the batteries.

He solved the problem by setting two timing sequences for the device; one in the pager and another for the intercom. Pressing the doorbell sets off the paging sequence that lasts six seconds. When the paging sequence ends, it trips the intercom function, which lasts 15 minutes.

"It took a lot of work to put that together -- a lot of testing to get that circuitry just right," said Don Higdon, John's sponsor and physics teacher at Arundel. "He did all the development work on his own. I'm just proud and pleased for him."

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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