Inventor Portrait: Randall Olsen

May 16, 2013

I try to find a broad category of inventors for this series, including small entrepreneurs and successful legends. So when I read about some of the technology being invented by the Navy in their SPAWAR division, I thought it would be really cool to include some military technology in the project.

When I initially reached out to the Navy, I thought it was a longshot that I could get access and permission to photograph one of their inventors. But ultimately the Navy turned out to be one of the most supportive organizations I’ve reached out to. And their level of organization was unequaled. The whole shoot was a great experience.

They put me in touch with Randall Olsen, who invents antenna technology for the Navy. In our interview, we focused on his DANTE technology which allows for inexpensive high-speed ship-to-ship communication.

Here’s the video, followed by some photos from the shoot:

Inventor Portrait: Mark Setteducati

March 21, 2013

I especially like the latest video for my PBS INVENTORS series because the subject, magician and artist Mark Setteducati, was just so fun to photograph. The camera really liked his face, and I came up with a variety of ways to capture his personality in his small apartment.

Plus, he’s a really smart guy whose inventions are quite clever. Hearing him talk about “hexaflexagons” sent me down a rabbit hole of Google searches and videos about these fascinating mathematical objects. Here’s the video, followed by some photos from our shoot:

Inventor Portrait: Esther Takeuchi

February 7, 2013

One issue I'm conscious of in my Inventor Portraits series is that it's not very gender balanced. Of the forty-something inventors I've photographed and interviewed so far, only eight are women. There have been other women under consideration, but in an effort to keep the inventions varied, I've passed on some that were too similar. I can only have so many women who invent products for the closet, baby room, or kitchen before it begins to give the impression that women only come up with domestic inventions. Those kinds of inventions are certainly important and useful, but my project strives to be broader in its subject matter.

So when I reached out to Esther Takeuchi, a chemical engineer whose life-saving developments in batteries for implantable medical devices have saved millions of lives, I was delighted that she said yes. She's a terrific role model for women in science, and yet she expresses her own frustrations with exclusion in her field.

Inventor Portrait: Donald Scruggs (also: big news!)

November 14, 2012

I’m very excited to announce that the videos I’ve been producing as part of my Inventors Portrait Project are now part of PBS Digital Studios. The first new episode went up on their YouTube channel last week, and new episodes will go up every other Tuesday. Here’s the first episode, about Donald Scruggs, inventor of the Screw-In Coffin:

The series will be mostly new videos, with some of the videos I’ve posted here previously mixed in, perhaps with a few changes. They’ll be new to most people.

The YouTube Channel can be found at its permanent home, and it would mean a lot to me if you subscribe to the channel and/or share it with your friends.

Here are some of the photos from my shoot with Donald Scruggs:

Inventor Portrait: Tami Galt

October 30, 2009

Part of a continuing series of inventor portraits.

Inventor: Tami Galt
Invention: Folding wagon
Patent: No. 6,491,318
Brand Name: Fold-it & Go

Tami Galt is a mom, and her invention is sold in toy stores, but it wasn’t inspired by her kids. She was looking for an easy way to carry groceries at the market, and thought a little red wagon would be cute. Unfortunately a little red wagon wouldn’t fit in her car. So she came up with a collapsible wagon that stows away in a bag, and can easily be transported.

Tami Galt

Tami Galt

And here’s a video I made about Tami and her invention:

Inventor Portrait: Tom Roering

June 11, 2009

Part of a continuing series of inventor portraits.

Inventor: Tom Roering
Invention: Amphibious recreation vehicle
Patent: No. 7,329,161
Brand Name: Wilcraft

Tom Roering is an ice fisherman who invented a cool product: a lightweight amphibious vehicle that is also an ice fishing shelter. It’s called the Wilcraft (“Wil” stands for water, ice, and land). If it falls through the ice, it floats. It has room enough for two people to comfortably fish together. It can be adapted as an ice rescue vehicle. And it fits on the back of a pickup truck. Take a look:

Photos of Tom and the Wilcraft. Each image can be enlarged by clicking:

Tom Roering

Tom Roering

Tom Roering

The Wilcraft website:

Inventor Portrait: Jerry Ford

April 13, 2009

Part of a continuing series of inventor portraits.

Inventor: Jerry Ford
Invention: Automatic wheelchair brake device
Patent: No. 7,066,482
Brand Name: Safe-T-Chair

Elderly people with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia sometimes forget to use the manual brakes on their wheelchairs, which then fall out from under them when they try to stand or sit. When this was brought to the attention of crop farmer Jerry Ford, he decided to do something about it. His invention is a rather clever automatic brake system for manual wheelchairs. It’s even designed in a way that still allows the wheelchair to fold up for transport.

I met with Jerry on his farm and learned more about his wheelchair brake system and its inspiration:

Here’s a better look at the photos in the video. Each of them can be enlarged by clicking:

Jerry Ford

Jerry Ford

Jerry Ford

The Jerry Ford Company website: