USF Inventors Head to Smithsonian - Finally

Dec 6, 2013

USF inventors Merry Lynn Morris & Alexei Novitzky are scheduled to speak at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, this weekend.
Credit USF School of Theatre & Dance (left) / WUSF Public Meida (right)

The third time will hopefully be the charm for a pair of University of South Florida inventors who are scheduled to speak in Washington, DC, this weekend.

USF graduate Alexei Novitzky and School of Theatre and Dance academic advisor Merry Lynn Morris had their appearances at two previously scheduled Smithsonian Institution conferences on innovation canceled -  the first due to the federal government sequestration, the second because of the government shutdown.

Now, barring bad weather, the pair will be among the speakers at “Innovation: Brainstorms, Big Ideas and the Creative Future,” a day-long program Sunday in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.

They'll share the stage with eleven other innovators, including representatives from the Smithsonian, NASA, and Steven Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera.

Morris, the inventor of the Rolling Dance/Mobility Chair, a power wheelchair that allows people with disabilities to dance, is looking forward to sharing her creative experience.

“It’s an opportunity to be presenting at an international public forum endorsed by the Smithsonian and the opportunity to discuss many integrated aspects of innovation, it’s importance and usefulness in society," she said. "So I’m looking forward to the opportunity to certainly present the Dance Chair project, but in a larger frame, present some other ideas with that.”

Those ideas include what the impetus to create something like the Dance Chair is, how her creative process works, and how she overcame challenges - a lot to cover in a brief speech.

“Certainly there’s always a little bit of nervousness that happens in presentations, but I think the thing I’m most nervous about is the fact that we only have 15 minutes, so it’s always hard to get everything in in 15 minutes,” Morris said.

For Novitzky, the creator of the BriefSkate, a skateboard that opens up to hold such things as keys or a cell phone, it's just nice that the event is finally taking place.

“I’ve gotten really, really excited twice before and for the third time, it feels great, I’ve been waiting to do that for a while, and I finally get to go,” he said.

And Novitzky's not worried about his 15 minute time limit, as the delays have given him a chance to craft a speech that will see him playing the piano and reading an original poem about creativity.

“I feel like the Smithsonian’s a great place and it really has to do with the sprit of creation and innovation and you really can’t captivate that truly with words and the best way would be to express yourself through music or through written words," said Novitzky.

The appearance comes as both inventors continue to develop their creations.

While Morris is awaiting word on a major grant from Paralyzed Veterans of America, national media outlets like The Huffington Post, MSNBC and Katie Couric's syndicated talk show have run stories on the Dance Chair.

And Novitzky plans to raise $25,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that should launch next month. That money will allow him to change the BriefSkate's material from wood (it costs $120 and takes 3 days to make a board that retails for $350) to plastic ($40 and 10 minutes to make a $100 board). If the move to a more affordable manufacturing process is successful, Novitzky says at least one retailer has expressed interest in ordering 100,000 boards.