So when Karl's science teacher in April assigned three sixth-grade classes at Radnor Middle School the project of inventing something original and useful, he decided to build a safety device that could be used instead of flares to protect stranded motorists.
His invention succeeded at more than being safe; next month Karl will vie with four other finalists in the Invent America competition sponsored by the U.S. Patent Office for the grand prize of a $1,000 savings bond, a patent and a chance to have the invention displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.
With the help of his older brother Skip, Karl connected four light bulbs to a length of telephone wire. The wire plugs into a car's cigarette lighter, making it an effective device even if the engine breaks down. And the lights are covered by reflectors so that the device still has a use even if the car battery dies.
To make it from Radnor to Washington, Karl's invention had to beat some interesting competition. A panel of Radnor Middle School teachers and eighth graders judged his entry superior to an automatic watering can, an umbrella with a mirror on it (to prevent its owner from being mugged), and a taco holder.
Karl's entry then progressed to state and regional competitions. He learned two weeks ago that he had won both, along with a $500 savings bond for
himself, a $750 grant for his science teacher, Marybeth Wasno, and a $1,250 grant for his school. He will travel to Washington on July 23 with his parents, Patricia and William; his twin sister Karen, and his science teacher to see the capital and be there when the winner of the Invent America contest is announced.
Patricia Weber said the family was happy when Karl won the school's contest and surprised when the invention won the state competition. Weber, a secretary at Radnor High School, said, "All the teachers at the high school call me the Mother of Invention."
Winning has brought Karl local acclaim. At a school assembly last week, he was recognized for his effort in science, and Pat Schimminger, his English teacher, asked for his autograph.
Karl said he had no plans to invent anything else. He intends to be an Air Force pilot and a volunteer fireman after he completes high school. Right now he's looking forward to a camping trip in the Shenandoah Valley and then the trip to Washington.
"I think it would be neat" to win, he said, "because you could take your grandchildren to see it (the invention) and say that you won."