She's STEMspirational! Meet youth inventor Lydia Denton. At 15, she's already been honored for many of her inventions, including the Beat the Heat car seat. In this episode we explore strategies for engaging girls in STEM and inventing, as well as secrets to being well-rounded and happy.
[00:52] Lydia's Background and Inventions:
[07:33] Problem Solving and Inventing Process:
[11:21] STEM and Encouraging Diversity:
[15:09] Upcoming Plans and Dreams:
[21:48] Future Goals and Aspirations:
Check out the YouTube episode of this podcast.Support the show
[00:01] Dr. Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning. So, welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. I'm Dr. Diane, and in this very special Back to School edition, we are going to be meeting a young woman who really is the epitome of what STEAM should be. I want to welcome inventor, actor, YouTube sensation Lydia Denton to our program. Lydia, welcome.
[00:38] Lydia: Hi, I'm so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:42] Dr. Diane: So, Lydia, before we start, I'd like you to describe a little bit about your adventures in learning. Tell us about who you are and how you got to where you are today.
[00:52] Lydia: So, my name is Lydia, and I've been inventing for seven or eight years now since I was about in the second grade. My first real prototype was around the fourth grade, and I've been doing all of this invention stuff ever since. I've been to many different schools. I went to a home school for part of elementary school. Then I was at a charter arts school for a lot of middle school, and now I'm at an early college. So this has really helped me become really well rounded in terms of education. I've had many different types of teachers and it's really helped me adapt a lot to the different types of learning and teaching styles that there are out there. I discovered I really loved inventing because it was a really cool way to solve problems by taking all of these different elements and different skills and being able to kind of mesh them together and create something that you know is going to help other people.
[01:59] Dr. Diane: That's really cool. And just so our listeners know, you're going to be a sophomore in high school this year, is that correct?
[02:05] Lydia: Yes. I don't feel like a sophomore. I feel like I'm still in 7th grade.
[02:11] Dr. Diane: COVID will do that to us. So you have been inventing quite a few things, and I know that you're getting ready to go out to Los Angeles for a new prototype that you've put together. Can you describe some of the inventions that you've garnered success for some of the competitions you've won? And aren't you going to be on the Discovery Channel as well this year?
[02:34] Lydia: Yes, well, I've created a lot of different things. Probably the one I'm most well known for is the Beat the Heat car seat. It's a car seat that helps prevent hot car deaths. I gained a lot of attention and traction through this. I was on Good Morning America and People magazine and a lot of other really big news outlets. And that was, I think, three years ago in 2020. And I've also created a lot of inventions for different competitions. I created Breathe with a group from school to help with childhood drownings and hypoxia. I also created the Picadae Helmet, which helps slow concussions and a lot of sports players. And recently, I've created a physical prototype of an idea I had quite a few years ago of the Halcyon bracelet that helps with BFRBs, which are body focused, repetitive behaviors, which I struggle with. So a lot of these have won many different competitions and have really opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of my inventing career.
[03:51] Dr. Diane: So, Lydia, you have a working prototype to share with us?
[03:55] Lydia: Yes, I do. I shared earlier about the Halcyon bracelet, and so this is something to help with BFRBs, which are body focused, repetitive behaviors. So this is something that brings awareness to the fact that you might be doing one of these body focused, repetitive behaviors. Whether it's like touching your face or messing with your hair or picking out your nails or biting your nails. This would help bring awareness to this, since it's often done subconsciously. So here we have a headband that has a sensor on it, and if you get your hand near it, then it will buzz these sensors. So I don't know if you can see the buzzing of the sensors, but when you get your hand close to this, this bracelet with two little buzzers inside, will vibrate and let you know that you're picking at the problem area that you might have.
[04:57] Dr. Diane: Oh, that is so cool. And you're working on the prototype now. Are there plans to enter it into any competitions or to try to take it further?
[05:09] Lydia: I think I did enter it into a few competitions when I first came up with the idea with a group, and it was, I think, last month when I actually created a working prototype of it. I do hope at some point that I can get it out there, especially because I know it would benefit me and so many others who struggle with this. So I'm hoping that at some point it can get out there, but right now, I'm not exactly sure where it's going to end up.
[05:40] Dr. Diane: That is really cool. Thank you for sharing that with us.
[05:44] Lydia: You're welcome.
[05:45] Dr. Diane: So what does STEM mean to you? I know that people hold you up as an example of young women in STEM. What does that even mean?
[05:56] Lydia: So STEM for me is using all of these different skills that you've acquired throughout school or outside of school and using it to problem solve and to help all these different problems that might affect you or people in your community. By using STEM and either making inventions or just being able to solve problems, it really just makes life a whole lot easier for you and those around you and can make the world a better place. I've learned a lot from STEM that I should never give up. It's taught me a lot of perseverance to learn from my failures and be able to move forward instead of getting stuck there. I'm able to use that and propel myself forward throughout the rest of whatever I'm trying to do. For example, it took us over 100 tries to get the car seat up and working. It took forever, it felt like. But we knew that this was something we really wanted, and we wanted this to be out there and actually help people. So we were able to persevere through every single problem that we encountered.
[07:10] Dr. Diane: So I love the idea that you're bringing up problem solving and connecting to real world experiences. Can you pick one of your inventions and sort of walk us through what that process would look like? Where does the idea come from? How do you go about creating your invention? What's the process? What kind of qualities does it take to build and create something?
[07:33] Lydia: I think usually I will hear about a problem in the news, or it might be something affecting me or someone in my community with the BT car seat. We had heard about it through the news. We had heard a pair of twins had sadly died in a hot car during the summer, and we were just devastated. It was in our small town, and it felt very weird having something that tragic happen. And I knew I wanted to do something about it, but I didn't know how I wanted to go about it. So I brainstormed different ideas of maybe an app, different monitoring services, different ideas that might be able to help this problem. And I finally landed on the Beat the Heat car seat design. And once I had the design and what I wanted to do, I created a circuit schematic, which is basically a map of all the electronics that would be in it. And I was able to get all of the parts that I would need to build this. And with a lot of mentoring and with the help of my siblings, with coding or soldering different things together, I was able to finally create the entire invention. Even though it took a lot of effort and a lot of time, I was able to persevere through everything and create the final invention. It's not what it would look like if it went on shelves, but it's at least proof of what I wanted to be out there and proof of my concept of what the invention could be.
[09:15] Dr. Diane: That's really cool. And I noticed I got to watch several of your videos, and I'll share a link to those with this. But one of the things I was super impressed with is the fact that you and the teams that you've worked with have drawn on community resources for mentoring. What is the importance of mentoring? How has that helped and impacted what you do?
[09:38] Lydia: Well, I think in almost everything that you do, there's going to be some hitch, something that you might not know as well as you thought you did or something you just plain didn't know was a thing or don't know much about. So, especially with me, whenever I use a mentor, it's on something that I know I can't do on my own. And so sometimes that is finding a YouTube video to help me learn a new skill, or it's using someone like my mom or teachers who know more about a certain subject than I do. A really good example is we have a neighbor, Mark, who's a few houses down from us. He was a retired aerospace engineer, and so he knew a lot about creating inventions and how to wire things the most efficient way without burning the house down, which my mom was quite thankful for.
[10:36] Dr. Diane: I'm sure she's appreciative.
[10:40] Lydia: Very. But using mentors really makes the whole process a lot smoother and makes it so it's a lot less frustrating at some points.
[10:52] Dr. Diane: Very cool. And if there are folks listening, I would definitely encourage them to be willing to be a mentor for young students who are involved in STEM and in inventing because it's such a great partnership as well. I think in terms of you bringing fresh ideas and allowing those of us who are older to be able to share what we know as well, I love that give and take of that. So what do you wish people knew about STEM?
[11:21] Lydia: I wish that people knew it's not just what you learn in science class. I feel like a lot of people are discouraged from doing STEM in different science things because they think it's just what you learn in science class, and it's not as fun as it really can be. I find creating all these prototypes really cool and interesting because you're able to take all of these different things and apply it to something rather than just memorizing facts. I feel like a lot of people think that you need expensive supplies or a really good STEM lab to be able to create stuff or to pursue a career in STEM. But I found with me a lot of the stuff that I've done. I've been able to create almost every invention off of a $50 Arduino kit off of Amazon. I've used that for probably eight or nine years now, and it's been able to help me through every single invention. And they're not fancy stuff. It's just something that I know will make it work. And I think that you can learn just so much by stuff not working or stuff going wrong and having to go back and tweak it and to fix it, that it helps you stick with it in the long run and know what you can do better next time. And a lot of people really think that you have to be a genius or some sort of science and math savant to be able to create all of these things. But I don't think that's necessarily true. You just have to have a willingness to learn and perseverance, which you can always learn as you go along. I know I'm a lot more patient with inventions now than I was in second grade. So I think it's really just a learning process and being able to take all these different things and use mentors and all the different resources and create something that you know will impact others.
[13:35] Dr. Diane: I love that. And I love the fact that you're such a well balanced human being as well. You're sort of a poster child for somebody who can do STEM but also have a rich, full life and do other things as well. I understand you were just in The Little Mermaid, is that right?
[13:54] Lydia: Yes, I think it was last week we finished doing our local production of Little Mermaid. I was just in the ensemble, but I was also a dance captain, and I enjoy doing a lot of different acting things. I'm going to try out for newsies this upcoming week after I get back from LA. And there's currently a summer camp going on. Sadly, I wasn't able to attend, but I've been doing a lot of this acting stuff for a while as well.
[14:22] Dr. Diane: And how do acting and STEM support and encourage each other?
[14:27] Lydia: I feel like having an acting background really helps me to be able to communicate my ideas clearly. Being able to know how to speak fluently and to word things in a way that's easy for others to understand has really helped, especially in the public speaking aspect of doing STEM, doing podcasts like this or going on the news or trying to share my ideas with others. It's really helped having other skills such as public speaking and acting, to be able to incorporate into that.
[15:04] Dr. Diane: Very cool. And you mentioned you're going to LA. Tell us a little bit about what's bringing you to LA.
[15:09] Lydia: So me and a group about four years ago created an invention called Breathe to help with childhood drowning and hypoxia by continuously monitoring your blood oxygen levels. And we created this idea and entered it into this competition knowing that it was a very long shot that most likely we wouldn't get all the way to the final round and then COVID put everything on pause. And they finally resumed the competition this year. And we found out about a month ago that we were one of the finalists. So we had a Zoom meeting with them and told them more about our idea with like, two days notice, and they let us know that we had won first in our age division and that we'd be moving on to the final round in LA. So we get flown out this upcoming week and we get to share our idea to try to network it more and be able to get it out there to someone who might be able to take it and run with it. And I'm very excited because our group is a very diverse group. We're all women in STEM, and we have a Hispanic member, and we also have a Pacific Islander member as part of our group, so we're all coming from very different backgrounds, so we have a lot of different input going into this. And I think it's just really cool because we're able to encourage others to do the same. NOTE: They won first prize in their age division.
[16:45] Dr. Diane: I love that. So you actually just touched on something. I was thinking in terms of diversity in women in STEM, how do we get more young women like you interested in the STEM fields and interested in inventing?
[16:59] Lydia: I feel like around science and math especially, it's considered a boy subject. And then ELA and social studies can be considered girl subjects that more women study. So I feel like if we stop that stereotype and try to incorporate more women into science, you know, when you think of the type of videos they show in science class, you think of Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Generation Genius, all these different things, you know? Mainly you think of these guys who have done it and that have been shown in classes, and it doesn't always jump to your mind of women being shown. So I think if we have more women role models in STEM that are able to be shown in classrooms or just teachers being able to encourage other people. I'm part of the Society of Women in Engineering, and I'm thinking about opening a chapter at my school to get more people involved. If more teachers decide to take that and get it to these kids, they might be able to be encouraged. And I thought it was really cool. A few years ago, I saw Miss America did a science experiment as her special talent and ended up winning the whole competition, which is insane thinking that someone could win using science, and it was a woman. I've also seen Emily's Wonder Lab on Netflix, and I was able to be very inspired of a woman role model teaching these kids about different aspects of science and making it fun and interactive.
[18:58] Dr. Diane: And I love the notion that you just raised about the stereotypes and sort of how we tend to view science as a boy oriented topic and English language arts as female. One of the things that I do is I try to get teachers to see ways to integrate language arts into science and to use science as that way to capture attention. So I like the idea of being able to connect the two. And as you said, to have female role models, there are so many good ones out there. I don't know if you've seen the Instagram account @nina.draws.scientists, but she actually focuses on women in STEM and women in science. And so she does this whole Instagram account that is dedicated to women in science, which I think is really cool.
[19:47] Lydia: I'll definitely check that out. That sounds really cool. Yeah.
[19:50] Dr. Diane: So I love that, and I love what you're doing in terms of trying to get your peers interested as well. So were there any books or stories or role models that you read that inspired you and sort of got your curiosity going and your desire to be involved in STEM related stuff?
[20:10] Lydia: My mom always shared the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and I thought that was really inspiring because he used all of these small supplies and junk from around his house and his town, and he was able to take all of that and create something really amazing. Even though he might not have been the most knowing and most knowledgeable in a lot of this science and engineering, he was able to use trial and error to really create this amazing thing and benefit his community. And then recently, I think a few years ago, I did a book report on Chasing Space by Leland Melvin. He shares his story of how he became an astronaut. And you see throughout the book all the different places where he went through a lot of hardships. He failed academically, sometimes in school. He lost his football career due to injuries. Then he lost his hearing during training. But he still never gave up and became an astronaut anyway because it was something he was passionate about. And I think that's something very important to share with people, that if you're passionate about something, to keep working at it until you can get there in the end.
[21:36] Dr. Diane: So what are some big things that are going on for you right now besides LA? What do you have plans moving forward into the new school year, new inventions on the horizon, things that you're thinking about?
[21:48] Lydia: So a lot of science stuff has actually come up this summer. Earlier this summer, about a month ago, I was able to film with Discovery Education, talking about my identity as a kid inventor and a woman in STEM. I can't share much about it now, but I'm hoping at the end of this year or early 2024 that it will be coming out and I'm able to share it with other people. And this upcoming school year, I plan to create a new chapter of the Society of Women Engineers at my school. I'm also a Carolina Biological Young Innovator, and hopefully I'll be presenting at a conference this fall.
[22:32] Dr. Diane: That's very, very cool. And do you have sort of big dreams or big aspirations for yourself, for the future? Have you started thinking about where you want to be in a few years?
[22:45] Lydia: I have a little bit, but I think I know for a fact that my interests are really subject to change. I know that within the coming years, I know I'm going to be interested in so many different things. Right now, I really do love being an inventor, but I'm also an actor. I like singing, and I recently learned how to play guitar, and I'm working on that in Ukulele. And I know that throughout high school, I'm going to be opened up to so many new opportunities that I never had before, especially since I'm at the early college. I might take a college class in something that I really love and I want to pursue that as a career, but I haven't got there yet, so I don't know at this point. So I'm really just going to kind know, go with the flow and see where life takes me. Just wherever I end up, I want to be somewhere that I'm going to be the happiest. And my overall goal is to make the world better just because I'm a little part of it.
[23:54] Dr. Diane: Lydia, I love that. And anything we can do to help you on your pathway, let us know. Thank you so much for being on the Adventures in Learning podcast. You are an inspiration, and I am so looking forward to other people getting to know the things that you do.
[24:11] Lydia: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. I love being able to share my story with others.