Interview with Clara Mabour (Teacher, InvenTeam Grant Recipient)


Learn about the process of inventing by reading this fascinating transcript of our interview with Clara Mabour, a current teacher, and former InvenTeam grant recipient.

What made you want to begin inventing?

I have been interested in making and problem-solving as far back as I can remember. I started by inventing out of curiosity, and now I invent to solve problems that impact others. Early in my life, I invented games that my friends and I played at school, and I used my broken toys and scraps of fabric from my mom’s sewing room to make new contraptions. I have to admit, most of my early inventions did not work, and I still attempted to make new ones. When I succeeded, I was excited, but when I failed, I was thrilled because I loved the challenge. I still have that same charge to invent, and I get excited that someone will be positively impacted by my creation.

Describe one of your early inventions? 

In 2011, as a high school student, I got an awesome opportunity to participate on a team that was awarded a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant. We used the grant to create a portable water sanitation system to be used after natural disasters in tropical regions. The system would provide water to 50 people per day and work by bicycle power. There were two collapsible barrels that fit in an aluminum box, modeled after a pizza box. The device was simple to use and could be easily repaired. Below are the steps one would take to operate the system:

  1. Pour contaminated water through the mesh filter on top of the first barrel to remove particulates
  2. Pedal the bike while the wheels are lifted on a hitch to charge the battery
  3. Run the pumps and the ozonators to move and sanitize the filtered water from the first barrel to the clean water barrel
  4. If the device needs to be transferred to a different location, the users could pack all of the components in the box and attach it to the bike to deliver it to the next location

What was your inspiration for creating this invention?

The portable water sanitation system was modeled to solve the water contamination issues in the relief camps in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, which devastated the country. Natural disasters cause massive amounts of damage quickly and can harm large amounts of people. Sometimes, people just think of the immediate impacts of natural disasters, but the long-term implications can be deadly as well. As a Haitian-American, I was upset to hear and see that Haitian people were dying from cholera and other water-borne diseases months and years after the initial earthquake. One of my teammates returned from a trip to Haiti and retold her experience of not being able to wash her face with the water because of the bacterial contamination. We were inspired to create the water sanitation system to solve this problem for the Haitian people and aid workers in the relief camps. It can be used in many places around the world to bring clean water to those in need.

What process did you follow to create your invention?

In general, we followed the Invention process. The Spark!Lab Invention Process model looks very similar to the steps my team, and I took to create our invention. At times we moved backward and forward in small loops in this process to make sure we were constantly improving our prototype.

  1. Think it: After a trip to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, we identified a need to provide clean water to people after natural disasters.
  2. Explore it: Several water purification devices and camping showers were on the market during the initial phases of the project, so we decided to make a miniature water treatment plant that was easily portable and efficient.
  3. Sketch it: We drew many different sketches of our device before we started to construct it. Even in this design phase, we had many changes.
  4. Create it: We gathered our materials and started to build our device. In the process, we learned to use new tools and to measure multiple times before we did any cutting.
  5. Try it: After every stage of prototyping, we had to test the device to make sure the various parts worked as we needed them to.
  6. Tweak it: When they did not work, we went back to the sketch it and/or create it phase. We were in this loop often. Towards the end of prototyping we only had minor changes to make and finally were done.
  7. Sell it: Inventors have to think about how to promote their inventions. My teammates and I created an elevator pitch that we used whenever we met someone new. The speech was no longer than 30 secs, but it had to be impactful and convincing. The water sanitation system is not on the market yet, but I have high hopes that it will be one day.

Did you win any awards/earn recognition for your invention?

My team was one of 15 groups of students chosen from across the nation to receive a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant that year. The program funded the construction of our device and helped connect us to experts in our area. After we finished our prototype, we attended Eurekafest and presented our invention to MIT professors, Alumni, students, and community members. This was a great experience and is still one of the best moments of my life. During the construction of the water sanitation system, my team and I were recognized by The City of Oakland Park and Broward County declared February 14th Northeast High School L-MIT InvenTeam day. In 2013, members of my InvenTeam, Kiona Elliott, and Payton Karr were invited to the White House Science Fair to present our invention to former President Barack Obama. In 2016 they were featured in the November issue of Wired magazine with our device. It has been six years since I worked on the invention and I am still positively impacted by the experience. I am always eager to discuss the device and the science behind it.

Payton Karr, Kiona Elliot, and President Barack Obama during the 2013 Science Fair.
Payton Karr, Kiona Elliot, and President Barack Obama during the 2013 Science Fair.

What have you invented since then/have you been working on recently?

Three of Clara's current InvenTeam students learning to code the processor for their Mosquito Breeding Disruptor (December 2017)
Three of Clara’s current InvenTeam students learning to code the processor for their Mosquito Breeding Disruptor (December 2017)

My invention experience did not end with the water sanitation system. Since then, I have worked on personal projects like making homemade hair and skin products for people with curly hair, educational games for my classroom, and many small projects in between. I am now a teacher at the same high school that I attended, and my favorite thing to work on is the project that my current Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam students are creating. I never thought that one day I would have the honor of working at my alma mater or be an educator of an InvenTeam, but my students are my greatest joy. I love inspiring and encouraging young people to invent like my InvenTeam educator inspired my teammates and me. I get to guide them as they go through the invention process to create a device that prevents mosquitoes from breeding in stagnant water in urban areas. They were inspired to create this device because of the Zika epidemic. It can be used in places where there is flooding, like Houston, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands affected by hurricanes in 2017. The device could be used in many places around the world and possibly help reduce incidents of malaria, dengue fever, and other mosquito-borne illnesses and save many lives. The students on my InvenTeam come from various backgrounds and interests. They are united under the idea of invention and solving an issue that harms millions of people globally each year. They are learning new skills that will help them with this project and beyond. They are learning to use new tools, design, and 3D print, code, work as a team, communicate with the public, think critically, and problem solve.

What advice do you have for aspiring inventors competing in this challenge?

There is no perfect mold for an inventor. You do not have to be a mathematician or an engineer to invent.  Inventors come from all ages, backgrounds, and places. Inventions can be complex or simple. They can be super fun toys and technology, lifesaving medical equipment, strong and efficient construction material, etc. The main requirements are that inventions are useful and unique. When an idea strikes you, explore it and be fearless when approaching the challenge of invention. You have the power and ability to make a difference in your environment/community and the world. The opportunity to solve problems with inventions is around us all the time. Look around you, talk to your friends and family and identify issues, big or small, that you would like to solve, then, INVENT!

There are many issues around the world that need solutions that have not yet been created. We need inventors that are imaginative and compassionate, excited to learn, and ready to create. Tell us about your plan to create an invention that will solve a problem, big or small?

One thought on “Interview with Clara Mabour (Teacher, InvenTeam Grant Recipient)

  1. Hi Ariana, this is the 3-4 class! We love your invention! It’s wonderful. We voted and are continuing to vote. We fully support you. Good luck!

  2. Awesome inventors with insights into future technology.

    Very creative young students who can develop innovative
    products for the benefit of mankind.

  3. Hi im from the CATASTROPHE CARE KIT FOR KIDS GROUP and congratulations for winning

  4. Hi im from the CATASTROPHE CARE KIT FOR KIDS GROUP and congragulations for winning

    p.s. i like your idea.

  5. Hi im from the CATASTROPHE CARE KIT FOR KIDS GROUP and congragulations for winning

  6. Hi im from the CATASTROPHE CARE KIT FOR KIDS GROUP and congragulations for winning

  7. Hi im from the CATASTROPHE CARE KIT FOR KIDS GROUP and congragulations for winning

  8. Great invention. I love that you created it with only a little help. You must really love your pets!!
    < o)
    < o)

  9. Before submitting your project, make sure you review your presentation. There might be a few last-minute changes you could make or add. You could’ve forgotten something and wanted to write some more on it, or you could fix something. Whatever it is, reviewing your presentation one last time is really important. It’s your final push to success.
    With the things you learned while doing this challenge, you could also apply them to other situations, like competing in a competition. You could compete ferociously, but in a polite, friendly way. Or when you’re working with others, you would know to be respectful to other people’s opinions/ideas and how to add on to them, agree with them, or even disagree with them.
    Anything and everything causes something to the universe, good or bad, it’s just up to you to make it count.

  10. Be sure to review your presentation before submitting!

    Participating in the Invent It Challenge is a very interesting experience. This challenge helps stretch your creativity and enhances your critical thinking skills. This will help you everywhere in life.

  11. Some tips for your presentation:
    1. Include only a few words or sentences on each slide. That’s the most important thing to an excellent presentation. Presentations are supposed to go fast, but also make a mark in the audience’s minds. Too many words/sentences will need a lot of time to read it all. That’s why you need to make it interesting and plan it out first, then grasping the main sentence of the planned writing you just wrote.
    2.Make sure your presentation is fun and interesting to read, or else others might not want to continue reading the rest of your presentation. Just like in writing, you need to hook your audience/readers with interesting, unique stuff.
    3.Always plan your presentation first before actually typing it in. If not, you might include some pretty crazy information in your slides, and I’m sure you don’t want that. You’ll waste a lot of time just trying to delete all that information that you don’t need.
    4. Don’t copy or take any photographed pictures taken by any of your friends without permission. That’s very bad, and would definitely make the photographer of that/those pictures very upset.
    5. Add images to make your presentation more clear and easier to visualize. You can either take some pictures from the Internet(with permission), ask friends/colleagues if you could use their pictures, or even illustrate your own pictures(you need that in the Draw It step) and put them in your slides. After that, your presentation will be as colorful as can be.

  12. 1. When you try it, make sure you invention follows the criteria listed for a good invention, and what you hoped your invention would do
    2. When you tweak it, you want to solve the things that happened unexpectedly (which are the problems you want to solve). Keep in mind that you can keep some of the things that happened unexpectedly, some mistakes are good and some are bad.
    3. You can ask a teacher or a friend for more feedback, and they even might tell you how to solve some problems. Teamwork is important.

  13. 1. (RESPOND AND RESCUE)How can you make something that can help pets in need?
    2. (IMMEDIATE RELIEF)Is your invention portable and easy to use in states of emergency?

  14. For the Try It step, you should try out the prototype of the invention that you made. This is an important step because it tells you what you need to improve in your invention. For the Tweak It step, try to think about how you can make your invention better. Think about how to modify your invention.

  15. Two startup questions:
    1. (RESPOND AND RESCUE)What can you invent to help save animals in need, like in floods and earthquakes?
    2. (IMMEDIATE RELIEF) Can you make an invention that is portable and easy to use immediately in times of disasters?

  16. If you don’t have any ideas on what to do in the “Think It” step, you can research online and in books, but make sure the website is safe and is trusted, like Teresa said. Also make sure your sources aren’t outdated!

  17. Here are two questions to help you think about your project:

    1. (Prepare) What could you invent to help people prepare for a hurricane before it happens?

    2. (Relief) After a hurricane has occurred, what can you invent to help people get to safety and rebuild their communities?

  18. To successfully conduct good, efficient research, you would need to find some reliable sources(websites, books, etc). So, first: make sure the source you are using is reliable and can be trusted. For websites, check to make sure the URL starts with https://, which means that it is secure. You can also check for bad English in it, or simply just look at the URL. EDU means educational, ORG means organization, and NET means that it is used by companies all over the world. COM is for commercial, and you can never be so sure if those websites are reliable or not. Another tip is to find similar information on several sources, and -BOOM- you found some true info. Or you could just easily call a teacher or adult over to help you figure out if a source if trustworthy or not. I mean, you don’t want to go on believing EVERY SINGLE DETAIL a source states. Precision is best!

  19. When you are trying to brainstorm ideas for the ThinkIt step, think about topics and ideas that you are passionate about. My advice is to choose a topic that interests you so the whole invention process can be fun and interactive. After you have finished listing down all the ideas you are interested in, pick your favorite idea to carry through the invention process.

  20. Hello! I am Hamsini and my interests are math, reading, and science. The invention I created is PeQualM and its purpose is to detect air pollutants. My invention aims to help people who live in highly polluted areas. I really enjoyed working on my invention and encourage everyone to participate in the challenge!

  21. I have the great honor of working with this amazing educator and person. She truly enjoys what she does and inspires young inventors and students everyday.

  22. My name is Tomas, I am from Colombia.

    I really enjoy playing video games, watching movies and hanging out with friends. My favorite sport is soccer and I really like to play soccer with my friends.

    My project was called: Animal Rescue: A Colombian Adventure. It was the winner of The e-pal Choice Award 2017. My project was an application which uses augmented reality, so you can go all around the city searching for animals that are in danger or that are in jails, captured by humans.

    Your task is to free these animals and take them to an animal shelter so that they are safe.
    I really enjoyed participating in this challenge and I think that you should participate too.
    After I participated in this challenge, I realized that my relationship with my teammates was actually much better than it was before, participating here made me learn about teamwork and to relate with my friends and teammates in a better way, you also learn to use your creativity and imagination.

    I would recommend you that if you participate in this challenge, you do it because you enjoy inventing things for you and for helping others because when you do something you enjoy, it always has a better result than something you don’t like doing.

    If you participate, do it because you like to, not because you’re forced to.


  23. Hi! I’m Teresa. I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I like drawing, playing softball, and piano. Last year, I invented the Fluoride Filter, which cleans the impurities such as fluoride out of contaminated water.

    You should enter the Invent It Challenge 2018, as well as anybody else who wants to do so too. In fact, anybody can do anything! It won’t matter if you fail, you can keep on going. Never give up, despite any difficulties. You can achieve great lengths!

    If you aren’t 100% sure if you should join this challenge, think of the rewards! They should be much better this year, so, lucky you! Last year, the prizes included things like books and Lego sets, which were really cool. The prizes really like to grab people’s attention! But this year, they will let the winners go to Washington DC for some neat surprises. If you join, you can choose to work with friends, or even simply on your own. You can hang out with your friends while inventing something for the challenge! Teamwork is a wonderful force. Use it wisely, and the result will be magical.
    If you’re kind of confused and don’t know what to make for the challenge, note of the environmental problems that are occurring right now. I found my idea for my invention when the water in our town’s water tank was accidentally contaminated with too much fluoride, and so I tried to find a way to solve it. You can do the same thing too, find a problem happening right now, and try to find a solution to it! It’s perfectly fine to do a brain dump, where you dump all your ideas out on paper and pick one. If you don’t like the problem you originally chose, it is okay for you to find another. As long as you have an idea, then you have your plans laid out.

    Come and enter the Invent It Challenge 2018! It will be super fun, and besides, who doesn’t want to work with their friends and go to Washington DC together?

  24. Hi! My name is Ruoyan and I was born in China but moved to the United States when I was very little. My hobbies/interests are swimming, gymnastics, and ice skating, just to name a few.

    Teresa and I won the invent-it challenge by creating the “Fluoride Filter” and as you can probably tell from the name it is a filter that removes fluoride from water. It has many layers of filters inside a container that is open on both sides that helps leave the dirty stuff behind so that clean water can keep going. It also has chemicals called alumina and deionizers that help purify the water.

    You should totally enter the Invent It Challenge because it’s a fun experience to invent something and even if you’re not sure yours will win, it’s still worth a shot and you can do it just for fun! Besides, you never know what’s going to happen. My piece of advice is to always check over your invention and test it out whenever you have the chance, because sometimes you’re really sure it works, but you test it out and it doesn’t. Good luck on your invention!

  25. Hello! My name is Arushi and I’m from New Jersey. My many interests consist of science, music, art, writing, and reading. Last year, I created something I called BLITS that eventually ended up winning the Spark! Lab 2017 Invent It Contest for the 11-13 category. My invention was basically a solar-power-generating version of blinds that go over one’s window. The power from the sun generated from the outside would store up. Once a sensor, also engineered onto the blind, would detect that it’s dark in the room the window is in, a light powered only by that stored solar power would turn on and emit light. I realized that placing solar panels on one’s roof is hefty and time-consuming, which is why I designed this cheap version that could light up an entire room just from one window.

    I highly encourage you to enter the Challenge. Not for the possible prizes or the title, but because of the experience. Even if I didn’t end up winning, I still would have enjoyed the experience; it taught me about myself what I like to make. It’s going to be difficult to come up with an idea, create it, and then go back to revise it. But it’s always worth it. This year is a wonderful year to participate, as it offers an opportunity to change your world for the better. You can think of ways to make an impact and, in the near future, end up making a difference as a career. And it all starts with an idea.

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