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Bubble Wrap

Pop Quiz: What do you like to do with Bubble Wrap? Answer: POP it, of course!

That's not all you can do with those sheets of plastic bubbles. Sealed Air Corporation, the company that makes Bubble Wrap, recently held a contest for young inventors. They wanted to see what uses kids might dream up for the plastic people love to pop. The company awarded the grand prize to 15-year-old Grayson Rosenberger of Nashville, Tennessee. Grayson used Bubble Wrap to help people with “prosthetic” (artificial) legs.

Grayson's Idea

Grayson has always liked to build things. When a teacher at his school said that the Bubble Wrap company had announced a contest for young inventors, Grayson knew right away that he wanted to enter. His dad suggested he try to invent something that had to do with artificial limbs. The idea clicked because Grayson was very familiar with that subject.

Grayson's mom, Gracie, lost both her legs when she was injured in a car accident before Grayson was born. She walks on two prosthetic legs. She and Grayson's father run Standing With Hope, a charity that reaches out to people with missing limbs. Their charity works with a medical clinic in Ghana, West Africa, to build prosthetic legs for people who can't afford them.

A Simple Solution Makes a Big Difference

Standing With Hope provides legs to many people in Ghana. But they're made from metal poles and don't look like real limbs. Many people who wear them are often teased. There are special coverings that make artificial legs look more realistic, but they cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Standing With Hope's patients in Ghana can't afford such expensive coverings. So Grayson decided to make an inexpensive Bubble Wrap cover that would mimic the look of muscle and bone.

To create his leg covering, Grayson shapes Bubble Wrap around the metal pole and uses a tool called a heat gun to warm it up. He molds the warm plastic into shape with his hands. Then he puts a flesh-colored stocking over the Bubble Wrap to make it look even more like a real leg. Under a pair of pants, it looks a lot more realistic than a stiff metal pole. And it costs less than $5 to make.

An Invention with Many Rewards

Grayson plans to travel to Ghana with his parents to teach specialists at the clinic there how to make the leg coverings. In the meantime, a prosthetic clinic in Nashville has already fitted some patients with Bubble Wrap leg coverings, Grayson said. One of the first people to use his design was a soldier who lost a leg in the Iraq war.

Grayson's great invention won him $10,000 and a trip to New York City. But the biggest reward, he says, is helping improve people's lives.