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COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) — Lash Laker gathered up some materials from around his Coeur d'Alene home - cardboard, coffee grounds, wood ash and eggshells - and made a horticultural product he calls Seedboard.
The idea is to nurture seedlings in the ground, locking in moisture, supplying nutrients and fortifying against insects.
"It protects from many things," the loquacious 8-year-old explained. "It's protection from pests, keeps seeds safe from the elements and dry climate."
Laker has done pretty well with his invention, winning the Invent Idaho school competition, then advancing to the district, regional and state levels. Now he has won the national I Cubed Challenge, which this year had students explore innovations in sustainability.
"This young man is going places, very definitely," said Beth Brubaker, co-founder of I Cubed Inventions, a nationwide student invention curriculum and contest for students in grades 1-8. I Cubed, or I, stands for "inspire, ignite, invent."
"The judges were overwhelmingly in agreement" that Laker's invention stood out, Brubaker said. "It was a very strong win."
Surrounded by his family and school staff Tuesday afternoon, the blond-haired third-grader at Ramsey Magnet School of Science was awarded a trophy for his sustainable product.
"I'm just so impressed that somebody of that age could have an idea like this," Ramsey Principal Crystal Kubista said. "When we were looking at it last year at the (school) competition, so many teachers and parents were like, 'Wow, I need one of these, this would be really helpful in my garden.'?"
His mother, Annie Laker, a dialysis technician, said the project has helped her son better express himself in writing.
"The impact it has had on him and his self-confidence is the most exciting part of it to see," she said.
Laker, who likes to wear a dress shirt and often a tie to school, took on the project last November.
"He said his favorite part is the brainstorming," his mother said. "He had fun just rattling off ideas and coming up with the theme."
He began by researching agricultural sustainability and asking how he could help plants grow using common recyclable materials.
"I thought of things that get thrown away . and I saw the corrugation," he explained, picking up a strip of cardboard rolled into a coil. "Here's a prototype. As you can see, they're perfect little holes for seeds."
Using long strips of cardboard, Laker pushed seeds into the void between the outer layers, then glued coffee grounds onto the outside to provide the seedlings with fertilizer as the cardboard breaks down in the soil and acts as compost for the young plants.
Laker refined his design with feedback from judges as he advanced to the state competition. He added eggshells from the family's backyard chickens and wood ash from the fireplace to give the seedlings more support.
"There are things called macronutrients and micronutrients," he said. "Plants need less micronutrients and more macronutrients."
One of the I Cubed judges commented, "I really like how you continued to improve your invention after every trial. That's how real inventors work."
Laker has converted part of his bedroom into a laboratory, complete with microscopes, a science kit and a hot-glue gun, which he puts to good use.
"As you can see in my science lab I have test tubes," he said, and he used those to test how much coffee grounds to use to boost bean growth.
"I'd like to see farmers using it," he said of Seedboard. "I'd like to see it in people's gardens."
A patent attorney will talk with the family about the possibility of a patent search, said Brubaker, who also teaches at the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum.
"It's heartwarming to see the future of our country is really in good hands with these young problem-solvers," she said.
News of his big win was announced recently over Ramsey's PA system, and Laker's mom surprised him at school with balloons and a goody bag.
"She filled it up with a pack of Cheetos - you know, the medium-sized ones? - and a box of Sour Patch Kids - you know, the new ones with blue Sour Patch Kids?"
"I practiced for this interview only four times," Laker said. "Here I am doing pretty well."
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com
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