‘Superhero’ inventor visits local summer camp

Inventor Frances Ligler poses for a picture with Camp Invention counselors and participants. Photo credit Chris Tulp.

By CHRIS TULP — Students at a local Camp Invention had the chance to finally meet “superhero” Frances Ligler, inventor of portable optical biosensors.

Ligler visited and spoke to camp participants at St. Jerome Academy (SJA) in Hyattsville. Previously, they had only seen her depicted as a superhero on a cardboard poster displayed at camp.

“They thought she was a cartoon until they saw her in person,” said Jennifer Stanton, organizer of the event and Camp Invention counselor. “The things that they’re talking about in class, she has done or created.”

Ligler is best known for her work in portable optical biosensors, which are devices that use biological materials to detect a chemical or biological target. Thanks to her work at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, these biosensors are being used in vital areas such as food safety, disease diagnosis, pollution control and homeland security.

She is also a specialist in the fields of biosensors and microfluidics and was recognized for her innovative application of emerging technologies to make optical biosensors smaller, more versatile and more efficient.

She was one of 15 inventors to be inducted in 2017 into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which is the leading nonprofit in America that recognizes inventors and promotes their work.

According to its website, the mission of the National Inventors Hall of Fame is to recognize inventors and invention, celebrate the country’s rich, innovative history, inspire creativity, and advance the spirit of technology and entrepreneurship.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame has various programs for students in preschool  through 12th grade. The Camp Invention program held at SJA was for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. These students not only had the unique opportunity to meet the award-winning inventor, but also to show off some of their own creations that they have been working on.

Ligler’s visit could ultimately make the biggest impact on the girls at the camp because recent studies show that if girls were as exposed to female inventors as boys are to male inventors, the gender gap in innovation would fall by half.

“It’s very inspiring, especially now that she is one of the only female inductees that we have met,” said Stanton, noting that this was SJA’s sixth year hosting a Camp Invention. She continued, “That can empower a lot of girls that really want to be interested in science to say, ‘I, too, can do the same thing and more.’”

Ligler also spoke on the importance of sharing her experiences with kids and helping them express their creativity, so they can contribute to American ingenuity in the future. “The most important thing is to realize that what they know and their ideas are important,” said Ligler.  “Once they realize that their ideas have value, they can make a difference in the world. Somebody has to listen to them.”

Chris Tulp is a summer intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.

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