Bridging the Opportunity Divide

These High Schoolers Solved a Foodie Problem With a 3-D Printer

May 15, 2014
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These High Schoolers Solved a Foodie Problem With a 3-D Printer
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Their design could make assembling the perfect hamburger easier.

If you’ve ever had the unpleasant experience of squeezing out watery ketchup all over your hotdog, two high school students in Liberty, Missouri, have come up with just the invention you need.

Condiment experts Tyler Richards and Jonathan Thompson, both seniors studying in the Project Lead the Way Program (PLTW) at North Liberty High School, were challenged by their teacher, Brett Kisker, to come up with a solution to a problem that was relevant to them. “We always start with the phrase, ‘it really bugs me when,'” Kisker told Lindsey Foat of the Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT. (PLTW is a nonprofit that provides instruction and training in science and technology to students from kindergarten to high school, in the form of after-school programs and in-class lessons for teachers.)

What could be more relevant to a teenager than the perfect ketchup experience?

Kisker challenged their idea initially. “I said that they could just shake the bottle and that there is a free solution,” Kisker told Foat. “But they did a lot of research and they had me convinced that this problem really does exist.” The two teens found that many people would be willing to pay a little extra to have the watery ketchup problem solved. Additionally, a ketchup dispenser that doesn’t need to be shaken could help seniors and people with disabilities alike.

The students began their project by researching what patents had already been issued for ketchup inventions. “There are a surprising amount of ketchup-related patents out there,” Richards told Foat. “There was one — it’s kind of hard to explain — but basically it’s a way to inject ketchup into a french fry. It was a bit extreme.”

Next the students brainstormed, coming up with 60 possible solutions. The one they settled on is shaped like a mushroom and inserted into the underside of the ketchup cap. “It is based on the Pythagorean cup idea,” Thompson told Foat. “It’s also the same principle that toilets work off of.” They built their prototype using a 3-D printer and showed it at an exhibition of PLTW experiments in Kansas City.

The two don’t have any immediate plans to turn their ketchup idea into a business, however. Thompson has enlisted in the Army, and Richards will start at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in August. But whatever they do, their time spent as inventors probably means that they’ll never look at a bottle of ketchup the same way again.

MORE: Two Keys to the Future: 3-D Printing and Employed Veterans

 

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