Wilmington’s Star News Features Story About CFA Student-Inventor

Ninth-grader gets patent for science project

Cape Fear Academy ninth-grader Samantha Melin stands beside a mock up of a garbage disposal on Nov. 12.

Buy PhotoMike Spencer

By Stephanie Bowens

Published: Monday, November 24, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 24, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.

Many of us can relate to accidentally dropping an eating utensil or wedding ring into the kitchen sink’s garbage disposal. An invention by a Cape Fear Academy student can help prevent the headache of damaged silverware and undersink disposals.

Two years ago, Samantha Melin, 12 years old at the time, developed an invention for CFA’s middle school science fair that not only won her first prize at the science fair but has led to U.S. patents and a fledgling new business.

She even made the cover of Inventors Digest magazine.

When Samantha’s sixth-grade science teacher, Jamie Bonetti, instructed her students to create inventions for the fair that could help solve problems people face in everyday life, Samantha turned to her mom, Michele, for ideas.

“I had a little bit of trouble coming up with one because I was in the sixth grade, and I was new to the whole idea of a science experiment,” said Samantha, now a ninth-grader. “I went home and my mom had made dinner that night. My dad was cleaning up and got a fork stuck in the disposal, and it tore up the disposal and the fork. And I said, ‘There has to be a way to prevent this from happening.’ “

Samantha, realizing that most objects getting caught in the disposal are metallic, thought putting a metal detector in the disposal system could help address the problem.

Samantha began building her invention, now officially called Sam’s Silverware Saver.

“I bought a lot of metal detectors,” she said. “Then after a little while of thinking, I thought of a buzzer to alert people that there’s something in it so even if it (the disposal) is off they know not to turn on the disposal. Then I thought of an LED light that would shut off the disposal.”

Samantha put a metal detector at the disposal’s opening.

“If metal, like a spoon, is dropped inside of the disposal, there is a detecting coil that has a frequency and the metal disturbs the frequency,” she explained.

“If the disposal is off, it sets off the buzzer and an LED light. If the disposal is on, the metal disturbs the frequency, the buzzer and the LED light not only come on but the LED light sets off a relay switch that turns off the disposal.”

Samantha said winning the science fair “felt really good” but she never initially thought her invention would go beyond the fair. Then her father determined that a patent to her invention idea didn’t already exist.

Dr. Thomas Melin, a neurosurgeon who worked with his physician assistant Sean Hensler to invent and patent a medical device called The Hensler Bone Press, was familiar with obtaining patents and the invention process. Samantha drew inspiration and help from him.

“When my dad told me he got a patent search and that I had a patent, I was like, wow,” she said. “He was like, let’s just look into this some more, and we did, and here it is today.”

Today Samantha has a business called Samelin Innovations LLC through which the Melins are working to see Sam’s Silverware Saver reach homes across the country. They are exploring whether to license the Silverware Saver to a major manufacturer of sink disposals or to manufacture it and sell it as an accessory added to existing disposals.

Samelin has hired an engineering firm to help with the design and get her product suitable for licensing and manufacturing, and the family is working with engineers from Auburn University to allow the product to also detect nonferrous metals such as gold and platinum.

The Melins expect to have a fully-functioning prototype by Christmas.

“I never imagined it would get this far,” Samantha said. “I’m amazed at where I am right now – that I have two patents ,and it’s about to be a prototype.

“That would be awesome if it was in stores and people bought it, and I would actually be helping people with the simplest thing,” she said. “It would have my name on it. That’s just an awesome idea.”

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