9-year-old central Texas inventor will see educational toy made

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MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — A 9-year-old girl from Marble Falls invented a toy that lets kids collect and view insects up close and now a toy company will produce and sell the device.

Emma Turner, a 4th-grader at Spicewood Elementary, entered a contest sponsored by the company Fat Brain Toys and designed and built what she calls the Buggy Light. 

The bug box allows insects to come and go as they please. It includes an LED light to attract bugs and a magnifying glass.

“You can watch the bugs through the magnifying glass, and then when it gets dark, you turn the light on and it projects the bugs onto the wall,” she said.

The idea came to Emma one day while she catching bugs. She noticed the lights attracted them and started asking questions about why. The design, which allows bugs to come and go as they please, means that, unlike other boxes, it doesn’t eventually kill whatever winds up inside.

“This is something you can use to see something that most people think of as gross,” Emma said, “but sometimes see it and appreciate a part of nature.”

Emma first heard about the contest in school. Spicewood got a grant from the Marble Falls Education Foundation to create and outfit a maker-space classroom for all the students to spend time in. It includes tools, craft materials, and objects like electronics for kids to take apart and see how they work.

On Friday, students practiced building rudimentary circuit boards, taking apart a printer and keyboard, and creating video game levels out of blocks that translated into a playable version on a tablet.

Once Emma started putting the pieces together for her idea, it didn’t take her mom long to figure out it was a good one.

“We have a joke in our house that statements that come out of her mouth typically start with, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…'” said Kalli Turner, a special education teacher at Spicewood.

After developing the idea by asking a lot of questions and doing her research, Emma built a prototype out of wood with her grandpa. She submitted the idea, as did several other students at the school. 

Based on voting conducted online, she and another student made it into the top seven entries out of about 120 from across the country. Emma then made it in the top five, and a panel of judges selected her invention as the ultimate winner last month.

“We had lots of creative inventions to choose from this year, but Emma’s Buggy Light really won us over with its sheer innovation,” said Mark Carson, Fat Brain Toys’ co-founder and a judge this year.

This is the second year the toy company has hosted the competition. Last year’s winner, made by an 11-year-old Minnesota boy, is called Door Pong, a table-tennis-esque game that instead clips a swinging ball above a door frame for kids to play with.

As part of her win, Emma will get a trip to New York in February to present a manufactured prototype to the American International Toy Fair, and then Fat Brain Toys will make and sell the Buggy Light. The final version will have suction cups to mount to a window so you can view bugs from indoors.

Emma will get royalties from her invention and also won a $2,500 scholarship. “That’s definitely the part mom and dad are the most excited about,” Kalli Turner said.

Emma is most excited about the fact that her toy will actually be on shelves by next fall. She caught the inventing bug and doesn’t plan to release it anytime soon.

“Just look at what you have around you and kind of appreciate it and you can come up with cool ideas,” she said.

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