High school sophomore’s GreenShields invention supported by Northwestern University
By Pauline Pang Special to Pioneer Press
For as long as he can remember, Jonny Cohen wanted to be an inventor. His mom, Jakee, discovered her son’s talent when he was a toddler.
“He loved taking things apart, and that has never stopped,” she said.
Cohen recalled when his mom brought a box of his inventions and projects to show the principal of Indian Trail Elementary School in Highland Park. The contraptions included a gun that shoots cheese onto hamburgers, a stuffed bunny fitted with a miniature video camera to spy on his older sister, Azza, and a rocket to launch his younger sister’s, Daniella’s, Barbie dolls into space.
Additionally, “I built an intercom when I was in elementary school,” Cohen said.
Inspired by the likes of Leonardo daVinci, Albert Einstein and Archimedes and encouraged — and chauffeured — by his mom, Cohen took Saturday and summer science classes at Northwestern University through elementary and junior high school.
Although the idea to attach a polycarbonate shield to the front of a school bus to redirect the airflow, thus making the bus aerodynamic and fuel-efficient, was inspired and honed through his Northwestern physics class, the concept did not manifest itself in a classroom. It developed while he was walking home from school one afternoon.
“I was just daydreaming,” said Cohen, who was in seventh grade at the time. “I do that a lot.”
When he got home, Cohen ran upstairs to tell Azza about his revolutionary new idea.
“He was quite eloquent with physics jargon for a 12-year-old,” Azza said.
She approached her friends, her physics teacher and the Highland Park High School science department chair with her brother’s idea.
“Team GreenShields now consists of Cohen, his friends, my friends, our family, our teachers, the school’s administration, members of the community and our partners at Northwestern,” she said.
In 2008, the team applied for and won a $1,000 grant from Youth Venture. In February 2010, Team GreenShields competed for a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh grant. At midnight on March 1, Pepsi notified the working party that they had won.
“The grant money paid for polycarbonate, software, tools, shop time, wind-tunnel testing, consulting and materials,” Cohen said.
Subsequently, “Good Morning America,” a MTV commercial and a national Pepsi spot featured Cohen.
Endorsing his creation was a different kind of rocket for the young inventor.
“I only have to focus on the science and getting it built,” he said. “In promoting the idea, we have to reach out to people who can help us along.”
Cohen’s television appearances attracted the attention of John Benish, the owner of Cook Illinois Bus Company, who donated a bus to the project. Team GreenShield has since fitted the donated bus with a prototype shield and, it is pleased with the initial test results.
“Now we are working on perfecting the GreenShield on a second version,” Cohen said. “We are going to mold the polycarbonate in one piece and custom design the fittings to better fit the bus.”
Cohen planned to use the donated GreenShields bus as a “science learning bus.” It will drive to schools to inspire kids about science. He plans to put a solar panel on it to accompany the GreenShield. Exhibits installed on the bus will feature different areas of science.
First, Cohen has to get his driver’s license, which will not be until next year.
Now a sophomore at Highland Park High School, Cohen is enrolled in honors science and math classes and also plays golf and hockey. Apart from his plans for GreenShields, he would like to become an aerospace or mechanical engineer.
“I like solving problems. I always like to look at things the way they could be and not just the way they are,” he said. “If Northwestern University will take me, I would love to go there.”
“This is what I want to do in my future,” he continued. “And, even if you are a kid, you can do this.”