Inventors Of The Issue: Robby Tong and Silas Wilkinson

R. Tong

Laila Abtahi

Robby Tong

IPod owners experience difficulties with their transportable music players at some point –but did they know they can have the glitches fixed while saving a trip to the Apple Store? Miramonte Junior Robby Tong, will gladly take a damaged iPod and refurbish it as if it were new.

So far, Tong has gathered $300 from this ‘side business’, charging ten to twenty dollars per iPod depending on the extent of damage. However, according to Tong, repairing I-pods doesn’t even compare to some of the other nifty gadgets he’s created.

“The Portable Play Station is one of the coolest things I’ve ever made—it just wowed everybody,” said Tong.

Many people are stunned and even intimidated by his professionalism, but Tong admits that feeling behind and intimidated was what initially sparked his passion for electrical engineering.

“Pre-electronics Age, I felt uncool, said Tong,  “I watched a lot of TV and saw that some kids were making stuff on Disney Channel so I got jealous and was like ‘You know what? I’m going to do that. I want to be a kid genius’.”

Stemming from 7th grade, Tong’s interest in inventions increased once he started reading instructive blogs. Websites like “Hackaday.com” and“Instructables.com” helped Tong build objects at his own pace. He can now build a Nintendo 64 Portable in only three months.

“It’s fun to ‘invent’ things; it helps me learn and it amazes my friends,” said Tong.
However, being a young electrical technician isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

“I’ve flung glass into my eye, glued my fingers together, and even burned my eyebrows off one time—but that was okay because it happened over summer break, so I had time to recover,” said Tong.

Tong has taken more caution with his tools because of these past mishaps. Among his tools, batteries frighten him the most. The combination of heating materials while using batteries has proved to be detrimental.

“I’m worried [the batteries] will explode. I had to hide underneath my table once because I was recharging a battery to build my own charger, and I kept thinking they’d light on fire and explode.”

Like every successful inventor, Tong has learned from his mistakes. Some accidents have even presented themselves as inventing opportunities. For example, Tong’s future plan for “heated earphones” originated when he accidentally left his headphones heating on his stereo.

“I picked them up and they were really hot, but then I put them on my ears and thought: Oh my god. This is wonderful.”

Tong’s creativity continues to inspire people, many of whom ask themselves if anything really is impossible.

“I never thought you could make an iPod charger from an Altoid tin until Robby did,” said junior Ariel Cohen.

While Tong enjoys engineering, constructing items is just a hobby for now. The field of engineering is definitely one of his ideas for a future career, but he is also interested in medicine and chemistry.

Tong is currently president of the “Make Club” at Miramonte and shares his secrets of how to hand-craft objects with the rest of his group.

Silas Wilkinson

PVC pipes allow us to get tap water, make sprinklers possible, and also serve as the fundamental building blocks of senior Silas Wilkinson’s potato guns.

At the youthful age of 10, Wilkinson began assembling these recreational instruments after encountering some models on the internet.

“They’re pointless, but cool because they’re so ridiculous,” said Wilkinson.

Made from Polyvinil Chloride and potatoes, the gun can fire the vegetables extensive distances. While Wilkinson occasionally substitutes the potatoes for other food, potatoes are the most desirable bullets because they’re cheap and fit perfectly in the muzzle.

Even though they are not as destructive as hand guns, Wilkinson’s guns have caused some controversy with others.

“I’ve gotten in trouble a couple of times,” said Wilkinson, “One time I was shooting limes in Santa Barbara during Thanksgiving and I hit someone’s horse by accident. I don’t even know what the probability of that is.”

Wilkinson gets the most enjoyment out of his potato guns, but in addition, he has created more complex machinery such as computers.

To those who have ever asked their teachers, “When are we ever going to use this in life?” Silas Wilkinson has the answer. He’s taking skills he’s acquired from Physics to the next level by creating an electrical bike.

“I use a lot of physics in my work. It’s cool to use torque and energy calculations and apply them to electric motor design,” said Wilkinson, “I also use a bit of Statistics–Regressions–(which I never thought I would ever use) to estimate the capacity of a battery depending on the discharge rate.”

Staying focused in science class is a must in order to succeed at tool-making. Wilkinson is currently taking advantage of a science program , recommended by physics teacher Dan Shortenhaus, in Berkeley. The organization, called “Catalyst”, is run by several doctors. Dr. Martin Head-Gordon leads Wilkinson’s group in working on a chemistry-modeling program. Catalyst selected only 12 students in the entire nation to participate.

“[The program] is really complicated because it takes quantum interactions into account while estimating bond energies.”

Another challenging aspect to mechanizing is the patience. Since the experiments involve meticulous effort, checking elements is key, otherwise the domino effect will most likely occur.

“I feel anxious to try what I’ve created, because testing it is where you can see if it was worth anything. I’m ecstatic when something works correctly.”

Errors may delay the process, but trial and error is something every ambitious inventor has to deal with, especially a prospective engineer.

“I’m probably going to major in engineering. Science is fun, but at a certain it becomes so abstract that you can’t apply it anymore. I’d like to be an engineer because you can construct practical things that you can see and touch.”

College applications have bombarded the senior in the past few months, but Wilkinson says he’s ready to jump back into engineering mode. His first assignment will be the electrical bike. Until then, he’ll keep making mashed potatoes.