Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dance professor who designed wheelchair is one of two USF inventors stymied by shutdown

They kept checking their email past 11:30 p.m. Thursday, wondering if something might change at the last minute. Then, word came.

Two University of South Florida inventors who had been invited to speak at the Smithsonian Institution on Sunday would indeed be staying home. A long-planned conference in Washington, D.C., had been canceled, another piece of fallout from the federal government's ongoing shutdown.

Merry Lynn Morris, a USF dance professor who invented a wheelchair for dancers called the Rolling Dance Chair, was scheduled to speak at the Innovation: Brainstorms, Big Ideas, and the Creative Future Conference. Organizers had tapped a lineup of big-name speakers, including the press secretary from NASA and the deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Alexei Novitzky, a USF graduate who invented the Brief-Skate, a hybrid skateboard-briefcase that holds your things while you skate, was also scheduled to appear at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building. Novitzky has had interest from manufacturers, he says, and hopes to have 100,000 of his skateboards on the market by 2015.

"It's pretty much the highest honor to be going to the Smithsonian to present your invention," said Novitzky, 28. When he heard news of the shutdown, he held out hope — but not much.

"I thought there was a 1 percent chance I was still going," he said.

Earlier this year, Morris and Novitzky were invited to show their inventions at another Smithsonian expo. That event was canceled due to the federal government's sequestration. They were excited to be invited back for this weekend's event, only to have it canceled, too.

"It's kind of starting to get a little bit humorous and ironic," said Morris, 38. "Disappointment is true, but I do feel like it'll be rescheduled, so we'll look forward to the next time that we can plan for it, and it'll be even better."

Morris dreamed up the idea for a chair that could move with the user's body after years of caring for her disabled father, permanently injured in a car accident when Morris was 12.

She started designing the chair with USF's College of Engineering seven years ago. It has evolved from a stripped-down Segway into a sleek prototype that operates via smartphone. Morris hopes it will one day be used by dancers and anyone else who wants more freedom in a wheelchair.

Since her story appeared in the Tampa Bay Times in September, Morris has gotten letters from people around the globe.

"I've been so elated and inspired by the kind of feedback I've been getting all over the world," she said. "Different people, different dance studio owners, mixed-ability folks, executive directors of disability foundations, as well as these mothers of these children.

"My goodness. It's been a really nice feeling knowing there's definitely a need out there, and I'm not alone."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (813) 226-3394.

Dance professor who designed wheelchair is one of two USF inventors stymied by shutdown 10/04/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 11:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Southern heritage groups sue to keep Confederate monument at old Tampa courthouse

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Groups that say they support Southern heritage filed a lawsuit late Friday trying to halt the removal of a Confederate statue from downtown Tampa.

    Workers place boards around a Confederate monument on Hillsborough County property in Tampa on Thursday, August 17, 2017. It took 24 hours to raise private funds in order to move the statue from its current location.
  2. Bucs mull options at right tackle as Dotson awaits MRI


    Right tackle Demar Dotson, the Bucs' most experienced offensive lineman, will undergo an MRI on his injured groin Saturday, three weeks before the season opener.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneer Demar Dotson, offensive tackle, brought his coffee and breakfast to One Buc Place, 7/31/15, as he reported to training camp.
  3. For starters: Rays vs. Mariners, with another new look


    Having lost 11 of their last 14 games and dropping to a season-worst four games under .500 at 60-64, the Rays continue to search for ways to get out of their extended offensive slump.

    And with the M's starting LHP Ariel Miranda today, that means another new look to the lineup, which includes having struggling …

  4. Chasing 125: Bucs hope to hit rushing goal more often


    Ever so often, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter pulls back the curtain a bit and shares some of the stats that matter to him most as a coach.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
  5. Two Boca Ciega students arrested on charges they brought gun to high school football game


    PINELLAS PARK — Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for having a loaded semi-automatic handgun with them at a Friday night football game at Pinellas Park High School.

    Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for bringing a weapon on school property on Friday night at a high school football game at Pinellas Park High School.