Make us your home page
Instagram

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 shayes@tampabay.com 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

Loading...
  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics

    Elections

    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.