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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2001

Inventor lets tinkerers get hands on junk

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

WAIMEA, Hawai'i — A project inspired by medical inventor and philanthropist Earl Bakken of Waikoloa is launching a new generation of tinkerers.

Earl Bakken has his garage full of electronics.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 13, 1996

Earl's Garage at the Parker Ranch Shopping Center is filled with broken-down stereos, televisions, toaster ovens, citizen-band radios and microwaves.

It's a mess. It looks like whoever set it up remembered Thomas Edison's quote: "To invent something, you need imagination and a pile of junk."

The place is run by the self-described "wizard of wonder" Michelle Medeiros, who says, "Just like your own garage, right?"

Medeiros, who has a chemistry background, pitched the idea of a center where children could mess around with electronics and other sciences to Bakken, 77, who founded the $2 billion-a-year Medtronics Inc. and retired to the Big Island.

The result was a $30,000 grant from the Doris and Earl Bakken Trust, and an additional $35,000 from other foundations.

Bakken earlier this year was awarded the Russ Prize in engineering, equivalent to the Nobel Prize, for developing a transistorized, battery-powered pacemaker in 1957.

He shared the $500,000 prize with Wilson Greatbatch, who developed a model that could be surgically implanted.

Bakken donated his $250,000 share of the prize to a new scholarship fund for promising Hawai'i engineers, and has contributed millions to the North Hawai'i Medical Center and other causes.

Earl's Garage, which was started last year, is open weekdays after school until about 5 p.m. There is no charge for children to go in and putter around with an assortment of gadgets and gizmos.

Jack White, 6, visits the place once a week and sometimes more often.

"He is learning to take things apart in a controlled environment," said his mother, Sandy White. "This is a good addition to his education. The experiences he has had are right at his level."

Medeiros, who receives a small salary, volunteers to take science on the road in visits to public and private schools.

Ronald Tooman, interim headmaster of Waimea Country School and former headmaster of Hawai'i Preparatory Academy, considers Earl's Garage "an enormous asset to this community,"

Carol Langevin reported that her 10-year-old son, Christopher, is excited by each visit to the shop.

"He's been able to use batteries and make sense of electronics," she said. "It's been productive and fun for him."