Emily Cummins: Turning Ideas into Life-changing Inventions

August 5 - On The Dot
It’s a great day to be a woman! Melinda Garvey here as your voice, with the mission to give women everywhere a place to be heard and tell their stories. We’d love to hear from you!

FIRST THOUGHT: Inventing a Better World

During the summer, I’m constantly reminded how thankful I am for the invention of sweet, sweet air conditioning. Many of us have come up with some odd inventions or gadgets in our heads that we’ve dismissed, and maybe rightfully so, like KFC’s new box of chicken that is also a cellphone charger.

But, hey, a lot of you actually have good ideas. OK, so, they’re not going to send a woman to the moon, but maybe you have a good idea for workplace efficiency that you just haven’t mentioned to your boss yet. Or maybe you have an idea for simplifying your daily routine. Whatever it is, give yourself some credit for coming up with something new, and share that idea with others.


It seems like eco-friendly and solar-powered stuff hasn’t been around until recently. These days, you see solar panels and recycling bins everywhere, but the truth is they aren’t anything new.

In fact, in 1947, a Hungarian-American scientist named Maria Telkes invented the thermoelectric power generator, which provided heat to a home designed by popular female architect Eleanor Raymond. That means the first solar-powered house was created by a woman nearly 70 years ago. Talk about girl power!

WOMAN TO WATCH: Emily Cummins, Inventor

When Emily Cummins was only 4 years old, her granddad put a hammer in her hands and taught her how to make toys from scraps of materials using a little creativity. That kick-started Emily’s knack for invention. Twenty-three years later, she has become a prolific inventor, creating some pretty revolutionary items, all with the intention of helping others.

Emily’s latest invention is a sustainable refrigerator powered by dirty water. Yep, you heard that right. She fine-tuned the idea while in Namibia during a gap year from school, and gave away the design plans to townships in Southern Africa, with the idea to empower people to build their own fridges.

In plain terms, for us non-inventor types, here’s how the fridge works: One metal cylinder is placed inside another, and in between the two is a locally sourced material, like sand or wool, soaked in water. When the fridge is placed in a warm environment, the outside “sweats” and the water evaporates from the inner material, making the inside of the appliance chill to as low as 43 degrees. How cool is that?

No electricity is necessary, and the fridge can be built from items like car parts, barrels or household materials, making Emily’s design ideal for the developing world. The invention can cool necessities like medicine and food while keeping them clean and dry.

But Emily’s ingenuity didn’t stop there; she’s also invented an award-winning, completely recyclable portable water carrier that makes the journey to get clean water an easier task. And she created a really smart toothpaste dispenser inspired by her granddad, who couldn’t squeeze toothpaste tubes properly because of his arthritis. Emily’s toothpaste dispenser is designed to be pushed rather than squeezed. What a genius fix!

This inspired inventor was named one of the Top Ten Outstanding Young People in the World in 2010, and received the Barclays Women of the Year Award in 2009, among many other awards. She also has a robust speaking career, telling her story the world over to students, business executives and everyone in between.

Despite her inventing success, Emily clearly isn’t in it for the money or the fame; she simply wants to offer those in need well-made sustainable products that help improve their well-being and daily lives. We think her granddad would be quite proud!


You don’t have to be Emily Cummins to have a great idea. As Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of the high-strength material called Kevlar, said:

“All sorts of things can happen when you’re open to new ideas and playing around with things.”

That’s all for now. Be sure to share this so more women can have a voice! Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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