Amherst Magazine: Summer 2012

How to Improve Your iPad

By William Sweet

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Although a relative latecomer to the era of the iPad, Joel Gordon has the right touch when it comes to the technology.

Gordon, an 81-year-old professor emeritus of physics, has been making a name for himself as a one-man assembly line, improving touch-screen technology by making stylus devices, those pen-like objects used to write, type and draw on touch-screen phones and tablets.

When his daughter-in-law introduced him to the iPad (“She thought my life could not be complete without it,” he says), he found it great fun to use. But there was a downside: like many people, he had trouble navigating the touch-screen keyboard with his finger.

Buying a stylus device would have set him back $15 to $50. And so, with the enthusiasm of any scientist intent on a new discovery, Gordon set out to build his own.

He knew that not just any pen would do: the tablet relies on a person’s hand to conduct an electric current. Using readily available materials, he fashioned a small stainless-steel rod to conduct the current and then added conductive foam, commonly used to pack and protect circuit chips. To top off his lab work, he used a lathe in Merrill to make tubes in which to package the devices.

Professor Gordon with the stylus he
invented for his iPad.

Gordon is modest about the invention. “It works pretty well,” he says.

Others agree. By early summer, on the heels of some local publicity, he had sold 80 devices. Gordon, a member of the Town of Amherst’s Council on Aging, is giving all the money he raises to the Friends of the Amherst Senior Center.

Granted, the touch-screen stylus isn’t a new invention, and Gordon’s creation may not have that signature Apple style, but it does have one advantage over the products coming out of the Apple labs: It’s really cheap. For $5 it can be yours.

Photo by Rob Mattson