Jonny explains this in an interview by saying:
“This area is where the air flow usually separates and becomes turbulent rather than smooth and laminar. When air moves over a surface it should flow as if it was attached to that surface. The GreenShield is doing that.”
The GreenShields Concept
Jonny’s work with the GreenShields Project has helped improve the efficiency of buses not just in their operation, but also economically. Through the use of GreenShield, buses not only become more ‘nature-friendly’ and efficient, but they also become less of a burden to the schools that pay thousands of dollars for their students to get to school on time.
Because of GreenShields, Jonny has become a recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, the most notable being the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the Jefferson Award for Public Service. Recently, Jonny has also been included in Youth Service America’s list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World, which showcases the kind of change and inspiration Jonny is bringing in the world today.
Many may think it to be quite unusual for a young person like Jonny to have this interest in helping society in an economic way, but that is what actually makes him so extraordinary. Right from the very moment that he conceived the idea of making buses more efficient, Jonny was already thinking of helping schools save money so they could use these funds for purposes that would further benefit students other than just getting them to school. In an interview with him, Jonny summarizes the benefits of GreenShields by stating:
“If they use a GreenShield, school bus companies can charge less for their services and so less money will have to be spent on school buses, which is less money spent on gas and hopefully more on education.”
GreenShields Helps the Environment
But aside from GreenShield’s economic benefit, Jonny’s other main aim in developing the device was to help preserve the environment. In many of the conferences and events he attends and gives speeches at, Jonny always emphasizes the importance of taking care of our surroundings, something that drove him to invent GreenShields. He often tells his audiences:
“I like to see things that are efficient. Things that are inefficient use more energy and are polluting... I also understand that reducing carbon emissions from a school bus could reduce global warming.”
One of Jonny’s most remarkable traits is his firm belief in the fact that no matter what age you may be, you can start change if you are really willing. Age does not determine how effective you can be as an agent of change; it only tells you how much time you have to be able to serve your community. Jonny said in a blog he wrote:
“I look back and remember that it's OK to think of different ideas. Don't be afraid to share them with an adult, and ask your friends and teachers for help. I always say try to see things the way they could be, not the way they are. If you take a risk in trying to make the world a little better, don't be surprised if you discover that you can! Just go for it!”
Jonny Cohen’s Biography Before GreenShields
Jonny Cohen was born in 1996 in Illinois. He has an older sister named Azza, who would later on become his most trusted partner.
As a young kid, Jonny was exceptional because he had a lot of ideas, most of which were very advanced for someone of his age back then. Although he loved playing with other kids of his age, Jonny also spent a lot of time tinkering with stuff, trying to find out what made them tick.
Even at a young age, Jonny was already an inventor. Throughout his childhood and early teens, Jonny had created a number of devices that set him apart not just from the people of his age, but even people who were much older than him. A powerful testament to this was an intercom system that Jonny developed and built himself, a device to put cheese on a hamburger, and Jonny’s occasional habit of blowing stuff up for research and plain fun.
As a student, Jonny was unquestionably brilliant. He was often praised by his teachers for his extraordinary intellect and often won science fairs for his inventions. In a way, the amount of knowledge Jonny had was far more than what the teachers could give him, which made his school life quite boring. Jonny had a love for physics, which would later on make a great impact in his life.
Doing Something about Pollution
Much of Jonny’s childhood life was filled with adventure and science, but it was not until he reached his twelfth year that he actually found something that would be of great help to his community. During the summer of 2008, Jonny was attending a Saturday science class in aerodynamics at the Northwestern University. One day, while he was walking home, Jonny saw a couple of school buses belching smoke into the air, causing it to leave a trail of pollution. Jonny described this experience later in an interview:
“When walking home from school in seventh grade, I noticed the inefficient design of school buses. I was alarmed by the exhaust spewing from them.”
Jonny realized that the cause for the buses to spew a lot of pollutants in the air was their shape—the older buses were shaped like boxes, causing air resistance and drag, which in turn resulted in the buses using more fuel than necessary. While pondering on that, Jonny remembered the lessons he had at the aerodynamics class. Then an idea hit him—will changing the shape of the buses affect their overall performance? Jonny said in an interview:
“I was so excited by it and started sketching things and thinking: Wow! Things could be so much more efficient just by changing their shape... Then I remembered the school buses.”
Newer buses were more efficient in fuel consumption and released lesser pollutants, but they were more expensive and harder to maintain. Many local schools already had their hands full on the older buses they had and could not afford to get newer ones.
This was the issue that Jonny faced while he was looking for a way to keep the environment cleaner and, at the same time, help schools save more money. The result? GreenShields. Instead of buying new buses, Jonny thought, “Why not build a shield to retrofit school buses by redirecting the airflow to decrease drag and increase gas mileage?”
Azza Cohen Helps Her Brother
Being too young to qualify for any formal grants, Jonny turned to his sister, Azza, who was a freshman at the Highland Park High School, for help. Initially, Azza had some concerns about the device that her brother was presenting, but was eventually convinced. Together, Jonny and Azza took the device to Kunal Pujara, a physics teacher at Highlands Park, who was very impressed with the potential he saw in Jonny’s invention. Jonny later on described this experience in a blog he wrote:
“I told my older sister Azza about this idea, since she was a freshman at Highland Park High School in honors physics. She liked this one better than my other ideas, which usually involve homemade rockets and her iPod. Azza took me to see Mr. Kunal Pujara, the freshman and AP physics teacher. Mr. Pujara told me he thought my idea could work and gave me his cell number to contact him if I had any questions. Wow! I was not even a student yet at the high school and he was so nice.”
Introduction to Wind Tunnels
Soon enough, Jonny and Azza formed a team consisting of the two of them, as well as their friends, Talia Segal, Mollie Krent and Blake Harwood. In 2009, the GreenShields team applied for a grant from Youth Venture, an organization that supports and helps young social activists and inventors to bring their ideas to fruition. During the Youth Venture International Conference in Boston, Jonny met with an MIT professor who showed him the Wind Tunnels created by the Wright Brothers (wind tunnels were the devices Jonny used to test the GreenShields). This experience further encouraged Jonny to pursue his research because it gave him confirmation that his invention was beginning to become a reality.
Winning Pepsi Refresh Grant
The following year, Jonny and the GreenShields team joined the competition for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, which was worth 25,000 dollars. Through their persistent campaigning, the GreenShields team won the grant and began to attract the attention of the national media. In fact, Jonny was invited to be interviewed by Sam Champion, the host of the famous television show “Good Morning America,” and GreenShields was featured not only in the show itself, but also in commercials made by MTV and Pepsi.
This began to thrust Jonny into the national spotlight. Shortly after his interview with Sam Champion, Jonny became a celebrity, being invited to speak in various events about his invention. But while GreenShields was beginning to become popular, it was not that ready for the public yet as it still missed one thing—an actual test where the device was installed in a bus and then checked for how much it reduced gasoline consumption and carbon emission.
Cook-Illinois Bus Company Helps Test GreenShields
Fortunately for Jonny and his team, help came in the form of the Cook-Illinois Bus Company and its owner, John Benish, who saw Jonny’s interview in Good Morning America. Mr. Benish called GreenShields and offered to donate a bus for testing, something that Jonny greatly appreciated. More help came from Northwestern University, such as Stacy Benjamin (who was Jonny’s Engineering teacher, his inspiration for inventing GreenShields), as well as engineering students, Tim Healy and Matt Filik. Through a series of tests that involved computer and actual simulations, GreenShields was proven to be an effective device in decreasing gas consumption and carbon emission in buses.
Today, Jonny and his team continuously work to improve GreenShields and promote them to schools throughout the country to enlist their cooperation in maintaining a clean and green environment. Apart from that, the school will also be able to cut back on their fuel expenses and use the money for other purposes. Jonny said in a blog he wrote:
“Older school buses currently get five to eight mpg. I find that alarmingly wasteful. There are approximately 500,000 school buses on the road each year daily during the school year. GreenShields is trying to increase the gas mileage of school buses because they serve as transportation for thousands of schools across the nation. If buses were made more efficient, we could slow carbon emissions, and because of rising gas prices, schools could save money on gas and have more for education.”
Recognized by Forbes
Jonny Cohen's work in sustainable energy did not go unnoticed. In 2011, he was among Forbes 30 Under 30 List because of his contribution in the renewable energy industry. Instead of having his idea patented, he withdrew it. When asked by Christopher Helman of Forbes as to why, he simply replied: “I’m not necessarily looking to make money off this... I want to make as big of a difference as possible.”
Jonny is not extraordinary just because he invented something at a young age—he is extraordinary because of the amazing desire he has in making positive change in his community through inventing cutting-edge technology. Jonny’s life is an amazing inspiration that reminds us how a simple hobby can make a significant contribution if coupled with the right motives.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The GreenShields Project
Awards and Achievements
- 2009: Won a Lorax Youth Venture Grant
- 2010: Won a Pepsi Refresh Grant
- 2011: Won the Barron Prize
- 2011: Received the Jefferson Award for Public Service
- 2011: Received the Best Buy Award
- 2012: Received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America
- 2012: Included in the 30 Under 30 list by Forbes
- 2013: Received the Very Best in Youth Award from the Nestle Foundation