The other week I was lucky enough to see a presentation by Inventor Trevor Baylis hosted by the IET. Trevor told us about his national service in the Army, swimming, life as a stunt man and some his lesser known inventions such as the Orange Aids, a range of accessories to help disabled people. Trevor is a big fan of meccano and thinks having it available is schools would be better for kids than having them plugged into computer all of the time. He showed us some great meccano examples such as an implementation of a very old invention, the south facing chariot and a modern one, the radio controlled Land Rover.
Trevor also championed the inventor and stressed the importance of inventors knowing about Intellectual Property Rights. He also pointed to the costs of protecting a patent if a big company is suspected of infringement.
Trevor took us through several examples of famous inventors and not so famous inventors. For example, can you tell me who invented the windscreen wiper?
He also posed the question which is more important, the paper clip or Damien Hirst’s shark in a tank of formaldehyde? Trevor clearly sided with the paperclip.
For me, I think I’m on the side of the shark. Yes, the paper clip is a brilliant idea and yes it’s used by many more people. But for me the shark represents not just an idea but the realisation of that idea. There’s so much more engineering and science in the latter. How strong does the tank need to be? How do we stop the liquid going cloudy? How to preserve the shark? How do we make it float at the right point?
As much as I agree with the importance of STEM subjects I do think that art has importance too. Critics of pure STEM claim that over emphasis on academic topics is unbalanced and produces children with no imagination or emotional depth. Surely those would be things of importance to an inventor? This has led to a new acronym, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) which is championed by the likes of Will.I.Am and his I.AM.Angel foundation. I think this more balanced approach will generate better inventors and get kids passionate about creating, which I believe is a lot more than just having good ideas.