Friday, April 22, 2016

Nature, Ingenuity and Serendipity - Roots of Invention and Discovery

Dr Abe V Rotor
Who were the first inventors?
Nature, Ingenuity and Serendipity - Roots of Invention and Discovery

The otter playfully lies on its back in water, crushes its food shells with stones on its chest. The eagle takes up in the air a piece of bone, aims and drops it accurately hitting a rock in order to break, then comes down and eats the bone marrow. The macaque uses a stick which it probes into a termite nest to gather termites which it eventually eats. Birds do the same in extracting the larvae of tree borers.

Philippine jeepney, the country's signature land transport vehicle

Then there is man, the inventor; his teacher - Nature.

If we look at man's invention there is a semblance of Nature's ways, from the web of spider to become fishing net, the sounds of breeze on trees and waves lapping the shore into sweet sound of music, the flight of the bumblebee into helicopter. But all these were not planned, deliberate and well understood. They came from providential discovery called serendipity. Alexander Fleming did not actually discover antibiotics from his specimen - rather from a contaminant that destroyed it. Macaroni was started from a spilled durum wheat dough in the sun.

Can anyone become an inventor or a discoverer?

If you think you cannot do much, and that the little you can do is of no value, think of these things:

1. A lantern swinging in a tower as the beginning of a pendulum.

2. A shirt waving on the clothesline was the beginning of a balloon, the forerunner of the Graf Zeppelin.

3. A spider web strung across a garden path suggested the suspension bridge.

4. Thomas Edison made thousands upon thousands of trials before he got his celebrated electric light to operate.

5. An apple falling from a tree led to the discovery of the law of gravity. (Newton)

6. Physicist Rene’ Laenvec observed children tapping signals to one another from opposite ends of a hollow log – gave him the idea to invent the stethoscope (wooden tube with an earpiece that transports the sounds from the heart and chest more clearly than any means formerly used)

7. Chester Greenwood 15, dropped out of grammar school invented earmuffs in 1877 at age 19, earned a fortune as he produced millions during WWI.

8. Graham Bell invented the telephone which carries through wire and be heard many miles away. It took years to convince people that this is possible.

9. Joseph Mainer, a French gardener, is credited with inventing steel-reinforced cement after observing a 3-foot straw of wheat was able to hold heavy grains upright in high wind.

10. A tea kettle singing on a stove was the beginning of the steam engine.

And, the first tool of man which is flint stone must have been inspired by natural fragmentation of rocks by heat and cold, and avalanche.

Invention builds on another like the sled developing into something more efficient, into wheel. And yet the Aztecs and Incas, the Inuits and American Indians did not use wheels, but relied on sled instead?

We may not know who first discovered fire, invented the wheel or fish hook, or thought of the idea of a pyramid. We can only wonder on the ingenuity of the inventor of the scissor and the sewing needle.

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