May is National Inventors Month, celebrating the drive and determination of forward thinkers who go beyond the expected to create new and disruptive technologies. And while it’s always beneficial to look forward and consider “what’s next” for innovation, it’s also worth considering what’s current (and what’s come before) — here’s a look at seven inventions changing our world for the better.
1) The Wheel (Asia)
Every list has to start somewhere, and what better place to kick off a list of influential inventions than with the foundation of them all, the wheel. Credit goes to the Mesopotamians around 3500 B.C., who figured out that round was better than square when it came to — well, just about everything. Today it’s almost impossible to find technologies that haven’t been influenced by this circular design, from vehicle tires and spinning gears to the fans and moving parts needed to empower modern tech advancements.
2) Plant-powered Lighting (South America)
Jumping to present day, consider the work of Universidad de Ingenieria y Tecnologia (UTEC). This Peruvian institution of higher learning created the Plantalamparas, a lamp that captures the electrons produced when plant waste decomposes in soil, then stores them in batteries and uses them to power LED bulbs. In a country where 42 percent of rural households don’t have electricity, this is a huge step forward.
3) The Frazier Lens (Australia)
This one comes from our friends Down Under — Australian inventor Jim Frazier created a deep-focus lens that allowed both the subject and background to be in focus at the same time. Before Frazier’s invention, moviemakers had to pick one or the other, but his contribution offered the best of both worlds. He won an Academy Award for his invention in 1998, and the lens is still used around the world for film and television projects.
4) Illness-detecting Jackets (Africa)
In Uganda, 27,000 children under age 5 die of pneumonia every year. Part of the problem? Many cases are misdiagnosed as malaria, causing proper treatment to be delayed or never administered. But Ugandan engineer Brian Turyabagye developed a solution, known as the Mamaope jacket. It works like this: An app-connected stethoscope is put into a vest and used to record the patient’s temperature and breathing rate. Then, audio files are analyzed for telltale signs of pneumonia, yielding diagnosis rates three to four times faster than typical examinations and significantly reducing human error.
5) The Internet (North America)
In the 1960s, researchers working for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) developed ARPANET, an internal communications network that used the concept of “packet switching” to transmit information. The rest is history — ARPANET was the predecessor of the modern internet, which now serves as the backbone of global communication and information transfer and is driving the adoption of new innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT).
6) Paper Transistors (Europe)
Transistors are made of silicon, right? Portuguese scientists Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins have another idea: cheap, disposable paper-based transistors for electronic devices. The transistors use biodegradable, flexible paper as their foundation, and Fortunato’s team has rebuilt an ink-jet printer to print out new transistors for solar cells, displays and biosensors. Not only does paper allow for cheap and rapid production but there’s minimal waste when products reach end of life.
7) Particles FROM BEYOND (Antarctica)
Antarctica isn’t known for its inventions, but there have been a number of remarkable discoveries made near the South Pole. As noted by the National Science Foundation, the “IceCube” detection tool confirmed the existence of high-energy neutrinos, which likely originated from outside the solar system, thanks to the uniquely undisturbed nature of the Antarctic environment.
The takeaway? Great inventions have no boundaries. And while necessity remains the mother of invention, the unique combination of human creativity and the drive to create a better world provides ample room for new discoveries, new innovation and new global impact. If you are looking for a company that’ll let you be a part of the next great invention, check out these careers.