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Inventor's quest for young Einsteins

He helped develop Internet technology, but now Dr Kevin Byron wants to tap into pupils' creativity. Emma Waite reports.

PHYSICIST and inventor Kevin Byron has been awarded a pound;75,000 three-year fellowship to bring his passion for science and inventing to the classroom.

The grant from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) will enable him to explore the mental processes that lead to new ideas, in the hope of inspiring children with the creativity of science. And over the next three years he will be carrying out research into cognitive behaviour and translating his findings into innovative workshops.

Dr Byron said: "If you look at some of the great scientists such as Einstein and Faraday, what they have in common is their ability to visualise problems in their minds.

"Einstein imagined being a light beam travelling at the speed of light when he was coming up with his theory of relativity, for example.

"I try to get children to develop this skill using simple exercises."

He believes that the greatest ideas and inventions are simply a combination of existing ideas.

"Trevor Baylis's clockwork radio came about because he combined two existing inventions to create something new: a radio that could receive transmissions anywhere in the world without batteries.

"It's the same whether you're inventing a new recipe, an advert or a method for nuclear fusion."

For almost 28 years he worked in the research laboratories of Nortel Networks, a leading supplier of telecommunications equipment.

In 1966 two Nortel employees were the first to suggest the use of optical fibres and light for transmitting telecommunications, rather than electricity and copper wires. Their idea would later pave the way for the invention of the Internet.

Dr Byron likes to think his own work with optical fibres may have contributed in some small way to the power of modern technology.

"But I don't want people to think that without my patents the world would be a different place," he said.

For the next three years he will be helping others unlock their creative potential, but in his spare time he will still be searching for that life-changing invention.

"I'm forever inventing things in my head," he said.


GET your pupils to imagine three shapes - a cylinder, a cube and a sphere.

Tell them to scale the shapes up and down in their minds, use different materials and create inventions with just those shapes.

Allow them to take out pen and paper only after they have come up with an idea. After that, get the class working on drawing inventions, brainstorming and developing initial ideas.

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