Celebrating our Inventors: From Idea to Impact
Today is National Inventors’ Day. On February 11, 1983, President Reagan declared a day devoted to recognizing the contributions of inventors. Who were these inventors? Americans who dedicated their lives to improving all aspects of our country: economic, societal and environmental.
Something else significant took place on February 11th in 1847—Thomas Edison was born. In honor of his birthday today, I am going to shed some light on the place I spend my days, surrounded by inventors that are working everyday to make the world, work better. Each day around 12:00 pm, I walk from my lab to the cafeteria for lunch. Today, on that walk, I’ll pass a power electronics lab, a molecular biology lab and an analytical software lab.
Then, I’ll walk across the lobby where Thomas Edison’s desk sits with a light bulb and a stock ticker (two of Edison’s inventions). Usually, I rush past in a hurry. But today, I’ll stop for a moment to reflect on Thomas Edison’s legacy at GE and his many contributions to our society and the field of invention.
Edison is one of the world’s most famous inventors. He held over 1,000 patents and invented the phonograph, an electrographic vote recorder, an improved telegraph, a motion picture camera, and an alkaline battery, among many others. But Edison’s legacy extends beyond these world-changing technologies—to his process of invention.
In his laboratory at Menlo Park, Edison strived to foster creativity and innovation by hiring experts in diverse fields and encouraging collaboration between them. To transfer that creativity into invention, Edison recognized the importance of intelligent, well-planned work.
In his own words: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Edison famously tested thousands of materials before discovering the right filament to use for the light bulb.
Edison was passionate about his work—he had fun researching and inventing! He is truly a perfect example of what can happen when knowledge, creativity, hard work and passion come together.
Today, on National Inventors’ Day, we recognize inventors for their creativity and hard work, but even more importantly, we recognize the contributions they’ve made to society. Wherever you are right now, I ask you to stop for a moment and look around. How many passionate, brilliant inventors have made an impact on the objects in your immediate vicinity? Now, think beyond your current location and out into your daily life. Amazing isn’t it?
One of the reasons Edison is so famous as an inventor is the enormous impact of his inventions. As I continue my walk to lunch, I’ll pass a larger than life picture of Edison. “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it,” the poster reads.
Having the coolest technology in the world is great, but it doesn’t create impact unless we can use it to solve a problem. When Edison set out to create a practical light bulb, the main form of lighting at the time was gas lighting. Seeing the need for a better lighting system, Edison set out to work, and he changed the world. This focus on solving problems and meeting needs is a vital part of our legacy at Global Research.
Global Research is GE’s hub of inventors. When I finally sit down in the cafeteria today, I’ll sit with people doing research in areas such as artificial intelligence, analytics, microfluidics, combustion, manufacturing and nondestructive testing.
And, we don’t just work in a multi-disciplinary organization, we collaborate on multi-disciplinary teams. We work hard at solving real-world problems, and we work to get those solutions to the market where they can have real impact.
When I’m not walking around the Global Research campus, I work in the Electric Propulsion Systems Lab. We work closely with the experts on motors, generators, power electronics, controls, and energy storage to develop and test ideas that will make electric vehicles more efficient and less expensive. As Edison did, with each project, we ask: “what does the world need?” and “what is the right technology to meet that need?” Today, we are testing an all-electric passenger bus that combines a Durathon battery, a lithium battery, and a hydrogen fuel cell to extend the range of the vehicle at reduced cost. This technology and others like it could eventually be used in a wide range of applications, from personal vehicles to locomotives, trucks, and even ships and aircraft.
It’s this opportunity for impact that drives our passion for technology and innovation. I see it at Global Research every day: in the chemists and chemical engineers working on the Durathon battery, in the power electronic engineers working on the Smart Grid, in the materials engineers working on ceramic matrix composites, and in the software engineers working on Big Data.
Our best engineers and scientists are able to channel that passion into impact. So when we recognize our finest inventors, we honor those who have demonstrated technical excellence, but also organizational citizenship, customer impact, and positive influence.
In the year ahead, we will be spotlighting these inventors each month on Edison’s Desk, giving you an inside look at the individuals and teams inventing and improving technology, to make the world a better place for us all.
Stay tuned and be sure to check out all of the fun activities around Inventors’ Day. You can tweet your invention ideas using the #IWantToInvent hashtag and designers will turn them into blueprints in real time!
Happy Inventors’ Day!