A recent survey found that one out of four teenagers and young adults consider Steve Jobs the greatest innovator of all time. Yet even with the present-day icon’s influence and popularity among the so-called “Apple generation,” he still ranks below another historical figure as the majority of them named Thomas Edison as top innovator.
These were a few of the intriguing findings of the annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges Americans’ perceptions about invention and innovation. A sample of 1,010 people aged 16-25 gave their opinions on a wide range of issues ranging from the importance of technology in their lives to how likely they are to pursue a career in science and technology.
Here are some of their responses:
- Forty percent of those surveyed said they couldn’t imagine their life without increasingly ubiquitous technologies such as smartphones and tablets.
- Yet 45 percent feel that invention isn’t given enough attention in school, with 28 percent saying that their education left them unprepared to enter these fields.
- While forty seven percent believe that a lack of invention will hurt the U.S. economy, most don’t see themselves as being the ones to step up with 60 percent saying that certain factors could keep them from pursuing an education or career in science, technology, engineering or math.
- However, outside of the classroom, a vast majority (80 percent) expressed interest in education training courses to help them become more inventive and creative. And 58 percent expressed interest in a hands-on program such as an invention-related national service co-op in which aspiring inventors can “shadow” working professionals those fields.
While the assessment suggests there may be something lacking within the education system, it also shows there are opportunities to foster interest and help prepare students for entry into what has become a globally competitive field.
“Hands-on invention activities are critical, but few too many students have opportunities to learn and develop their inventive skills,” said Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s invention education officer. “This year’s survey revealed that less than half of respondents have done things like used a drill or hand-held power tool, or made something out of raw materials in the past year. We must engage students in these types of invention experiences as well as provide a strong STEM education to drive future innovators.”
As for the debate over who was the greatest innovator of all time, any assessment would obviously be arbitrary and biased depending on a variety of factors such as place, time and demographics. For instance, the often-overlooked Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American, contributed some of the most pioneering work in the field of electromagnetism. The inventor of florescent lighting, the induction motor and arguably the modern radio also had an important influence on areas such as computer science, nuclear physics and theoretical physics.
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