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There are plenty of inventions that have come about by chance.

Because of their nature we are unaware of inventions and innovations until they are announced. Inventing something that no one has done before is, for various reasons, usually met with criticism from the public and the scientific community. We are basically conservative and feel secure with what we already know. A surprisingly high number of vital inventions came about by pure chance, perhaps more than half of them. Many inventions are pure “mistakes”, e.g. paper, penicillin, x-rays, pacemakers and insulin, to name but a few.

Many inventions have come about through applied knowledge and hard work. One such invention, perhaps the most important one of modern times, is the transistor that is found in all modern electronics. It is the transistor, for example, that has enabled the development of computers, smartphones and the Internet, our whole “brave new world”. After a great deal of hard work, Julius Edgar invented and patented the transistor in 1923. But it was three scientists at Bell Laboratories in the USA in 1956 who received the Nobel Prize for Julius Edgar’s earlier invention, the transistor.

There is a major difference between an inventor and a scientist. One absolute requirement is that an invention must be new. If anything similar has at any time been made known anywhere in the world, a patent cannot be granted. For this reason, an invention is examined very carefully for a long time by patent offices around the world. The world of research is subject to no such requirements or examination.

A thin sheet of carbon, graphene, only one atom thick won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Graphene is carbon that forms a 2D sheet, the thinnest and strongest material ever. Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene from a piece of graphite. Using regular adhesive tape, in 2004 they managed to do something many of their scientist colleagues considered impossible, to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of one atom, a nano sheet. It proved that the simplest methods often produce the best results. At present nano sheets are being developed using other substances, e.g. boron. Graphene was, however, invented earlier by Bor Jang and Wen Huang back in 2002, US patent 7071258.

There are plenty of examples of the breath-taking “future visions” of experts, scientists and specialists, here are a few:

Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer of the British Post Office, is said to have made the following comment in the late 19th century: “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”

UN scientists during the oil crises of the 1970s: “Oil will run out at the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st century.” Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM until 1956: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.

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