26 January 2017
A hand-drawn schematic of wool shears, by David Unaipon
David Unaipon is someone you should know – for those who do not, he is the man on the fifty dollar note. Born in 1872, David spent much of his life in Adelaide and had a keen interest in literature, philosophy, science and music. However, he is best known as an industrious inventor. David came up with many radical ideas, securing provisional patents for no less than 19 inventions: he invented a hand piece for shearing, the basis for modern mechanical sheep sheers; he experimented with the flight of boomerangs predicting the invention of the helicopter; he prophesied the centrifugal motor and designed a multi-radial wheel. David was a passionate advocate for Aboriginal people and is an extraordinary Australian, our own Leonardo De Vinci.
Australian inventions include the very old, such as woomera, invented 5,000 years ago, doubling the range of a thrown spear. In recent years, Australian scientists have invented breakthroughs such as ultrasound, the bionic ear, the electronic pacemaker, the multi-focal contact lens, WiFi and spray-on artificial skin (thanks to the wonderful, Dr Fiona Wood).
Our geography and isolation have shaped us. Australians have been leaders in both maritime and aeronautical fields, including powered flight, the black box flight recorder, the inflatable escape slide, the surf ski and the wave-piercing catamaran and the winged keel (thank you Ben Lexcen).
In the fields of agriculture and mining, Australians have invented the grain stripper, the stump jump plough, mechanical sheep shears, the Dethridge water wheel, the froth flotation ore separation process, and the buffalo fly trap. And Australia has a proud history in defence technology, including the tank, the underwater torpedo, blast glass and most recently hypersonic rocket break throughs.
Our 2017 Australian of the Year is Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, a pioneering stem cell scientist. Science matters. It helps us understand the world, it is the basis of an advancing society, and scientific break throughs underpin a growing and prosperous economy.
What is next? The quantum bit and the quantum logic gate have both been invented in our universities in the past five years. And if we believe the visionary Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons, running the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology at the University of NSW, the quantum computer is just five years away. This is truly ‘game changing’ innovation and Australia will very likely be a world leader.
History is important. History makes us strong. Australia is a nation of innovators, we always have been, and our history of invention should make us all proud.
Originally posted on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/nation-innovators-proud-australian-ben-heap