Interviewer: Trevor Baylis, best known as the inventor of the wind-up radio, is with us today. Trevor, what gave you the idea for this radio?

Trevor Baylis: I was watching a programme about a disease in Africa which was killing many people. The only way they could get information about how to prevent it was through the radio. But in many remote parts of Africa there was no electricity. And batteries were rare and horrendously expensive. I wanted to find an alternative solution. I thought of the old-fashioned gramophone which had a handle on it. You had to turn it to make the record go round and play. And I thought that the same idea could be used for a radio. You see, you just wind the thing up and when you release the spring, it drives a small dynamo, which in turn drives the radio.

Interviewer: Well, that sounds quite simple. So why do so few of us become inventors?

Trevor Baylis: In my opinion, anybody can be an inventor. Basically, we all have good ideas which we do nothing about because they don’t seem like inventions to us. Then, a few years later, we see a product based on the same concept in the shop window and wonder why we gave up on that idea in the first place. It’s always disappointing but it shows that your idea had much more potential than you thought.

Interviewer: I heard recently that science and engineering courses are becoming less popular. That must be bad news for would-be inventors.

Trevor Baylis: I think it is. Young people need to get at least a glimpse of the basics of engineering. If the power goes off, they should know how to reset a circuit breaker. They ought to know how to do minor car repairs or bike maintenance work. They should learn how to cut a bit of wood with a saw and make items for the garden like a planter box or a bench. We should provide them with sufficient hands-on experience, so if they buy a house in the future, they can do the necessary repairs.

Interviewer: Is information technology helpful for inventors in their work?

Trevor Baylis: Undoubtedly, it makes preparing a prototype much easier. In my day, we only used handheld tools. Now you can produce a three-dimensional picture on a screen, which can then be converted into a real thing made of plastic or some alternative material. But that doesn’t mean computers are the solution to every problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the computer should be put in the bin, it’s a wonderful piece of equipment. However, it’s just a tool. If you lose that tool or it breaks down − what are you going to do? You’ve got to have a backup plan. You need to know where else you can look for the information that you need. Also, you ought to be able to do things by hand.

Interviewer: The statistics show that only 10% of all patents have been obtained by females. Why is this so?

Trevor Baylis: We have to look at the problem in a broader historical context. There were periods when women’s access to education and careers was limited. Also society’s expectations for them to be mothers and wives meant they were not encouraged to become inventors. And even if a woman invented something, it wasn’t given as much recognition as things created by a man. Has anybody heard of Grace Hopper, who invented programming languages, or Mary Anderson, the inventor of windshield wipers?

Interviewer: Thankfully, a lot has changed in recent years.
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