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School children encouraged to be inventors of tomorrow

Written by Jane Coyle on 05 April 2007

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Primary school children are being urged to let their imaginations run wild. The quest for tomorrow’s inventors is backed by the Oscar-winning animator Nick Park. The Cracking Ideas initiative asks ten-year-olds to submit innovative designs using everyday objects to the Patent Office.

The search for a new generation of people such as James Dyson (vacuum cleaners) and Trevor Bayliss (wind-up radios) is inspired by the need to keep ahead of increasingly innovative competitors in India and the Far East. Park, the creator of Wallace, an inventor of automated trousers and elaborate knitting machines, and his faithful dog Gromit, was 8 when he decided to become an inventor. Inspired by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, Park kept a “box of useful things” — old broken toys and electric parts — under his bed in the hopes that one day he, too, would build a space-ship or a time machine: “I always wanted to be Wallace and maybe I was to an extent. I loved metalwork at school and once built a model hovercraft with a little motor and propeller. But I also used to invent ideas to send to Blue Peter, like the squeezy bottle which squeezed out different coloured wools or a highly sophisticated nutcracker. The problem was that I could never find any balls of wool or nuts that fitted into them.” The world of animation is the perfect compromise, he says, because the inventions are rarely tested by reality. Growing up in Preston and one of a family of seven, he says that his inspiration was his father, Roger, who died in 2002. An architectural photographer and “prolific inventor”, he was always tinkering in the garden shed, either building a caravan from scratch or working on ever more complex go-karts.

The uninhibited creativity of the cheese-eating Wallace and Gromit was the perfect vehicle to inspire children, according to Lawrence Smith Higgins, the marketing director at the Patent Office, which is behind the nationwide competition. The office has designed three programmes as lesson plans for teachers, which encompass the story behind inventions such as Lego and tell how advertising sells adidas boots, to help children to kick-start their creativity. Mr Smith Higgins said that the goal was not merely to encourage children to be creative, but to appreciate that their ideas could have a commercial value: “It’s their property and they could make money out of it,” he said. “If we could turn out another Nick Park or James Dyson, we will have more than achieved our aims.” Mr Smith Higgins said that in recent years his office had patented an electric games glove designed by an A-level student. The competition runs from June 4 to July 18 and 50 schools have entered. The winning school will have its design modelled by Park.

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