Episode only available in Canada.
Behind every invention is an inventor with a fascinating story.
Broadcaster and author Britt Wray has spent years in the lab studying synthetic biology and now wants to meet inventors to find out what inspires them, and what makes them tick.
Wray begins her journey in Edmonton where she meets Michael Reimer, a young man who was left paraplegic after a motorcycle accident. Reimer is part of a University of Alberta trial, testing an invention called “ReWalk,” a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable people with spinal cord injuries to stand upright, turn and walk, and even climb stairs. It was invented by an Israeli doctor, Amit Goffer.
Ironically, Goffer, who was left quadriplegic following an ATV accident, cannot benefit from his own invention. So, he invented a different device that would help him. “UpnRIDE” is a cross between a wheelchair and a Segway. The device moves the user from a sitting position to standing upright. In doing so, it solves one of the most basic frustrations for wheelchair users – eye to eye contact.
“First time I stood with my colleagues, I was able to stand and have a drink with them, eye levels, it was like so exciting for me,” says Goffer.
This seems to be a recurring trait of inventors – they see a problem, and instead of waiting for others to solve it, they do it themselves.
Canadian Doctor Jeff Karp runs a lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, part of Harvard Medical School. He was asked to find an adhesive to deal with septal defects in babies — a hole between the chambers of the infant’s heart. When he encounters challenges, Karp often turns to nature for inspiration, a concept called biomimicry, or bio-inspiration. In this case, he looked at creatures like the sandcastle worm, slugs and snails. Their secretions contain components that can repel water, which is exactly what’s needed in the wet, messy environment of a beating heart. In the documentary, Wray gets an up-close, practical demo of how Karp’s innovative glue works.
And she gets to meet many more problem solvers, working on issues with local and global implications. Dan Watson wants to stop the practice of bycatch – when fishermen net unwanted fish that end up dead and dumped back in the sea. Ann Makosinski was inspired to help her friend in the Philippines who couldn’t study or read in the dark and had no lights in her home. And then there’s Garrett Brown, a cameraman who wanted to move around with his video camera without creating shaky footage. All of these people set out to solve a problem — some succeeded, and some are getting very close.
Wray meets these inventors in their labs and workshops to discover their common traits — is there a stereotypical inventor type? Spoiler alert: it turns out that while many inventors share common traits — passion, tenacity, and a willingness to fail — inventors are as diverse as their creations. All that’s required is a good idea, hard work and follow through.
And a lot of patience.