The abilities humans develop through play—curiosity, persistence, imagination, communication, problem solving—have been and continue to be an important part of the inventor’s tool kit. Explore the stories of inventors, both famous and little-known, whose creative habits of mind began in childhood play and resulted in a variety of useful contributions.
Learn from the Inventors
One day in 1965, as DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek was trying to dissolve a substance called a polymer, something strange happened. Instead of a clear molasses-like solution, this polymer was cloudy and poured like water. Intrigued with these unusual properties, Kwolek had to persuade her colleagues to keep testing the material despite the fact that it did not fit the expected pattern. The result was a strong yet lightweight fiber to be named Kevlar with a multiplicity of uses.
Kwolek’s ability to recognize possibilities where others did not is a quality she shares with many inventors. This tendency to see non-obvious connections and relationships often leads inventors to the key insight that is the basis for their invention. Sometimes it seems as if an inventor had a flash of inspiration or a “Eureka!” moment. But often these instances are examples of a lifetime habit, begun in childhood, of curiosity, exploration, and a refusal to give up at the first sign of failure. This section tells the stories of other inventions, like the microwave oven, Post-it™ Notes, and the implantable cardiac pacemaker, whose creators had the ability to recognize unexpected possibilities.