We live in exciting times. As a physicist returning to his roots, I am in awe of the progress made in the detection of gravitational waves. Not only is this empirical verification of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, it is also opening a new field of astronomy with the potential to look further back into the history of the univesre than ever before.
When I can, I attend public talks on the subject, often delivered by physicists who have dedicated much of their careers working collaboratively to do what Einstein predicted as impossible 100 years ago. So I’m always disappointed when at questions time, someone asks, what use is it? By this, they usually are looking for short term spin off technology (of which there many) and at worse the short term “fiscal benefit” of the research.
I find myself biting my lip as the speaker explains some of the short term spin offs and recall the rumoured exchange between Micheal Faraday and Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) in the 1850s. Upon demonstrating the links between electricity and magnetism, Gladstone asked, “but what’s the use of it?”. Faraday’s response, variously reported, was “I know not, but one day Sir, you may tax it”. Faraday’s discoveries of course lead to the development of domestic electricity industry, and we still suffer the same lack of vision in our political classes today.
It’s debatable that the human race has been so successful in surviving and adapting to changes in the environment because of our quality of “curiosity”. The instinct to seek knowledge for knowledge sake has opened opportunities for us to survive and prosper.
But I’ll continue to bite my lip on these occasions even though I am tempted to ask “what use were sub-prime mortgages” or “The Royal Bank of Scotland”. At least blue sky research doesn’t actively destroy the economy.
My Mini Maker Space
I set up my own company eight years ago. After a career with big, leading edge technology companies, I wanted to explore disruptive technology on a small scale. In fact, one man company, small scale. Initially I focused on sustainability, but things evolved and I discovered opportunities in digital manufacture. New platforms like crowd funding and easy to use, on line shops also helped.
The big break came in 2014 with an award from Sheffield University’s ‘Festival of the Mind’. The intention was to demonstrate to the home science enthusiast just what could be done with 3D printing and Raspberry Pi computers. I soon found myself in the lime light with national press coverage of the PiKon; ‘the world’s first 3D printed telescope’ with Raspberry Pi camera.
This boost from the University’s public relations team, a lot of talks and social media, meant successful crowd funding for the PiKon . It is now an established product. Orders from the Shopify Shop are shipped by me, in person, from my studio in Sheffield.
But I don’t want to be a ‘one trick pony’. The things I have set up for PiKon are transferable to new products and services. My life long enthusiasm for photography has paid off too. Social media benefits from good images and successful 21stcentury entrepreneurs need to be fluent in photography and video. Equally, good networks and venturing into other disciplines all increase the probability of new, unique products and services. Like any good product I have a roadmap of ideas, embryo products and established ones.
I now operate from a studio in Sheffield, surrounded by 3D printers, audio and photography equipment. I share a building with artists, both traditional and digital. It’s my mini maker space. Here I incubate my business ideas and I’ve decided it is time for a change of company name. I rather like the word ‘elektric’ because it takes me back to my roots of Elektor Magazine and germanium transistors. The idea of a maker space is relatively new. Historically, in Sheffield, places where we make things are called ‘works’. So the new name is going to be ‘Elektric-Works’.