Ideas Explained in Fewer Than 280 Characters (Part 1 of 5)
Ideas Innovation

Ideas Explained in Fewer Than 280 Characters (Part 1 of 5)

Ideas can be tough to wrap your head around. You might look at some of the amazing inventions and fantastic discoveries that have been made throughout history and get the feeling “Well, I couldn’t have possibly thought of that!”. But the truth is, you could have. See, the ideas didn’t start as the fully-developed, fleshed out, all-encompassing manifestations you see today. They started out as mere seeds. Sergey Brin and Larry Page didn’t immediately dream up a complicated algorithm so sort and index the entire internet…they just wanted to find things online easier! Dara Khosrowshahi didn’t envision a gigantic netowrk of cars linked through an app and a massive interconnected system…he just wanted to get a ride when he wanted to ride!

So, to remind you of this, we’ve taken what seem to be some of the most complex and intimidating ideas in existence and distilled them back down to their original forms. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be a large essay for each idea – in fact we’ve shortened them down to less than the length of a tweet --  280 characters -- if you can believe it! And then, we’ve written about the real origin story of that idea – which is even more interesting!

1. Rocket

Three mini-engines burn fuel in different stages. The first one ignites to launch. The second and third to go into orbit. And then it moves in space through the force generated by the exhaust of its main engine -- because of Newton's Third Law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

So, what’s the origin of the rocket? Well, first we have to ask how far the roots of the idea go back. What do you say? About 70 years? Maybe 100? No, the truth is, it all goes back to more than 2,000 years ago when the Chinese developed the first real rockets. In fact, even before that, there are records from 400 B.C. of the Greek using steam to push around a wooden pigeon suspended on wires.

Hermann Oberth is known as the ‘father of rocketry’. At the age of just 14, he imagined a ‘recoil rocket’ that could move through space using nothing but its own exhaust. Nobody believed in his idea, but he did and he took it to it’s ultimate conclusion. As an adult, he worked on and made it possible to finally develop a rocket that could escape Earth’s gravity.

2.  Vaccine

Once you start lifting smaller weights, your muscles develop and you can move on to the bigger weights. Our immune system works in a very similar way. If we are exposed to a weaker version of the virus, our immune system will adapt and be able to fight it if we ever get the full-fledged one. Fingers crossed for a COVID-19 vaccine soon!

The story behind the invention of the vaccine is interesting.

Edward Jenner, a scientist, had once heard a dairymaid say during the smallpox epidemic. “I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.” He researched more on this and found out that this was actually a very widely accepted belief at the time. This intrigued him. The disease markers in cowpox showed that it was essentially the smaller brother of smallpox itself. So he concluded there must be something of truth in the belief, and also that if cowpox could protect against smallpox, then it could also be deliberately transmitted to someone just for that reason. He performed the first ever such innoculation on an 8-year old boy named James Phillips by giving him cowpox. Nine days later, he gave him smallpox and…he was fine. And so the vaccine was born.

3.  Internet

A massive collective of computers called routers or servers are joined all throughout the world in an interconnected system by satellites and large underground or undersea tubes known as coaxial cables, thus creating an information superhighway which we use to watch GIFs of puppies!

The idea of the internet stems from a man named J.C.R. Licklider, who talked about and popularized the idea of an ‘intergalactic network of computers’. But in fact, the idea goes even deeper. Nikola Tesla had brought up the idea of a ‘world wireless system’ in the 1900s and authors like Paul Otlet and Vannevar Bush had envisioned mechanized, searchable storage systems of books and media in the 1930s and 1940s.

4.  Chemotherapy

Cancer cells are cells that have essentially lost the ability to stop multiplying and thus multiply endlessly. Chemotherapy targets them by aggressively attacking them and stopping them from growing, multiplying, or dividing.

The renowned German scientist Paul Ehrlich started working on this idea in the 1900s. He was the one who coined the term “chemotherapy”. He defined it as the use of chemicals to treat disease. He pioneered some groundbreaking techniques, such as using rabbits to test the medicine and then later on pigs. He helped medical research massively by identifying that pig’s organs were biologically the closest and therefore the best for testing human treatments on. An interesting fact is that the laboratory where this work was done had a sign over the door that read, “Give up all hope oh ye who enter.”

5. Microwave

A filament is a conducting wire with a high melting point so that it does not melt easily. A microwave uses electricity to heat this filament fast, which creates a flow of electrons that then convert into a form of electric radiation known as microwaves which helps you heat last night's leftovers!

The origin of the microwave is rather remarkable. In 1945, Percy Spencer, an American engineer, was testing magnetrons in a lab. Magnetrons are essentially high-powered vacuum tubes inside radars. One day, he was working on the magnetrons that produced microwaves, and noticed that a peanut butter candy bar that he had in his pocket suddenly began to melt. One thing led to another, he joined the dots, and the microwave was invented soon after.

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We hope you enjoyed this foray into the genesis of some of the most well-known ideas that ultimately changed our world. Being overwhelmed by the amount of thought and effort it seemingly takes to bring an idea to fruition can be one of the biggest barriers that stops people from venturing forth and working on new ideas. The aim of this article is to serve to break down this notion and allow for free, boundless thought and ideation. This is the first article in a new five-part series we have created to help people move forward with their ideas at full speed and never look back. Stay tuned for the next three parts!