Hello, and welcome to Jana’s studio, Storynory’s factual programme where I talk to fascinating people about fascinating things.
Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if you just stumbled across an idea for a gadget that was so useful that almost everyone started using it, and what’s more, made you millions and millions of dollars?
For instance, what if you were the person who invented the hair drier? Or Milk Cartons? Or bubble wrap? All things that we take for granted, but were actually invented by somebody who had a brilliant idea.
Well joining me to talk about some of these real life Million Dollar Ideas is Jeremy Howell. Jeremy is a video journalist at the BBC, and he’s the producer of a weekly feature for television and the internet called ‘Million Dollar Ideas’.
Jana: Hi Jeremy, thank you for joining me. What are your films about?
Jeremy: ‘Million Dollar Ideas’ is about all those gadgets you have in your home and which you use as part of daily life. But they all had to be invented. The series looks at how they were discovered, which was often by accident. For example, the microwave oven - which most of us have in our kitchens - was invented by scientists working on radar in World War 2. One of the scientists realised the waves coming off the radar equipment had melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. He realised that microwaves could heat up food very fast. After the war, he started working on the world’s first microwave oven.
Jana: Can you give me another example of how somebody turned fun into profit?
Jeremy: Well, most of use have a frisbee around the house which we toss around in a park or on the beach. The first frisbees were metal pie tins which students at American universities threw around after dinner. They were called Frisbees because Mr Frisbee was the name of the pie maker. Someone then realised that you could make a new sport out of these kind of flying discs, if you made them out of plastic, and the frisbee was born.
Jana: So it sounds like some of the best ideas were almost discovered by accident.. Did the inventors just stumble across them?
Jeremy: Yes, that’s often right. Super glue is another interesting one. It was discovered by a scientist working for Kodak, the camera people. He wanted a very clear, hard substance for making gun sights during World War Two. He chose the substance we know as super glue, but decided he couldn’t work with it because it was too sticky. Then he tried it again to make canopies for jet fighters in the 1950s. Again, he found it hard to work with, because it was too sticky. It’s only that the penny dropped. What he had been struggling with was, in fact, the stickiest thing known to man. He made it into a glue. A one inch dab of superglue can lift a one ton weight. Did you know that?
Jana: No I didn't. It must be fun finding out all these facts. But how do you make the films?
Because the ones I've seen seem pretty wacky...
Jeremy: We use what’s known as a green screen. Our presenter, Aaron Heslehurst, stands in front of a bright-green cloth backing. Thanks to a piece of computer technology, the green background can be made transparent and we can then put whatever image we like behind him. We can take him to New York, or the Andes Mountains. But the journey always starts with him in his inventor’s laboratory.
And the way he presents it is fast and furious, like one of the vloggers on YouTube, so it has to be edited in a slightly crazy way, with him popping up first here and then there on the screen.
Jana: Ah interesting... What kind of feedback do you get? Who seems to like the series most?
Jeremy: Well I find children and young adults. It appeals to their sense of curiosity. I have three children - a boy and two girls - and they are really interested in seeing the latest film I’ve produced.
Jana: And where can we see the ‘Million Dollar Idea’ films?
Jeremy: They come out every Friday. They are on the BBC News Page, in the business section, and they are in the BBC’s Facebook and Instagram pages, as well.
Jana: Thank you to Jeremy Howell for joining me today. And if you'd like to find out how things around your home were first discovered, check out the Million Dollar Ideas. The link is on our website or just search google for BBC million dollar ideas.
And I will be back soon with another interview on a fascinating topic.
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Until next time, take care. From me Jana Elizabeth at Storynory.com.