Inventing the 21st Century at the British Library, London

Best known as the home to venerable treasures such as the seventh century Lindisfarne Gospels, the thirteenth century Magna Carta, and the fifteenth century Gutenberg Bible, it is refreshing to visit the British Library’s ultra-contemporary exhibition “Inventing the 21st century” (6 Sep 2010 – 28 Nov 2010, Folio Society Gallery). This small but fascinating exhibition explores fifteen of the most innovative inventions of the first ten years of the new millenium, showing their genesis from original drawings through to finished products. All but one of the inventions were new to me and ranged from the sublime (a self-warming baby bottle) to the somewhat ridiculous (a non-spill water bowl for dogs on car journeys). The most interesting and valuable inventions were those promoting human health and well-being; an ultramodern wheelchair combining sleek modern design and improved manoeuverability, and a retinal scanning machine. This latter invention had a deeply personal backstory – the inventor’s son had tragically lost the sight in one eye as he could not cope with the discomfort of routine eye exams, which lead to a detached retina going undiagnosed. I found the most strangely compelling invention to be the Dyson Air Multiplier, a bladeless, grill-less fan that has the appearance of an oversized children’s bubble blower. The exhibition has been mounted in conjunction with the library’s Business and IP (Intellectual Property) centre which offers help and resources to inventors.


About ruthgarde

I am a writer and curator based in London.
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