There’s a disconnect for many kids in America between the science and technology they study in school and the real world. Most kids know what an iPhone is but have no idea who Steve Jobs is.
“I need scientists and engineers who would be what LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal are to their industry,” said Dean Kamen the inventor of the Segway personal transporterand founder of FIRST, an organization designed to help foster innovations by kids in science and technology. “You need to put world class pros in front of kids.”
The tide of cool is starting to turn when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math, thanks to tech superstars like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. And, seeing the names of Microsoft's Bill Gates, Apple's Steve Jobs or the Google guys on the list of the world's billionaires doesn't hurt either.
Still, if you do an informal poll of kids, more would want to be LeBron James than Mark Zuckerberg, even though statistically, that kid is more likely to get struck by lightning than to become a rich sports superstar.
A lot of companies and organizations like FIRST are trying to change that, investing in programs that encourage innovation — and teaching kids that innovation is cool. In order to help connect the dots between what those kids are tinkering with now and what they might become, here are more than a dozen of the most influential innovators of the last century, names you probably haven't heard of, even though their innovations changed our lives. They are the rock stars of tech.
By Cindy Perman
23 April 2011
Famous for: Segway personal transporter
Dean Kamen holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, and is probably the most famous for inventing the Segway personal transporter.
In order to get that many patents in one lifetime, he started pretty young: He got his first patent when he was 17 for an insulin pump. His mom had to sign the papers!
Frustrated by how far behind the U.S. has fallen in innovation, and how kids are more inclined to be sports stars than engineers, he started FIRST and organized the FIRST Robotics competition to get them as jazzed about science and technology as they are about sports.
Why is it called FIRST? “Because you never heard a kid say he wanted to be No. 2!” Kamen quipped.
Famous for: inventing world’s first single-chip microprocessor
Ted Hoff joined Intel in 1967 as employee No. 12. He came up with the idea for putting all the parts that comprise the brain of the computer on a single chip, called the Intel 4004, which he created along with fellow Intel engineers Federico Faggin and Stan Mazor.
1n 1954, he was a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Finalist (now known as Intel STS), which just goes to show those students of today that those innovation contests work. He was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Famein 1996.
Famous for: co-founding Apple and creating Apple I and Apple II computers
Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer along with Steve Jobs, the current CEO of the company, and Ronald Wayne, who famously cashed out before Apple went intergalactic. Known as “The Woz” or “The Other Steve,” Wozniak created the Apple I and Apple II computers in the 1970s, which helped launch the personal-computer industry.
He’s also in the Inventors Hall of Fameand is a strong believer in technology education, having donated many computers and even entire computer labs to schools.
Famous for: inventing the world-wide web
Despite what Al Gore told you, Tim Berners-Lee is the man who really invented the Internet. He first proposed the idea in 1989 and in 1990 made the first successful connection between an HTTP client and the Internet.
He is a British physicist and professor at MIT. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004.
Famous for: being the“father of the Internet”
Cerf was a program manager for the defense department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, providing funding to groups that were developing TCP/IP technology that is critical to connecting computers to the Internet. At MCI, he helped develop MCI Mail, one of the first Internet email systems. He’s also one of the founders of ICANN, the Internet domain-name registry and organized the system to distribute “keys to the Internet,” to secure the world wide web in the event of an attack.
He’s currently the vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, a title he’s held since September 2005, and working on the “Interplanetary Internet”(IPN) with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for communication between planets. And yes, he’s also in the Inventors Hall of Fame.
Famous for: creating inter-system email and adding the @ symbol
In the early days, two people had to be using the same computer system in order to email each other. Tomlinson, who worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman, the company the defense department hired to build the first Internet, developed a system in 1971 that allowed users to exchange email, no matter what system they were on. He is the one who first came up with the idea to use the @ symbol, to let other users know which computer the user was “at.”
Ironically, the very first email was sent between two computers side by side. Though some of us do that now — not much has changed!
Famous for: inventing the first web browser
Andreessen was the co-author of Mosaic, the first web browser, and co-founder of Netscape Communications. Think of "cookies." Think of your browser's "back" and "forward" buttons. Think of the fact that you can go online through a graphic interface, rather than while looking at lines of code, in the first place. That was all Andreessen, and he invented a lot of that while still an undergraduate at the University of Illinois and a mere intern at IBM. While still a student, he legendarily jotted out the business plan for Netscape on a napkin, over lunch in Champaign-Urbana. The company generated one of the largest IPOs of its time.
The Netscape browser dominated the market until Microsoft came along with Internet Explorer, spawning the famous Browser Wars, which Nestcape, despite being the first, ultimately lost.
Famous for: founding Amazon.com
Jeff Bezos worked as a financial analyst on Wall Street for eight years right out of college before founding Amazon in his garage in 1994. It started out as an online bookseller and is now one of the largest online retailers in the world. He was named Time’s "Person of the Year" in 1999.
Famous for: founding PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors
In 1999, Musk founded X.com, an Internet financial-services company that would ultimately become PayPal, the now ubiquitous Internet-payment system that was bought by eBay. Musk then went on to found SpaceX, a space-exploration company, and Tesla Motors, which makes electric vehicles.
Famous for: Inventing the Linux kernel
Torvalds is a Finnish software engineer who invented the Linux kernel, which spawned the open-source Linux operating system, which now runs 10 of the world’s fastest supercomputers and many things that we all use every day, including Facebook, Twitter, and Android phones. The operating-system war between Microsoft and Linux raged on for years but the two seemed to have settled in now where they’ve staked out their territories — Microsoft in the personal-computer market, Linux on the server side and in mobile computing.
Famous for: being the “father of wi-fi”
Hayes, born in the Netherlands, is credited with establishing the IEEE 802.11 standards for wireless networks, a feat that has earned him the nickname, “the father of wi-fi.”
Famous for: creating Friendster
In 2002, Abrams (pictured left) created Friendster, one of the first social-networking sites, paving the way for sites like MySpace and Facebook. In 2010, Facebook bought seven patents and 11 patent applications from Friendster for $39.5 million. Abrams was also the founder and CEO of the online-invitation site Socializr and social-bookmarking site HotLinks. He is currently a managing partner of Founders Den, a group of entrepreneurs, and co-owner of the San Francisco night club Slide.
Famous for: founding YouTube
Hurley, Chen and Karim (pictured from left to right) were former PayPal employees who founded YouTube in 2005. Google bought the company in 2006 for $1.65 billion.
The very first YouTube video, incidentally, was called “Me at the Zoo,” a 19-second video of Karim at the San Diego Zoo, marveling at the elephants’ “really, really, really long, um, trunks.” It’s been viewed 4.7 million times. “David After Dentist,”meanwhile, has been viewed more than 88 million times. “Chad After Dentist” (aka "Darth Vader After Dentist")has been viewed more than 12 million times.
Famous for: inventing Atari
Bushnell (pictured left) and Dabney founded Atari, which created Pong and the Atari 2600, bringing arcade games into the home. In 1976, they sold Atari to Warner Communications for $28 million. In 1977, Bushnell founded the Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater chain, which combined a sit-down restaurant, entertainment and arcade games.
Famous for: inventing the cellphone
Martin Cooper, a former vice president at Motorola, led the team in the 1970s that invented the mobile phone, a giant brick-sized device that weighed 2.5 pounds. He also, incidentally, made the first public phone call on a wireless phone, which was in 1973, while standing on Sixth Avenue in New York. He called Joel Engel, the head of research at Bell Labs, as a demonstration for reporters. Cooper cites Star Trek, and Captain Kirk’s use of his communicator, as his inspiration.
Live long and prosper!