Faculty Name

Nicholas Schlotter

Document Type






Course Subject


Course Number


Course Section


Course Title

FSEM: Discovery and Invention

Academic Term and Year

Fall 2016



Area of Study


Course Description

How do we create, invent, or make a new product or discovery? In this course we will investigate how people have made new discoveries and inventions and learn that anyone, even you, can use the same processes to take your ideas into the future. New discoveries and inventions are related to our changing knowledge of the world which can be used to invent new products. Consider Stephanie Kwolak who discovered a liquid crystalline polymer, better known as Kevlar, used in items like bullet-proof vests and ultralight canoes. Or Alexander Fleming who had to discover a fungus that killed bacteria before he could find penicillin. However, inventions may not need to be based on new discoveries. More often, inventions are motivated by one’s need or desire as suggested by “necessity is the mother of invention.” An example you’ve certainly heard of is Thomas Edison and his light bulb, but what about Marion Donovan and the disposable diaper? Yet the process of inventing can also lead to new discoveries showing that there is a connectivity between invention and discovery. We will also look at the impact of discovery and invention on society and culture. Can we predict the future based on existing technology and knowledge? How far into the future can we predict before our predictions become unreliable? Literature has a rich history of predicting the future and can provide us with examples of possible inventions and futures (e.g., the 1946 Dick Tracey two-way radio wrist watch, flying cars, 1984 by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury). What about the ethics of invention? How do we address responsible invention? How does one make a living by inventing? In addition to finding some answers to the questions posed, we will also apply what we learn about the inventing and discovery process to make our own individual inventions (and test, if possible) as a course exercise. 1 Elizabeth Blackburn, co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere. For this work, she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. 2 James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA in 1953 was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.