(Sara Knapton) Young people in Britain have become a lost generation who can no longer mend gadgets and appliances because they have grown up in a disposable world, the professor giving this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures has warned.
Danielle George, Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering, at the University of Manchester, claims that the under 40s expect everything to ‘just work’ and have no idea what to do when things go wrong.
Unlike previous generations who would ‘make do and mend’ now young people will just chuck out their faulty appliances and buy new ones.
But Prof George claims that many broken or outdated gadgets could be fixed or repurposed with only a brief knowledge of engineering and electronics.
This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are entitled ‘Sparks will fly: How to hack your home’ she is hoping it will inspire people to think what else they can do with common household objects.
Ideas include using a magnifying glass and shoe box to turn a mobile phone into a rudimentary projector; how to use tin foil to make too small batteries fit correctly and how to turn a bottle of water into a lamp.
Prof George said: “We’ve got a lost generation that has grown up with factory electronics that just work all of the time.
“All of these things in our home do seem to work most of the time and because they don’t break we just get used to them. They have almost become like Black Boxes which never die. And when they do we throw them away and buy something new.
“But there is now a big maker community who are thinking hard about what we do with all of these gadgets. They are remaking and repurposing things.
“I talked to someone who had used some LEDs on his bike so that he could put up a message as he was cycling.”
The first lecture, broadcast on December 29th is inspired by Newcastle inventor Joseph Swan who demonstrated the first working light bulb in 1878. During the lecture Prof George will attempt to play a computer game on the windows of a skyscraper using hundreds of light bulbs.
During the lectures she will also demonstrate how to send wireless messages using a barbeque, control a firework display with a laptop, use a torch to browse the internet, turn a smartphone into a microscope, how to turn a washing machine into a wind turbine, and how Lego can solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Hundreds of websites have emerged in the last few years where users post ideas about home hacks and electronics.
Professor George, added: I want young people to realise that that they have the power to change the world right from their bedroom, kitchen table or garden shed.
“Today’s generation of young people are in a truly unique position. The technology we use and depend on every day is expanding and developing at a phenomenal rate and so our society has never been more equipped to be creative and innovative.
“When I was eight years old I was given a telescope by my parents and I was fascinated – I would get up in the middle of the night to watch lunar eclipses.
“It was the first time I realised how mathematics and physics could be used in a practical and useful way and I knew immediately that this kind of hands-on investigation was what I wanted to do in life.
“If we all take control of the technology and systems around us, and think creatively, then solving some of the world’s greatest challenges is only a small step away. I believe everyone has the potential to be an inventor.”
Gail Cardew, Director of Science and Education at the Royal Institution said: “Our aim is to bring to life the incredible ingenuity, innovation and creativity of engineering.”.”
The Royal Institution Christmas lectures have been taken by many distinguished scientists since they began in 1825, including Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Lord George Porter and Dame Nancy Rothwell.
They will be broadcast over three days between December 29 and December 31 on BBC four at 8pm.