Pernilla Molander and Anna Kristensson had never regarded themselves as inventors. Nevertheless they created a teaching aid that now makes science graspable to students all aver the world. Their successful company BRIGHT of Sweden is based on their invention.
All Pernilla Molander wanted to do was to help her son, who is vision impaired, to understand the atomic model. He wasn’t able to see the pictures his teacher drew on the whiteboard in chemistry class and he felt that he was missing something.
- I realized that he would be helped by some kind of tactile aid, Pernilla Molander says.
A long late-night telephone call with her son’s assistant Anna Kristensson resulted in a plate sized atom model made from a round plastic box and wax threads. This enabled him to take in the structure of the atom with his hands and to change the positions of the particles. It seemed to work for him.
- That was what we wanted to achieve, and we really didn’t expect it to lead to anything else.
However, when he brought it to chemistry class to work with it something interesting happened: It appeared that he wasn’t the only one who found the concept of the atom model difficult to grasp. Many of his friends wanted to borrow his home-made atom since it made it so much easier to understand. The teacher immediately saw the pedagogical potential. When the inventors learned this they were surprised but very pleased.
- It was an incredible feeling when we realized that this could help others and we decided to pursue this idea.
A company was formed and a prototype was made and tested. Soon they realized they had struck gold. There was no similar tactile product on the market and it wasn’t only students who found it useful – teachers loved it! The advantage is that it is provides hands-on learning for something that is actually very abstract. The movable pieces make it easier to understand the mechanisms of atoms, ions and isotopes. The tool also makes it easier to remember the theory. To make things even better the same atom model, that of Niels Bohr, is being taught in schools all over the world.
Today, three years after the creative telephone conversation, their cleanly designed BRIGHT Atom is being sold to a growing number of countries. The turnover is a couple of million Swedish crowns (roughly 500,000 USD) and they need to keep employing people. Inspired by this success they launched a new product based on the same principle in August 2007, and more are being developed.
The concept of the BRIGHT Atom may seem very obvious. But it was only discovered because of a need to facilitate for a minority - the vision impaired. Its unexpected usefulness to people who do not belong to that minority suggests there are a lot of good ideas that are still hidden. In fact, this is how most innovations happen; a diversity of perspectives generates new ideas.