It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. But our universities could make a plausible claim for parentage too. Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from Manchester University were yesterday awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for creating the new material "graphene". Meanwhile, Samuel Adeloju, an industrial design graduate from the University of New South Wales, was awarded the James Dyson Award for his "buoyancy bazooka". Graphene, with its highly unusual physical properties, has the potential to revolutionise electronics and a host of areas of high-tech manufacturing. And Mr Adeloju's bazooka, which can fire an emergency buoyancy aid 400 feet out to sea, could be a valuable new tool in the armoury of lifeguards. These two inventions could improve lives and save them.
Many universities are bracing themselves for budget cuts as governments around the developed world seek to reduce their spending. And politicians, with their short-term perspective, sometimes find it hard to discern the economic value that universities and their often abstruse areas of research bring to a society. But these three researchers have delivered a timely reminder that universities, at their best, are hothouses of invention and the very definition of worthwhile public investment.