Dr Tim Minshall announced as first Professor of Innovation at Cambridge University



The new Professor of Innovation at the University of Cambridge is Dr Tim Minshall. In the new role, he will lead the engineers and inventors of tomorrow to see their ideas become reality and change the world.

The University of Cambridge has announced its first Professor of Innovation, Dr Tim Minshall, who will be appointed on 1 October 2017.

The new position is made possible due to a generous donation of £2.5million by world-renowned inventor Dr John C Taylor OBE, who attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  More recently, he sponsored the undergraduate Taylor Library and created and donated the Corpus Chronophage, which is situated on the college’s exterior.  Dr Taylor’s life’s work involved inventing small electrical components that are vital to many other products.  Early electric kettles would not turn off when the water was boiling, meaning that they needed constant supervision and were in danger of melting and starting fires if they were not properly attended.

Dr Taylor created the solution to this problem by supplying a small, bimetallic thermostat to domestic kettle manufacturers which would switch off the kettle element when the water started to boil.  This invention did not dictate the vessel design, being suitable for metal and plastic jugs and kettles, and providing a universal solution used over a billion times daily.

Dr Tim Minshall, who will take up the position of Professor of Innovation on 1 October 2017, has a wealth of experience in Cambridge’s world-renowned engineering, manufacturing and technology sector. He is currently based in Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing, part of the Department of Engineering.

Prior to joining the University in 2002, Dr Minshall worked as a director of the St John’s Innovation Centre – one of Europe’s most successful incubators for technology-based start-ups.  Since joining the University, he has played a very active role in the development of innovation and technology management activities throughout the University.  He also works closely with companies in the Cambridge cluster, the largest and most successful technology hub in Europe.  He has also been involved in a broad range of regional and national policy activities to support innovation.

“This professorship presents an extraordinary opportunity to address how we define and develop the innovation skills and capabilities of engineers so they can address economic and social needs: a challenge that has become critical for the UK given the current global economic and political context,” said Dr Minshall.

In addition to his research in technology and innovation management, Dr Minshall is also a committed teacher and supporter of engineering outreach to the public.  He lectures undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University, runs outreach programmes with local schools, and mentors students and researchers to develop their public engagement skills. “The development of future engineers is at the heart of my work,” he said.

In his new role, Dr Minshall will continue to build on his strengths in innovation and technology management, both in the University and in the UK more broadly.

“The UK has long been superb at invention – the creation of new ideas – but we need to develop a generation of engineers able to create and capture value from these new ideas, and provide these innovators with the capabilities to respond to future challenges and opportunities throughout their careers,” he said. “This requires us to take a much more joined-up, long term view of technology, management and policy issues.”

Dr John C Taylor has over 400 patents to his name.  He has also invented temperature and current-sensitive safety controls used in small electric motors utilised in a wide range of appliances and cars.

Speaking about his reasoning for establishing in perpetuity the Professorship of Innovation, Dr Taylor said, “You’ve got to have people who move the world forward.

“I was very fortunate to be inspired by my father who had a workshop where he made things.  At the age of nine, ten and eleven, I would come back from prep school, have tea with my parents and then he would go into his workshop and make things.

“He made the first bimetal thermostat himself.  He didn’t have a model maker, he didn’t have a CAD machine and he never had a drawing board.  He just made a few notes and then he made things.

“He learned how to saw thin pieces of sheets of bimetal, by clamping them in between two sheets of plywood, so he could hold it down without damaging it, little things like that.

“He then taught himself how to use machine tools so in this little workshop he has a lathe, a drill, a grinder and taught himself to sharpen a tool.  He read what he had to do in a book and then practiced until he could do it.  He enjoyed the creativity of making a thermostat.

“You could breathe to warm the bimetal and it would go ‘click’ and you could suck in the cold air and it would go ‘clock’.

“This was the kind of practical inspiration I enjoyed, especially as I didn’t see my father between the ages of three to nine as I was evacuated to Canada with my mother and sister due to the war.

Dr Taylor continued, “Innovation is essential to trade, industry and the economy.  If you haven’t got that, you’ve got no money.  You cannot create money and wealth by just being a shopkeeper or reseller.  These roles are necessary but you’ve still got to do something.

“I trust that the new Professor of Innovation will help people actually create and do things that will improve the world.  The British are renowned for their creativity but all too often their invention is commercialised by other countries.  And we mustn’t forget that an invention is not an invention unless there is a market.

“You don’t need to be a nuclear scientist, inventing new fusion or fission power stations, hopefully producing limitless amounts of electricity without pollution.  If you just cut off a kettle every time it boils, you can change the world.”

The announcement of Dr Minshall taking the post coincides with another landmark event for Dr John C Taylor.  On the same day, the Isle of Man Post Office has launched a set of six stamps celebrating his life, achievements and creations.

Dr Taylor said, “I feel truly honoured to have a set of postage stamps commissioned by the Isle of Man Post Office celebrating my inventions.

“Fascinatingly, the stamps feature Cambridge icons such as the Senate House and Corpus Chronophage.  Like the new Professor of Innovation, I want to inspire young people to become inventors and change the world.”


Image: Dr Tim Minshall (left) and Dr John C Taylor in front of the Corpus Chronophage.

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