Inventor extraordinaire - who stopped kettles boiling dry - gives £2.5m to Cambridge University for innovation professorship

PUBLISHED: 11:23 16 September 2017

£2.5m for new professorship, Dr Tim Minshall and Dr John C Taylor

£2.5m for new professorship, Dr Tim Minshall and Dr John C Taylor

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The man who ensured boiling kettles could stop at the appropriate time – and not carry on boiling if unattended – is behind a new appointment at Cambridge University.

£2.5m for new professorship, Pro-Vice Chancellor Andy Neely, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall.jpg



£2.5m for new professorship, Pro-Vice Chancellor Andy Neely, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall.jpg

Dr John C Taylor, who attended Corpus Christi College, and went on to become a world famous inventor, is to finance a new professorship of innovation.

He has made a donation of £2.5million for the new post: 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.

£2.5m for new professorship, Andy Neely, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall speaking with some students £2.5m for new professorship, Andy Neely, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall speaking with some students

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.

The doctor 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.

£2.5m for new professorship, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall speaking to Kevin Bullman at the Department of Engineering £2.5m for new professorship, Dr Taylor and Dr Minshall speaking to Kevin Bullman at the Department of Engineering

“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, and 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.

Dr Taylor said: “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’.

£2.5m for new professorship, Dr Minshall and Dr Taylor speak with students £2.5m for new professorship, Dr Minshall and Dr Taylor speak with students

“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.”

Dr Tim Minshall will take up the position of professor of innovation on October 1. He 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.

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.”

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