Research paper topics: American inventors and innovation

The innovation process doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Those American inventors such as Thomas Edison were often driven and inspired by rivals who were just as capable but who have not always gotten the recognition they deserve. The history of innovation is filled with jealousy, near misses, warring egos and the luck of timing.

Research American inventors for your next term paper. (Credit: National Geographic)

Research American inventors for your next term paper. (Credit: National Geographic)

The National Geographic Channel miniseries American Genius, explores several inventors and how their competition drove them to success. If you’re looking for science and technology research paper topics, you should take a look at the episodes in this miniseries.

Inventors: Edison versus Tesla

Among the great rivalries in science and technology was that of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Episode 8 of the National Geographic Channel miniseries American Genius focused on this conflict of egos and ideas. You can watch the National Geographic Channel’s episode Edison vs. Tesla on Monday, June 22, 2015, at 10 pm ET.

Before you watch the episode you might want to learn more about Thomas Edison and his contributions to science and technology. Start your search at You will find millions of books and articles along with tools and tutorials to help you research and write your term papers.

We credit Edison with the invention of the light bulb, phonograph, and moving pictures. By the time of his death in 1931, Edison held 1,093 patents. Just like Bill Gates, Edison knew how to build systems into his development process and then market his inventions to the public.

You can learn more about Edison’s methods of innovation in the book Thomas Alva Edison: Inventing the Electric Age by Gene Adair available at

According to Adair, perhaps one of the most important innovations left to us by Edison was the concept of the research laboratory. Edison established the world’s first industrial research lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876.

“When Edison died, more than 1,500 industrial research laboratories were in operation. Today such labs continue to be the source of what is popularly called ‘high tech.’ Edison was thus a key transitional figure who bridged the gap between the crude workshops of the 19th century and the gleaming facilities that make up the research and development departments within modern corporations,” Adair said.

War of the currents

In 1884, Nikola Tesla, who had distinguished himself in Europe with the creation of an induction motor, came to Menlo Park to join Edison’s team. The two began working together, but after a misunderstanding, parted ways. Each established his own company to develop a system of electrical current to power the country. Edison pursued direct current (DC) while Tesla focused on alternating current (AC).

Allison Lantero described this as, “The War of the Currents: AC vs. DC Power,” in a November 18, 2014, article for

Edison, not wanting to lose out on the royalties he could earn from his DC patents, engaged in a public relations campaign against AC current. He went so far as to electrocute animals in an effort to paint AC power as dangerous. The advantage of AC power was that it could more easily be converted to different voltages using a transformer.

“Today our electricity is still predominantly powered by alternating current, but computers, LEDs, solar cells and electric vehicles all run on DC power. And methods are now available for converting direct current to higher and lower voltages,” Lantero explained.

American Genius

American inventors have given the world such innovations as the motion picture, the personal computer and electricity. How does that happen? This question is at the crux of the miniseries American Genius. Part of the answer is that innovation is the result of competition as well as cooperation. Products take off and become successful when there is a business structure in place that makes products available and affordable and a cultural climate that makes them relevant to the public.

Susan Karlin interviewed, “American Geniuses Steve Wozniak, Biz Stone and Bill Nye on Nurturing Innovation in Business,” in a June 1, 2015, article for

“While hard work is at the core of any breakthrough, Biz Stone reminds us that leaps forward are also a matter of timing, and, often, accident,” Karlin observed.

Other episodes in the miniseries American Genius have included: Hearst vs. Pulitzer and Jobs vs. Gates. You may be able to view past episodes online if you have an account with a cable provider. The American Genius web site also includes an interactive timeline for each episode that highlights key points in the storylines.

Learn about the great innovators in science and technology at Questia.

Who are more of your favorite American inventors? Tell us in the comments.

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