British Science Week

13 March 2017

10 March 2017 sees the start of British Science Week 2017, a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths in Great Britain. From the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, through the industrial revolution to the 21st century, Great Britain has been at the forefront of scientific discoveries and inventions worldwide.

Inspired by the likes of James Dyson, Rosalind Franklin and John Logie Baird (to name but a few), we take a look at just a few of the Great British inventions which have changed our lives and opened up entirely new fields of research for other scientists to pursue.

Vaccination, the process by which individuals can acquire immunity to a pathogenic disease by inoculation with a related, mild, or inactive form of the pathogen, was pioneered by Edward Jenner, an English doctor, and the father of immunology.

Jenner proved in 1798 that the pus from cowpox pustules, a relatively mild infection, provided immunity to the usually fatal smallpox. While it took a few years for Jenner’s ideas and methods to be accepted by the scientific community, the field of vaccinology is today one of the most important of all medical fields, and Jenner, through his development of the world’s first vaccine (from the Latin for cow, vacca) is often credited with saving more lives than any other human.

Sticking with the medical profession, the field of in vitro fertilisation (test tube babies) became possible due to the ground breaking work by Anne McLaren in the field of genetics. In 1958, she produced the first litter of mice grown from eggs that had developed in tissue culture and then been transferred to a surrogate mother, paving the way for embryo transfer in human IVF. She became the first female officer of the Royal Society in 331 years, when she was appointed as their Foreign Secretary between 1991-1996 and travelled widely, becoming a role model for women in science.

Augusta Ada Byron, also known as Ada Lovelace, studied at the University of London and in the 1840s came up with an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers on the Analytical Engine developed by Charles Babbage.
This algorithm is recognised as the first mathematical method to be specifically implemented on a computer with Ada Lovelace often referred to as the first computer programmer and the ‘prophet of the computer age’, and was the first to see the potential use of computers outside of pure mathematics.

No review of British inventors and pioneers would be complete without mention of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, in 2002, was voted into second place in a poll of “100 Greatest Britons”, behind only Sir Winston Churchill.

Brunel’s contribution to science and engineering is unparalleled, with his greatest achievement possibly being the development of SS Great Britain, launched in 1843. This was the first ship in the world to be built of metal rather than wood, to be powered by an engine rather than wind or oars, and to be driven by propeller rather than paddle wheel. Naval engineering never looked back, with SS Great Britain considered the first “modern ship”.

When it comes to British science and engineering, we have a rich history of being a nation full of world leaders pioneering new fields of research and endeavour across all disciplines. With a backdrop like this, British Science Week is perfectly placed to remember and build on these achievements and to identify the next Dorothy Hodgkin or Tim Berners-Lee.

David Hammond

David Hammond


Our Expert
David Hammond
David Hammond
Location: Bristol (UK) The Netherlands (NL)

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