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Flying the flag for Britain

From the steam engine to the jet engine; from Charles Darwin?s HMS Beagle to the Beagle Mars Rover ? the UK leads the way in innovations

The UK?s proud record in innovation extends to penicillin, radar, supersonic aircraft, fibre optics and genetic fingerprinting. Overall, its accomplishments clearly demonstrate the strength and versatility of UK science. The UK funds 4.5% of the world?s science research, produces 8% of its scientific papers, receives 9% of the citations, and claims 100 Nobel Prize winners (the second-highest total) ? and this from just 1% of the world?s population.

A strong research and development skills base is a major factor in attracting overseas investment. The globally-renowned excellence of UK scientists and specialists in universities has consistently produced groundbreaking research. It is considered one of the top countries in terms of converting R&D spend into successful commercial enterprise.

Because of these strengths, the largest proportion of US and Japanese R&D facilities in Europe are based in Britain. Hundreds of global companies have established their own international R&D centres here and are benefiting from new product research, design and development. Many other multinational corporations have formed strategic partnerships with universities or contract research teams in the UK.

Today, the UK remains at the forefront of science and technology R&D, and leading work is being done in many fields including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, software, multimedia, internet and satellite communications. This ongoing innovation is providing the UK with the successful products and groundbreaking discoveries of the future.

the importance of innovation

It has almost become the industrial religion of the late 20th and early 21st century, with business seeing it as a way to increase profits and market share, and government wanting more of it to create jobs, wealth and increase productivity. Does the answer lie in globalisation and the major advances being made in semi-conductors, fibre optics, genetics and software?

Across the globe there is more research being carried out, more productively than previous generations. The dramatic changes taking place at the beginning of the 21st century are matched by those that took place at the beginning of the 20th century: radio, aviation and mass production. What has changed is the scale and the fact that new technologies will affect everyone. Existing industries and public services, education, transport and healthcare will be transformed by these advances.

For one of the world?s most open trading nations, it is essential that we continue to innovate

In this globalised economy, capital is mobile, technology can migrate quickly, and goods can be made cheaply in low-cost countries and shipped to developed markets. Countries like Britain cannot compete simply on low labour costs, the supply of raw materials, or land. It must seek competitive advantage by exploiting capabilities which competitors cannot easily match or imitate. These distinctive capabilities are knowledge, skills and creativity capabilities which generate high productivity, effective business processes and high ? value goods and services.

The UK is good at innovation and design. British innovation and design delivers the goods and Britain continues to be a nation with which it is good to do business. Innovation is not an orderly or simple process. It is not a pipeline, where at one end public money can be stuffed into basic research in universities and national laboratories in the certain knowledge that new technology and commercial applications will pop out of the other. It is a complex process with numerous players and a network of feedback connections.

In the past 25 years, as British industry has been forced to compete on a global scale, there has been a welcome increase in entrepreneurial activity, especially ? but not only ? in hightechnology industries. Britain leads Europe in the biotechnology industry and opto-electronics; Vodafone has become the world?s largest mobile telephone operator; and the area around Cambridge, ?Silicon Fen? is an outstanding example of a dynamic, high-tech cluster. Silicon Fen is the second-largest venture capital market in the world and is the UK?s Silicon Valley. There are over 1,000 high-tech companies in the Silicon Fen area, which is located in and around Cambridge.

Innovation is, of course, more than simply the exploitation of science and technology. Innovation also involves new ways of working, such as lean manufacturing and new product and service concepts. A new service concept such as fixed-rate internet access is just as much a part of innovation as a DVD player or a new medical product.

According to Alan Wood, CEO of Siemens UK, investing in innovation is the way to win for British manufacturers: ?Recent evidence has given grounds for optimism that British manufacturers are adjusting to low-cost competition and global structural change, viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat. Output is rising and many firms have their most positive prospects for some time as the world economy expands. The investment outlook, a traditional weak spot, is the most positive for almost 10 years. EEF research shows a large majority of firms have increased spending on skills, innovation and design since 2003, and more than half plan to boost spending further in the next three years. Those companies that are upping their game on innovation are delivering improved profits.?

In addition to boosting R&D spending on innovation and design, British manufacturers are also collaborating with universities, investing in skills training for their employees and developing innovative solutions for both social and environmental problems.

Innovation drives economic progress and for one of the world?s most open trading nations it is essential that we continue to innovate. For businesses, it will mean sustained or improved growth. For consumers, it will mean higher-quality and better-value goods, more efficient services and higher standards of living. For the economy as a whole, innovation is the key to higher productivity and greater prosperity for all.

? And the best of British
20th-century inventions that changed the world


Not exactly the 20th century, but the telephone really only began to be widely used and available at the turn of the century. A pioneer in the field of telecommunications, Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847 in Scotland. He moved to Ontario and then to the United States before beginning his career as an inventor.

Throughout his life, Bell had been interested in the education of deaf people. This interest led him to invent the microphone and, in 1876, his ?electrical speech machine?, which we now call a telephone. News of his invention quickly spread throughout the country and by 1878, Bell had set up the first telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1884, long-distance connections were made between Boston, Massachusetts and New York City.

Since his death in 1922, the telecommunication industry has undergone an amazing revolution. Today, Alexander Graham Bell would be proud to see that non-hearing people are able to use a special display telephone to communicate. And his ?electrical speech machine? paved the way for the Information Superhighway without which we couldn?t live more elegant today.

This ongoing innovation is providing the
UK with the successful products and
groundbreaking discoveries of the future


A small invention that?s still around today. James Henry Atkinson was the British inventor who in 1897 invented the prototype mousetrap known as the ?Little Nipper?. The ?Little Nipper? is the classic snapping mousetrap that we are all familiar with; very heavy, it has a small flat wooden base, a spring trap and wire fastenings. It slams shut in 38,000th of a second and that record has never been beaten. This is the design that has prevailed until today and has captured a 60% share of the UK?s mousetrap market and probably an equal share of the US market. Atkinson sold his mousetrap patent in 1913 for £1,000 to Procter, the company that has been manufacturing the ?Little Nipper? ever since. In his honour, the company has even erected a 150-exhibit mousetrap museum in their factory headquarters.


To many people, this is probably the most useful and treasured invention of the 20th century. Most people have heard of the television?s inventor, John Logie Baird. A Scotsman, he studied at Glasgow University, and in 1922 he applied himself to creating a television, a dream of many scientists for decades.

His first crude apparatus sat on a washstand. The base of his motor was a tea chest, a biscuit tin housed the projection lamp, scanning discs were cut from cardboard, and he utilised fourpenny cycle lenses, wood scrap, darning needles ? string and sealing wax held the apparatus together. By 1924, he managed to transmit across a few feet the flickering image of a Maltese cross and in January 1926, he gave the world?s first demonstration of true television in his attic workshop before 50 scientists. In 1927, his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow, and he formed the Baird Television Development Company, Ltd (BTDC).

In 1928, the BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission between London and New York and the first transmission to a ship in mid- Atlantic. He also gave the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television. In 1929, the German Post Office gave him the facilities to develop an experimental television service based on his mechanical system, the only one operable at the time. To begin with, sound and vision had to be sent alternately, and only began to be transmitted simultaneously from 1930.

However, Baird?s mechanical system was rapidly becoming obsolete as electronic systems were being developed, mainly by Marconi in America. Although he had invested in the mechanical system in order to achieve early results, Baird had also been exploring electronic systems from an early stage. Nevertheless, a BBC committee of inquiry in 1935 prompted a side-by-side trial between Marconi?s all-electronic television system, which worked on 405 lines to Baird?s 240.

Marconi won, and in 1937 Baird?s system was dropped. Although Baird is chiefly remembered for mechanical television, his developments were not limited to this alone. In 1930 he demonstrated big-screen television in the London Coliseum, as well as Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm. He televised the first live transmission of the Epsom Derby in 1931 and the following year he was the first to demonstrate ultra-short wave transmission.


Known as the ?wonder drug? and what was to be one of the most powerful of all antibiotics ? penicillin. This drug was to change the way disease was treated. Scottish-born Alexander Fleming discovered one of the most important medical advances in history by accident but which cemented his name in medical history. On the morning of 3 September 1928, Professor Alexander Fleming was having a clear up of his cluttered laboratory. He was sorting through a number of glass plates that had previously been coated with staphyloccus bacteria as part of research he was doing.

One of the plates had mould on it. The mould was in the shape of a ring and the area around the ring seemed to be free of the bacteria staphyloccus. The mould was penicillium notatum. Fleming had a life-long interest in ways of killing off bacteria and he concluded that the bacteria on the plate around the ring had been killed off by some substance that had come from the mould. Further research on the mould found that it could kill other bacteria and that it could be given to small animals without any side effects. However, within a year, Fleming had moved on to other medical issues and it was 10 years later that Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, working at Oxford University, isolated the bacteria-killing substance found in the mould ? penicillin.

In 1941, a Dr Charles Fletcher, working at a hospital in Oxford, had heard of their work. He had a patient who was near to death as a result of bacteria getting into a wound. Fletcher used some of Chain and Florey?s penicillin on the patient and the wound made a spectacular recovery. Unfortunately, Fletcher did not have enough penicillin to fully rid the patient?s body of bacteria and he died a few weeks later as the bacteria took a hold. However, penicillin had shown what it could do.

Florey got an American drugs company to mass produce penicillin and by D-Day 6 June 1944, enough was available to treat all the bacterial infections that broke out among the troops. Penicillin got nicknamed ?the wonder drug? and in 1945 Fleming, Chain and Florey were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine.


A British technological idea embraced by the Americans, the jet engine was invented by Frank Whittle, an English aviation engineer and pilot. He was born in Coventry in 1907, joined an RAF fighter squadron in 1928 and became a test pilot in 1931. The young RAF officer was only 22 when he first thought to use a gas turbine engine to power an airplane.

The young Frank Whittle tried without success to obtain official support for study and development of his ideas. He had to persist in his research on his own initiative and received his first patent on turbojet propulsion in January 1930. With private financial support, he began construction of his first engine in 1935. This engine, which had a single-stage centrifugal compressor coupled to a single-stage turbine, was successfully bench tested in April 1937. It was only a laboratory test rig, but it did demonstrate the feasibility of the turbojet concept. The modern turbojet engine used in many British and American aircraft is based on the prototype that Frank Whittle invented.

The firm of Power Jets Ltd, with which Whittle was associated, received a contract for a Whittle engine, known as the W1, on 7 July 1939. This engine was intended to power a small experimental aircraft. In February 1940, the Gloster Aircraft Company was chosen to develop the aircraft to be powered by the W1 engine ? the Pioneer. The historic first flight of the Pioneer took place on 15 May 1941, with Flight Lieutenant P E G Sayer as pilot.

By October the Americans had heard of the project and asked for the details and an engine. A Power Jets team and the engine were flown to Washington to enable General Electric to examine it and begin construction. The Americans worked quickly and their XP-59A Aircomet was airborne on 2 October 1942, some time before the British Meteor, which became operational in 1944. The jet engine eventually proved to be a winner, particularly in America where the technology was enthusiastically embraced. In 1948, following the end of World War II, Whittle retired from the RAF with the rank of Air Commodore. He was knighted in 1976, went to work in the US shortly afterwards and died 20 years later.

1935 ? CATS? EYES

Cats? Eyes have made night-time driving a safer experience. Anyone who?s a driver knows how valuable Cats? Eyes are when driving at night. This device was invented by the Englishman Percy Shaw, born in Yorkshire in 1890. He invented it after he had been driving on a dark, winding road on a foggy night. He was saved from going off the side of the hill by a cat, whose eyes reflected his car?s lights. Percy Shaw set about inventing something similar to cats? eyes by inventing a small device with two marbles placed close together in a rubber casing.

This would then be set in the road at intervals between the lanes of traffic. The device formed a small hump and would reflect the on-coming car headlights to show the way ahead. Percy was not a man to forget a detail and he realised that his new invention would quickly get dirty and stop reflecting the light, so he put a small depression where the marbles were which would fill with water every time it rained. Any car wheel passing over the device would press the marbles into the depression, forcing the water out and cleaning the marbles.

In 1935, Shaw formed his own company and named his invention after the inspiration that gave him the idea, Catseye®. Shaw formed his own company, Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd, to manufacture his device and the patent was published in 1936. The wartime blackout boosted production and the firm developed into a 20-acre site in Yorkshire, making more than a million roadstuds a year, which were exported all over the world. For his invention, Shaw was awarded the OBE in 1965 and died in September 1976.

With car pollution and gridlock
threatening most cities, the C5 might
have been a prophetic solution to a
problem few saw looming


Sir Clive Sinclair, born in 1939 to a family of engineers, is a British inventor who pioneered the home microcomputer market in the early 1980s, with the introduction of low-cost, easy-to-use 8-bit computers produced by his company, Sinclair Research. Sinclair also invented and produced a variety of electronic devices from the 1960s to 1990s, including pocket calculators (he marketed the first pocket calculator in the world), radios, and televisions.

But perhaps he is most famous for his range of electric vehicles, especially the Sinclair C5, which he introduced in 1985. From his early days at school he independently invented the binary system while working on a proto-calculator and was disappointed to discover that it had already been invented. When the magazine Practical Wireless advertised for an editorial assistant he applied and got the job. Sinclair found himself running the magazine single-handedly at age 17. But the work took just a fraction of the week so he had lots of spare time to design circuits, which were published in the magazine.

In 1961, he registered Sinclair Radionics Ltd as a company, having spent some time designing a pocket transistor radio and finding backing, which unfortunately was later withdrawn. Sinclair had to find work quickly, which he did with United Trade Press as a technical editor. Sinclair Radionics lasted until 1979, with various products and company spin-offs. Beginning with a mini-amplifier, the company quickly earned a name for design, quality and pioneering ideas. Miniaturisation, at which Sinclair proved himself so talented, was also a key idea. In 1962 he marketed the world?s first pocket calculator, in 1976 the world?s first digital wristwatch and in 1977 came the first pocket TV.

Unfortunately the Midas touch deserted Sinclair with the production of a new concept in personal transport: the Sinclair C5. This used a small motor powered by rechargeable batteries. The C5 was smaller and lower than the family car of the time and had three wheels. The combination proved too extreme for the British public. It received a bad press, being widely condemned as unsafe and impractical. Interestingly, however, car manufacturers have since decided that the small car market is the one with most potential for growth and have worked towards ecofriendly transport. With car pollution and gridlock threatening most major cities, the C5 might have been a prophetic solution to a problem few saw looming in the distance. If it had been fourwheeled and produced only as a concept car to guide the market ? who knows?


Information at our fingertips ? and now we can?t imagine how we ever did without it. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, with the first working system being deployed in 1990, while he was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He went on to found the World Wide Web Consortium, which seeks to standardise and improve World Wide Web-related things such as the HTML mark-up language in which web pages are written and he coined the phrase ?World Wide Web?.

He started out on his road to success while he was at Queen?s College, Oxford in 1976. While he was there he built his first computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television. After he graduated he spent two years with Plessey Telecommunications Ltd, a major UK Telecom equipment manufacturer, working on distributed transaction systems, message relays and bar code technology. In 1978 Berners-Lee left Plessey to join D G Nash Ltd, where he wrote typesetting software for intelligent printers as well as a multi-tasking operating system.

Eighteen months spent as an independent consultant included a six month stint as consultant software engineer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland. While he was there he wrote his first program for storing information, including using random associations. This program formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee built his first computer with
a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800
processor and an old television

In 1989, Berners-Lee proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the World Wide Web. It was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents. He wrote the first World Wide Web server, ?httpd? and the first client, ?WorldWideWeb? a what-you-see-is-what-you-get hypertext browser/editor. This work was started in October 1990 and the program ?WorldWideWeb? first made available within CERN two months later, and on the internet in the summer of 1991.

Through 1991 and 1993 Berners-Lee continued working on the design of the Web, co-ordinating feedback from users across the internet. His initial specifications of URSs, HTTP and HTML were refined and discussed in larger circles as the web technology spread. Berners-Lee is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which co-ordinates web development worldwide. The Consortium aims to lead the Web to its full potential, ensuring its stability through rapid evolution and also through revolutionary transformations of its usage. Berners-Lee was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his work on the web in 2003.


For more information visit: Berners-Lee