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Listening to the endless debate about Brexit prompted me to think about what it is that makes us British, and ask, what have our pre-eminent scientists, engineers and inventors contributed to the world, as we know it? The free exchange of ideas and opinions is the lifeblood of a liberal society. Our right to argue, challenge and, potentially, change minds, is key to a tolerant society. Our political system facilitates independent and radical thoughts, some straying outside the ‘box’, to question all, and to be creative. Our ability to have visionary dreams, particularly during the Victorian era, propelled us to a futuristic world. All scientists want to learn something about the riddles of nature and the world in which we live. The main characteristics of the scientists detailed in this publication are their shear brilliance and total domination of their subject. Scientists such as Newton and Maxwell had a theoretical bias, others such as Faraday, Rutherford and Sanger were more practical. Darwin was preoccupied with the natural world. Jenner, Nightingale, Lister and Fleming made major improvements to health outcomes whilst Jeffreys helped develop forensic science. For a long period, Britain was pre-eminent in science, becoming the world’s powerhouse, driven by brilliant technologies. For almost two centuries, ending in about 1875, most of the technological advances in the world were invented in Britain, or, put to large-scale use here. We ushered in the first Industrial Revolution - designing and building innovative machines for factories and transport. Great Britain was particularly transformed during the Victorian era when ambitious, brilliant engineers devised amazing inventions which revolutionized our lives and laid the foundations for the modern world in which we live. “Ingeniators” such as Watt, the Stephensons, Brunel, Bazalgette and later, Whittle, combined ingenuity with innovation. World-beating products were exported around the globe, eventually accruing socially desirable benefits, including universal education and health care. Bell, Turing and Berners-Lee introduced machine interfaces to facilitate new levels of human communication.
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- Chapter 1