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Über dieses Buch

This book describes the life and times of fifty-three great British scientists and engineers – male and female inventive geniuses who changed the world, improving the lives of mankind, and propelling humanity forward. Their stories abound with personal ingenuity, brilliance and scientific or engineering wizardry, and with the ambition to satisfy fundamental human needs.

The author aspires to set these individual achievements in the socio-political context of their place in history, sometimes embracing the activities of others to round off the story and scientific contribution. Avoiding overly technical language, he nonetheless succeeds in making complex theories and technologies more comprehensible and accessible to a lay audience. This book is a must for all those interested in the prehistory and history of the steam engine, transport, communication technology, public health services, and many topics from the natural sciences. Many of the inventions described in its pages have helped shape the modern world.



Chapter 1. Introduction

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.
John Bailey

Chapter 2. “Revolutions”—Scientific, Agricultural and Industrial

A revolution is a profound turning point in history. It might refer to a period of radical colonial, social or political upheaval that normally occurs over a relatively short period of time. There are other types of revolution such as scientific and industrial that take place over decades, even centuries.
The United Kingdom may only be a small island nation, but we have nurtured some highly imaginative and ingenious citizens responsible for some exceptional global firsts, leading to seismic shifts in our understanding of the world and how we have exploited it. In particular, the Industrial Revolution changed Britain and the rest of the world for ever. It confirmed Great Britain as a global superpower.
John Bailey

Chapter 3. The Steam Age—Evolution of Steam Engines and the 1st Steam Locomotive

Britons were world pioneers of the Steam Age. Thomas Savery built the first operational steam pump with no moving parts. Thomas Newcomen designed an atmospheric steam pump. James Watt was proposed by some commentators to be the “Father of the Industrial Revolution” because he designed super-efficient beam, rotary, and double acting steam engines for a host of emerging industries. Richard Trevithick built high pressure steam engines in both stationary and mobile formats, one of the latter becoming the first steam locomotive to operate on cast iron rails. His prototype was the progenitor of railway engines. Robert Stephenson designed and built the Rocket steam locomotive which became the template for steam locomotives across the world for the next century.
By the late seventeenth century, a national shortage of wood had created a demand for coal as a substitute fuel. Whilst Britain possessed huge reserves of coal, some of its extraction required deep mining techniques. However, the curse of coal mines was their tendency to fill with water. Likewise, the flooding of copper and tin mines, particularly in Cornwall, was of great concern. Two Devonshire men—Savery and Newcomen—used their engineering skills to build static steam engines that could be used to pump out unwanted water from mines.
The application of steam pumps in coal mines led to a colossal expansion of the coal industry, at relatively low cost, because the coal fines that were usually waste material could be used to generate steam.
The invention of the steam engine was crucial to the industrialization of modern civilisation. Before them, we relied on power generated by wind, water, humans, and animals. Steam engines rank amongst the greatest inventions of all times. Their artificial source of power facilitated the exploitation of our mineral wealth.
They relied on the burning of coal to produce heat to vaporise water into steam. The subsequent condensation of steam in a confined space created a vacuum which facilitated either a siphoning process or the movement of a piston.
The steam engine was a complex invention that underwent a process of incremental development which, over the years, incorporated many important innovations. These resulted from an increased understanding of ‘atmospheric pressure’ and the nature of ‘vacuum’, as well as novel engineering improvements.
Later, steam engines were used to hoist coal and mining machinery leading to an abundant supply of low-cost coal. At the time, long-distance freight was carried by road or canal. The fastest way to move people between urban centres was by horseback. Engineers and industrialist would use steam engines to power trains, steamboats and various machines present in manufacturing sites across the industrial world. The steam engine, in various formats was one of the most successful inventions of all times.
As they got smaller, steam engines could be set up wherever mechanical power was needed. They powered Great Britain to prominence as the first industrialized nation in the World. Britain then emerged as the most powerful trading nation in the world.
Over a period of 131 years, between 1698 and 1829, six British engineers and entrepreneurs were largely responsible for the development of the steam engines and steam locomotives that contributed so significantly to the first Industrial Revolution. These great British men were Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Richard Trevithick, George, and Robert Stephenson.
During this period of advancement, several excellent, British background scientists were working in related fields. These include Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Joseph Black (theory of latent heat {‘hidden’ heat and energy in steam}) and James Joule who determined the exact rate of exchange at which mechanical work is converted to heat.
However, the inventions that these six engineers assembled appear to have been stimulated, not by the application of scientific knowledge and theories, but by their familiarity with on-site technical operations, their ingenuity, personal engineering skills, practical expertise, craftsmanship, repeated improvement trials, as well as a stroke of luck. Learning resulted from attempting new things.
John Bailey

Chapter 4. Advances in Forms of Transport—Steam Locomotives, Cycle Tyres, Oceanic Liners, and Jet Aircraft. Transport Infrastructure—Canals, Roads, and Commercial Railways

During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing was transformed from cottage industries into urban industrial phenomena, driving economic growth. Public transport became available to rich and poor, reshaping our country and improving the lives of many Britons. Because of these changes, society experienced a ‘time-travel’ compression. Life’s constant struggle for survival was gradually replaced by some material comforts and leisure.
After the Roman invasion of a country called Albion in AD 43, it became Provincia Britannia. The occupying Romans set about building several thousands of miles of paved roads and a few navigable canals, primarily for the transportation of troops and military supplies across their newly conquered territory. This network subsequently provided vital infrastructure for commerce, trade and the transportation of goods. Surprisingly, the framework for internal communication by land or water lacked substantive development until the mid-seventeenth century.
In the eighteenth century, road and water travel were revolutionised by the turnpike and canal systems that made the Industrial Revolution possible. The modern age is characterised by speed of physical communication and the ability to traverse long distances with increasing ease by road, water, rail and air.
Railways—a British invention—gave the Industrial Revolution its impetus and staying power, and transformed the lives of millions, especially when they were adopted internationally. Ocean and air travel made it possible to visit distant continents, whilst pedal bicycles and motor cars democratised travel locally.
British inventors and engineers involved with transport and its infrastructure helped to facilitate the Canal Age, the Industrial Revolution, the Railway Age, oceanic travel, and the Jet Age.
James Brindley was semi-literate, but a natural genius—wise without formal education. Self-taught, he had uncommon talents regarding the application of mechanical principles. He became a civil engineer and canal-builder, executing works new to Great Britain. He combined technical brilliance with the beautifying transformation of our rural landscape, to begin the construction of a network of inter-connecting, man-made waterways. Their pathways were strategically chosen, originally passing though sleepy villages and towns that would then develop into industrial powerhouses. They became transport arteries across the country, linking sources of raw materials to industrial heartlands where they were converted into useful items utilised by citizens in major British cities and beyond.
John McAdam developed new methods of road construction which, with minor refinements, are still in use today.
George Stephenson was an unschooled miner’s son; a rags-to-riches success story, learning his engineering skills empirically by trial and error, thereby mastering the laws by which steam engines worked. He and his son, Robert Stephenson, were the cornerstones of railway infrastructure. They promoted the Railway Age, making key refinements to steam locomotives and superintended construction of vast swathes of the railway network, including the world’s first inter-city line. First came the Stockton and Darlington Railway which was the prototype modern railway offering a passenger service, as well as freight transport. Alongside the growing railway network, Cooke and Wheatstone were involved with a telegraphic signalling method for British railways.
Isambard Brunel played his role in railway construction, tunnels, railway stations, docks, novel bridge design, as well as creating futuristic oceanic passenger liners with engineering innovations adopted decades later. His largest ship was used to lay the first successful trans-oceanic telegraphic cable. Brunel is one of the titans of engineering, combining an artistic flair with engineering prowess to create some Victorian edifices celebrated for their fine architectural features and functionality.
Almost every road vehicle on the planet is cushioned from the road by air entrapped in pneumatic tyres. Their development came in two stages, both resulting from the inventiveness of two Scotsmen, namely, R.W. Thomson and John B. Dunlop. The first pneumatic inflatable tyre was invented to improve the speed and comfort of horse-drawn carriages, whilst the second was developed for cycles.
Dunlop was a veterinarian. He was a most unlikely inventor, being neither an engineer nor cyclist, just an inveterate tinkerer. He is credited with realizing that vulcanised rubber could withstand the wear and tear of being a tyre, whilst retaining its resilience.
Coupling the ‘safety bicycle’ with the pneumatic tyre meant that people became less dependent on horses and horse-drawn carriages and had the personal means to travel beyond their local communities. It was particularly liberating for women. The timely arrival of his pneumatic tyre was critical to the rapid uptake of the motor car, providing both traction and a cushioning effect, giving a more comfortable ride.
Not wishing to be totally isolated on an island state, we invented faster and safer forms of oceanic passenger travel (Brunel) and speedier transport through the skies. Frank Whittle’s 1928 thesis and 1930 patent revolutionized aviation in the way military and civilian aircraft are propelled via the jet engine. His name is immortalised in the annals of aviation history. Like others reported in this manuscript, he had an innate desire to search into the unknown.
Whittle invented the turbojet method of aircraft propulsion. He became the Father of the Jet Age, leaving an impressive jet engine lineage which radically changed the speed at which we travel around the globe.
Whittle’s story is one of triumph over adversity. With his steely determination, he fought an epic battle against social and academic obstacles, officialdom, lack of funding, entrenched technical opinions and discouraging opposition. Having engineering brilliance, he developed an unrivalled grasp of the fundamentals of thermodynamics and aerodynamics, leaving a profound mark. His jet engine was to aviation, what Stephenson’s Rocket was to the railways.
Whittle filed his first patent for jet-propelled aircraft in 1930. He built and ground-tested the first liquid-fuelled, turbojet, bench engine in April 1937. His designs were extremely radical. The Air Ministry, however, were wedded to piston engines and dismissed his plans as impracticable. Their slow realization of the importance of his invention allowed Germany to seize the initiative in jet development during WW2. Germany won the race to develop the first jet-powered flight in August 1939. Britain’s Gloster Meteor was the first Allied jet fighter to fly a combat mission in late July 1944. The German Me-262 jet fighter entered squadron service in June 1944 but was not active operationally, with the Luftwaffe, until early October.
Whittle’s jet engines were masterpieces of simplicity in design and construction and, collectively, may be described as the most significant mechanical invention in the twentieth century, transforming the aviation industry.
After WW2, most turbojet manufacturers based their engines on Whittle’s blueprints and there followed another short, but golden era of British engineering and industrial prowess. With their great power and compactness, his engines were at the forefront of aviation development for many years. His turbojet technology was applied to commercial passenger airliners and transport aircraft, allowing them to fly higher, faster, and further than ever before. They changed our lives by making the World “a smaller place”. The Jet Age had begun, and Britain was at its forefront.
At the end of WW2, the aircraft industry was our biggest industry employing about 1 million people, sustaining about thirty separate companies, some household names. British aero-engineers and test pilots were highly prized. Until 1966, when foreign aircraft were allowed, the annual Farnborough Air show was a pageant of British ingenuity and innovation, demonstrating superlative engineering.
Notable civil aeroplanes with jet engines include the Vickers’ Viscount (world’s 1st turboprop with Rolls Royce Dart engines); de Havilland’s Comet (1st pressurised commercial jet airliner with Ghost turbojet engines); Vickers/BAC’s VC10 with rear-mounted, Rolls Royce Conway turbofan engines for long-haul and short take-off. Until 2015, only the supersonic Concord had travelled across the Atlantic faster than the subsonic, VC10.
John Bailey

Chapter 5. Drawbacks with Industrialization. Sanitary Revolution Offering Technologies to Improve Public Health

As the Industrial Revolution roared into life, the urgency and clamour of factory work replaced the slower, seasonal rhythms of the countryside. The Industrial Revolution created enormous wealth, as well as generating inequalities in society, typified by dark satanic mills, child-labour, and workhouses. The working man was turned into an automaton, toiling to the tireless demand of the steam engine and its functional attachments. Some of his human dignity was lost.
Living conditions for many workers and their families were grim. Fortunately, alongside wealth creation and imperialism, ran an active radicalism of protest and humanitarianism. Social reformers established a link between poverty, inadequate living conditions, lack of clean water, poor sanitation, and disease. The way humans congregate and live their lives creates vectors for the transfer of microorganisms and viruses between them. A holistic approach to public health was required. Responding to various health crises, resulting from the mass movement, and crowding of citizens in towns and cities, our sanitary engineers designed and built sanitary equipment and urban sewage systems copied by other countries as they industrialized.
It is notable that six extraordinary British men, namely John Harrington, Alexander Cummings, (Josiah) George Jennings, Thomas Crapper, James Newlands, and Joseph Bazalgette applied great ingenuity and simple engineering solutions to the task of human waste disposal.
For instance, Harrington invented the 1st flushing water closet; Cumming the S-bend. Jennings designed a 1-piece wash-out closet; Crapper a toilet cistern fitted with a floating ballcock.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Britain monopolized the international market for sanitaryware, pipes and fittings. Britain led a sanitary revolution, supported by legislation, offering a holistic approach to health. Consequently, between 1850 and 1900, life expectancy increased by ten years from 43 to about 53 years.
As urban population densities increased during the Industrial Revolution, the need to keep drinking water separate from human waste became more vital. It had been realized that water-borne bacteria spread disease. The requirement to dispose of human waste more efficiently and sanitarily became more crucial.
The ingenuity of visionary engineers made it possible to live more safely in cities. Liverpool would lead the way in urban and sanitary advancements to improve public health. The first integrated sewage system in the world was developed in Liverpool, in 1848, being overseen by Borough Engineer, James Newlands. The target of separating the provision of drinking water from the removal of human waste was achieved, so eliminating water-borne diseases, eradicating cholera. This transformed the health of the urban poor and saved countless lives.
In London, which had seven times more citizens than Liverpool, Joseph Bazalgette supervised the construction of an extensive, underground sewage system. At the time, it was the biggest civil engineering scheme in the world and is regarded as one of the greatest building achievements of Victorian Britain.
John Bailey

Chapter 6. 17th and 18th Century Multi-disciplinary Scientists. Motion, Forces, Gravity and Light

The task of scientists is to describe natural phenomena and to elucidate nature’s laws. Three polymaths—Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton and Henry Cavendish—lived in the seventeenth century and were three of the most important scientists of the age, embarking on a host of ground-breaking multi-disciplinary studies. They are especially remembered for their theoretical postulations and experimental observations on gravity and light. Robert Hooke formulated the law of elasticity and investigated capillary action. He used a primitive compound microscope to examine slices of cork tree bark. He coined the word “cell”. He was described as England’s Leonardo da Vinci. His Micrographia is famed for its engravings of the miniature world. He identified fossils as remnants of once-living creatures. He offered a wave theory of light; suggested matter expands when heated; air is composed of small particles and is involved with combustion; that gravity is applied to all celestial bodies. Isaac Newton was the son of an illiterate farmer who achieved exceptional things. He is one of the most influential scientists ever to have lived, dominating the scientific view of the physical universe for about three centuries. Arguably, he had one of the greatest scientific minds in history—a creative genius in abstract thought and futuristic visions. Just as the world faced quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in 1665–6, Newton isolated himself during the Great Plague. During two extraordinary years, he developed laws of gravity and motion; a new theory of light and co-invented calculus. He used mathematics and scientific principles to describe a diverse range of natural phenomena not understood at the time. Commentators referred to this period as his “annus mirabilis” or his ‘year of wonders’. His scientific work revealed a Universe that obeys logical mathematical laws. His laws of dynamics and universal gravitation have a reach that extends to the extremities of the Universe. He succeeded in combining laws that govern the motion of objects on Earth with those laws that determine the motion of celestial bodies. He put forward a unified theory of the Universe, describing bodies moving with clockwork predictability, albeit on a stage of absolute space and time. When America’s Mission Control directs a spaceship in the solar system, the trajectory will be determined, in part, using Newton’s calculus, together with his theory of gravity and his laws of motion. We now know that gravity is both a great creator and destructor of planets and galaxies. He related the observed ebb and flow of tides, as well as spring and neap tides, to the perturbing and varying gravitational forces exerted jointly by the Moon and Sun. He linked the precession of the equinoxes to the attraction of the Sun and the Moon on the Earth’s equatorial bulge. He solved problems associated with fluids in movement and of motion though fluids. He calculated and determined experimentally, the speed of sound waves. When investigating the refraction of light by a glass prism, he demonstrated the divisibility of white light into several coloured rays which could not be further sub-divided, but which could be reconstituted. Henry Cavendish approached every investigation with a strict quantitative examination. Like Robert Boyle, he was fascinated with gases, liberating them by heating solids or treating solids with acids. He investigated their properties, demonstrating that many were distinguishable from air which, at the time, was thought to be a unitary element. He performed experiments to determine the density of the Earth. From his data, others were able to enumerate the universal gravitational constant—one of physics’ fundamental constants. Cavendish co-founded the Royal Institution to introduce new technologies and diffuse scientific knowledge by public engagement. It is fitting that that Cambridge University’s world-renowned physics laboratory is named the Cavendish Laboratory, where many Nobel laureates have studied and conducted pioneering research.
John Bailey

Chapter 7. Natural Sciences

Scientific endeavour is a way of examining phenomena, submitting evidence for competing theories and putting rival interpretations forward for international debate. Doubt is at the heart of it. In 1966, during a speech entitled “What is Science?”, given by Richard Feynman, at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, he said, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts”. Scientific progress is made when scientists argue with one another—at their symposia and through their publications—and refinements to prevailing theories result. Robert Boyle lived in an age called the ‘period of scientific revolution’. Scientific understanding progressed radically, revealing some of Nature’s secrets, helping to unlock the mysteries of matter. Boyle is most famous for his work on gases and particularly Boyle’s Law. He demonstrated that sound is propagated through air and not a vacuum, whereas light and magnetic forces do travel through a vacuum. He showed that a portion of atmospheric air supports combustion. He put chemistry on a scientific footing, calling for controlled, methodical, experimental procedures, before reaching factual conclusions. Contrary to the practice of alchemists, he encouraged the reporting of results publicly so that other researchers could assess their reproducibility. Joseph Priestley was a maverick theologian who possessed originality of thought, as well as the courage to promote unpopular views. He observed that plants have the capacity to restore to air, that which burning candles and breathing animals remove. Effectively, he had identified oxygen as an end-product of photosynthesis and established that oxygen was required for respiration. In the eighteenth century, with his experimental skills and ability to design ingenious apparatus, he discovered or co-discovered as many as nine gaseous compounds, more than any other scientist. He helped repudiate the Greek theory of the four elements of creation, held to be air, earth, fire and water. He was the first to produce carbonated (soda) water. At the age of 22, William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, was appointed professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow University, where he established the first physical science laboratory for both teaching and research purposes. He brought together disparate areas of physics, synthesizing a view that many physical changes were energy-related phenomena. He was well versed in thermodynamics, electrostatics and magnetostatics. With Faraday’s empirical evidence, he introduced the concept of an electromagnetic field and made substantive steps in mathematizing electric and magnetic phenomena, providing the groundwork for Maxwell’s dynamical theory of electromagnetic field. By combining scientific understanding with engineering skills, his contribution to the success of the 1866 trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was one of the outstanding applications of science to technology. He helped to develop the second law of thermodynamics, and particularly, the explanation of irreversible processes. He formulated an absolute zero of temperature, when molecules would stop moving, and a hypothetical ideal gas has zero volume. The “kelvin” is one of the seven base SI units, being the unit of thermodynamic temperature.
John Bailey

Chapter 8. History of the Atom, 1803–1932

For over two millennia, philosophers and scientists had theorized about the composition of matter. Between 1803 and 1932, four British scientists (viz Dalton, J.J. Thomson, Rutherford and Chadwick) put forward an increasingly sophisticated architectural model of matter. John Dalton found that the total pressure created by a mixture of gases is the sum of their partial pressures. In 1803, he asserted that all matter, whether gas, liquid or solid, is composed of small, indivisible particles. All atoms of one element are identical to each other but different from other elements. A chemical reaction is simply a rearrangement of atoms. According to his law of multiple proportions, in a chemical reaction, atoms combine in small whole number ratios. In 1884, Joseph J. Thomson succeeded his tutor, Lord Rayleigh, as Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge. Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1906, for his theoretical and experimental investigations into the conduction of electricity by gases. In an evacuated glass vessel, he produced cathode rays—negatively charged particles in transverse motion. Thomson identified a universal constituent of matter and effectively overturned Dalton’s indivisibility hypothesis. This fundamental particle was later given the name “electron”. Electrons are the most useful of the sub-atomic particles because of their detachability. Background scientists such as Davy and Faraday exploited their loose boundedness to produce electricity. Applied technologists such as W. Thomson, Bell and others utilised them to bring about the electric telegraph, telephones, electric generators and motors, and the electronics industry—encapsulating smart phones and computers. In microchips, electrons are shuffled around in a way prescribed by computer code. The chemical properties of elements are defined by the properties of orbital electrons, whilst radioactivity is determined by the nature of the nucleus. F. Aston, working with J. J. Thomson, identified two isotopic forms of neon. Aston would go on to use their electro-magnetic focusing technique to identify 212 of the 254 naturally occurring, stable isotopes. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1922. Ernest Rutherford was a student of J. J. Thomson, and possibly the greatest experimentalist since Faraday. He was the central figure in the study of radioactivity. He studied two of the three types of radiation emitted by uranium which he named α-rays and β-rays. Using similar techniques to Thomson, he showed that α-rays are helium ions (He2+) whilst β-rays are, like cathode rays, electrons. Rutherford and F. Soddy collaborated on the theory of radioactive disintegration and the transmutation (rearrangement) of nuclei and atoms. For his contribution, together with his investigation into the chemistry of radioactive substances, Rutherford received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. Contrary to Dalton’s view of the atom, he demonstrated that an atom can be ‘destroyed’. Loss of an alpha particle means a lowering of the mass number by 4 and atomic number by 2. He observed that any quantity of radioactive isotope takes the same amount of time for half of it to decay. This constant rate of decay can be used as a ‘clock’ to gauge the age of such things as rocks, fossils etc. via radiometric dating. In 1911, Rutherford proposed a ‘nuclear model’ of the atom in which its mass is concentrated in a dense, positively charged nucleus, with electrons orbiting at some distance from the nucleus. This crude template was refined both by N. Bohr, who proposed that electrons orbited at set distances from the nucleus and, later, by E. Schrödinger, who suggested regions of space where an electron will probably be. In 1919, Rutherford investigated the nuclear transformation of a non-radioactive element to another element. The result of this prompted him to postulate that the hydrogen nucleus is a primordial, fundamental particle which he dubbed the ‘proton’. It is no longer thought to be indivisible. He further observed that about one half of the mass of the nuclei he had investigated could be ascribed to protons. He and Bohr theorized about the existence of a particle which would nullify the repelling effect of positively charged protons confined in an atomic nucleus. In his final years of research, he used particle accelerators to fuse together small nuclei, noting the high level of energy associated with the nuclear conversions. Frederick Soddy, Niels Bohr, as well as eleven other collaborators and students researching with Rutherford would eventually receive Nobel prizes in their own sphere of scientific expertise. James Chadwick and Rutherford studied the transmutation of non-radioactive elements such as beryllium (4Be9) by bombarding them with α-particles. Chadwick proved that radiation emitted from beryllium was more energetic than could be accounted for by γ-rays. Particles ejected from various targets were uncharged; had a mass slightly heavier than a proton and were more penetrating than protons. He demonstrated experimentally the existence of ‘neutrons’, what he thought was a new fundamental particle. So important was his finding that, three years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize in physics, in 1935. His work marked the start of nuclear physics. Accelerated neutrons do not have to overcome any repulsive barriers of charged particles. This feature provides a tool for inducing atomic disintegration since neutrons are capable of penetrating and splitting the nuclei of the heaviest elements. When there is a critical amount of fission material, and other conditions are met, a self-sustaining chain reaction can occur with the release of a vast amount of atomic energy. Neutrons can mediate a nuclear chemical reaction and this property led to the atomic bomb and, later, to nuclear power production. Between 1897 and 1932, the experimental research of Thomson, Rutherford and Chadwick identified three sub-atomic particles, namely the electron, proton, and neutron.
John Bailey

Chapter 9. Life Sciences Leading to Health Care, Dental Hygiene, Disease Control, Hospital Sanitation and IVF. Great British Physicians and Nurses

For centuries, people considered the heart to be the source of vitality and innate heat, as well as the seat of intelligence. In 1628, William Harvey published his “Anatomical Studies on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals”. He established that blood circulates round the body and passes through the lungs, where it is revitalised. From his experiments and the evidence of what he could see and feel, he developed his theories. In this regard, Harvey was one of the first scientists in the medical field. Until the Elizabethan era, people had relatively healthy teeth. By 1750, however, all levels of society became consumers of refined sugar. Bacteria that colonize the dental surface convert fermentable sugar into an acidic film that attacks tooth enamel. This led to a serious decline in the nation’s dental health. In 1770, William Addis, whilst in Newgate prison, originated a design for a ’mouth broom’ (toothbrush) that he would mass-produce once he had served his sentence and was released. When effectively applied, brushing can control dental hygiene. Addis is credited with being the ‘father’ of dental hygiene for the British public, and the toothbrush has become one of life’s essential, personal care items. Protection and recovery from disease, particularly world-wide epidemics such as smallpox, were helped by revolutionary new medical advances such as vaccination (Jenner), sterile surgery and antiseptics (Lister). Since their adoption, millions of lives across the world have been saved. Thousands of years ago, the smallpox virus emerged and began causing illness and the deaths of millions. Edward Jenner was a country doctor who was the pioneer of the world’s first vaccine—a safe smallpox vaccine. After an extensive international vaccination programme, this ancient human scourge has been eradicated. Jenner was hailed as the ‘father’ of immunology and it is said that his vision has saved more lives than the work of any other human being. Vaccination has become a highly effective method of preventing a host of infectious diseases. We cannot develop the specific immunity necessary to protect us from a specific pathogen unless we are either infected with it or vaccinated against it. A desperate search for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has now been realized. Coincidentally, research workers at the Jenner Institute, in Oxford, have been involved in one of its developments. Vaccines are probably the most successful medical intervention in history. It is concerning, therefore, that ‘anti-vaxxers’ promote, on social-media, misinformation about vaccinations, resulting in vaccination hesitancy and growing numbers of unprotected children. For instance, in England, in 2020, take up for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is below the level needed to provide widespread (herd) immunity in the community. Charlatans also use social media to peddle well-meaning but useless remedies and therapies for a variety of ailments. Britain survived two horrific world wars unconquered, with its democratic institutions intact. However, such victories were achieved at the expense of enormous human and economic sacrifices. Our compassion for those in distress and suffering, after military action in a previous century, was reflected in pioneering new nursing methods. Like most women of her time, Florence Nightingale was denied tertiary education and deterred from entering a profession. During the Crimean War, in the 1850s, she ministered to those soldiers suffering from battle injuries, as well as typhus, cholera and dysentery. Compassionate by nature, she was immortalised as the “Lady with the Lamp”. She kept meticulous records about the deaths of soldiers and their causes. Being a gifted statistician and a champion of data-visualisation, she was able to present these novel methods of communication, to the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, to show that most of the mortalities were from preventable diseases, poor nutrition and/or unsatisfactory hospital conditions. Upon her return home from Crimea, she turned her attention to nursing and sanitary concepts in British hospitals, setting up a training school for nurses. Having the attention of Queen Victoria and eminent members of the Cabinet, she helped bring about a seismic shift in the UK’s sanitation and public health programmes. Florence was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. During Victoria’s reign, medical care was reshaped, and changes implemented to bring the health of the nation into the modern age. For instance, Joseph Lister observed that some patients, particularly those with open wounds, underwent an operation successfully, only to die from a post-operative infection, known as ‘ward fever’. He believed that infection was invading externally. Many surgeons wore dirty aprons; did not wash their hands before operations and used unclean surgical instruments. Recovering patients might be placed on bed linen stained with blood and other bodily fluids from previous patients. Lister reasoned that the way to stop post-operative infections was to prevent germs entering the wound. Applying a dilute solution of carbolic acid (phenol) he experimented with the soaking of dressings, the washing of hands, and the dipping of surgical instruments. Over a 4-year period, his antiseptic procedures brought about a significant reduction in mortality rates. As many of his techniques were adopted by other surgeons, he became known as the ‘father of antiseptic surgery’. Refinements to his techniques led to sterile surgical procedures with which we are more familiar, and the saving of an incalculable number of lives. During WWI, Alexander Fleming served as a practising bacteriologist studying wound infections. He demonstrated that the direct use of strong antibiotics on deep wounds often did more harm than good. He was convinced that antibiotic agents should only be used if they acted in a way that is complementary with the body’s natural defence agents. By a chance observation, he discovered that a certain mould culture prevented the growth of staphylococci. He named the active substance ‘penicillin’ but was unable to isolate it in adequate quantities. A multi-skilled team at Oxford University, led by Florey and co-worker, Chain, improved the extraction and purification process making clinical trials possible. Because of its military importance, further upscaling took place in America. By D-Day, enough penicillin was available to treat troops suffering from bacterial infections. It became known as the ‘miracle or wonder drug’. It proved to be the most efficacious life-saving drug in the world, making possible the treatment of a wide range of previously untreatable bacterial infections, saving millions of lives. In 1945, Fleming, Florey and Chain jointly were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. For infertile couples, we want to give the gift of parenthood. After a decade of collaborative studies into in vitro fertilization (IVF), co-workers Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy facilitated the child of the century, the first ‘test tube baby’, Louise Brown, who celebrated her 40th birthday in 2018. Her artificial conception, outside the womb, was a momentous achievement, sometimes equated with other major firsts in medicine, such as the application of vaccinations (Jenner) and the discovery of penicillin (Fleming). It was associated with a moment of national pride, demonstrating the country’s excellence in medical research and innovation. Initially, Edwards and Steptoe faced a backlash from religious groups, the media and even parts of the scientific community. The two co-workers argued that assisted reproductive technology merely ‘gives nature a nudge in the right direction’. Ultimately, they succeeded in bringing about a change in moral attitudes to IVF, after which millions of infertile couples across the world were able to harness IVF as their last chance at parenthood. Because Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously, and Steptoe died in 1988, only Edwards received the Nobel award in Physiology or Medicine, in 2010.
John Bailey

Chapter 10. Electricity, Magnetism and Light and Their Inter-relationship. Electrolysis and Electrochemistry. Foundations for Both the ‘Mechanised Age’ (Powered by Electricity) and Radio Broadcasting

The ancient Greeks knew that when amber is rubbed with wool or fur, it will attract light objects such as feathers or bits of straw. The word ‘electric’ (from the Latin word, electrum meaning amber, and the modern Latin word electricus) was first used by Gilbert in 1600. Nowadays, we use the term “triboelectric effect” to describe the electrification of dissimilar materials which are brought together and then separated. For example, when hair is rubbed with an inflated balloon, electrons from the hair migrate to the rubber latex wall of the balloon, leaving behind positively charged strands of hair which repel one another.
With the invention of the Voltaic pile, it became possible to produce electricity continuously. This propelled us into our modern world, without which it would be darker, colder, and quieter.
Humphry Davy was the first of a new generation of electricians who used electricity to establish the composition of chemical substances and produce several pure elements for the first time.
Of the 118 chemical elements currently appearing in the periodic table, a majority (20%) of them were discovered, co-discovered and/or isolated by British scientists. Davy alone was implicated in isolating, or discovering the rudimentary nature of, up to ten of these elements, and W. Ramsey in five.
Ninety-two of these elements are found naturally but only eight of them were involved in the formation of 98% of the rocks constituting the Earth’s crust. Fifty-six of these 92 elements make up at least 0.1 mg of a typical human, with both light and heavy elements playing some role in the body’s biological processes.
Davy effectively established the new scientific field of electrochemistry. He deduced that, for metal salts, chemical bonds are electrical in nature and that an electric current, involving the movement of electrons, could stimulate the making and breaking of bonds, resulting in chemical reaction. Electro-synthesis is a ‘clean’ process requiring no heat application or added reagents.
Davy is also remembered for his design of the Davy lamp to prevent fires and explosions, from methane-laden air in coalmines, causing injury and deaths to many coalminers. Davy was the first man to be knighted for service to science since Sir Isaac Newton. He was the first to be awarded a baronetcy. He conferred popularity, and even glamour, on the discipline of chemistry.
Michael Faraday came from a poor family; had limited education but became one of the greatest scientists in history. He was a man of relentless wonder and curiosity. He lived in the age of steam power, but he laid the foundations for the ‘Age of Electrical Mechanisation’. The practical applications of Michael Faraday’s discoveries have transformed the world. The versatility of his achievements, in diverse branches of science, was truly outstanding, and all mankind has benefitted from his findings. He deserves his place in the pantheon of great scientists.
Almost anything electrical uses the scientific principles that Faraday established, relying on the interplay between electric current, magnetic field, and mechanical motion. He was a talented experimentalist who constructed a device that exploited the interaction between electricity and magnetism, converting electrical energy into mechanical energy/continuous circular motion.
One of his greatest breakthroughs involved electromagnetic induction, whereby a magnetic field of excited electrons, momentarily produced an electric current. Next, he combined magnetism with mechanical motion to generate electricity continuously. In his first arrangement, an in–out motion of a magnet produced an alternating current that changed direction. In the second, he produced a direct current by spinning an electrically conductive disc in a permanent magnetic field.
His rudimentary laboratory devices and apparatus were the springboards for electric motors, DC generators, AC alternators, transformers, and miniature batteries. We have harnessed electricity to illuminate and power our modern world.
With W. Whenwell, he introduced the nomenclature of electrochemical terms. His two laws of electrolysis laid the foundation for other modern industries involving electroplating and the production of some chemicals.
He demonstrated that a hollow electrical (Faraday) cage can offer protection from an induced charge. He was the first scientist to make a link between electromagnetism and light, showing that an external magnetic field could cause the plane of light polarisation to rotate.
He demonstrated that cooling results from the evaporation of a gas previously compressed to a liquid, this forming the basis of today’s refrigerators and freezers.
James Clerk Maxwell was a child prodigy and gifted mathematician. His many areas of scientific interest included astronomy (especially Saturn’s ring) and optics. He worked on colour vision, determining a colour equation which gave quantitative measurements of the ability of the eye to match real colours. He co-produced the first ever colour photograph.
He played a key role in the development of statistical mechanics, paving the way for quantum mechanics. For his kinetic theory, he applied methods of probability and statistics to describe the speed distribution of an assembly of gaseous particles and how this would change as the temperature was raised.
Theoretical physicist, Maxwell, adopted a mathematical approach to some of Faraday's empirical findings. He succeeded in unifying three realms of physics, namely electricity, magnetism, and light. The basic rules by which light behaves, electric current flows and magnetism functions can be expressed in Maxwell’s equations. His equations have a reach that extend to the extremities of the Universe.
His unified ‘field theory’ became a cornerstone in physics. Maxwell was a bridge between the mechanical world of Newtonian physics and the theory of fields as espoused by Einstein and others. He was possibly the greatest theoretical physics in the nineteenth century, later known as ‘Scotland’s Einstein’.
In the 1870s, his notions pointed to the existence of an ‘electromagnetic spectrum’, suggesting that ‘nature’s storehouse’ might contain other types of radiation with frequencies both higher and lower than the visible spectrum. This speculation was vindicated during the next thirty years with the discovery of radio waves (1886) X-rays (1895) and γ-radiation (1900).
The discovery of these other forms of electromagnetic radiation have had far-reaching social impacts, setting the stage for modern lifestyles, information, and communication technologies, as well as medical applications, via X-ray machines and gamma rays.
The warm radiance of sunshine; a rainbow; the colourful beauty of Michelangelo’s frescos; the soreness of sunburn; the sound and sight of radio and TV transmissions; the incandescent light bulb; the friendly telephone conversation; the hot meal taken from a microwave oven; the X-ray revealing a broken bone, all are brought to us by electromagnetic radiation, resulting from electrons, either accelerating along a metal conductor or descending from excited atomic orbits.
John Bailey

Chapter 11. Palaeontology and Evolution

Mary Anning grew up in poverty; was self-taught and lived at a time when most people believed in Creationism—a conviction that nature is static and unchanging, and species are immutable. She had a life-time passion for fossil hunting, and by reading and application, she became a world expert in her field, arriving at a level of knowledge exceeding those formally educated in the discipline.
Fossils provide information about the nature of species that existed at specific times in the Earth’s history. The spectacular fossils she unearthed shook the scientific world into looking for a new approach to explain why some creatures are extinct, whilst others took their place. She lived on the Jurassic coast, now a World Heritage site and some of the fossils she found are housed in the Natural History Museum, in London.
In 1831, Charles Darwin was a budding naturalist given the opportunity to join a 5-year expedition to see ecologically diverse regions in the Southern Hemisphere. His epoch-making voyage, on HMS Beagle, had a monumental effect on Darwin’s view of natural history. He logged similarities amongst species across the world, as well as variations based on specific location and habitat. For instance, on each of the Galápagos islands, he found a variety of unique species. He found finches with beaks that differed from island to island. The contribution that finches made to Darwin’s future thinking may have been exaggerated but they became an emblem of evolution.
Wherever he went, he collected samples of flora, fauna, and fossils. He sent pertinent samples and scientific notes to a colleague in England who acted as a conduit to the scientific community. As a result, when he returned home, he had become a respected, well-known scientist.
As Newton and Clerk Maxwell had done with physics, Darwin developed a grand, unifying theory of biology. His revolutionary new thesis about the origin of living things was contrary to the popular view of divine intervention and would change the course of scientific thought. It led Darwin to believe that contemporary species have transmuted (evolved) from common ancestors. Since life on Earth began, the changing environment has put pressure on individual organisms to adapt or face extinction. Those individuals that adapted favourably to the local conditions preferentially survived and passed their favourable traits to their offspring. The mechanism by which each slight variation, if useful, is perpetuated, is called natural selection. This is one reason why evolution occurs, mainly through a series of short steps.
Survival of the fittest does not mean the strongest, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most adaptable to change. Darwin did not say that humans are descended from apes, rather he said that chimpanzees, apes, and humans may have a common ancestry because of their many similarities.
Humans have managed to occupy almost every ecological niche. We now look at ourselves and question how we relate to all creatures and how our lifestyles impinge on theirs. Homo sapiens may be part of the natural world but has evolved to a point where it can either destroy life or preserve it with all its splendour. We must act decisively to preserve the healthy condition of the world’s biosphere and atmosphere. By protecting eco-systems, we preserve biodiversity.
John Bailey

Chapter 12. X-ray Crystallography of Biomolecules

Father and son, William Henry Bragg and (William) Lawrence Bragg developed experimental methods and mathematical formulae that tell us how atoms are spatially configured in crystals of simple substances, as well as more complex macromolecules of living cells. In 1915, the Braggs were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on X-ray crystallography, Lawrence being the youngest laureate at the time, being only 25 years of age.
William Bragg Senior was one of the motivators for Dorothy Hodgkin to use X-ray crystallography to examine the structures of biologically active substances. In part, this revolutionized modern medicine and improved health expectations. By advancing novel techniques of X-ray crystallography, she was able to elucidate the structures of numerous compounds, the most noteworthy of which were cholesterol, penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin. Once Sanger had revealed the chemical structure of insulin, this led to its laboratory synthesis and improved treatments for diabetes – an autoimmune condition that was a major economic and health care burden. Hodgkin is the only British woman to have been awarded a Nobel prize (in 1964).
Lawrence Bragg inspired co-workers John Cowdery Kendrew and Max Perutz to use X-ray crystallography to determine the molecular structures of myoglobin and haemoglobin, physiologically important substances in binding molecular oxygen in animals. Myoglobin was the first protein to have its atomic structure determined by X-ray crystallography. For their research, Kendrew and Perutz shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1962.
In the UK, with about 1% of the Earth’s population, ‘Bioscience Britain’ has been responsible for major advances in identifying the circulation of blood; smallpox vaccination; evolution; penicillin; X-ray crystallography of biologically active substances; amino acid and nucleotide sequencing; in-vitro fertilisation; structure of, and fingerprinting by, DNA; cloning and genome sequencing.
John Bailey

Chapter 13. Nucleosides, Nucleotides, Polynucleotides (RNA and DNA) and the Genetic Code

Scientific luminaries wanted to know more about the chemistry of bio-significant substances, as well as the chemical processes that facilitate the movement, growth, self-repair, and reproduction of organisms. Todd, Crick and Sanger were major contributors in achieving this goal.
Alexander Todd studied the chemistry of a range of natural products of biological importance. He was a colossus of twentieth century organic chemistry, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject and an ability to picture complex molecules in 3-dimensions.
Although not the first to synthesize the anti-beriberi vitamin, B1, his elegant laboratory method was adopted for commercial production. By a series of either chemical syntheses, or, degradation sequences of great delicacy and subtlety, he established the structure of nucleosides, nucleotides, and nucleotide coenzymes, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1957. His results paved the way for Crick and Watson to propose a double helix structure for DNA.
Francis Crick had a broad education, leading to a degree in physics, a studentship to research cytoplasm and a doctoral degree in protein structure using X-ray crystallography. Few scientists have had such a huge impact on their adopted field of study.
James Watson, who had a background in viral and bacterial genetics joined Crick at the Medical Research Council Unit, in 1951. Initially, they drew on the chemical and X-ray results of other researchers to advance their view that DNA comprises two polynucleotide chains, wound about each other, to form a double helix. Their 1-page paper in Nature, in 1957, set the stage for major advances in molecular biology. They had found ‘the secret of life’.
DNA is the ‘master molecule of life’, the repository of heredity information. It encodes all genetic information and is the blueprint from which biological life is created. This “operating manual” contains instructions for everything our cells do, from conception until death. It can self-duplicate, bringing about new DNA molecules that are identical to the original. Genetic information is stored and transmitted in a simple language with an alphabet of only four letters, based on nucleobases A, G, T and C.
Crick, Watson, and others postulated that messenger RNA takes instructions from the DNA, in the nucleus, to a host of ribosomes in the cytoplasm, where protein synthesis takes place. Here, only three of the four letters of the genetic alphabet are needed to determine the composition of the many proteins synthesized from the amino acids available. In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Frederick Sanger was raised as a Quaker and had a modest and quiet demeanour. He may not have been academically brilliant, but he was a gifted experimentalist and is one of only four individuals to be awarded two Nobel prizes, his in chemistry (in 1958 and 1980). He was responsible for two critical technical advances. Firstly, he perfected a way of unravelling the complete amino acid sequence of even the most complex of proteins. Using novel sequencing methods, he established the composition of bovine insulin, an essential step for the synthesis of human insulin, offering a major advance in the treatment for diabetes.
Second, he developed yet more ingenious ways of sequencing the nucleotides of DNA, spending ten years, carefully identifying small fragments of this giant molecule. He worked out the precise composition of the entire genome of the bacteriophage ΦX174, a relatively modest life form featuring 5,375 nucleotides.
He sequenced the first human genome in the shape of mitochondrial DNA, laying the foundation of humanity’s ability to read and understand the genetic code. Genetic testing can now be used to diagnose inherited disorders. Genome sequencing may revolutionise the diagnosis of rare childhood conditions. The field of genetics has been transformed from a science of descriptive analysis, into today’s powerful technology of gene therapy where defective genes are edited to cure disease. This will result in ground-breaking improvements in healthcare.
John Bailey

Chapter 14. Science of Key Building Materials—Cementitious Substances, Iron and Steel

Great Britain was blessed with iron ore to make steam engines, other machinery and tools; vast deposits of coal to power those steam engines and to keep us warm; limestone as a raw material for Portland cement, as well as clays to produce sanitaryware and pottery. Through our international networks, we could import raw cotton for fabrics and clothes, together with rubber for pneumatic tyres.
Joseph Aspdin was a pioneer in the production of Portland cement, so starting the Age of Artificial Stone. In the absence of any chemical knowledge, but with luck and perseverance, he and his sons produced a chemically complex substance with great versatility for the building industry, making modern infrastructure possible.
When mixed with sand and water, it forms mortar—an adhesive substance for bricks and stone. When combined with sand, gravel and water, concrete is formed which hardens to a rock-like mass, even under water. After water, concrete is the most ‘consumed’ product in the world.
Their patents brought the Aspdins neither fame nor excessive fortune. Now, cement is vilified on environmental grounds for the greenhouse gas emissions arising from its manufacture.
In 1709, in Shropshire, Abraham Darby succeeded in smelting iron using coke derived from low-sulphur coal, thereby creating a cost-effective process for making commercial grade iron and jump-starting the Industrial Revolution. Key factors in our Industrial Revolution were Britain’s deposits of iron ore and coal to make coke.
Henry Bessemer was largely self-taught and exhibited extraordinary inventive skills. He learnt basic metallurgy at his father’s foundry. At the advent of the Crimean War, in 1853, he wanted to get involved with the manufacture of more robust casings for guns and canons. He developed a large scale, inexpensive industrial process for purifying pig iron to produce steel, heralding the Age of Steel. In 1875, Britain accounted for 47% of the world’s pig iron and about 40% of global steel-production.
Steel is the second most mass-produced commodity, after cement, popular because of its unique combination of workability, versatility, strength, durability, and cost. It fitted perfectly with the expanding mechanisation taking place in the latter half of the nineteenth century, facilitating great strides in transport, shipping, construction, machine tools and weapons. Bessemer brought his own projects to fruition, benefitting handsomely from their results, whilst changing the way people lived and travelled.
John Bailey

Chapter 15. Communication: Telephone, Computers and WWW

In 370 BCE, Plato, in the “mouth” of Socrates, lamented the introduction of writing since he thought that it might weaken people’s ability to memorise. Since then, every communication development has been vilified by some, and its positive aspects undervalued.
The first forms of long-distance communication media were the telegraph (in 1837) and, later the telephone (Alexander Bell in 1876). Both methods relied on vast networks of wires to carry information. In 1895, the controlled generation of specific electromagnetic waves, wirelessly in free space, was the foundation for wireless telegraphy (radio transmission) and the springboard for technologies that are now ubiquitous.
British scientists accelerated the speed by which verbal communication between inhabitants of different continents could occur. It was W. Thomson’s application of scientific principles and technological innovations that brought about the first successful transatlantic, underwater, electric telegraph, in 1866. This paved the way for rapid, global communication pathways, through insulated cables, leading to world-wide social and material benefits to mankind. It helped Great Britain capture a pre-eminent place in world communications, connecting Great Britain to its Empire and trading partners throughout the world. It became a key component of economic inter-connectedness.
Nowadays, over 90% of the world’s data and web traffic travel close to the speed of light, through fibre optic wires, across the sea floor, in the underwater web.
Alexander Bell was groomed and educated to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, studying the mechanics of speech, teaching elocution, and working with the deaf community. In 1844, Samuel Morse sent his first telegraph message. Bell wanted to transmit human speech rather than Morse code clicks. His first step was a ‘harmonic telegraph’ based on six steel reeds in parallel that responded to one of six specific frequencies. A corresponding reed at the end of the line vibrated in harmony. This facilitated the sending of multi-messages, simultaneously via the telegraph.
Just as the density of air varies when a sound passes through it, Bell conceived an electric current could be made to change in response to sound. Believing that human speech causes a wave-like pattern in air, he aimed to produce an electric wave following the same pattern. By 1875, Bell, aged only twenty-eight, and electrician, Thomas Watson, created a crude telephone apparatus leading to a patent application.
Bell’s 1876 US patent was one of the most lucrative ever granted, making him extremely rich. The first intelligible telephone communication soon followed and, in 1877, the first ‘speaking phone’ was available for commercial use. The transmitter and receiver depended on the principles of Faraday’s electromagnetic induction. Responding to a sound, a vibrating membrane caused pulsations in a magnet set in a coil. This induced fluctuations in an electric current corresponding to the sound. Passage of this undulating current to an electromagnetic coil, in the receiver, caused a magnet to vibrate against a membrane reproducing the original audible sound.
The telegraph and the telephone were both wire-based electrical systems but Bell’s success with the telephone came as a direct result of his attempts to improve the telegraph. The reproducing of human speech, via the telephone, refashioned the way people communicate since they could converse remotely and directly, without leaving their home and without any intermediary. It became indispensable to households, businesses, and governments.
Combined with radio technology, the mobile telephone has now become a ubiquitous wire-less tool for both global communication and information exchange. It is claimed that, in 2020, 68% of the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants have a mobile device, almost half of which are “smartphones”.
We have been fascinated by mathematics (Newton and Maxwell) and how its application can extend our understanding of natural happenings. In addition, to assist with the process of data collection, manipulation, and analysis, we have helped develop the world of computers.
In 1833, Babbage, and a century later, Alan Turing, conceptualised the structural architecture of a computer. At an early age, Turing developed an obsession with puzzles and codes. His code-breaking prowess would prove invaluable during WW2. His teacher described him as a genius. He went on to take a 1st class honours degree with distinction, at Cambridge University, where he was elected Fellow at the age of twenty-two.
Whilst completing his PhD at Princeton University, Turing developed the notion of a universal computer machine, describing the basic principles of a computer which became known as the Universal Turing Machine. Tommy Flowers and co-workers at Bletchley Park would go on to build ‘Colossus’, the second functioning programmable computer, in 1944. This, together with the code-breaking expertise of Turing, meant that the Bletchley Park team was able to decipher German military messages, sent from the German encrypting machine, Enigma, and intercepted during WW2. Churchill said Bletchley was his ‘secret weapon’ and may have shortened the war by up to two years and saved countless lives.
The Industrial Revolution had revealed that customised machines were capable of doing what vast swathes of human beings could do, but in a more efficient manner. The work at Bletchley demonstrated that a computer machine-based on electronics—could automate the efforts of thousands of human computing assistants. This innovation spawned a technology that became inextricably woven into the industrial and social life of late-twentieth and twenty first century life. Omnipresent computers are now so indispensable to our societies that life grinds to a halt when they stop working.
The UK emerged from the Second World War with a technological edge in electronics, computers, and programming. However, its technology did not flourish because of benign neglect of the United Kingdom’s manufacturing industry. It has no Intel, Samsung, Lenovo, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Apple, Sony, Siemens or Google.
Turing himself was always ahead of his time. In 1950. He grappled with the question, “Can machines think like humans?”. Six years later the term ‘artificial intelligence’ appeared. In 1966, the first Turing prize was awarded. This is the ‘Nobel Prize’ of computing. Tim Berners-Lee would be its 2016 recipient and another Briton would make a major input to the way we communicate via computers.
The Internet is a huge network of disparate computers all linked together. Enabling useful, interactive connections between networks called for common protocols. In 1990, for the benefit of his computer-using, co-workers at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee created an “internal web” of pathways for the free flow of documents. Extending his horizons, he then laid a “world-wide information web” over the pre-existing Internet. Some of the enablers were already in existence but three others were devised by Tim. They included HTML, a document publishing language of the Web; URI, a unique name and address for each resource on the Web and HTTP which allowed retrieval of linked resources.
Berners-Lee wrote key instruction codes for a computer seeking information, the Web page where the information is held, as well as codes for the computer that releases information to the client. His hypertext system quickly became a universal infrastructure for on-line communication and the foundation of many other industries. He intended his system to be powerful and immediately useful, rather than perfect. His specifications for the nuts and bolts of the World Wide Web (WWW, W3) have been refined in the interim, but remain essentially the same.
The number of websites has increased from only one in August 1991 to over 1.94 billion in January 2019. Over 4 billion (53%) of the world’s population use the Internet. New industries emerged to fill in the missing capabilities for a host of commercial applications. Google emerged as the dominant provider for Internet searches. In 2017, it had indexed 135 trillion Web pages, a figure that is constantly growing.
The WWW is a communication superhighway which has fundamentally changed the way we work; shop; play and correspond with friends and family, via social networking sites, blogs, and video sharing. Whilst “cyber power” is revolutionizing the way individuals live their lives, it has started to influence the way governments protect their citizens and fight wars. The Web has become the most far-reaching anthropological study in human history. It reveals that an array of unintended and potentially harmful consequences are emerging.
Most importantly, the Web is open, non-proprietary, and free because Berners-Lee and his employer, CERN, as an altruistic gesture, elected not to patent his invention, nor to use any technology that required royalties to be paid.
Berners-Lee made it possible to communicate more effectively across the globe, unrestricted by cables. He has done more to connect the world than has ever been previously achieved. Almost as important as the invention of the wheel, digital devices and infrastructure have become to the 21st century, what new transport systems and infrastructure were in the 19th and 20th centuries.
John Bailey

Chapter 16. Solving Crime Via Forensic Science

We are a law-abiding nation and believe in justice for all. There are times when the available evidence such as physical appearance, dermatoglyphic fingerprints (ridge patterns) and dental charts are insufficient for criminal investigators to proceed with a case. New and novel techniques were required to solve some crimes. To help both safeguard our liberties and fight crime, we have developed DNA fingerprinting and profiling (Jeffreys) and quantitative forensic soil science (Dawson).
Alec Jeffreys was an obsessive, precocious child. His interest in science started as a schoolboy when he conducted experiments in the sitting room and dissections on the kitchen table. After seven years at Oxford University, he moved to the University of Amsterdam where he and a co-worker developed a method for producing a physical map of the β-globulin gene in a rabbit’s genome. A gene is a continuous or discontinuous section of DNA. Each person has a unique sequence of DNA, a signature trademark. It is noteworthy that the latest research suggests that environmental influences may cause monozygotic twins to have slightly different genomes.
After moving to Leicester University, he focussed on the inherited variation in the human gene, seeking to trace genes through family lineages. Although 99.9% of human sequences are the same for every person, Jeffreys realized that the remaining 0.1% is enough to distinguish individuals, one from another. Using sophisticated chemical techniques, he demonstrated that biological identification or DNA fingerprinting can be used to resolve issues of identification and kinship.
He then concentrated on the forensic field and refined DNA fingerprinting to give DNA profiling for which only a single repeated strand of DNA is counted. An individual can thereby be identified from the tiniest trace of their saliva, sweat, blood or semen, leading to a big saving in police investigative time.
The subsequent impact of these two techniques on solving paternity and immigration cases, catching criminals, whilst freeing innocents, has been extraordinary, and has impacted on the lives of millions of people world-wide. This application of molecular biology is invaluable to our justice system and helped private citizens find truth and resolution. It is also being used in ‘non-human’ crime (e.g., trade in rhinoceros’ horns). As well as transforming forensic science, it has revolutionized the fields of biology, biodiversity, ecology, archaeology, genetic disorders and predispositions, livestock breeding and pedigree authentication. Jeffreys is very deserving of a Nobel prize.
Growing up on her father’s potato farm, Lorna Dawson saw how different soils affected crop yields and how different crops required different soil types for optimal growth. Her undergraduate studies in geography exposed her to other disciplines, including biology, chemistry and statistics which would prove crucial to her future career.
Every contact leaves a mark. The landscape leaves its mark on us. Lorna recognised that soil embodies a signature matrix which she was able to link to location. Trace samples of soil, taken at a crime scene, or, from an item involved with the crime, can be subject to accredited methods of analysis, interpretation, presentation, and explanation. She has used quantitative forensic evidence, not only to snare suspects, but to clear the innocent. It has helped with crime reconstruction and has been admissible in court.
John Bailey

Chapter 17. Looking Forward to Challenges and Opportunities

Our genius, as a nation, has been to ensure liberty under the law, to allow entrepreneurs to pilot and trial new ideas in a secure research and innovation environment, to allow risk to be properly rewarded. In the past, business was generally seen as a powerful force for good, generating the growth which pays for a civilised society and powering the innovations that make our lives better. But capitalism may have to be modernised so that it behaves more humanely, ceasing the exploitation of the lower-skilled and vulnerable. Let us further harness our remarkable capacity for invention, adaptation, and cooperation. When considerately deployed, it will create practical remedies for the shortcomings in today’s world. We are gradually moving from an industrial age economy to a knowledge-based, digital, and virtual economy, less exploitative of the Earth’s finite raw materials. In the future, challenging opportunities for scientists and engineers appear more likely in, for example, electronics and life sciences, particularly pharmaceutical research, genomics, and ecology. We have some world-beating universities, research institutes, teaching hospitals, academic and professional bodies and journals. Our rich cultural heritage, political and legal systems facilitate free thought and expressive individualism. Our schools encourage children to grow with enquiring minds, providing the great British scientists and engineers of the future. This nation has never suited modest ambitions, and there is no reason why we should not dream big again. By further unlocking a global UK innovation economy, advances in science and technology will take us to new levels of modernity. Patriotism, pride in our past, and ambition for that future should be the clarion call for us all. We should be neither reliant on past glories nor frightened of a bright, imaginative future. Many of the various obstacles facing us in the future will be solved, not by politicians or cynics, but by remarkable scientists and engineers with support from the public.
John Bailey


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