Star Trek Guide

The forgotten inventors behind some of the world’s best creations

Imagine life without vaccinations, the World Wide Web or television.

These important inventions play a key role in modern life, yet many people are unsure who they have to thank for eliminating small pox, having a wealth of information at their fingertips or being able to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

According to a recent study, millions of Brits have no idea that UK inventors are behind some of the world’s most important creations.

The research, by the Royal Academy of Engineering, shows that 55 per cent of people are not aware that John Logie Baird, from Dunbartonshire, was the first person to demonstrate a working television in 1928, while around 50 per cent do not know that London’s Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989.

Of the 2000 people surveyed, 51 per cent also had no idea that Sir Frank Whittle from Coventry made the very first jet engine, having patented the invention in 1928.

However, despite the knowledge gaps, the majority of people said they were proud of the nation’s engineering achievements to date and 90 per cent agreed that engineering is important to the UK economy.

Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE, chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The UK has a rich engineering heritage and this poll suggests that people want to hear more about modern engineering developments.

“It is very encouraging to see that the public is positive about what the future holds for UK engineering and its importance to our economy.

“Celebrating current engineering excellence is crucial if the sector is to receive the support it needs and to inspire the next generation of engineers.”

The survey was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering to mark the 50th anniversary of the academy’s prestigious MacRobert Award.

Finalists in the running for the prize - which is awarded for UK engineering innovation - will be announced next month, with the winner being revealed at a celebratory dinner on July 11.

Dr Ion added: “For the last 50 years the award has celebrated ground-breaking engineering innovations that have established the UK as a global leader.

“Leading the judges for the MacRobert Award over the past five years I have been privileged to see at first hand the engineering behind products that are changing our lives for the better.

“The incredible work being undertaken around the country right now will help to generate jobs and growth in the future.”

The survey found that just a third of those polled had heard of London’s Ada Lovelace, the inventor of the computer algorithm, while only 12 per cent were familiar with the person responsible for the world’s first programmable computer, Tommy Flowers MBE, who was also from London.

It also revealed that 79 per cent of people did not know that the world’s first commercially available bionic hand was developed in Scotland by Touch Bionics of Livingston, which won the MacRobert Award in 2008.

However, six in ten people questioned also said they were in no doubt that engineers and scientists in the UK will make the next big technological breakthrough.

Last year’s winner of the MacRobert Award was Cambridge-based Owlstone Medical, who won for its ReCIVA Breath Sampler which can detect signs of cancer and other diseases in their infancy.

Previous winners have also included innovations such as the Pegasus jet engine, catalytic converters and the roof of the Millennium Dome.

In 2017 the Award was won by the team behind the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, while the winners in the award’s first year were Rolls-Royce.

The winning organisation is presented with a gold medal, while team members receive a cash prize of £50,000.

The presentation of the Award recognises outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.