Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

THE INGENIOUS TIMELINE

20TH CENTURY

1971 - 1999

Girl lifts in arms in triumph over wireless computer

Computers and the internet come on line.

CT SCANS and MRIs, OMEGA H-3 DHA,
DNA FINGERPRINTS, DNA SEQUENCING, STEM CELL USES, and www

1970s GODFREY HOUNSFIELD PIONEERS COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY (CT SCANNERS)

Godfrey Hounsfield loved to tinker with gadgets on his family’s farm when he was a boy. In the 1960s, after learning the basics of electronics and radar as a Royal Air Force volunteer reservist during the war, attending Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in London, and working for a decade at EMI Ltd. where he helped to design an all-transistor computer, he had what scientists call an ah-ha! moment. He was out walking and thinking about how to capture images inside the body when he suddenly saw how it could be done.

Hounsfield’s idea was based on previous work on tomography by Alessandro Vallebona. Hounsfield envisioned building a computer that could take input from X-rays at various angles to create an image of the object in "slices". EMI, now known mainly as a music firm, had profited so much from the Beatles that it was able to invest in his idea.

Hounsfield's computed tomography, the CT scanner, transformed investigative medicine. South African Allan Cormack was engaged in theoretical work on a similar device, and he and Hounsfield shared the Nobel prize in medicine in 1979.

The CT scanner is in essence a three-dimensional X-ray. As a patient passes through a rotating X-ray beam, detectors capture a series of cross-sectional images, or slices. Since X-rays are absorbed differently by tissues of varying density within the body, the scanner is linked to a computer that compiles the data into a 3D image. Computing also allows doctors to focus on a particular tissue type.

To look inside the human body without hurting it, and create three dimensional images has allowed doctors to diagnose and surgeons to operate. Millions of people have been healed of disease because Hounsfield's CT scanner has shown doctors how to help them.

1970s MICHAEL CRAWFORD DESCRIBES IMPORTANCE OF OMEGA-3 DHA TO HUMAN BRAIN

British scientist Michael Crawford describes the structural importance of Omega-3 DHA to the normal development of the brain. He predicts the terrible effects of lack of DHA in the modern diet.

Recently researchers in Britain and the U.S. have shown that the violence of men in jail is drastically reduced when they are given sufficient Omega-3. Significantly it has also been shown that Omega-6 fatty acids, so prevalent in fast foods, will knock out Omega-3.

(Fish and chips may be a prime example of a food (fish) rich in Omega-3 that is knocked out by the Omega-6 in the tasty fried batter.

1976 SUPERSONIC CONCORDE IS LAUNCHED

To attempt the design challenges of Concorde, Britain and France negotate a treaty. An Anglo-French project, the Concorde first flies in 1969. The remarkable entrepreneur and pilot Arthur Marshall of Cambridge leads the team that designs and builds Concorde's distinctive drooped wing. The airplane provides regular commercial travel at supersonic speeds from London and Paris to New York beginning in 1976. Its average cruise speed is Mach 2.02. Its safety record is unblemished until 2002.

dna fingerprinting

The clues to murder mysteries and crime are found in the minute evidence of blood and body fluids. The solution to many crimes is found in DNA 'fingerprinting'.

1977 ALEC JOHN JEFFREYS INVENTS DNA “FINGERPRINTING”

Alec John Jeffreys is a boy when Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin uncover DNA, but when he becomes a man he uses their discovery to develop genetic “fingerprinting”. His invention is first used successfully in 1983 to identify the rapist and killer of two girls.

Since then law enforcement all over the world have mapped the DNA of suspects to locate matches with DNA found at crime scenes, to bring criminals to justice, and to prove the innocence of those wrongfully accused. Jeffreys continues to refine the technique based on the latest information on the human genome. His invention is also used to resolve paternity and immigration disputes, and can be applied to non-human species, for example in wildlife population genetics studies.  

Patient going into MRI

Peter Mansfield's and Paul Lauterbur's MRI offers a different imaging procedure, used without X-rays to create a two-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure. Professor John Mallard and colleagues at Aberdeen University developed and used the first full-body MRI.

Photo: www.williamoslerhc.on.ca/ Patien

1980s PETER MANSFIELD PIONEERS MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI)

Dropping out of school at 15, Peter Mansfield works at a printing company and joins the Army before getting serious about his education. He goes to night school, and eventually earns a PhD in Physics. After a stint in America, he returns to London, but continues to work with Paul Lauterbur of the University of Illinois on magnetic resonance imaging, known as the MRI.

The 1952 Nobel Prize went to Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell for the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the scientific principle behind MRI. Mansfield develops the mathematical model that will analyse signals from inside the human body in response to a strong magnetic field and the echo-planar imaging which allows images to be collected many times faster than previously possible. This makes MRIs feasible.

Lauterbur introduces gradients in the magnetic field to help determine the origin of the radio waves emitted from the nuclei of the object of study. They share the Nobel Prize for their work which has made a fundamental contribution to medical diagnosis, especially problems with bones. Along the way, Mansfield also learns how to fly a helicopter and a plane.

1980s - 2000 FREDERICK SANGER AND TEAM SEQUENCE DNA

Frederick Sanger thinks he will become a doctor like his father, but he becomes fascinated by the challenge of determining the structure of protein molecules. His work at Cambridge is top-notch, and he receives his first Nobel Prize for his work on the structure of insulin. Spurred to do more, he moves to the new UK Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, where he decides to work on DNA sequencing. The Herculean task for him and his team is establishing all the sequences for genomes and their millions of base-pairs.

Fred modestly remarks that to accomplish this they simply focused on the task at hand. Over the next 15 years, he and his team - including Bart Barrell, Alan Coulson and George Brownlee - develop Sanger sequencing. Their methods are still used today. For his work, which will have a profound effect on the treatment of disease, Fred Sanger receives a second Nobel Prize.

1980s JOHN MALLARD AND ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY DEVELOP MRI

Professor John Mallard, colleagues and students at Aberdeen University take the MRI invented by Mansfield and Lauterbur and create a full-body MRI that changes medical practice in hospitals around the world and improves diagnosis.

1980s - 1990s BOYSE USES STEM CELLS TO SAVE LIVES

Born in Worthing, Edward Arthur Boyse went to Worthing Grammmar School, joined the RAF at age 17, and qualified as a flying instructor, then trained as a doctor at St Bartholomew’s.

In the 1980s Boyse realises that every placenta that was tossed out after a delivery was rich in blood stem cells. In 1989, when he was 66, he experiments with extracting and freezing these stem cells over different lengths of time. He shows that the cells would survive long periods of freezing, which will prove essential to his next idea.

Dr Boyse realises that when the bone marrow of a patient is severely damaged by chemotherapy, and their own stem cells have been destroyed, these stem cells could be replaced by the stem cells of placenta or umbilical cord blood.

This is now routine practice and has saved many lives. Boyse also discovers the different types of T lymphocytes, including the killer and helper functions of the different types.

Tim Berners-Lee with a wonderful smile and slightly disheveled look

Tim Berners-Lee invents the world wide Web in 1991, then heads off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he directs the W3 Consortium, the standard-setting body that helps everyone agree on openly published protocols. He battles to keep the worldwide web open, nonproprietary, and free.

Photo: www.ethlife.ethz.ch

1989 TIM BERNERS-LEE INVENTS THE LIBERATING, CIVILISATION-ALTERING WORLD WIDE WEB

In the 1960s, the United States “saw universal networking as a potential unifying human revolution” and implemented a “highly robust and survivable” physical network based on packet switching. (Wikipedia) The first node went live at UCLA on October 29, 1969; the first TCP/IP wide network was operational by January 1, 1983, when the United States' National Science Foundation (NSF) constructed a university network backbone. The Internet was born as an open and organic enterprise that established interconnection and routing policies, and welcomed expanding networks of users. It required just one other thing for worldwide use: a way for all its users to communicate – www or the World Wide Web.

The son of parents who met while working on computers, Tim Berners-Lee grows up playing unconventional games at the dinner table. At Oxford, he builds his own working electronic computer out of spare parts and a TV set.

Berners-Lee becomes a young, unknown software engineer trying "to keep track of all the random associations one comes across in real life and brains are supposed to be so good at remembering but sometimes mine wouldn't." He hits on the idea of linking files on his computer, and writes a computer program he calls Enquire, naming it after the Victorian book Enquire within upon Everything.

But that is only the beginning. Working alone, Tim Berners-Lee takes the concept of freely accessing knowledge and communicating around the world as far as they have ever been taken. He decides to open up his computer to everyone, and invite them to link their material. In his vision there is no central manager, no central database, and no scaling problems. The world wide Web is open-ended and infinite. But for this to occur it has to have a language.

So Tim weaves together a relatively easy-to-learn coding system — HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language). He designs an addressing scheme that gives each Web page a unique location or url (universal resource locator), and he hacks a set of rules called HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) that allow these documents to be linked together on computers across the Internet. In less than a decade his program will create a global mass medium.

1990 - 1999 BRITS AND AMERICANS ADVANCE HUMAN GENOME PROJECT

In the hope that mapping the Human Genome will create advances in the treatment of disease, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the UK Wellcome Trust join forces to:

• Identify the approximately 30,000 genes in human DNA;
• Determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA;
• Store the information in databases
• Improve data analysis tools;
• Transfer related technologies to the private sector; and
• Address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise.

France, Japan, Germany, and China come on board the scientific consortium to help with the work. Progress is swift as all the national research groups compete with each other. See 21st Century »

1990s - 2007 EVANS AND SMITHIES "KNOCK OUT" GENES TO IDENTIFY THE GENES ASSOCIATED WITH DISEASE

Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies genetically manipulate stem cells to learn what genes do in the body and to hone new treatments based on gene therapy. Evans focuses developing the technology that will allow scientists to study the function of genes in a whole animal.

They discover how to do gene targeting, known as gene 'knockout'. “In particular, they learned how to knock out genes in mice, shedding light on what genes do and providing a test bed for biomedical research” (Telegraph). The benefits to people are expected to be enormous.

Sir Martin's research sheds light on cystic fibrosis and on the effects of gene therapy, where genes are transplanted to treat disease. Smithies is working on gene targeting for cystic fibrosis and the blood disease thalassaemia as well as hypertension and atherosclerosis, the process that clogs arteries.

1993 ANDREW WILES SOLVES MATHEMATICAL MYSTERY

Fermat's mathematical puzzle, which has challenged the finest minds for centuries, is finally solved by Andrew Wiles in 1993. How he accomplishes this, and what his mathematical equations mean, we cannot say.

21st Century

 

When you contribute to this website,
you support Brits at their Best.

Join the Circle of Friends

English bulldog puppy

 

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass