Science and technology in the United Kingdom

A Watt steam engine, which powered the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom and played a key role in it becoming the world's first industrialised nation.[1]

Science and technology in the United Kingdom has a long history, producing many important figures and developments in the field. Major theorists from the UK include Isaac Newton whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science and Charles Darwin whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundamental to the development of modern biology. Major scientific discoveries include hydrogen by Henry Cavendish, penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and the structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others. Major engineering projects and applications pursued by people from the UK include the steam locomotive developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, the jet engine by Frank Whittle and the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. The UK continues to play a major role in the development of science and technology and major technological sectors include the aerospace, motor and pharmaceutical industries.

Important advances made by people from the UK

Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) with his important contributions to classical physics and mathematics.

England and Scotland were leading centres of the Scientific Revolution from the 17th century[2] and the United Kingdom led the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century,[3] and has continued to produce scientists and engineers credited with important advances.[4] Some of the major theories, discoveries and applications advanced by people from the UK are given below.

Charles Darwin (1809–82) whose theory of evolution by natural selection is the foundation of modern biological sciences[15]

Technology-based industries

The Airbus A380 has wings and engines manufactured in the UK.

The UK plays a leading part in the aerospace industry, with companies including Rolls-Royce playing a leading role in the aero-engine market; BAE Systems acting as Britain's largest and the Pentagon's sixth largest defence supplier, and large companies including GKN acting as major suppliers to the Airbus project.[28] Two British-based companies, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, ranked in the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world by sales in 2009[29] and UK companies have discovered and developed more leading medicines than any other country apart from the US.[30] The UK remains a leading centre of automotive design and production, particularly of engines, and has around 2,600 component manufacturers.[31] Investment by venture capital firms in UK technology companies was $9.7 billion from 2010–2015.[32]

Scientific research

Scientific research and development remains important in British universities, with many establishing science parks to facilitate production and co-operation with industry.[33] Between 2004 and 2012 the UK produced 6% of the world's scientific research papers and had an 8% share of scientific citations, the third- and second-highest in the world (after the United States' 9% and China's 7% respectively).[34][35] Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.[36]

Britain is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the European Union. From 2007-13, the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of €107 billion expenditure on research, development and innovation in EU Member States, associated and third countries. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU.[37]

See also


  1. Watt steam engine image: located in the lobby of into the Superior Technical School of Industrial Engineers of the UPM (Madrid)
  2. J. Gascoin, "A reappraisal of the role of the universities in the Scientific Revolution", in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman, eds, Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-521-34804-8, p. 248.
  3. "European Countries – United Kingdom". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  4. E. E. Reynolds and N. H. Brasher, Britain in the Twentieth Century, 1900–1964 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), p. 336.
  5. Urbach, Peter (1987). Francis Bacon's Philosophy of Science: An Account and a Reappraisal. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Co. ISBN 9780912050447. p. 192.
  6. E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Mineola, NY: Courier Dover, 1924, rpt., 2003), ISBN 0-486-42551-7, p. 207.
  7. C. Jungnickel and R. McCormmach, Cavendish (American Philosophical Society, 1996), ISBN 0-87169-220-1.
  8. I. James, Remarkable Engineers: From Riquet to Shannon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), ISBN 0-521-73165-8, pp. 33–6.
  9. 1 2 B. Bova, The Story of Light (Sourcebooks, 1932, rpt., 2002), ISBN 1-4022-0009-9, p. 238.
  10. Ackroyd, J.A.D. Sir George Cayley, the father of Aeronautics Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 56 (2), 167–181 (2002). Retrieved: 29 May 2010.
  11. Davies, Hunter (1975). George Stephenson. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-76934-0.
  12. Hubbard, Geoffrey (1965) Cooke and Wheatstone and the Invention of the Electric Telegraph, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London p. 78
  13. The electric telegraph, forerunner of the internet, celebrates 170 years BT Group Connected Earth Online Museum - Retrieved March 2010
  14. R. Tames, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Osprey Publishing, 3rd edn., 2009), ISBN 0-7478-0758-2.
  15. 1 2 C. Hatt, Scientists and Their Discoveries (London: Evans Brothers, 2006), ISBN 0-237-53195-X, p. 46.
  16. C. Hatt, Scientists and Their Discoveries (London: Evans Brothers, 2006), ISBN 0-237-53195-X, p. 30.
  17. "Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922)", Scottish Science Hall of Game, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  18. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1945 Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain, Sir Howard Florey",, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  19. "John Logie Baird (1888–1946)", BBC History, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  20. The World's First High Definition Colour Television System McLean, p. 196.
  21. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1933". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2007-11-24.
  22. 1 2 Jeffrey Cole, Ethnic Groups of Europe: An Encyclopedia (London: ABC-CLIO, 2011), ISBN 1-59884-302-8, p. 121.
  23. "Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell", Hovercraft Museum, retrieved 24 June 2011.
  24. C. Hatt, Scientists and Their Discoveries (London: Evans Brothers, 2006), ISBN 0-237-53195-X, p. 56.
  25. Griffiths, Martin (20070501) The Tale of the Blog's Boson Retrieved on 2008-05-27.
  26. C. Hatt, Scientists and Their Discoveries (London: Evans Brothers, 2006), ISBN 0-237-53195-X, p. 16.
  28. Dominic O’Connell, "Britannia still rules the skies", The Sunday Times, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  29. "IMS Health", IMS Health, archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2011.
  30. "The Pharmaceutical sector in the UK", The National Archives, 8 August 2007, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  31. "Automotive industry", Department of Business Innovation and Skills, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  32. "UK tech firms smash venture capital funding record". London & Partners. 6 January 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  33. M. Castells, P. Hall, P. G. Hall, Technopoles of the World: the Making of Twenty-First-Century Industrial Complexes (London: Routledge, 1994), ISBN 0-415-10015-1, pp. 98–100.
  34. "Knowledge, networks and nations: scientific collaborations in the twenty-first century", Royal Society, 2011, archived from the original (PDF) on 22 June 2011.
  35. MacLeod, Donald (March 21, 2006). "Britain Second in World Research Rankings". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 14, 2006.
  36. McCook, Alison (2006), "Is peer review broken?", The Scientist, 20 (2): 26, archived from the original on 21 June 2011.
  37. "How much research funding does the UK get from the EU and how does this compare with other countries?". Royal Society. 23 November 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
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