To celebrate the theme of invention and discovery in National Science & Engineering Week we want the public to vote for the most important innovation in science and technology from the last 100 years and the one likely to shape the future.
This year marks the centenary of William Henry Bragg and his son, William Lawrence Bragg's pioneering paper on X-ray crystallography, which described how to determine the structure of materials at the atomic level. This work earned them both the Nobel Prize in 1915 and some consider it the most significant discovery of the last 100 years.
But what do you think?
Developed as part of the GREAT Campaign by the Science Museum, National Media Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, the National Railway Museum, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society, British Science Association and Engineering UK, this site features digital recordings (Audioboos) from leading figures who have voted for their favourite innovation and explain how it has been so influential. The Great vote lists British innovations in theory, scientific understanding, engineering and technology and was launched by Prof Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge.
Over the space of 10 days, around 80,000 people visited the website to discover more about the greatest British innovations of the past century and to cast more than 50,000 votes. As the vote progressed, there were many attempts to drum up support using social media: Gia Milinovich, the TV presenter and writer, galvanized the female vote for pulsars because of the involvement of Jocelyn Bell-Burnell; broadcasters Samira Ahmed and Evan Davis championed the votes for Concorde and the ARM chip; train lovers pushed Mallard into an early lead; and Leeds alumni pushed hard for X-ray crystallography. In response to comments, we also added two additional innovations to the list: Randomised Controlled Trial and Pulse Code Modulation.
As the deadline loomed, two front runners emerged for the greatest innovation of the past century; the Mini and Turing's Universal Machine, a clash of the tangible with the intangible. And various key figures became involved in the calls to action, among them the broadcasters Carol Vorderman, Dara O Briain, Martha Kearney, and Sian Lloyd; scientists Prof Jonathan Butterworth, Dr Ben Goldacre, Prof Brian Cox, Dr Richard Dawkins, Prof Simon Fishel, Prof Matthew Freeman, Prof Jim Al-Khalili, Prof Alice Roberts and Prof Richard Wiseman; science writers Graham Farmelo and Georgina Ferry; and science comedienne Helen Arney.
On the last day, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, cast his vote for the double helix but the race for the top vote remained very close as X-ray crystallography, the Mini and the Universal Machine lobbies worked behind the scenes to drum up support. As a result of the intervention of the actor and writer Stephen Fry later that day, along with Richard Dawkins and Jim Al-Khalili, Turing’s Universal Machine won the overall vote.
The vote for the recent innovation that is most likely to shape the coming century began with an early front-runner: the Raspberry Pi, a credit card sized computer. But, in the last week, the green chemistry of Ionic Liquids began to dominate and eventually the team at Queen’s University Belfast won the second vote for the advance most likely to have an impact in years to come.