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past innovations

Black-and-white photograph of Alan Turing.

Universal machine

the theoretical basis for all computers

The theoretical basis for all modern computers was laid down when Alan Turing (1912-54) imagined a ‘universal machine’ in his 1936 paper ‘On co...

A young woman (Bell) in front of a large circular receiving dish.

Discovery of Pulsars

radio beams from dead stars

These cosmic lighthouses were found by accident while a University of Cambridge team was looking for twinkling sources of radio ...

A zoomed-in photograph of a microchip.

ARM chip

found in most of world's smartphones and tablets

The ARM (advanced RISC machine) processor is a family of processors used in devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers. Developed in 19...

Hexagonal metal plates connected together by metal rods and arranged helically around a central stand.

Double helix

the ‘secret of life’

Biotechnology, genetic engineering and synthetic biology, all frontiers of research in the 21st century, owe their origins to th...

Lines of grey and black dots.

DNA sequencing technique

revealing the genetic code

The most common method used to ‘read’ DNA code to reveal the genetic ‘recipe’ of an organism was developed in Cambridge. While w...

Four images showing a pipette injecting round dots into a cell.

Stem-cell

finding the blueprint for all human cells

Martin Evans (born 1941) conducted pioneering work at University of Cambridge on stem cells, the ‘parent’ cells of all the 200 o...

Hand drawn diagram illustrating Hawking radiation.

Hawking radiation

a surprising discovery on the path to a new theory of quantum gravity

One long-standing goal of physicists has been to blend the theory of the very big (general relativity) with the very small (quan...

Photograph of a hovercraft painted black and silver, with ‘Westland SR-N1’ displayed on its side.

Hovercraft

travelling on a cushion of air

In the 19th century it was recognised that ships wasted a great deal of energy on the friction between the hull and the water. Experiments were...

A diagram showing the ocean floor spread away from the magma centre.

Magnetic band

the first scientific test of ocean floor spreading

Cambridge geophysicists Fred Vine (born 1939) and Drummond Matthews (1931-97) proved that the radical notion of continental dr...

Francis William Aston examines apparatus resting on a work bench. Other laboratory apparatus can be seen on the wall behind him.

Mass spectrograph

the smallest ‘weighing scales’ of all

While experimenting with how charged atoms and molecules can be deflected by magnetic and electric fields, Cambridge chemist J...

Computer graphic showing blue and green antibodies sticking to bumps on the surface of a white sphere representing a cell.

Monoclonal antibodies

manufactured antibodies that revolutionised the biotechnology industry

Monoclonal antibodies, proteins with the ability to bind to a specific molecular target, have found many uses in research, tre...

Strips of blue paraffin wax in a white case.

Neutron

revealing the structure of the atom

In 1911 Ernest Rutherford had already shown that atoms were more complex than previously thought, drawing them as electrons orbi...

Black-and-white photograph of Mary Lucy Cartwright.

Origin of Chaos

when radar research detected a new theory

The effort to develop radar in the Second World War provided early insights into what would come to be called ‘chaos theory’, ...

A map of the whole Earth centred on the Pacific Ocean, showing the contours of the ocean floor.

Plate tectonics theory

the motion, formation and recycling of Earth’s crust

Dan McKenzie (born 1942), a Cambridge geophysicist, developed the theory of plate tectonics using earlier ideas of continental...

Black and white image of the three physicists walking up a path.

Predicting antimatter

when theory revealed half the universe

The father of antimatter was the University of Cambridge physicist Paul Dirac (1902-1984). His 1931 paper predicted, for the first time, the existence...

Large metal instruments and bank of computers fill a room.

Scanning electron microscope

the most powerful microscope ever made

In the 1950s and early 1960s Charles Oatley (1904-1996) and his group at the Engineering Laboratories at the University of Cambridge developed ...

View of a computer terminal that fills a whole room. On the terminal are buttons and dials and a plaque reading ‘LEO’.

Showing singularities really exist

places where the laws of physics do not apply

Stephen Hawking (born 1942) and Roger Penrose (born 1931) from the University of Cambridge worked together on the structure of s...

Image shows bottles of vitamins A,B and D.

Vitamin

discovering the key to growth and health

Vitamins are naturally occurring and found in many foods but their existence was only discovered in 1912. In a series of ingeniously-designed...