St Andrew’s Day science
“Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”
I know we don’t make as much of a fuss of our national day as our Irish friends across the water but this coming Saturday is St Andrew’s Day. Historically, Scotland has a wealth of scientists, inventors and engineers whose discoveries changed the way we live today. As an educational charity, Glasgow Science Centre aims to inspire the scientists of tomorrow through thought-provoking, fun and exciting experiences.
Let’s look at some of Scotland’s top scientists, both past and present:
Born in Greenock on 18 January 1736, Watt initially worked as a maker of mathematical instruments, but soon became interested in steam engines. In around 1764, Watt was given a model Newcomen engine to repair. He realised that it was hopelessly inefficient and began to work to improve the design. Alongside his partner Mathew Boulton, he began to manufacture steam engines. Watt became a wealthy man and when he retired, he devoted himself to research work and patented other inventions including the rotary engine, the double-action engine and the steam indicator, which records the steam pressure inside the engine.
The unit of measurement of electrical and mechanical power - the watt - is named in his honour.
James Clerk Maxwell-
His ground breaking work in unifying observations of magnetism, electricity and optics into electromagnetic theory places Maxwell in the same league as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein on the World stage. Indeed, Einstein once said of Maxwell’s work that it was the “most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton”.
His four fundamental equations describe the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields. In addition they can be used to show that light is an electromagnetic wave.
Along with his contributions to the kinetic theory of gases, Maxwell’s work paved the way for the fields of special relativity and quantum mechanics.
Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 at Lochfield Farm, near Darvel in Ayrshire. At the age of 13, Fleming moved to London to live with his brother who was a doctor and at the age of 20 followed his brother into the medical profession. Fleming studied at St Mary’s Medical School and won almost every prize and medal available. After returning from the war, Fleming discovered and proved the natural antiseptic power of the enzyme he called ‘lysozyme’. Six years later, he identified a germ-killing mould – one of a group known as ‘Penicillium’. It was some 10 years later when Fleming, along with Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, isolated penicillin. They developed it as an antibiotic just before the Second World War.
The discovery of antibiotics became a great milestone in the history of medicine. Today penicillin is used to treat all kinds of bacterial infections.
Ian Frazer was born to medical scientist parents, which helped inspire his love of science. Born in Glasgow in 1953, he received his s Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. In the 1980s, Frazer immigrated to Australia where he now resides as the CEO and Director of Research of the Translational Research Institute.
In parallel with researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown University, and University of Rochester, Frazer and his colleagues developed and patented the basic technology behind the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer; the second cancer preventing vaccine, and the first vaccine designed to prevent a cancer.
Professor Sue Black is one of the UK’s leading forensic anthropologists, and is director of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. She teaches forensic anthropology, anatomy and human identification.
Black started her career as a lecturer of Anatomy at St Thomas Hospital in London. In 1999, she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo on behalf of the United Nations and worked as a forensics expert on a number of high-profile criminal cases, including the conviction of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009.
In 2008, Black received a Lucy Mair Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute, a police commendation for DVI training and an OBE for her services to forensic anthropology in Kosovo. She was also listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Radio 4.
Which Scottish scientist, inventor or engineer from the past or present, would you like to honour?