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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...

The blue Mallard steam train travels along the rail with stream billowing from its chimney.


fastest steam train in the world

On July 3rd 1938, A4 class locomotive Mallard sped down Stoke Bank on the East Coast Main Line in Lincolnshire at 126mph, setting a new locomot...

Three women stand by a table admiring a pile of Tupperware.

Polyethylene synthesis

accidental discovery became one of the world's most used plastics

This polymer was discovered in March 1933, when Reginald Gibson (1902-83) and Eric Fawcett (1908-87) of Imperial Chemical Indu...

A catseye embedded in cement in the middle of a road.

Catseye road marking

a guide for night time drivers

The inventor of 'catseye' roadstud was Percy Shaw (1890-1976) of Halifax, West Yorkshire. The inspiration for this invention struck Percy when ...

A man looks through a camera at a woman. It is as tall as the man, consisting of a large, boxy camera resting on a tripod.

Emitron TV camera

used by the world’s first regular television service

The Emitron camera was the first electronic television camera in the world to be applied in regular 'high definition' broadcasting. Cameras of ...

Close-up view of wooden cabinet with glass panels. Inside are mechanical gears. Other similar cabinets can be seen in the background.

Hartree differential analyser

a machine to solve complex equations

Differential equations have numerous applications in engineering, chemistry, biology and economics. Since they can describe exponential growth ...

Strips of blue paraffin wax in a white case.


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’, ...

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...

Robert Watson-Watt makes a note on some equipment.


Winning technology for the Battle of Britain

Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973) led the British development of radar (radio detection and ranging), which built on experiments carried out by He...

Black-and-white photograph of a tractor on display in the Museum, with a plough mounted on the tractor’s back and attached directly to it.

Three-point linkage system

revolutionising agriculture

Brought up on his father’s farm in County Down, Northern Ireland, Harry Ferguson (1884-1960) had first-hand experience of the hardships of agri...