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Spotlight on the great discoveries


Cambridge University



LIFE-CHANGING ideas are celebrated in a new book that aims to raise the profile of universities.

Eureka UK highlights 100 major developments and inventions to have come out of British academia in the last 50 years - from unlocking DNA to creating DVDs.

And some of the most famous discoveries in the book, published by Universities UK, were made by Cambridge University academics.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Who can imagine a world now without CDs and DVDs, test-tube babies, or computers?

None of these would have been possible without the work and dedication of academics in the UK."

The book will be sent to secondary schools next year in an effort to raise the profile of academia.

British ideas and discoveries from Cambridge University:

■ Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe - IVF and first test-tube baby Medical history was created on the night of July 25, 1978 with the birth of Louise Joy Brown, the first "test-tube baby", created by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) - where a mother's egg and father's sperm are fused outside the body in a laboratory. Cambridge University embryologist, Robert Edwards, and the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe were the first to develop the IVF technique. The pair went on to establish Bourn Hall clinic, near Cambridge.

■ James Watson and Francis Crick - the structure of DNA A blue plaque now hangs in the Cambridge pub, The Eagle, where two young scientists, James Watson and the late Francis Crick, announced to the bewildered locals on February 28, 1953 that they had found the "secret of life". The discovery of the structure of DNA heralded the birth of modern molecular genetics.

■ Max Perutz - how proteins work Max Perutz pioneered the study of how proteins - the essential constituents of all living beings - work, illuminating for the first time their complex molecular structures.

Working at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University during the 1950s, Perutz focused his research on haemoglobin, the protein responsible for making our blood red. He established the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in 1962.

■ Fred Sanger - Building blocks of insulin The molecular structure of insulin was not uncovered until the 1950s.

Working at Cambridge University, Fred Sanger revealed the exact order of the 51 basic building blocks, or amino acids, that make up the insulin molecule. The discovery meant that insulin could be manufactured and made much more widely available.

The Sanger Institute in Hinxton, a genome research institute, is named after him.

■ Richard Stone - international accounts How can economists assess the economic health of a nation? The answer was provided by Richard Stone during the 1950s at Cambridge University, when he created the methods needed to produce national accounts.

■ Michael Ventris and John Chadwick - Cracking Linear B code In 1953 a young British architect and a Cambridge University scholar showed how they had unlocked Europe's earliest known language, unread for 3,000 years. Michael Ventris and John Chadwick had conquered what came to be known as "the Everest of Greek archaeology". The breaking of the ancient code called Linear B shattered many of our preconceptions about early Western civilisation.

■ Nikolaus Pevsner - First architectural guides to Britain Dubbed "the greatest endeavour of popular architectural scholarship", the Pevsner Architectural Guides have opened the eyes of generations to the design and history of great buildings in Britain and Ireland.

■ Drummond Matthews and Fred Vine - Magnetic stripes in ocean rocks In 1963, two British marine geologists discovered huge matching magnetic "stripes" in the rocks by ocean ridges.

They had confirmed the controversial theory of seafloor spreading, a key precursor to the birth of plate tectonics. Drummond "Drum" Matthews and his research student Fred Vine made the discovery during a Cambridge University expedition to the Gulf of Aden.

■ Fred Hoyle - We are all made of stardust How are heavier elements created?

Half a century ago this question still dogged scientists, who could not explain how elements heavier than hydrogen had ever formed in the early stages of the universe. But then in 1957 Fred Hoyle, based at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University, and three fellow scientists proposed a startling theory - the elements were created in the oldest chemical factories in the universe: stars.

■ Stephen Hawking - Big bangs and singularities Singularities - infinitely dense points in space with no dimensions where the laws of physics break down - must exist if Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is correct. This mathematical fact was proved by Stephen Hawking as a graduate student at Cambridge University, working with the theoretical physicist, Roger Penrose at Oxford University in the 1960s.




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