James Simpson, an Edinburgh physician,
was the first doctor to use anaesthetics to relieve the pain of
surgery in the mid 19th Century. His main objective at the
beginning was to alleviate the pain that women felt in
childbirth. There was strong opposition to this idea from the
Church, because the Old Testament claims that God's punishment
to women for the sins of Eve was that they should bring forth
children in pain. Fortunately for women everywhere, Simpson won this argument. I
despise the recent trend in the USA for impressionable pregnant
women to refuse any painkillers during delivery. Their fear of
harming the baby with the drugs often means a longer birth and
more trauma to the baby than a quick painless birth.
Joseph Lister, Professor of surgery at
Glasgow University, was the first to realize that the high
post-operative mortality of his patients was due to the onset of
bloodpoisoning (sepsis) caused by micro-organisms. Operating
theatres were not the pristine places they are today. In the
early 19th century, they were awash with blood and amputated
body parts. In 1865 Lister found that carbolic acid was an
In the mid 19th Century, a Scottish
scientist managed to produce some tiny artificial diamonds by a
secret process that has never been duplicated.
Agricultural Reaping Machine
Patrick Bell won the prize from the
Highland and Agricultural Society in 1790 for a reaping machine
- long before the better known machine of Cyrus McCormick
patented in 1834.
The inventor and electrical engineer,
Sir James Swinburne, patented many ideas and inventions
including improvements to electric lamps and dynamos. He was
beaten to the patent office by only one day by Baekeland for
Bakelite the thermosetting resin that founded the modern
plastics industry. Swinburne had discovered this material
independently but did not profit from his discovery. He did
patent another synthetic lacquer, Damard.
Joseph Black (1728 - 1799) Chemist.
Professor of Anatomy and Chemistry in Glasgow University (1756)
and then Professor of Medicine and Chemistry in Edinburgh
(1766). Developed the concept of "Latent Heat" and
discovered Carbon Dioxide ("Fixed Air"). Regarded as
the Father of Quantitative Chemistry.
Botanist Robert Brown observed small
specks of pollen suspended in a liquid were continually dancing
around in a haphazard way. He correctly surmised that they were
being pushed around by the molecules of the liquid which were
themselves too tiny to see. In time his discovery contributed to
the development of the Quantum Theory.
Buick is the brand name stamped on over
25 million cars in the USA. This car is the named after David
Dunbar Buick, a Scot who immigrated to the U.S. in 1856. Buick
started out as a plumber at age 15, and is credited with
developing a method for bonding enamel to cast iron; a process
responsible for our blue bathtubs and pink sinks. But David's
passion was the internal combustion engine. In 1899, in the city
of Detroit, he formed the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company,
manufacturer of gasoline engines. David also patented a
carburetor and designed an automobile, but business debts and
failed investments prevented him from realizing profits from his
inventions. He died, impoverished, in 1929. But General Motors
saluted his inventiveness in 1937 when it adopted the Buick name
and family crest for its new line of cars.
John Boyd Dunlop patented his pneumatic
tyre in 1888. He was a vetinary surgeon, but his interest in
inventions led him to develop the tyres for his son's bicycle.
He lived long enough to see his invention become the foundation
for a huge industry around the world.
Alexander Crum Brown (1838 - 1922) was
born in Edinburgh. After studying in London and Leipzig, he
returned to the University of Edinburgh in 1863. He held the
chair of Chemistry, which now bears his name, until his death.
He devised the system of representing chemical compounds in
diagrammatic form, with connecting lines representing bonds.
The notation we use today first
appeared in a book called "Descriptio" by the
Edinburgh mathematician, John Napier, Laird of Merchiston, in
the 1616. He used a decimal point to separate the whole number
part from the decimal number part. Known as 'Marvellous
Merchiston", he published many other treatises including
"Mirifici logarithmorum" (1614) and Rabdologia (1615)
on systems of arithmetic using calculation aids known as Napiers
Bones. Other achievements include his revolutionary methods for
tilling and fertilising soil. To defend the country against
Philip of Spain he came up with a number of "Secret
Inventions" including the round chariot with firepower but
offering protection (the tank); an underwater ship (the
submarine); an artillery piece which would mow down a field of
soldiers (the machine gun). Biographical
details of John Napier
Invented by a blacksmith in Dumfries in
the early 19th Century. This was not the same electronic process
used today, but was a functional technique. Some years later,
Napoleon used a similar process to send messages to his
commanders all over France.
The first successful machine to replace
the primitive hand flail for husking grain was invented by
millwright Andrew Meikle in 1784. His machine consisted of a
drum into which the grain was fed, which rotated inside a curved
metal sheet with very small clearance. The husks were rubbed off
the grain. the
Engineer Thomas Telford is famous for
building more than 1200 bridges, many of them using cast iron.
Other major achievements of his include the Caledonian Canal,
the Menai suspension bridge, and the London to Holyhead road. As
a road builder he ranked second only to McAdam. Telford founded
the Institute of Civil Engineers.
The Kelvin scale of temperature
Named after the scientist, Lord Kelvin
(William Thomson), professor at Glasgow University, who was a
pioneer in the field of thermodynamics.
Presbyterian minister Alexander Forsyth
invented this in 1809. Within a few years the flintlock, always
susceptible to damp, was obsolete. It was replaced by a
weather-proof hammer action, the cap resting on the crown of a
nipple which contained the flash-hole.
Natural logarithms were invented by the
Edinburgh mathematician, John Napier, Laird of Merchiston, in
the late 1500s. He published many treatises including "Mirifici
logarithmorum" (1614) and Rabdologia (1615) on systems of
arithmetic using calculation aids known as Napiers Bones.
Maxwell's Equations in
Nobel prize winning physicist Richard
Feynnman said that a thousand years from now the 1860s will be
remembered not for the American Civil War which will be a mere
footnote in history, but for Maxwell's mathematical description
of electromagnetism. James Clerk Maxwell(1831 - 79), who was
known as "daftie" Maxwell as a schoolboy at the
Edinburgh Academy, became a professor of physics by the age of
21. He created the electromagnetic theory of light, and
interpreted Faraday's electromagnetic field mathematically. He
correctly predicted the existence of radio waves later confirmed
experimentally by Hertz. Maxwell made important contributions to
the study of heat and the kinetic theory of gases.
"As a creative and imaginative
genius, he ranks with Newton and Einstein" ...Trevor
Williams wrote in his book The History of Invention.
Since the rainiest spot in Europe is
found in the Scottish highlands, it is not surprising that this
technique for waterproofing clothing was developed there.
John Loudon McAdam devised the
macadamized road in which the underlying soil is protected by a
light protective layer that is waterproof and cambered to divert
rainwater to the sides. the
Microwave ovens were a direct offshoot
of the development of the magnetron in 1940. The magnetron is a
device that produces electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength
of about 5 inches. Its first application was in radar. The
American science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, author of the
novel "Starship Troopers" amongst many others, was the
first civilian to use a microwave oven.
Discovered in 1928 by the
Sir Alexander Fleming. This drug has saved more lives than
the number lost in all the wars of history.
James Young was a chemist who made his
fortune as the first to market paraffin as a lighting and
Sir Hugh Dalrymple (Lord Drummore)
(1700 - 1753) Invented hollow-pipe drainage. This innovation
allowed the drying of water-logged land, bringing large areas
into agricultural production.
Radar Defense System
Physicist, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, was
the mind behind the radar network on the coast of England that
detected incoming German aircraft in World War II. He had worked
on the radio detection of thunderstorms (hazardous to aviators)
during World War I. In 1935 he proposed a method for locating
aircraft by a radio-pulse technique. The radar system was
invaluable to the defense of Britain during the Battle of
Britain in 1940. It operated day and night over a range of 40
miles, giving the Royal Air Force information about the height
and bearing of German planes.
James Harrison, who emigrated to
Australia from Scotland, invented a cooling system for a brewery
in Bendigo, in 1851. He had noticed that ether had a cooling
effect on metals, and so he pumped it through pipes. As the
ether evaporated it took heat from its surroundings to provide
the latent heat of evaporation. His idea was used in the first
refrigerated ship, the SS Strathleven, which carried a cargo of
meat from Australia to England, a voyage of several months, in
1876. Refrigeration was a major force in the economic
development of both Australia and New Zealand.
George Cleghorn (1716 - 1794) was the
army surgeon who discovered that quinine bark acted as a cure
The Steam Engine
Invented by James Watt, instrumental in
powering the Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century.
His engine was not mobile, but was fixed in position. Soon it
was being built and used in mining, to pull coal carts up to the
pithead. Mine manager, John Blenkinsop, put one of these steam
boilers on wheels so that it could carry the coal further. This
came to the attention of George Stephenson who was also a mining
engineer. Stephenson took the idea a stage further with his
invention of the steam locomotive.
Invented by the engineer and
manufacturer of steam engines and machine tools, James Nasmyth,
in 1839. The steam-hammer made it possible to forge much larger
items than before.
Until the invention of the stereotype
in 1727 printing type had to be reset if a second printing was
to be made. It was not economic to keep the type standing for
prolonged periods of time. William Ged, a goldsmith in
Edinburgh, took a plaster mould of the type and then cast the
whole page in metal.
John Roebuck of Prestonpans, near
Edinburgh, invented the lead chamber process for the
distillation of sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid is of central
importance in the manufacture of many other chemicals and in
Alexander Graham Bell was born in
Edinburgh and lived there until his family emigrated to Canada
when he was 18. He patented the telephone in 1876 and now there
are more than 500 million of them spanning the globe. He
revolutionized world communications.
Thermos bottles (Dewars)
Sir James Dewar (1842 - 1923) invented
the dewar flask to keep liquids cool in the laboratory. The idea
became the domestic thermos flask, which keeps hot liquids hot
as well as cold things cold by isolating them from their
surroundings, thus reducing the flow of heat. His scientific
career was noted for his pioneer work on low temperature physics
and vacuum techniques. He was the first to liquify hydrogen.
The Scots Magazine first published the
concept for the telegraph in 1753. An anonymous contributor
suggested that words could be spelled out along a 26 wire system
activated by static electricity. The receiver had twenty six
pith balls, each with a different letter of the alphabet. The
pith balls would be attracted to their corresponding charged
wires when the wires were activated with static electricity. The
state of technology was not up to the task until Volta invented
the electric battery in 1800, however.
A photo-mechanical device invented by
John Logie Baird in 1922. He set up the first practical
television system in the world in 1929, in Britain. In 1935
Baird worked with the German company, Fernseh, to start the
world's first 3-day per week television service.
In 1908, another Scot, Alan Campbell-Swinton,
outlined the use of the cathode-ray tube for transmission and
reception that is used in modern television. This method
replaced Baird's in the 1930's.
Sir William Fairbairn (1789 - 1874) was
born in Kelso, in southern Scotland. An engineer, he developed
the idea of using tubular steel, which was much stronger than
solid steel, as a construction material.
Patrick Ferguson (1744 - 1780) Born in
Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, Ferguson invented the breech-loading
rifle, which was capable of firing seven shots per minute. With
the help of this weapon, the Americans were defeated at the
Battle of Brandywine (1777). He was killed at the Battle of
King's Mountain in South Carolina, USA.
Around 1815 William Nicol (lecturer of
natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh) had used
Canada balsam to cement pieces of fossil wood or minerals onto a
glass plate and then ground the sample down to slices so fine
you could see through them with a microscope and discover all
kinds of good stuff--like bubbles in crystals, which told you
something of the way the minerals had been formed, or the cell
patterns that showed what kind of plant the sample had come
from. Prior to this, paleobotany (... the morphology of fossil
plants) was a subject virtually untouched, except for some
earlier research by another Scotsman."
Polarization of Light
In 1828, William Nicol discovered
polarization of light (the effect that makes polarized
sunglasses useful). He stuck two bits of an Iceland spar crystal
together and invented the Nicol prism. Iceland spar splits a
beam of light into two polarized rays, with the transverse
electromagnetic waves vibrating in orthogonal directions in the
two beams. If two Nicol prisms were used, when the second one
was rotated, one of the polarized light rays coming through
would dim and then cut off once it had rotated through 90
The Cloud Chamber
was invented by Charles Thomson Rees
Wilson (1869 - 1959) an eminent Edinburgh scientist. After
observing optical atmospheric phenomena in the Highlands, he
realized that condensation trails could be used to track and
detect atomic and subatomic particles. The cloud chamber became
an indispensible detection device in nuclear physics, and
therefore he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927. In addition to
his research on atomic physics, Wilson studied atmospheric
phenomena all his life and his work on the electrical behaviour
of the atmosphere is the basis of our understanding of what is
involved in thunderstorms.