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 effective antiseptic.

Artificial Diamonds

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.

Latent Heat

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.

Brownian Movement

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.

Pneumatic Tyres

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.

Chemical Bonds

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.

Decimal Point

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

Fax Machines

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.

Flailing machines

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

Iron Bridges

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.

Percussion Powder

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 Electromagnetism

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.

Mackintosh Raincoats

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.

Macadamised roads

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

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 bacteriologist . 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 heating oil.

Hollow-pipe drainage

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 for Malaria.

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.

The Steam-hammer

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.

The Stereotype

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.

Sulphuric Acid

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 metal refining.

The telephone

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 telegraph

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.

Tubular steel

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.

Breech-loading rifle

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 degrees.

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.


This website is Copyright 1999 & 2004  Electrick Publications.   The bird logo and name Solar Navigator are trademarks. All rights reserved.  All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged.       www.maxenergy.org  is an environmental educational charity.



CONTACT:  nelson@solarnavigator.net  07905 147709 (UK)