Our past building our future
In the past our ingenuity, and sometimes accidental discoveries, have made a huge impact on the world, like Alexander Graham Bell being awarded the first patent for the telephone in 1876. Ironically he found the phone to be a nuisance and an intrusion so refused to have one in his study; and John Logie Baird’s first working television system in 1926 and then achieving the first transatlantic transmission in 1928.
Sir Alexander Fleming is perhaps one of the best known Scots, thanks to his discovery of penicillin. Fleming's general lack of tidiness was to thank for the discovery. In 1928, while working with the flu virus, Fleming returned from a family holiday to find the cultures he had been working on stacked in a corner in his laboratory. Noticing unusual changes in the cultures Fleming used them to isolate the penicillin, marking the start of modern antibiotics.
The breakthrough for the first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner was made by a team at the University of Aberdeen in 1980, who successfully took the first clinically useful image of a patient’s internal tissues. Nowadays it's considered to be a safer diagnostic tool than X-rays, and is more useful for soft tissue imaging.
Modern breakthroughs and ingenuity
That thread of ingenuity in our past is still as strong today and continues Scotland’s path of world changing discoveries into the future.
Here are just some of the modern innovations and discoveries from Scotland striving for long-lasting and positive impacts on the world.
The revolutionary compact, sustainable heat batteries developed by Sunamp harness the power of thermal energy to change the way we heat buildings. In 2023, the East-Lothian based thermal storage specialist was recognised for its excellence in innovation with a prestigious King’s Award for Enterprise.
The storage technology used for low carbon heating and cooling of buildings is helping to remove the need for fossil fuels, and committed to achieving a net zero future.
The agricultural industry is being transformed by MiAlgae who are using wastewater to create livestock feed that is high in protein and omegas. Using the leftovers from industrial food and drink production, like from the whisky industry, Omega-3 rich microalgae is cultivated which has huge potential as a zero-waste, sustainable and rich source of nutrients.
Glasgow-based company AAC Clydespace is a world-leading innovator and producer of small satellites. The space sector is booming in Scotland, and this company has been at the forefront of it for many years. The ability to collect high quality monitoring data from space has never been more important.
From weather forecasting and climate change trends, to monitoring ocean health and agriculture where data can help to detect pests, invasive plants and even changes in the soil.
Speaking of small, Wee-G was described as smartphone technology adapted into a super-sensitive gravity detector. The incredible sensor developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, can detect changes in gravity.
Known as a micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) it can allow engineers to detect potential sinkholes, or aid early warning systems for volcanic eruptions. In a field test in 2016 it measured a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Chile. The size and portability of the technology means it can be much more easily transported and used around the world.
Founded in 2015 in Edinburgh, Current Health is an amazing development in healthcare that continuously monitors patients, allowing early detection of deterioration. Their goal envisioned a world where more healthcare is delivered at home and using technology to help achieve this.
Today our advances span agriculture, medical, renewable energy, and the space sector. Our universities are at the forefront of research and development with AI and robotics at the Heriot-Watt University Robotarium; there’s the University of Edinburgh Roslin Institute and it’s world-leading animal science research; and Abertay University in Dundee is ranked number one in Europe for video games education.
Our determination to innovate and strive for a better world is as strong today as it’s always been, and these are just a few of the amazing achievements we’re making for the future.
Read more about some of the other amazing discoveries made in Scotland.