Over 50,000 votes have been counted and the Universal Machine has triumphed in a closely fought race to be voted the greatest British innovation of the past 100 years.
Imagined by WWII codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing in the 1930s, the Universal Machine provided the theoretical basis for all modern computing.
“We owe him a huge debt,” said Stephen Fry, who championed Turing’s innovation throughout the vote. “His Universal Machine idea laid the logical and mathematical foundations of the technology you're using to read this.”
The shortlist of innovations in the Great British Innovation Vote was compiled by the GREAT Britain campaign, the Science Museum Group, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, British Science Association, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Engineering UK.
X-ray crystallography – which revealed the hidden atomic structure of compounds and celebrates its centenary this year – and the iconic Mini rounded out the top three greatest innovations from a shortlist of around 100. Leading figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and presenter Evan Davis, championed their favourite innovations and sparked heated debate across Twitter.
“The vote has been an exciting battle between the tangible products of British ingenuity, such as Mallard and the World Wide Web, and innovative ideas, such as Turing’s Universal Machine,” commented Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group. “We’ve started an interesting public debate about innovation, particularly how creativity and technology feed into scientific discoveries.”
Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “I am delighted that people have voted Turing’s Universal Machine as their favourite British innovation of the last century – a century that has seen accelerated engineering and scientific advance on an unprecedented scale. Turing’s coding genius, apart from helping to win World War II through his work at Bletchley Park, paved the way for the later explosion in computing technology.
“The Universal Machine was hard pressed in the vote by the Mini – much loved as a ‘60s icon and highly innovative at the time, including a revolutionary new rubber suspension designed by Alex Moulton.”
Ionic liquid chemistry was voted as the innovation most likely to shape the 21st century. “We are delighted to win, as this will shine a very public spotlight on how a team of chemists can dramatically improve the quality of the environment for everyone,” said Professor Ken Seddon, Director of Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories.
The Great British Innovation Vote website (topbritishinnovations.org) will continue to be available online as a resource of British scientific, engineering and medical innovations.
Notes for editors
The Great British Innovation Vote opened on 15th March and ran until 24th March during National Science and Engineering Week. Over 50,000 votes were cast online via topbritishinnovations.org.
The top 5 past innovations (in order of voting) include: Turing’s Universal Machine, the Mini, X-ray Crystallography, the discovery of Pulsars and the Mallard.
The top 5 future innovations (in order of voting) include: Ionic liquid chemistry, the Raspberry Pi, Organ printing, Graphene and the discovery of the Higgs boson.
More information about Alan Turing can be found in Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy, a free exhibition at the Science Museum supported by Google. This biographical exhibition explores Turing’s inspirational story and examines his profound influence on the fields of code-breaking, computing, mathematics, artificial intelligence and biology.
To request interviews, or for further information and images, please contact Will Stanley in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4429 or Will Stanley
About the Science Museum
As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement. For further information, please visit sciencemuseum.org.uk or follow the museum via facebook and twitter.
Aboutthe GREAT Britain campaign
Launched in 2011,the GREATcampaign showcases the best of what Britain has to offer to encourage the world to visit, study and do business with the UK.It is designed to make the most of the economic opportunities presented by 2012 and focuses on trade, inward investment, tourism and attracting international students to the UK.The campaign is projected to help generate around a quarter of a billion pounds for the British economy over the next two years.
About the Royal Society
The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. For further information on the Royal Society please visit royalsociety.org or follow the Royal Society on Twitter or Facebook.
About the Royal Academy of Engineering
Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK's most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community. For further information on the Royal Academy of Engineering please visit raeng.org.uk or follow the Royal Academy of Engineering on Twitter.