Great Scot! – Celebrating Scottish Science

This post was originally published at RiAus

With Glasgow-born Australian Professor Ian Frazer set for the RiAus annual Science Inspiration event this year, we thought it apt to take a closer look at what other pioneering science Scotland has produced over the years. From physicist James Clerk Maxwell to physician Alexander Fleming, Scotland has seen many scientists and inventors make discoveries that we can’t imagine living without today. Here is just a handful of science royalty that have made a lasting contribution to modern science and society.

The statue of James Clerk Maxwell on George Street, Edinburgh

The statue of James Clerk Maxwell on George Street, Edinburgh (Image by dun_deagh)

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Maxwell was born in Edinburgh and studied there, London and Cambridge carrying out research into electromagnetic radiation. He was the first to mathematically relate magnetism, electricity and light, leading him to predict the existence of radio waves. It was his theories that led to the development of long-distance communication including television.




Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell (Image by Thomas Hawk)


Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

Alexander Graham Bell is most famously recognised as the inventor of the telephone, a feat he achieved at just 29 years old. After studying in Edinburgh, he emigrated with his family to Canada before settling in Boston where he taught at the School for the Deaf. In 1875, the first telephone was built and the Bell Telephone Company was established two years later.




Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)

Born on a farm in Ayrshire in the south-west of Scotland, Fleming went on to study medicine at St Mary’s Medical School in London and served in France during the FIrst World War. After the war, Fleming discovered the antibacterial action of the fungi Penicillium. It wasn’t for another ten years before Fleming and his team isolated penicillin, which was then used as an antibiotic during the Second World War. Penicillin is still widely used to treat bacterial infections and its discovery is remembered as a key milestone in the history of medicine.

John Logie Baird remembered in his hometown of Helensburgh

John Logie Baird remembered in his hometown of Helensburgh (Image by shirokazan)

John Logie Baird (1888-1946)

The inventor of the first working television, Baird studied at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow. After living for a year in Trinidad, Baird returned to the UK in 1920 where he began his experiments into television. His first public demonstration of television was in London in 1925 and he went on to develop images in colour as well as launching the first mass-produced television set in 1930. During the war, Baird’s success continued as he funded research into high-definition and 3D television.

It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like without the breakthroughs credited to these scientists. Today, Scotland continues to be a global base for innovative research in a range of fields. The first purpose-built facility of its kind, the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at The University of Edinburgh, opened in 2012 and is paving the way in stem cell research to advance treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s.

Dolly now resides at The National Museum of Scotland thanks to the wonders of taxidermy

Dolly now resides at The National Museum of Scotland thanks to the wonders of taxidermy (Image by Shelly Bernstein)

Earlier this year, the elusive Higgs boson was discovered by CERN, a particle first theorised by Peter Higgs during his time in Edinburgh in the 1960s. And who could forget Dolly the sheep? She was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian in 1996. The cell in question was taken from a mammary gland, with researchers naming the sheep Dolly after they “couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands” than the American country music singer’s.

About Jack Harris

After graduating in Chemistry from The University of Edinburgh, Jack worked in Hong Kong for a year before moving to Australia. He is currently involved in teaching at The University of Adelaide. Follow him @harrisjack4

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