Saturday, March 14, 2015

Inventive Britain – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The new Royal Mail First Day Cover collection is dedicated to Inventive Britain. Great Britain has a long and proud history of developing world-changing innovations. The following inventions represent just a small proportion of those created by British minds in the fields of engineering, materials, technology and medical science.


Colossus (Tommy Flowers) – Based at the GPO Research Station in Dollis Hill, Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers worked on the development of a device that would speed up the process of deciphering strategic communications sent between officials in Germany and army commanders in the field during the Second World War. The first Colossus machine was completed by December 1943 and more machines were later commissioned, generating significant intelligence on German plans, especially in the run-up to D-Day in June 1944. Colossus was later acknowledged as the world’s first electronic computer.
World Wide Web (Tim Berners-Lee) – During the 1980s, while working at CERN, the large particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, British software engineer Tim Berners-Lee came to realise that the Internet had the potential to host a data sharing system that would enable scientists visiting CERN to share information more easily. By 1990, he had developed the technologies that form the basis of the World Wide Web: protocols to define page location and allow page retrieval, and a computer language to create and link the pages. The Web was made available to all, at no cost, in 1993 and millions have since become users.
Catseyes (Percy Shaw) – In 1934, road safety standards were set to change for ever, courtesy of Percy Shaw’s exceptional innovation. ‘Catseye’ reflecting roadstuds comprise four glass beads, each with a reflective coating applied, embedded within a rubber housing encased in a cast-iron base. Simple, but ingenious, these night-time road guides are fit for all weathers and their robust nature withstands even the heaviest traffic. The flexibility of the rubber projects the reflectors by allowing them to sink down inside the rubber when compressed, cleaning their surfaces in the process by using the rainwater that collects in the metal base.
Fibre Optics (Kao and Hockman) – Working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL), Harlow, in 1966 Charles Kao and George Hockman published results that first demonstrated the potential of fibre-optic communication. Almost 50 years later, a network of millions of kilometres of optical cables extends across the world, transmitting data in vast quantities at incredible speeds. Each cable is made up of bundles of optical fibres – very thin pipes of purified glass through which pulses of laser light travel, carrying the digital information, Fibre – optic technology has led to a digital revolution.
Stainless Steel (Harry Brearley) – While conducting research into a steel for use in gun manufacturing that was resistant to erosion, in 1913 Harry Brearley instead created a type of steel that was resistant to corrosion, which he named ‘rustless steel.’ It is made predominantly from iron, which gives it strength, but the addition of the metal chromium – comprising at least 11 per cent by weight – makes steel become ‘stainless.’ A versatile metallic alloy with a suite of useful properties, stainless steel is used in a vast array of products and structures, including the smallest artificial heart valves and the tallest of buildings.
Carbon Fibre (William Watt) - Carbon fibres are thin filaments that are incorporated into resin and baked to produce a reinforced plastic that is much stronger and considerably lighter than metal. Based at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farborough, in 1964 William Watt and his team discovered that creating fibrous carbon from polyarcrylonitrile (PAN) produced a composite material highly suitable for structural use. Carbon fibre can be moulded into myriad shapes and is now used in many machines and objects, such as wind turbines, commercial and military aeroplanes, and Formula One cars.
DNA Sequencing (Frederick Sanger) – Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the chemical code inside cells which bears the instructions for synthesising the different protein molecules that are needed to build humans, animals and plants. DNA is a long molecule made up of individual building blocks, called nucleotides, arranged in a particular order known as the DNA sequence were slow and labour-intensive, but in the 1970s biochemist Dr Frederick Sanger devised pioneering DNA sequencing methods that revolutionised later biological research.

i-Limb (David Gow) – Invented by David Gow and launched in 2007, the i-limb is a revolutionary bionic hand with a rotatable thumb and articulated fingers, each one individually powered by its own miniature motor and gearbox. Users need only think about moving their hand to send an electrical signal from their brain to contract the muscles in the remaining portion of their arm. Electrical pulses from the muscles are then captured by an electrode and sent to a computer inside the hand that triggers the movement. Capable of a powerful grip as well as the lightest of touches, the i-limb enables users to carry out a variety of everyday tasks. 

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