British inventions

Homegrown: British architects hope to use trees to build wooden skyscrapers by 2024.

Life would be very different if it weren’t for British inventors. We wouldn’t have trains, vaccination, or the internet. Today, the latest inventions could change the world for the better.

  • Why are there so many British inventors?

    From cameras to vacuum cleaners, the UK has a long tradition of life-changing inventions. Much of this is down to the Industrial Revolution. This period of change began in Britain at the end of the 18th Century, when inventors designed and built machines to replace manual labour.

    The Industrial Revolution saw many inventions, including the steam train, typewriters, and dynamite. The tradition has continued. According to recent research, nearly half of the most important discoveries of the past 50 years were made in the UK.

  • What are today’s inventors coming up with?

    One of the greatest British inventions is the hypodermic needle, which has revolutionised medicine. Modern inventions continue to help doctors. Scientists in London have created ‘see-through surgery’. They use medical scans and virtual reality to make 3D images of patients’ bodies, which makes surgery easier.

  • Could inventions help us fight the climate crisis?

    Yes! New technology is helping us create eco-friendly buildings. In London, researchers are testing a new kind of concrete that could be used to grow plants. Walls and fences all over the city could soon be covered in lichen that soaks up harmful CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Meanwhile, architects have designed very strong beams from trees to use in the world’s first wooden skyscrapers.

  • How else can technology help the environment?

    As well as creating green buildings, another big target for inventors is plastic. This manmade product takes hundreds of years to break down naturally. It either ends up in landfill or polluting our oceans. Luckily, researchers in Portsmouth have found an enzyme that breaks it down, making single-use plastic recyclable.

    Another group of scientists say plastic is rich in energy and should not be wasted. They are using plastic to create green hydrogen fuel to be used in cars and public transport.

  • In what other ways will science affect travel?

    Driverless cars are on their way. Google and Tesla have already built autonomous vehicles, and many experts say they will be a common sight by 2025. Before the cars are ready, they need to be tested. Experts in Warwick have designed an ingenious way for the cars to “rehearse” driving. They scanned 50 miles of UK roads and created a simulator that tricks the car into thinking it’s driving outside.

  • Have we reached our inventing limit?

    Definitely not. Modern inventors are adapting and there are many exciting creations that haven’t even arrived yet. A London businessman hopes to turn old coffee into fuel for buses. Another company hopes to combat food waste with ‘smart’ labels that tell consumers if the food is still fresh. The creations of the future could be used to solve the biggest challenges facing humanity.

You Decide

  1. Can new inventions be used to solve the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Come up with an invention that could change the way we live. Draw it, label it, and write a paragraph explaining why you think it could make the world a better place.

Word Watch

Industrial Revolution
A period of rapid development of factories that took place in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Manual labour
Physical work done my humans. Machines, like tractors, have replaced a lot of manual labour.
Hypodermic needle
A hollow needle used to give patients injections.
Virtual reality
A computer-generated 3D image, usually seen using special glasses.
Lichen
A slow-growing plant which usually grows on rocks.
Enzyme
A biological substance that speeds up natural processes, like breaking down single-use plastic.
Hydrogen fuel
A clean fuel that only produces water when used – unlike petrol, which produces carbon dioxide.
Autonomous vehicles
A vehicle that can drive itself, completely unaided by a human.

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