• Question: How has your work made life better?

    Asked by modantony to Thomas Telford, Stephen Hawking, Rosalind Franklin, Peter Medawar, Nicholas Shackleton, Mary Somerville, Mary Anning, John Snow, G. H. Hardy, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, Frederick Sanger, Francis Crick, Elizabeth GarrettAnderson, Edwards and Steptoe, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Beatrice Shilling, Aneurin Bevan, Alan Turing, Ada Lovelace on 8 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: Dorothy Hodgkin

      Dorothy Hodgkin answered on 8 Nov 2018:


      I discovered the structure of the protein insulin, which allowed greater understanding of it and led to improved treatment for diabetes.

      More widely than that, my developing and improving the technique that allowed discovery of the insulin structure has led to many other scientists using the same technique to find other protein structures that have allowed us to produce many more drugs and antibiotics that can treat a huge number of different diseases.

    • Photo: Beatrice Shilling

      Beatrice Shilling answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      My work on aircraft during the Battle of Britain helped us win World War II. My successes during that time have also paved the way for more women to enter and gain recognition in the engineering industry.

    • Photo: Mary Somerville

      Mary Somerville answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      As a science communicator, I translated two great works: Newton’s Principia (which was in Latin) and Leplace’s The Mechanisms of the Heavens (which was in French). I translated both into English, adding diagrams and my own notes to make them accessible. The ideas in these books are some of the fundamental building blocks for everything, so by making these works accesible, I paved the way for other great minds to do their work: Stephenson and his Rocket, Faraday and electricity etc.

      Alongside this, I also wrote my own books, which incorporated different ideas, showing how they are all connected – it’s because of my work across the different types of science (physics, chemistry and biology) that we have the term “scientist”.

    • Photo: Peter Medawar

      Peter Medawar answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      My work made transplants possible. In my day, when soldiers were injured in the war, there were very few treatment options available to them and any that needed transplants wouldn’t survive. Now thousands and thousands of successful transplants happen every year (about 30,000 last year just in the USA). Many scientists and researchers are to thank for this, but I’m proud to have made one of the fundamental discoveries that has helped make such a difference to so many people’s lives.

    • Photo: Aneurin Bevan

      Aneurin Bevan answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      I was instrumental is passing the National Health Service Act through parliament back in 1948 and because if this everybody has access to free healthcare. There were 3 main principles that I wanted the NHS to have at it’s core:
      1) That it meets the need of everyone
      2) That it be free at the point of delivery
      3) That it be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.
      I feel that these 3 priciples are still upheld today.

      My work has made life better taking the research and knowledge from scientists and applying it to everybody as the NHS looks after all of us from birth through to death. If it wasn’t for the NHS there would be many people unable to have treatments, medication or surgery.

    • Photo: Rosalind Franklin

      Rosalind Franklin answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      All my work was aimed at making life better. My first research project was on the structure of coal, back in the 1940s when all of British industry was coal-fired, and my work made it easier to classify coal in terms of how efficient a fuel it would be, and therefore helped industry to flourish.

      My work on DNA helped to unlock the structure of DNA, which has made a huge difference to the biological and medical sciences. In my lifetime, it was pure research, but nowadays it allows us to understand the genetic basis of disease, and hence try to target diseases like cancer more effectively. It also helps us to understand how life evolved, and understanding genetic differences between populations helps in the conservation of rare species.

      In the last few years of my life, I was researching the structure of viruses, which wasn’t at all well understood back then. Viruses are responsible for some of the worst diseases that afflict humanity, and they don’t respond to antibiotics, so anything the we can do to understand them has the potential to be of enormous benefit to humanity. I didn’t get very far with my work, but that’s because I died when I was just 37. I’m sure that if I had lived into my 70s I’d have played a continuing role in improving our understanding of the chemistry of life – really, when I died I was just getting started!

    • Photo: John Snow

      John Snow answered on 9 Nov 2018:


      I was one of the first epidemiologists. During the famous cholera outbreak in London I studied patterns of who was getting ill and who wasn’t. Using maps of the city I figured out that the epidemic was centred around a water pump in Broad Street and that the workers at the local brewery (who drank beer all day, rather than water) were not getting ill. Putting two and two together I figured out that the disease was carried by water. Removing the handle from the pump proved my theory – people stopped getting ill!

      This pattern finding approach is used by scientists across the world. Epidemiology can help us to identify toxic exposures in the environment (like air pollution) as well as the source of diseases (like ebola). It is very useful for keeping people healthy!

    • Photo: Godfrey Harold Hardy

      Godfrey Harold Hardy answered on 10 Nov 2018:


      Well, I’m glad you ask. In my book, “A Mathematician’s Apology”, I write:

      I have never done anything “useful”. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world.

      But heck, it doesn’t matter, because pure mathematics is beautiful – and I was the first person to show British mathematicians that what they study doesn’t have to be useful; it can just be fun and pretty.

    • Photo: Nicholas Shackleton

      Nicholas Shackleton answered on 10 Nov 2018:


      The work I did has helped us to understand past climate better. We use some periods in earth history as future climate analogues, thus by understanding these with more confidence we can understand what the earth’s climate will be like in the future. These future climate analogues are also used help people working within the government to understand the potential impacts of climate change so they can create enviroment focused policies that will benefit society e.g. recycling schemes, low carbon emission zones.

    • Photo: Francis Crick

      Francis Crick answered on 11 Nov 2018:


      I co-discovered the structure for DNA. Without this knowledge much of the research and techniques used in today’s modern science equipment for research, diagnosis and testing would not exist. As we would not know how the DNA was being affected by a disease for example.

    • Photo: Mary Anning

      Mary Anning answered on 11 Nov 2018:


      I discovered some of the first and best preserved skeletons of ancient sea creatures – ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs – and of flying reptiles – pterosaurs – in the cliffs of Lyme Regis; a region now known as ‘the Jurassic coast’. My discoveries inspired people to think about ancient life on Earth, and have excited countless generations of children. Some of the most spectacular fossils that I found are still on display in museums today, nearly 200 years later.

    • Photo: Sir Geoffrey de Havilland

      Sir Geoffrey de Havilland answered on 12 Nov 2018:


      I designed the worlds first commercial jet airliner; the Comet.

      When it debuted in 1952, the Comet was like nothing else around; sleek and futuristic looking, it offered passengers a relatively quiet and comfortable passenger cabin where they could travel in style to their destination, and do so much faster than before!

      Many consider the Comet to be the forerunner of the modern jet airliners we use today to travel around the globe for business and pleasure.

      Summer holidays to far flung destinations wouldn’t be the same without the de Havilland Comet.

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