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Science, Engineering and Technology in the United Kingdom - Statistics

This section is taken from UK 2004 - The Official Yearbook of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland published at



Research and development expenditure

Government role

Departmental responsibilities

Research Councils

Research in higher education institutions

Public engagement in science

The SET workforce

International collaboration

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The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of many world-class advances in science, engineering and technology. Notable areas of UK achievement include biotechnology, biomedicine, materials, chemicals, electronics and aerospace. In the past 50 years UK scientists have won 46 Nobel Prizes. Achievements by UK scientists in the last 30 years have included:

·         the development of in vitro fertilisation leading to the birth of the world’s first ‘testtube baby’ in 1978;

·         the development of DNA fingerprinting in 1985;

·         discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic, also in 1985;

·         the invention of the Internet address system and layout in 1990;

·         pioneering work on nuclear transfer, which resulted in the birth of the world’s first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 19961; and

·         contributing to the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003.

Sydney Brenner and Sir John Sulston

In 2002 Sydney Brenner and Sir John Sulston were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, sharing the award with US scientist Robert Horvitz. The award is in recognition of their work into how genes control the division of the body’s cells and the development of organs. This work has helped understanding of the development of many diseases. Among their discoveries is the genetic mechanism controlling the programmed death of cells at the end of their lives. The work was carried out on a species of nematode worm, 40 per cent of whose genes are closely related to humans.

Fifty years of the double helix

On 25 April 1953 a letter from two scientists at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge was published in the science journal Nature.

We wish to discuss a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest . . . It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.

With these now famous words, Francis Crick and James Watson, an American, announced one of the most celebrated scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century. Fifty years later, the complete human genome has been sequenced, DNA fingerprinting has become commonplace and DNA technology is beginning to influence the treatment of disease. Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins from King’s College, London went on to receive the Nobel Prize. In 2003 a prize for women in science was established in memory of Rosalind Franklin, whose experimental work at King’s had crucially informed the model-building in Cambridge.

1 Dolly the sheep died in February 2003. Her body has been preserved and put on display at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

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