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A history of innovation

Scotland has a rich and varied background in innovation. We have designed and developed world changing inventions and technology including anaesthesia, radiation therapy and x-rays to name just a few.

Proud of our past and excited about our future opportunities

At the DHI we are inspired Scotland’s reputation for game changing innovations. With world-class universities and a collaborative community that are at the leading edge of technology we hope to add more life saving innovations to this great list.


There were many great innovations driven by Scottish talent going back many hundreds of years. Let’s get started in the 1800’s when Scotland was busy changing the world with inventions and discoveries that have impacted on how we live our lives today. 

  • At this time some people believed the pain of childbirth was sanctioned by God. Thankfully for women Sir James Young Simpson disagreed and pioneered the use of surgical anaesthesia with chloroform and popularised the drug for use in medicine
  • We all love our mobiles, but communication as we know it today wouldn’t be the same without Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who’s credited with patenting the first practical telephone
  • The Tarmac roads we drive and walk on were developed by John McAdam, with the first 'tarmac' road being laid in Paris in 1854
  • Patented in 1828 the 'hot blast oven' for smelting iron greatly increased efficiency and productivity in the iron industry, particularly in railway and shipbuilding.
All pain is per se and especially in excess, destructive and ultimately fatal in its nature and effects. Sir James Young Simpson pioneer of surgical anaesthesia
Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.
Alexander Graham Bell
Credited with patenting the first practical telephone


The twentieth century was a hot-bed of invention and innovation. Not only a century of turbulence but we also saw a tremendous increase in the pace of developments across medicine and technology which Scotland contributed significantly towards.

  • After seeing ultrasound being used in the Glasgow shipyards as a means to look for flaws in metallurgy Ian Donald a Scottish physician pioneered the use of diagnostic ultrasound in medicine in the 1950s
  • Glasgow can be pretty chilly in the winter, perhaps this helped inspire the Glasgow University academic William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) to discover there was a lower limit to temperature, which he called absolute zero. His rescaling of temperature to start at this point (-273C) is still used today
  • Perhaps the inspiration for many a sci-fi novel, Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. With the development of cloning technology we have found new ways to produce medicines improve our understanding of human development and genetics
  • Revolutionising the medical management of angina and considered to be one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century Sir James W. Black developed the first beta-blocker drugs for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.
Winston Churchill

The here and now

This brings us to our 21st century world where Scotland has continued its tradition of innovation. With Scottish universities offering outstanding opportunities for cross collaboration with like-minded, passionate people from all over the world we have a pool of talent ready to lead us towards even greater innovations.

  • Scottish born Ian Frazer discovered the Human papillomavirus vaccine which was the world's first vaccine designed to prevent a cancer
  • Developed as a program of work conducted at the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital in Edinburgh, the world’s first commercially available multi-articulated prosthetic hand has changed the life of amputees and patients with partial hand loss
  • Pioneering work done at the University of St. Andrews and Tayside Health Board led to the development of a light-emitting sticking plaster for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer

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