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St George’s Day: Celebrating our national technology heroes!

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Happy St George’s Day to all celebrating! We’re feeling inspired by England’s patron saint and his dragon slaying heroism, so we thought we would use today’s blog post to celebrate some of our country’s greatest heroes of technology!

Michael Faraday

Faraday is one of the most influential scientists of all time. His research established the bases for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. His early inventions formed the foundation of electric motor technology, and through this, paved the way for the practical use of electricity in technology.

Faraday’s famous Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution between 1827-1860 aimed to inspire an interest in science amongst the general public, particularly amongst the younger generation. His own lectures were famous for their level of showmanship and joyfulness. Since Faraday first held the lectures, they have continued on an annual basis ever since, and are now televised.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. During the Second World War, he worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (now GCHQ) at Bletchley Park, devising a number of techniques for the breaking of German cyphers, including the creation of an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Turing’s use of these machines to crack coded messages enabled the allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial engagements, effectively helping to win the war. It has since been estimated that his work shortened the war by two years and saved approximately 14 million lives.

Despite this, Turing never received the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, due to being prosecuted for his homosexuality, which was against the law at the time. In 2009, 55 years after his death, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology on behalf of the British government, followed by Queen Elizabeth II granting Turing an official pardon in 2013.

Peter T. Kirstein

Kirstein is often recognised as “the father of the European Internet”. After being a member of staff at CERN from 1959-1963, he joined the faculty of University College London, where his research group was one of the first international connections on the ARPANET in 1973. The research group played an extremely significant role in the earliest experimental internet work. He was later awarded a CBE for his work on the internet.

Sylvia Wilbur

Sylvia Wilbur was born in 1938, and left school at 17 to support her family, working as a typist in East London. At 20 she married, and shortly after had two children. When her children were older she took a typist job at the University of East London and whilst there, taught herself the computer language ALGOL. Following on from this she studied with the Open University and received a degree in computing.

Whilst studying for her degree, Wilbur began working as a computer operator at University College London and learned a second computing language, COBOL, eventually working as a programmer in Peter T. Kirstein’s research group in the department of statistics and computer science. During her time here, in 1974, she became one of the first people in the country to send an email.

Later on in her career, Wilbur was an organiser of “Women in Computing” workshops, which were designed to stimulate young women’s interest in science and technology, by introducing them to computers.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee made his vision of a global hyperlinked information system a reality in 1989 when he accomplished the first successful communication between a HTTP client and server via the internet. By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee had created the original HTTP, HTML, the first web browser, and the first web server, leading to the fact that today, he is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee was the recipient of the 2016 Turing Award “for inventing the World Wide Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and algorithms allowing the Web to scale”.

Interesting fact: In 2009 during an interview with the Times newspaper, he confessed that the forward slashes at the beginning of internet web addresses were actually “unnecessary”. He said he could have easily designed URLs not to have these and gave a light hearted apology for the wasted time and hassle these had caused, stating “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”