Science for the twenty-first century

A New Commitment



The 20th century: 100 years of scientific creativity

There may be public apprehension about where science and technology (S&T) are taking us, but few would want to return to life in 1900. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, despite deepening poverty, a recent increase in civil conflicts across the region and an upturn in endemic diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, several development indicators reflect the positive impact of S&T in recent decades:

Average life expectancy increased from 39.9 years to 49.9 years between 1960 and 1994; The infant mortality rate dropped by over 40% in the same period, falling from 166 per thousand live births to 97 per thousand; The percentage of the population with access to safe water has almost doubled in the past two decades, rising from 24% in the period 1975-80 to 42% in the period 1990-96; Real GNP per capita has grown from US$990 in 1960 to US$1377 in 1994. This is above the average growth for least developed countries.

In the past 30 years, the rise of the microcomputer has enabled spectacular progress in many aspects of society, with computing power now almost doubling every 18 months. Cellular phones and cheap computers are beginning to bring Internet to even rural areas of developing countries, with major implications for distance learning and democratisation. Alongside the microchip, the emergence of genetic engineering and biotechnology must be the most revolutionary development in the second half of the last century. And in its wake come a series of possibilities that link science and ethics more than ever before.

1900 Max Planck discovers quanta - the basis of quantum theory

1901 Guglielmo Marconi in Newfoundland receives the first telegraph signal, sent from Cornwall in Great Britain

1903 The Wright brothers successfully demonstrate motor powered flight

1905 Albert Einstein publishes the Special Theory of Relativity

1909 Paul Ehrlich finds a cure for syphilis

1913 Niels Bohr and Ernest Rutherford discover the structure of the atom

1913 Henry Ford invents the moving assembly line for mass production of automobiles

1920 First radio broadcast

1920's Household appliances appear - the vacuum cleaner, electric shaver, spin dryer, electric refrigerator, frozen foods, speaker radio

1922 Frederick Banting and Charles Best discover insulin

1923 Vladimir Zworykin invents the television camera

1924 Edwin Hubble discovers the first new galaxy besides our own

1926 John Logie Baird makes first television broadcast over radio waves

1927 Georges Lemaitre puts forward Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe

1928 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin

1929 Edwin Hubble puts forward the theory of the expanding universe

1930 The British Broadcasting Corporation starts TV broadcasts

1931 Ernest Lawrence invents the cyclotron to study the behaviour of accelerated atomic particles

1932 James Chadwick describes the nucleus of the atom as composed of protons and neutrons

1935 Invention of nylon and plastics - the first nylon stockings

1942 Enrico Fermi demonstrates the first controlled nuclear reaction

1945 The first atomic bomb is detonated in New Mexico. Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan a month later.

1945 The first electronic computer - The Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer (ENIAC) - is demonstrated. It used so much power it caused lights to dim

1947 William Shockley invents the transistor

1948 Percy Julian develops synthetic cortisone

1950 Gertrude Elion develops chemotherapy to treat leukaemia

1952 Jonas Salk produces a vaccine against poliomyelitis

1952 Henri Laborit's discovery of chlorpromazine founds the basis for drug therapies to treat mental illness

1953 James Watson and Francis Crick, with the contribution of Rosalind Franklin and others, discover the double helix structure of DNA, the building block of life

1954 First successful kidney transplant

1957 The Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite
1960 Peter Medawar discovers basis of immuno-suppression

1960 Stephen Hawking publishes his Grand Unified Theory of the origin of the universe

1960s Discovery of restriction enzymes - the 'scissors' used to splice genes in genetic engineering

1961 The Soviet Union puts the first astronaut into orbit around the Earth

1964 Murray Gell-Man predicts the existence of quarks

1967 Christiaan Barnard carries out first human heart transplant

1967 Jocelyn Bell identifies pulsars (neutron stars)

1969 Dorothy Hodgkin describes the molecular structure of insulin

1969 US Apollo astronauts walk on the moon

1970's Computerised tomography (CT scan) to look at soft tissues

1970s Some US university campuses linked by a computer network, ARPAnet

1971 Gilbert Hyatt and Intel make the first commercial computer microprocessor

1975 Discovery of endorphins - natural pain killers in the brain

1975 Cesar Milstein and co-workers develop monoclonal antibodies, the 'magic bullets' that can seek out specific antigens and therefore disease-causing organisms

1980s Discovery of prions - a new class of infectious agents unlike viruses. A prion causes Bovine Spongiform Encephaly or 'mad cow disease'

1983 Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS

1987 Discovery of fluoxetine (Prozac) as a therapy for depression

1990 Tim Berners-Lee, a consultant at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, along with his colleague Robert Cailliau author software that gave birth of the World Wide Web

1990 Hubble space telescope launched

1996 'Dolly' the sheep is born in Scotland. She was produced by cloning a single mammary cell

1997 Scientists accurately predict the El Niño climatic phenomenon in the tropical Pacific, greatly reducing the social and economic effects of the floods and droughts that follow in many parts of the world.

Edited and updated by UNESCO's Office of Public Information (OPI)