Saturday, 9 June 2012

I’m not sure what to call this – British science, engineering?

And now for something different: after the Lent poetry and the Jubilee, I’ve been looking for a theme. Richard Morrison in The Times yesterday has triggered something: his comment is headed “We do nostalgia well, but the future needs much more attention.”  Prompted by the nostalgia of the Thames Pageant, he argues that we need to make more of our design skills – “The curse of British Design over the past century has not been a lack of talent, but lack of the commercial nous to turn great drawing-board ideas into objects that will transform the lives of millions”

I half agree with this sentiment: we are not the best at turning our ideas into big commercial successes but we are also not good at owning up to what we are doing. So I’m going to try to find British scientific and engineering successes. I was hoping to quote more from Richard’s article but the Times website is misbehaving. (By the way, the web was invented by the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee.)

Let’s start with ARM microchips: did you know that most (90 to 95%) mobile phones are powered by chips designed and licensed by the Cambridge company ARM? They started life designing the BBC Micro (remember that?) and went on to design RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) microchips. So the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy (and, incidentally, the iPad) are powered by chips designed in the UK. If you really want to find out about RISC and ARM look them up on Wikipedia.