The mother of all inventions

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From V2 rockets to antibiotics, innovations have changed the world. But which is the greatest in history?

The Science Museum, favourite haunt of aspiring astronauts and eccentric professors, celebrates its centenary this month. To mark the occasion, it is today launching a public vote to choose the most important scientific invention of the past few centuries. Curators have selected 10 objects which they believe to be most significant in the history of science, engineering, technology and medicine and are inviting the public to decide the winner. Voting will take place over the summer for the innovation which they believe has had (or will have) the greatest impact on the past, present or future.

The iconic objects are being organised into a Centenary Journey trail, which will open at the museum later this month. The winning object will be announced in October.

Tim Boon, chief curator of the museum, admitted the idea of scientific “progress” was controversial. “Some of the objects may divide opinion. Would we be better off if some of the “icons”, which have had negative consequences, had not been invented? We are looking forward to a great debate.”

Some of the museum’s supporters have already made their choice. Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio, is voting for the V2 rocket engine: “It’s one of the greatest achievements of our time because it led to space exploration, and then satellite development, which then led to mobile phones and the astounding communication services we enjoy today.”

Musician Nitin Sawhney chooses penicillin: “As an asthmatic recovering from a debilitating bout of pneumonia, I am painfully aware of how important a role penicillin has played in curing my lung infection. In this regard I’m hardly alone.”

Television presenter and biologist Alice Roberts’s vote is going elsewhere:

“As a doctor and anatomist, I’m championing the X-ray machine. X-rays provided the first possibility of looking inside someone’s body without cutting them open.”

Television presenter James May votes for the Apollo 10, “as it represents the furthest reach to date of manned exploration.” Broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis believes the steam engine to be “the most important step forward in technology of all time.”

Nominate your favourite inventions in the comments form below

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