Cleaning up the air we breathe

26th March 2013

To celebrate the theme of invention and discovery in National Science and Engineering week the public were asked to vote for the most important innovations in science and technology from the last 100 years –

I voted for independent scientist James Lovelock’s Electron capture detector. I’ve been a big fan of Lovelock since Tim Flannery popularised him in the book The Weather Makers.

Lovelock developed the Electron capture detector in 1956 to detect pollutants. The key discovery being the identification of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the supposedly clean air blowing in from across the Atlantic.

Further experiments demonstrated that all CFCs ever produced by man remained in the earth’s  atmosphere.

The British Antarctic Survey went onto discover a large hole in the ozone layer due to CFCs depleting the ozone.

We should therefore be grateful to Lovelock for being instrumental in cleaning up the air we breathe.

About the vote – This secretariat style initiative was the brain child of my boss, Roger Highfield, following a conversation he’d had with representatives of the Great campaign.


The concept was to bring together key cultural, scientific and engineering bodies to celebrate all the great British  innovations from the last 100 years.

The vote was launched online by Professor Stephen Hawking via an Audioboo and ran for eleven days. This concentrated period meant that a high level of intense activity could be maintained through social media.

Whilst a few pieces of print were critical the overall comms strategy centred on social media with Twitter being the engine to get the word out and stimulate debate.

The Twitter storm was fuelled by getting science credible celebrities on board to endorse many of the  innovations for example Stephen Fry (5.6m followers), Richard Dawkins, Seb Coe, Vince Cable and on the last day the Prime Minister shared his vote for the Double Helix with his 2.3m followers.


On the final day blushes were spared when after 52,000 votes in all Alan Turing’s Universal machine beat the Mini to be crowned top innovation of the last one hundred years. See how the final day unfolded  on the internet.

Now that the vote is over the it’s not the end of the website, this will be used as a resource of great British innovations.