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100 Important Innovations That Came From University Research

by Staff Writers

Some might poke fun at academic research or doubt the necessity of it, but the reality is that the products of university research impact our lives on a daily basis, often in ways we don’t even realize. From the Internet to the nicotine patch, many amazing innovations were the products of professors and students working at universities around the world. Some of these innovations have changed the world, others have saved lives, but all have had a significant impact on life throughout the past decades. Here, we share just a few of those important innovations that come to us courtesy of the hard work of academics and researchers from universities and colleges all over the world.

Everyday Life

Chances are good that you’ll encounter at least one of these university-rooted innovations today.

  1. Fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste wasn’t invented at a university, but it was perfected there. While fluoride had been an ingredient in toothpaste since 1890, it was not until Dr. Joseph Muhler at Indiana University headed up a Procter & Gamble project that the FDA-approved version we know today was concocted.
     
  2. Seat belt. The first modern three-point seatbelt that is found in most vehicles today was developed by Roger Griswold and Hugh DeHaven at the Aviation Safety and Research Facility at Cornell University in New York and was the result of intensive crash injury research. The device would later be perfected by Nils Bohlin at Volvo. Other seatbelt research would be conducted at the University of Minnesota by James “Crash” Ryan in 1963, further pushing forward the science of safety.
     
  3. Grass hybrids. A variety of common grass hybrids were developed at universities. Tiff grasses, commonly found on golf courses and in athletic facilities, were pioneered at the University of Georgia by Glen Burton. A Kentucky Bluegrass hybrid, developed for cold weather and high-traffic areas, was developed by C. Reed Funk at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
     
  4. The spreadsheet. Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit that the spreadsheet is a pretty essential part of everyday business. It was professor Dan Bricklin at Harvard Business School that first came up with the idea and working with MIT alum Bob Frankston developed the first spreadsheet on a rented MIT computer. Their program would be called VisiCalc and would form the basis for other later spreadsheet-focused programs.
     
  5. e-ink. The technology that powers the Kindle that you enjoy reading is the result of the work being done at the MIT Media Lab. Associate professor Joseph Jacobson was at the head of the development, transforming the idea into a successful company.
     
  6. GPS. Every time you use your phone or GPS device to navigate, you draw on the work of MIT grad Ivan Getting. Using his earlier research on radar at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory during WWII, Getting would develop the first GPS systems.
     
  7. Nicotine patch. Dr. Murray E. Jarvik and a team of medical researchers were the first to develop safe and functional nicotine patches at the University of California in 1991.
     
  8. Polaroids. American scientist and inventor Edwin Land was fascinated by developing an inexpensive method that used polarizing filters to capture images on film. He would conduct much of his research by sneaking into Columbia University’s labs in New York City at night to use the equipment, later returning to Harvard to further his research. He would go on to found Polaroid Corporation with one of his physics instructors, which would become a highly successful business.
     
  9. Google. Can you imagine your life before Google? Google was an innovation born out of the research two students at Stanford, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, conducted while working on their Ph.D.s. The research was so successful that the two put their educations on hold to start a business. The rest is history.
     
  10. Wetsuit. Hugh Bradner, a University of California, Berkeley physicist invented the modern wetsuit in 1951, and the design would evolve over time to improve durability and function.
     
  11. Television. The roots of the development of the television are bound up with university research. In 1884, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, a German university student, patented the first electromechanical television system. It would be several decades later before it would be ready for the commercial market, with numerous inventors and engineers contributing their work.
     

Technology

Much of the technology you use on a daily basis was thought up or perfected by university-based researchers, scientists, and professors.

  1. The Internet. Numerous research innovations at universities helped contribute to the development of the Internet as we know it today. Most notably Tim Berners-Lee, who had invented the Web in 1989 at a particle physics lab, brought the tech to MIT to develop the World Wide Web Consortium. This group developed the technical standards for websites, browsers, and devices and helped set the stage for the global connectivity. Also helping the spread of the web? The fact that Berners-Lee never patented or licensed the WWW in his name.
     
  2. Web browsers. One of the earliest Web browsers, Mosaic, allowed for the web to be more easily used and was one of the first graphical browsers. The technology developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign would later evolve into the popular browsers we know today.
     
  3. Computers. A big chunk of the history of computers lies in university-based research. Alan Turing’s Universal Turing machine was the product of research done at Cambridge and Princeton. That research was used by John von Neumann to develop his Electronic Computing Instrument, now called the von Neumann architecture. In 1946, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert would develop the first large-scale, general purpose electronic computer at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, numerous innovations in computer technology have been made at universities.
     
  4. Magnetic core memory. MIT computer engineer and systems scientist Jay Wright Forrester replaced the vacuum tubes that were being used for memory storage in computers at the time with magnetic core memory. This innovation showed up in first- and second-generation IBM computers.
     
  5. LCD screens. Most of us don’t pine for the days of hulking monitors and television screens and one of the key innovations that led to the development of flat screens was the liquid crystal display, or LCD. Early research on the technology was done by James Fergason at Ohio’s Kent State University in the late 1960s.
     
  6. Lithium-ion batteries. Modern-day lithium-ion batteries were the brainchild of MIT materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang. These new batteries had five times the power of their predecessors and were immediately picked up by companies like Black & Decker for use in the commercial market.
     
  7. Plasma screens. The technology that runs many flat screen TVs today was innovated by a team of university researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Donald Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and graduate student Robert Willson. The date might surprise you: work on the technology was going on in 1964.
     
  8. RSA cryptography. While the Internet is still full of dangers from hackers and phishing schemes, it’s a lot safer than it once was thanks to the work of Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, three MIT professors who came up with RSA cryptography. The innovation wasn’t just useful, it also netted the trio $2.1 billion when they sold the business based on it.
     
  9. Touchscreens. The first touchscreens were developed as part of the PLATO computer system at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1964. Donald Bitzer, also responsible for plasma screen research, would lead the development. The PLATO system would remain in operation until 2006 on campus.
     
  10. Hypertext. The Internet wouldn’t be possible without the development of hypertext, which allows users to link to other information. Ted Nelson of Brown University in Rhode Island would coin the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia” in 1965 and invented the Hypertext Editing System in 1968.
     
  11. WLAN. Wireless local area networks, more commonly known as WLANs, were the product of research done at the University of Hawaii under the leadership of Norman Abramson during the early 1970s. Abramson’s work led to the creation of ALOHAnet, a system that allowed seven computers over four of the Hawaiian islands to communicate with the central computer without using phone lines.
     
  12. Programming languages. A number of programming languages have their beginnings at universities. Among them: Tcl, developed by John Outserhout in 1988 at the University of California, Berkeley and BASIC by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1964.
     
  13. LASER and MASER technology. Charles H. Townes, J. P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger built the first maser at Columbia University in 1953. LASER research won Alexander Prokhorov the Nobel Prize in 1964 (along with Charles Hard Townes and Nikolay Basov) for work done at Moscow State University and other science laboratories.
     
  14. LEDs. Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, owe a great debt to university research. In 1995, Alberto Barbieri at the Cardiff University Laboratory investigated the efficiency and reliability of high-brightness LEDs, leading to many of the LED technologies we’re familiar with today. Michael Bowers at Vanderbilt University pioneered research on LED quantum dots, which could soon show up in LCD televisions. Most recently, Zhong Lin Wang from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that the energy efficiency of Piezoelectric UV LEDs can be increased by 400% through the use of nanowires.
     
  15. Computer games. Technology development at universities isn’t all serious. The first graphical computer game, called OXO, was developed by A.S. Douglas at Cambridge University. The first computer game with 3D graphics, Elite, was the product of the work done when both David Braben and Ian Bell were undergrads at Cambridge.
     
  16. Androids. The first android, DER 01, was the product of The Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University, as well as the more well-known robot called the Actroid. The robot, unveiled in 2003, can mimic human actions like blinking, speaking and breathing.
     
  17. Yagi-Uda antenna. Japanese electrical engineer Hidetsugu Yagi and his assistant Shintaro Uda developed the first directional antenna at Tohoku University in 1926.
     
  18. Adobe Flash. Multimedia platform Flash was invented in 1996 by Johnathan Gay while he was a student at Harvey Mudd College in California. He continued his work after graduation, eventually developing FutureWave Software.
     
  19. Radio. Radio changed the world, and many early innovations in it happened on university campuses. One of the major pioneers in developing the technology was Alexander Stepanovich Popov, a Russian physicist at the Navy Torpedo School in Kronstadt. Popov was the first person to demonstrate the practical application of electromagnetic radio waves.
     
  20. Nanowire. Nanowire, a conductive wire that’s a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair, was developed by Uri Sivan, Erez Braun, and Yoav Eichen, researchers at Israel’s Technion.
     

Scientific Tools

Scientific research at universities has also helped to advance the study of science itself, as you’ll see with this list of scientific tools developed by universities.

  1. Electron microscope. The world beyond the realm of the human eye would still remain a mystery without the help of this pivotal invention. In 1938, Albert Prebus and James Hillier, two graduate students at the University of Toronto, would adapt a plan by two German scientists into the first practical electron microscope.
     
  2. OncoMouse. An oncomouse is a type of lab mouse that has been genetically modified using a method developed by Philip Leder and Timothy Stewart at Harvard, making it carry a specific gene that increases its susceptibility to cancer, aiding in cancer research.
     
  3. Wind tunnels. Wind tunnels are used to study a wide range of scientific phenomena and engineering principles. The first primitive wind tunnel was built at MIT in 1896, though much more sophisticated models were to follow.
     
  4. Richter Scale. The Richter Magnitude Scale is a method of determining the energy of a seismic event like an earthquake. The method was developed in 1935 by Charles Richter at the California Institute of Technology. It was originally only intended for use in California but has since been adapted for use all over the world.
     
  5. Geiger counter. The Geiger-Muller counter allows the user to measure ionizing radiation in a given area. The device was invented in 1908 by Hans Geiger and Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester and later refined by Geiger and Walther Muller to detect several types of ionizing radiation.
     
  6. Telescopes. Soviet optical engineer and amateur astronomer Dmitry Dmitrievich Maksutov played a key role in the development of the telescope. Maksutov invented a telescope (now called the Maksutov telescope) while working at Laboratory of Astronomical Optics at the State Optical Institute.
     
  7. Periodic table. Where would science be without the periodic table? Through it, Russian chemist and inventor Dmitri Mendeleev not only developed a means of organizing the known elements but a way to predict those that had yet to be discovered while he was a professor at Saint Petersburg University.
     
  8. Crystallographic electron microscopy. Aaron Klug, a Lithuanian-born British chemist and biophysicist, won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on crystallographic electron microscopy (a method to determine the arrangement of atoms in solids). The innovation was the result of his work at Cambridge and Columbia University.
     

Industry and Exploration

From heading to the moon to preserving products, these university research-based innovations have changed industry and exploration over the past century.

  1. Rocket fuel. Though ridiculed for his research during his life, the space race would never have been won without the enterprising work of Robert H. Goddard. Goddard developed the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1914 while at Clark University in Massachusetts.
     
  2. Concrete steam curing. In the 1920s, Thornbergur Thorvaldson, head of the department of chemistry at the University of Saskatchewan, discovered a method of steam curing concrete. This made the concrete much harder and resistant to alkaline ground water.
     
  3. Plexiglas. McGill University was the site of William Chalmer’s breakthrough discovery in 1930: polymethyl methacrylate. Just a graduate student at the time, Chalmer’s work would revolutionize the production of what would come to be known as Plexiglas. Chalmers sold his invention to Imperial Chemical Industries who licensed production to DuPont and Rohm and Haas Company to produce it.
     
  4. Modern oil prospecting. Oil prospecting used to be pretty hit or miss. Prospectors would choose a location and either hit it big or get nothing. In 1948, researchers at MIT helped to change that by using seismic activity as an indicator of where to drill for oil, greatly improving the chances of hitting black gold.
     
  5. Solar power. Some of the earliest applications of solar power in housing were pioneered by MIT. The first solar-powered house, named Solar 1, was completed on the school’s campus in 1939. Led by Hoyt Hottel, the team constructed a house to trap and collect the sun’s rays. The technology was light years ahead of its time, and many of its principles are just now being used by the U.S. Department of Energy.
     
  6. Oil refining. In the 1930s, researchers at MIT, including H.C. Weber, Herman Meissner, and Hoyt Hottel, figured out how to efficiently separate oil into molecules, essentially spearheading the modern-day oil industry.
     
  7. The black box. Dr. Charles Draper would change the world of aviation with his development of the black box, putting everything a plane needed to fly in one small box. This internal navigation system would not only change air travel but would allow for precision guidance of missiles and set the stage for the Apollo space missions.
     
  8. Silica gel. In 1919, Johns Hopkins chemistry professor Walter Patrick invented and patented the process for producing silica gel, which is today used as a desiccant in a wide range of industrial and manufacturing applications.
     
  9. Chemical battery. Count Allessandro Volta, an Italian physicist at the University of Pavia, was the first to develop a working chemical battery all the way back in 1800. This innovation would provide a means for sustaining electrical current and the unit of electrical potential, the volt, would later be named after him.
     
  10. pH meter. The pH meter, a device used to measure acidity, was the brainchild of Arnold Beckman, a chemist at Caltech. On a side note, Beckman would also found the first transistor company in what would later grow to be Silicon Valley.
     
  11. Nuclear power. African American nuclear scientist and mathematician J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. would prove to be a serious pioneer in the development of nuclear technology in the U.S. While working at the University of Chicago, Wilkins would help to design and develop nuclear reactors, even founding his own power company.
     
  12. Graphene. Sir Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their university-based research on the material graphene. Graphene is composed of atom-thick sheets of hexagonal carbon, making it incredibly strong, a great conductor, nearly transparent, elastic, and impermeable.
     
  13. Concrete with glycerin. Michele Rossi used byproducts from the production of biodiesel to develop a new stronger and more resistant concrete in the early 2000s through research done at the University of Milan.
     

Medicines and Treatments

Millions are alive today due to the hard work of medical researchers. See the fruits of their labor here.

  1. Insulin as a treatment for diabetes. Many diabetics live healthy lives today thanks to the early work of Frederick Banting and Chas Best. The duo figured out that insulin could be extracted from pancreas samples and injected into patients as a diabetes treatment. The work at the University of Toronto won them the Nobel Prize in 1922.
     
  2. Tuberculosis antibiotics. Doctors Selman Waksman and Albert Schatz worked together at Rutgers University in the early 1940s on a world-changing product: streptomycin. The antibiotic would be the first effective treatment for tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Dr. Schatz would be ignored by the Nobel committee who awarded the prize in medicine solely to Waksman. Schatz would petition and win recognition for his role in the development of this early antibiotic.
     
  3. Cephalosporin C. Research being done at Oxford by Sir Edward Penley Abraham yielded the first broad-spectrum antibiotic that was effective against penicillin-resistant bacterium. He would later use this discovery to develop a method of synthesizing the antibiotic for wide use. Abraham used the profits from his drug patent to establish two charitable trusts for future biomedical research.
     
  4. Warfarin. Perhaps better known as Coumadin, this anticoagulant was the product of research done by Dr. Paul Link at the University of Wisconsin during the 1950s.
     
  5. Factor IX gene product. Factor IX (or Christmas factor) when deficient in humans causes hemophilia. The gene product pioneered by Davie and Brownlee at the University of Washington and Oxford is a treatment, and has been licensed to a number of different biotech companies since.
     
  6. Adenocard. This drug developed in 1985 is still the drug of choice in ERs all over the nation for lowering a dangerously high heart rate. It has its roots in the research done by Robert Berne at the University of Virginia.
     
  7. Restasis. Renee Kaswan at the University of Georgia developed this helpful drug, which reduces the inflammation of tear ducts in those that have chronic dry-eye.
     
  8. Chemotherapy drugs. A large number of chemotherapy drugs were developed at universities. Cisplatin was developed at Michigan State for treatment of testicular and ovarian cancers, a treatment that would later evolve into the much more effective Carboplatin. Other cancer treatments include Epogen, which does not treat cancer itself but the low red blood cell count that can result; the Metal Alkoxide Process, patented at Florida State University by Robert Holton in 1989; and Taxol, a synthetic version of a treatment originally derived from Yew trees.
     
  9. Allegra. Allergy sufferers can thank a Georgetown researcher Dr. Raymond Woosley, for the development of this anti-histamine in 1992.
     
  10. Emtriva. Emtricitabine, better known as Emtriva or Coviracil, is a treatment for HIV infection in adults and children. Taken as part of a daily cocktail of drugs, it can help prolong the life of those with an HIV infection. The research done on this life-saving drug was done at Emory University in 1996 by Raymond Schinazi, Dennia Liotta, and Woo-Baeg Choi.
     
  11. Trusopt. Trusopt is an eye drop that is used to treat certain types of glaucoma. It was developed by Dr. Thomas Maren in 1995 at the University of Florida as an alternative to an existing treatment that had some unpleasant side effects.
     
  12. Citracal. Calcium supplement Citracal was developed at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
     

Vaccines

The vaccines developed by these pioneering university researchers have saved and improved the lives of millions of humans and animals.

  1. Polio vaccine. Polio was once a disease that affected a large number of young children, but a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk in 1955 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine would change all that. Using infected monkey tissue, Salk would develop the first working polio vaccine, virtually eradicating the disease. Salk refused to patent the medicine, saying he could no more patent the sun than the vaccine.
     
  2. Canine parovirus vaccine. Humans aren’t the only ones who’ve benefited from university research. Research at Cornell by Leland Carmichael in 1979 led to the development of the canine parovirus vaccine, which has saved the lives of millions of dogs.
     
  3. Kennel cough vaccine. Another canine vaccination that was the product of university research is the kennel cough vaccine. It was developed in the 1970s by William Switzer and Dan Farrington at Iowa State and has saved an estimated 30 million dogs from the respiratory disease.
     
  4. Hepatitis B vaccine. Collaborative work between researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Fox Chase Cander Center would lead to the development of the first methods of diagnosing and vaccinating against the Hepatitis B virus in 1969.
     
  5. Flu Shots. Haemophilus B conjugate vaccine is a type of flu shot, protecting against Hib type bacteria which can be life-threatening. It comes from research done at the University of Rochester.
     

Medical Practices

These practices developed by medical researchers and doctors came from university hospitals and labs.

  1. Penicillin production method. Penicillin was first discovered by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928, but it was scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain at Oxford (along with help from Norman Heatley) who first figured out a medical way to use the discovery and a way to mass produce the antibiotic in 1939, allowing it to be used to treat soldiers on D-Day.
     
  2. Pap smear. Dr. Nicolas Papanicolaou innovated what we today call the Pap smear at his medical practice in Greece, but it was tested and brought into common practice through testing done at Cornell in the 1930s.
     
  3. Blood preservation technique. Dr. Charles Drew developed a technique of separating the red blood cells and plasma at Columbia University, allowing blood to be frozen and preserved for some time. The 1940s-era work helped to supply blood for transfusions throughout WWII.
     
  4. CEA markers. Carcinoembryonic Antigen, or CEA, was first realized as a marker for digestive cancers by Samuel Freedman and Phil Gold at McGill University in 1965. They would later develop a test to detect CEA, a key factor in early identification and treatment of these cancers.
     
  5. LASER cataract surgery. Patricia Bath is responsible for developing the first instrument used to remove a cataract affected lens. Her work took place at the UCLA during the mid to late 1980s.
     
  6. Artificial blood transfusion. A Jehovah’s Witness was the first patient to receive a transfusion of artificial blood in 1979 at the University of Minnesota Hospital. He had refused a transfusion of real blood because of his religious beliefs but was suffering from severe blood loss after a surgery for vacuolar disease. there, Dr. Robert Anderson injected a blood substitute called Fluosol (first developed in Japan) for the first artificial blood transfusion in the U.S.
     
  7. Apgar score. Dr. Virginia Apgar devised the Apgar score in 1952 while working at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. It measures the health of a newborn baby quickly and easily, making it much simpler to ascertain how to help the child.
     
  8. Artificial insemination. Artificial insemination was first studied and developed by Lazzaro Spallanzani at the University of Pavia around 1784, performing the first procedure using a dog. Spallanzani also pioneered early in vitro fertilization using frogs.
     
  9. Bone marrow transplant. The science of bone marrow transplants owes much of its success to university researchers. From 1950 through the ’70s, a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center would show that bone marrow cells when infused intravenously could repopulate bone marrow and produce bone marrow. The first physician to ever successfully do this on a disease other than cancer was Robert A. Good at the University of Minnesota in 1968.
     
  10. Open heart surgery. Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow of the University of Toronto determined that heart surgery is best performed when the heart is bloodless and motionless. The first successful application of this was at the University of Minnesota in 1952, performed by Dr. C. Walton Lillehei and Dr. F. John Lewis who used hypothermia to slow and stop the heart. Better methods would be developed at the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia and later at the Mayo Clinic.
     
  11. Stem cells for gene therapy. Dr. Claudio Bordignon of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University performed the first procedure of gene therapy using stem cells to deliver genes intended to correct hereditary diseases in 1992.
     

Medical Devices

A number of common medical devices have their roots in university research. Here are just a few that are worth learning more about.

  1. Ultrasound. Pioneering work that would set the stage for later developments in ultrasound technology was done by Karl Theodore Dussik at the University of Vienna in 1942. The first ultrasound image Dussik would get? A cerebral ventricle. Later, in 1958 Ian Donald of Glasgow University would help further the technology and make it useful for imaging bone structure, unborn babies, and tumors.
     
  2. Heart-lung machine. The heart-lung machine (a device that temporarily takes over the function of heart and lungs during surgery), developed by C. Walton Lillehei in 1955 at the University of Minnesota, allowed for the spread of open heart surgery, a practice also pioneered at the University.
     
  3. Pacemaker. Engineers Earl Bakken and Wilson Greatbach would innovate the first small, battery-powered pacemaker in 1958 while working at the University of Minnesota.
     
  4. CAT scan. The Diagnostic X-Ray CAT Scan was patented by Robert S. Ledley, a researcher at Georgetown, in 1973. It was the first whole-body CT scanner, and the rights were quickly acquired by Pfizer who began manufacturing the devices.
     
  5. MRI scanner. Dr. Robert Damadian and his graduate students developed the first prototype of an MRI scanner at the State University of New York and the Downstate Medical Center in 1977. Built from scratch, the scanner would prove effective at detecting cancer in tissue and would result in the first truly functional MRI device, though earlier patents had been filed. Other earlier work on MRIs was done by Paul Laterbur at UIUC, who took some of the first pictures of living animals (a clam) using MRI and well as by Sir Peter Mansfield at Nottingham University who developed the algorithms and magnetic research that would make MRIs possible.
     
  6. Combination PET/CT scanner. The combination PET/CT scanner revolutionized the ability of doctors to find small tumors or lesions on the internal organs, and was pioneered by two scientists Dr. Ronald Nutt and Dr. David Townsend. The two came up with the idea while working that the University of Geneva but wouldn’t develop the first working prototype until they were working at the University of Pittsburgh together in 2000.
     
  7. Artificial heart. In 1952, doctors at Harper University Hospital at Wayne State University made history by successfully implanting the first artificial heart into a patient. In 1980, Dr. Robert Jarvik implanted the first permanent artificial heart at the University of Utah.
     
  8. Cochlear implant. Early research at Stanford and the University of California helped in the creation of the cochlear implant, developed by Professor Graeme Clark at the University of Melbourne in 1970, but not implanted into the first patient until 1978.
     
  9. CPAP mask. In 1981, Professor Colin Sullivan of Sydney University developed the Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) mask, most commonly used today for problems like sleep apnea. It was commercialized in 1989 and had become a commonplace medical treatment.
     
  10. Iron lung. The negative pressure ventilator, more commonly called an iron lung, was brought into common usage by Phillip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw Junior, professors of industrial hygiene at the Harvard School of Public Health. The duo would patent the device, which would later be improved upon by John Emerson in 1931, resulting in an intense legal battle over the rights to the device.
     
  11. X-ray. Early investigations into the potential of the x-ray were done by Ludwig Zehnder, a student at the University of Freiburg. He produced the first pictures of the human skeleton by shining x-rays through the human body.
     

Food Science

Even what you eat may be the product of university research, as these innovations prove.

  1. Saccharin. Love artificial sweeteners? Thank Constatin Fahlberg. While a visiting research fellow at Johns Hopkins, Fahlberg discovered an isolated saccharin, patenting the compound. The sweetener cyclamate was also discovered by university research, created in 1937 by graduate student Michael Sveda at the University of Illinois.
     
  2. Vitamin D fortification. Professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harry Steenbock was responsible for innovating a method of fortifying food with vitamin D, virtually eliminating rickets in the U.S., a crippling bone disease that primarily affects children.
     
  3. Gatorade. In order to combat the problem of Florida athletes not staying properly hydrated, researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine Robert Cade, Dana Shires, Harry James Free, and Alejandro de Quesada innovated this now famous drink, named for their team, the Gators. First used in 1966, it helped the team to their 1967 Orange Bowl win.
     
  4. Probiotics. Ilya Mechnikov, a professor at the University of St. Petersburg and later a researcher at the Pasteur Institute, was a pioneer in research done on the immune system. One of his early theories stated that toxic bacteria in the gut shortened life, leading to the ultimate development of probiotic products that were marketed all over the world.
     

Crime and Warfare

From helping police catch criminals to assisting pilots during wartime in being more stealthy, these devices have changed their respective fields forever.

  1. Breathalyzer. The modern breathalyzer has its roots in an Indiana University research project led by professor Rolla Harger in 1938 called the Drunk-o-Meter. It was the first breath-testing instrument for measuring blood alcohol.
     
  2. Radar detection and aversion. MIT’s Radiation Laboratory helped to develop some of the key radar technology used in WWII including: airborne-bombing radar, a long-range navigation system, coastal defense radars, and early-warning radar.
     
  3. Polilight forensic lamp. Two forensic scientists working at the Australian National University in Canberra, Ron Warrender and Milutin Stoilovic, developed a light that could cause fingerprints to show up on any background. It was a major breakthrough, and Polilights are now used to see fingerprints, reworked sections on paintings, and even writing that has been scribbled over.
     
  4. Burglar Alarm. Leon Theremin, the pioneering scientist who is best known for the instrument named after him, also played a role in the development of the first burglar alarms. Using the Theremin effect, he developed a signaling apparatus in the 1920s that was one of the first burglar alarms.
     
  5. Polygraph. This lie detector, still used in police work today, was refined by Dr. John A. Larson at the University of California in 1921. It first saw use in law enforcement soon after in the Berkeley Police Department.