Electronics in the UK

Learn about how Electronic Engineers in the UK created world-changing technologies.

The UK has a long heritage of technological innovation and a world-class Electronics sector. We asked our good friend Matthew, who is studying Electronic Engineering at the University of Southampton, his top innovations. Here’s what he said:


Many nations helped develop Radar, but a team of UK engineers created a device called a Cavity Magnetron, which made it smaller, more efficient and more effective. Its ability to detect enemy aircraft made it critical to the success of the Battle of Britain and, ultimately, the Second World War.

It has become a fundamental way we investigate the world around us, measuring celestial bodies in space, the weather in the sky and the contents of the earth and the oceans. It gives us greater understanding of what is going on and can help predict what is going to happen.

Radar makes a ripple in the electromagnetic field and listens for the ripples that are reflected off of objects around it; it times those ripples, where they come from and how they have changed. Using this, radar can calculate information about objects, such as their position, size and what they are made of.

Programmable Computers

The first programmable digital electronic computer was called Colossus. It was developed by British code breakers between 1943 and 1945 in order to crack the encryption used on German messages in the Second World War. Its use led to the Allied victory but also led the technological revolution that has made our world today.

The mathematics that powers today’s technology is bigger, faster and more complex than any human could do by hand. By making computers do maths for us, we can create more and more complicated devices.

Computers have a small list of simple things they are built being able to do. It is the challenge of a programmer to figure out how to combine the simpler functions together in order to make the computer able to do more and more complex things.


In 1979 Scottish researchers showed that TFTs could be used to control an LCD screen. The LCD screen was cheaper, smaller and more efficient than other technologies of the time, making it great for displaying information.

Being able to read and present data is important. LCD screens increased the prevalence and complexity of electronic systems: personal computers, portable digital devices, digital telemetry, etc. This technology was vital in making information truly accessible.

A TFT is a thin-film transistor. A transistor is a switch that uses an electrical input to determine whether it allows electrical power through. This can be used to control power to different parts of a screen, turning parts on or off to make pictures. A TFT can be made on a transparent surface, like glass, by layering different materials on top of each other in a specific pattern. This makes them perfect for controlling LCD screens without obscuring the image.

The World Wide Web

In 1989 British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Scientists across the world were struggling to share knowledge and information with each other, slowing all research and innovation. It was this need that lead Professor Berners-Lee to create the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), foundation for the World Wide Web. This allowed humans across the world to communicate and has accelerated the process of human understanding, leading to what many would describe as a new age of human civilisation.

Hypertext is a road connecting two pieces of information. HTTP is how computers tell each other which Hypertext to follow in order to get from one piece of information to another. It is the roadway that links the information cities of the internet together.

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