Tag Archives: discoveries


Imperial College London has a long and storied history of breakthrough discoveries and innovations that have significantly impacted science and technology. Founded in 1907, Imperial College has been at the forefront of scientific progress for over a century. Some of the most notable discoveries and developments to come from Imperial College researchers include:

Penicillin – In 1928, microbiologist Alexander Fleming made his famous discovery of penicillin at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, which later became part of Imperial College. Fleming’s accidental discovery that the mold Penicillium notatum killed or prevented the growth of disease-causing bacteria revolutionized modern medicine and saved millions of lives. Without Fleming’s critical find at Imperial, antibiotics may never have been discovered.

DNA structure – In 1953, physicists James Watson and Francis Crick jointly discovered the double-helix structure of DNA at the Cavendish Laboratory at Imperial. Their breakthrough revealed the molecular basis of heredity and paved the way for major fields like genetics, molecular biology, and genomics. The importance of the discovery of the DNA double helix structure cannot be overstated, as it unlocked understanding of how life works at its most fundamental level.

Hovercraft – In the 1950s, aeronautical engineer Christopher Cockerell invented the hovercraft while working at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Hovercraft Club at Imperial. His creation allowed vessels to travel over virtually any surface, whether land or sea. Hovercraft technology enabled high-speed travel in shallow waters and swampland. It has military, commercial, and recreational applications. Several prototypes were tested on the Thames near Imperial before live hovercraft demonstrations.

First gene drive – In 2016, geneticist Andrea Crisanti and colleagues at Imperial developed the first successful gene drive in mosquitoes. Gene drives are genetic engineering techniques that can override normal rules of inheritance to rapidly spread desired traits throughout a population. The Imperial team engineered a gene drive that biased inheritance in favor of male mosquitoes, causing a population crash. This breakthrough could help control the spread of deadly mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever, dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

Blue LEDs – In the 1990s, chemist Sir Shankar Balasubramanian co-invented a new technique called sequencing-by-synthesis at the Department of Chemistry at Imperial. This enabled the development of blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) which are more energy-efficient than incandescent and halogen lights. Blue LEDs are now found in displays, lighting, laser diode displays, and biological microscopy. Balasubramanian’s work opened up advanced technologies like high-definition televisions and smartphones.

COVID-19 vaccine technology – Researchers at Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease led by Robin Shattock developed a self-amplifying RNA vaccine against COVID-19 in 2020. Their approach represented an innovative new technology that could enable more scalable mass production of next-generation viral vaccines compared to conventional vaccines. While their vaccine is still in development and testing, it demonstrated the talent for novel technologies at Imperial amid the global pandemic.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – In the 1970s and 80s, physicists Peter Mansfield and Peter Grannell at Imperial made seminal contributions to MRI technology. Mansfield developed the mathematical methods needed for rapidly acquiring MR images – known as echo-planar imaging. Grannell invented methods to automatically shim magnetic fields in MRI scanners, improving image quality. MRI is now universally used worldwide to non-invasively image soft tissues in the body, revolutionizing fields like radiology, cardiology, neurology and oncology.

This covers just a sampling of the profoundly impactful breakthroughs made by Imperial College researchers over decades. Imperial scholars have also made strides in wireless technology, renewable energy, climate science, aerospace engineering, and many other domains. With advanced facilities and an culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Imperial College continues pushing the boundaries of knowledge today across science, technology, medicine and business for the benefit of humanity.


The Perseverance rover has made tremendous strides in furthering our understanding of Mars since its February 2021 landing in Jezero Crater. As NASA’s most advanced rover yet, Perseverance has been utilizing a suite of sophisticated scientific instruments to thoroughly investigate this promising area and help answer outstanding questions about the past potential for life on Mars. Some of the most significant discoveries made by Perseverance so far include:

Discovery of an Ancient River Delta – One of Perseverance’s primary science goals was to search for signs that Jezero Crater once hosted a lake billions of years ago. Within just a couple months of landing, the rover found definitive evidence of an ancient river delta deposit on the floor of Jezero. High-resolution images revealed telltale sediment layers and gravel piles consistent with being laid down by a river flowing into a lake. Isotopic analysis of rocks in the delta supported the interpretation, marking the first time a river delta had been discovered on Mars. This major finding suggests Jezero saw significantly more water than other Martian sites, with implications for preserved organics and potential biosignatures.

Discovery of Carbon-Bearing Rocks – Buried within the sediments of the Jezero river delta, Perseverance has detected multiple outcrops containing surprisingly high amounts of carbon. Using its Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument, the rover identified carbon-rich molecular structures in some of these sedimentary rocks. The carbon is primarily in the form of organics that were likely deposited from ancient biology or atmospheric chemistry. This was an exciting discovery as it provided the first in-situ evidence of carbon preserving in the Jezero rocks, making the area more conducive to potential ancient Martian life.

Discovery of Layered Rocks Resembling Microbial Mats – Some of the most intriguing findings have come from “Snoqualmie Formation” layered rocks at the base of the Jezero delta. High-resolution close-up images showed extremely fine lamination patterns that scientists say resembled the signatures of microbial mats on Earth. If confirmed, these organic-rich microbial mat textures would be the best evidence yet of ancient life existing on the red planet billions of years ago. While still requiring more analysis, this has been one of Perseverance’s prime discoveries in its hunt for biosignatures from the deepest reaches of Martian time.

Discovery of Olivine and Pyroxene Rocks – Perseverance utilized its Mastcam-Z and PIXL instruments to spectroscopically map out the mineralogy of igneous rocks within Jezero Crater. The rover found bedrock exposures containing significant amounts of olivine and pyroxene minerals – indicating their volcanic origins. Isotopic dating of the olivine crystals also provided some of the first firm ages for volcanic activity in Jezero, pegging the timeframe to between 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. Understanding the igneous history and corresponding impact chronology is key context for the formation and evolution of the lake environment hypothesized within the crater.

Collection of Organic-Rich Sediment Core Samples – One of Perseverance’s prime duties has been to collect powdered rock and sediment core samples for future return to Earth. While still early in its sampling campaign, the rover has already successfully drilled into multiple targets within the river delta identified as high potential for preserved ancient organics. Analysis on Earth via more sophisticated labs could reveal biomarkers that are difficult to detect with Perseverance’s instruments alone. Having these first samples in the system now sets the stage for future planned sample return missions to bring home what could be the first definitive proof of past Martian life.

These are just some of the most impactful discoveries announced so far from Perseverance’s ongoing exploration of Jezero Crater. As the mission continues collecting samples and investigating promising sites in the years ahead, there is high potential for even more breakthrough findings that could rewrite our understanding of Mars’ biological potential and climate history. The combination of advanced science tools, strategic landing location, and opportunities for future sample return make Perseverance one of NASA’s most promising contributors so far in humanity’s search for life elsewhere in the universe.