HISTORY & CULTURE 20 Australian inventions that changed the world

Aussies are an ingenious bunch. Here are some of the best inventions to have come out of our nation...

1. Black box flight recorder

Invented by Australian scientist Dr David Warren, who lost his own father to an aircraft tragedy in 1934, a black box is now installed on every commercial plane around the world.

2. Spray-on skin

In 1999, Perth-based plastic surgeon Professor Fiona Wood patented the innovation that involves taking a small patch of the victim’s healthy skin and using it to grow new skin cells in a laboratory.  The new skin cells are then sprayed on the victim’s damaged skin. 

3. Electronic pacemaker

Australian doctor Mark Lidwill and physicist Edgar Booth developed the first artificial pacemaker in the 1920s. Now, more than three million people worldwide rely on pacemakers to keep their hearts beating properly.

4. Google Maps

Two Danish brothers developed the platform for Google Maps in Sydney in the early 2000s. Along with two Australians they founded a small start-up company in 2003. The following year it was bought by internet giant Google, and the technology was turned into what we now know as Google Maps.

5. Medical application of penicillin

In 1939, Australian scientist Howard Florey purified penicillin from a special strain of mould. The antibiotic was mass produced and used to aid victims of World War II. Penicillin has been used around the world saving many lives through the combating of infection by common bacteria.

6. Polymer bank notes

Plastic bank notes were developed in a combined effort by the Reserve Bank of Australia and CSIRO in the 1980s.  In 1996, we became the first country to have a complete set of plastic currency.

7. Cochlear implant (bionic ear)

Professor Graeme Clark invented the first bionic ear Melbourne University in the 1970s. The first prototype was implanted in a person in 1978.

8. Electric drill

In 1889, Australian electrical engineer Arthur James Arnot patented the world’s first electric drill with his colleague William Brain. The invention was originally designed to drill rock and dig coal, and although it was a long way from the portable hand-drills used today throughout the world, the underlyng technology was the same.

9. Winged keel

Ben Lexcen, an Australian yachtsman and marine architect, invented the winged keel – a nearly horizontal foil, or wing, at the base of a sailing boat keel. They are typically found on high-performance sail boats. 

10. Permaculture

In 1972, Bill Mollison had the epiphany which led to the development of permaculture, a concept that uses a natural approach to designing self-sufficient human settlements and agricultural systems.

11. Wi-Fi technology

In 1992 John O’ Sullivan and the CSIRO developed Wi-Fi technology, used by more than a billion people around the world today. The core parts of the technology came out of research in the mid-1970s in the field of radio astronomy.

12. Ultrasound scanner

In 1976 Ausonics commercialised the ultrasound scanner. Studying ultrasound from 1959 onwards, researchers discovered a way to differentiate ultrasound echoes bouncing off soft tissue in the body and converting them to TV images.

13. Plastic spectacle lenses

In 1960 Sola Optical released the first scratch-resistant plastic lens for glasses. The technology was further developed to create the first plastic bifocal, trifocal, and progressive-focus lenses. Plastic lenses are used throughout the world due to their many benefits including safety, their light weight, and durability.

14. Inflatable escape slide and raft

In 1965 Jack Grant, an employee of Qantas, invented the inflatable aircraft escape slide, which is now mandatory safety equipment on all major airlines. The slides can also be used as a flotation device if the aircraft lands on water.

15. Permanent-crease clothing

In 1957, CSIRO developed a process called Si-Ro-Set. The technique uses chemicals to permanently alter the structure of wool fibres so they can be set with heat. This technology allowed for fashion innovations such as permanently pleated skirts.

16. Gardasil and Cervarix cancer vaccines

In 2006, Brisbane-based medical researchers Professor Ian Frazer and Dr Jian Zhou developed the world’s first anti-cancer vaccine. Known by the commercial name, Gardasil, the vaccine protects women against four strains of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), known to cause three-quarters of all cervical cancers.

In 1993, Australian inventor Jim Frazier’s deep-focus lens was patented in the United States. His innovative lens allowed for both the subject and background to be in focus at the same time. 

17. Frazier lens

18. Triton Workcentre

In 1976, 27-year-old George Lewin appeared on ABC TV’s The Inventors program with his Triton Workcentre. The day after the show, his multi-purpose workbench  had more than 1000 orders. It is estimated that 10 per cent of Australian households with a garage now have a Triton Workcentre.

19. Racecam

In 1979, Channel 7 introduced live TV broadcasting from racing cars, allowing viewers to watch the race from the driver’s perspective. Today the Racecam has been adapted to fit other sporting events such as snow skiing, basketball and cricket.

20. Tank-bred tuna system

In 2008, German-born but South Australian-based Hagen Stehr may have saved the southern blue fin tuna from extinction. The clean-seas system fools the tuna in a tank into thinking they are swimming out of the Australian Bight and into their breeding grounds.

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