The world’s most groundbreaking universities

Universities provide fertile ground for innovation and advancement. Their research projects have the potential to change the world, while their students’ biggest breakthroughs have the capacity to impact our everyday lives.

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Universities provide fertile ground for innovation and advancement. Their research projects have the potential to change the world, while their students’ biggest breakthroughs have the capacity to impact our everyday lives.


Whether you are a budding Marie Curie, want to follow in the footsteps of Albert Einstein or think you’ve got the answers to some of life’s greatest challenges, there’s a university for you.  From colleges steeped in history at the University of Oxford, to competitive specialist institutions like ETH Zurich, the number of universities around the world is seconded only by the sheer wealth of ideas that emanate from their laboratories, lecture halls and libraries.

Great discoveries, furthering our understating of ourselves and world have helped to put universities on the map.  From DNA, to GPS to the Milky Way, many famous breakthroughs have happened at universities – a true celebration of the never ending curiosity of mankind.

Here, we take a look at 10 of the most influential university discoveries – food for thought for those planning their educational futures…

Chemistry – University of St Petersburg

It could be argued that one of the most important discoveries in chemistry was not an element or reaction itself but the order of the basic building blocks of our existence.  Dimitri Mendeleev discovered the periodic table of elements in 1869, whilst he was a professor at the University of St Petersburg.  The table, organised by the composition of each element, allowed scientists to accurately predict the presence of elements that had still yet to be physically discovered, opening up a multitude of opportunities, with chemists filling in the jigsaw for years to come.

Physics – ETH Zurich

Those with a passion for physics should look to ETH Zurich, home to 21 Nobel Prize laureates and possibly the most famous of them all, Albert Einstein.  It was during his time as a professor at the university from 1912-1914, teaching analytic mechanics and thermodynamics, that he laid the groundwork for his seminal General Theory of Relativity.

January 2012, Zurich, panorama

Music – Stanford University

The transition from the analog to the digital age was a defining part of the 20th century.  One of the biggest impacts was felt by the music industry, with the switch to digital creating new instruments, genres and cultures.  It was the pioneering work of John Chowing on FM Synthesising at Stanford University  that paved the way for digital synthesising to unlock a new world of sound.

Biology – University of Cambridge (Santander University)

Budding biologists can look to The University of Cambridge for a source of inspiration, given its long history of discoveries, but perhaps one of the best known is that of DNA.  James Watson and Francis Crick’s unveiling of the double helix structure of the essential building blocks of life in 1953, resulted in a Nobel Prize in 1962.   Their work uncovered how the coded information of life is passed on from generation to generation, opening up the new field of study: genetics.

Cambridge University (King’s College Chapel) Top View

Technology – MIT

From the World Wide Web, to GPS to email, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been at the forefront of developing some of the most important technological breakthroughs in modern human history.   It was the work of Yet-Ming Chiang at the turn of the millennium that ushered in a new generation of battery powered devices.  His work on lithium ion batteries, likely powering the device you are now using, has been used in an extraordinary number of devices worldwide.

Aerial view of Great Dome of Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) at night, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Medicine – University of Pittsburgh

Before Jonas Salk’s breakthrough whilst working at the University of Pittsburgh in 1947, Polio wreaked havoc on a huge number of people worldwide, with many killed or left paralysed.  Salk’s  pioneering work led to the development of the vaccine that was used globally to nearly eradicate the Polio virus, saving countless lives since.

The Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

Astronomy – UCLA (Santander University)

As aspiring astronomers will know, at some 26,000 light years from Earth, there had understandably been difficulty in deciphering what lay at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way.  UCLA astronomy professor, Andrea Ghez, helped to answer this intense debate with her work in the mid-1990s that led to the discovery of a super massive black hole – with a mass of over three million times our sun – at the centre.

Campus view of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, USA

Psychology – University of Vienna

Founded in 1365, the medical school of the University of Vienna is one of the world’s oldest medical schools.  There have been four Nobel Prize winners associated with the school, including Karl Landsteiner who won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the ABO blood groups.  For those looking to study psychology, the University of Vienna was where Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, studied, taught and practiced.

Architectural appealing balcony of the public University of Vienna

Medicine – Sorbonne University

Following the breakup of the University of Paris in 1970 into a number of institutions, Sorbonne University will reform in 2018.  The Faculties of Science and Medicine have seen a total of seventeen Nobel Laureates, including Marie Curie, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel.  It was during the AIDs crisis in the 1980s that alumnus Françoise Barré-Sinoussi made one of the most crucial discoveries of the 20th century.  In 1983, she discovered the HIV virus which would play a crucial role in radically improving treatment methods of AIDs sufferers and led to her Nobel Prize in 2008.

Paris, the Sorbonne university in the Quartier latin

Oxford University (Santander University)

No list of ground breaking universities would be complete without the University of Oxford.  With evidence that teaching took place as far back as 1096, it is the oldest university in the English speaking world.   With more than 120 Olympic medallists, 32 Nobel Prize winners and 30 modern world leaders making its alumni list, University of Oxford has had a truly unique impact on the world.

“The Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College in Oxford, UK”

 

 

 

 

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