Sir Robert Watson-Watt developed modern radar in 1935, and when World War II broke out four years later, radar proved to be a valuable tool in the hands of Britain and her allies. Radar systems use radio waves to detect moving objects by emitting microwaves which bounce off objects in their path. Radar has been used widely to track objects at air and sea ever since its introduction.
Besides making air travel a lot safer, the adoption of radar eventually led to the advent of this now ubiquitous kitchen appliance.
While working with a magnetron in the early 1940s, researcher Percy L. Spencer observed that the radio waves emitted by the device caused the candy bar in his pocket to melt. After further experimenting with popcorn kernels, Spencer developed a dedicated device, and in 1945 Raytheon, the company for which Spencer worked, patented the first microwave oven.
Naturally, battlefield injuries are a part of war, and many require a vital blood transfusion in order to save lives. Prior to World War I, wounded soldiers often died from blood loss when a suitably compatible blood donor was unavailable. Scientist Peyton Rous changed that when he developed a way to preserve fresh blood by adding a salt solution of sodium citrate and dextrosm, which allowed cold stored blood to remain viable for up to a month. The first blood bank was adopted by U.S. forces in Belgium in 1917.
While we mostly think of the Internet as a tool for social media and Netflix, there was a time when a global computer network was seen primarily as a vital tool to defend against World War III.
The world-wide web originated in a Department of Defense-funded project from the 1960s called ARPANET, an initiative to connect the nation's supercomputers to maintain control in the event of a national catastrophe. The developers of ARPANET created the TCP/IP computer protocols for the project, and this same set of protocols would later be the basis for the global network we all know and love.
Aircrafts were a new and revolutionary development at the outset of World War I, but keeping track of all of those planes was pretty much impossible until the adoption of the two-way radio. Research into sending radio telegraphs began in 1915, and the technology progressed quickly. By 1917, developers were finally able to send and receive voice transmissions via radio between controllers on the ground and planes in the air, thus enabling ground support to track and relay information to pilots.
Modern day tires are made largely of synthetic rubber, but there was a time when all tires had to be made of actual, natural rubber. A limited resource, rubber was once as highly sought after as oil or precious metals, and with the outbreak of World War I, rubber supplies became of desperate necessity.
After the Allied blockade cutoff Germany from its southeastern rubber supplies, German pharmaceutical company Bayer put its research into methyl rubber to use, and began manufacturing tires made from a mixture of lime and coal.
Unmanned aircraft are now commonly known for both their civilian and military applications, especially with their widespread use in the War on Terror. However, the roots of pilotless drones go back nearly a century.
Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt developed the first drone in 1917. The relatively small craft had no onboard control, only a gyroscope for stabilization and a barometer to regulate altitude. The project was regarded as too unwieldy for use in World War I, but development continued with the attempt to incorporate remote control technology in order to pilot the craft from the ground. These efforts were regarded as largely unsuccessful, and this early project was scrapped in 1925, only to be reborn several decades later.
With German U-boats becoming a major factor in World War I, the British determined it was vital to find a method of detecting submerged vehicles. Hydrophones were ineffective, as stationary U-boats made no sound, so instead the British Navy turned to ultrasound, a form of underwater echo ranging.
The system they developed, known as ASDIC, emitted pulses which could be picked up by hydrophones, and the amount of time between pulse echoes indicated the distance of an underwater object.
The development of ASDIC arrived a little too late for World War I, but by the time WWII arrived, the technology had further evolved into sonar, which was a vital tool against the German U-boat fleet.
The technology to develop liquid fuel from coal originated in Germany in 1913 with chemist Friedrich Bergius. During World War II, plants using the Bergius method provided Germany with their primary source of synthetic fuel for a variety of purposes including airplane fuel, oil, rubber, ammonia and methanol.
After the war, because of his collaboration with the notorious IG Farben corporation during the Nazi years, Bergius decided to leave Germany, eventually arriving in Argentina. However, the process which bears his name is still in use, and provides several thousands of tons of fuel in China alone every day.
Radio devices were impractically large at the beginning of World War I. However, interest in better, more portable radio systems led to constant development and rapid improvements. Both private companies and the Signal Corps put extensive effort into developing better and more efficient vacuum tubes, receivers and transmitters, thus making radio units smaller and capable of much better sound quality.
Once the fighting ended, radios easily made the transition to the consumer realm, where they became the era's iconic staple of entertainment around the world.
Owing to the widespread carnage of World War I, thousands of soldiers returned from the front with debilitating and disfiguring injuries. New Zealand scientist Harold Gillies performed the first reconstructive surgeries during the war, hoping to improve the quality of life for these wounded men. Gillies put his new surgical methods to use at a British Army hospital in Sidcup, Kent, were more than 5,000 wounded soldiers received reconstructive surgery.
While plastic surgeons initially focused on helping soldiers recover, their skills would come into much wider appreciation after the war, and today hundreds of thousands of people undergo cosmetic surgery around the world each year.
Airplanes existed for barely more than a decade by the beginning of World War I. Despite their relative newness, commercial airplane travel had already started to establish itself, albeit in very small planes designed to carry only one or two passengers at a time. It wasn't until 1916 that the first fixed-wing airline, Aircraft Transport and Travel, began regular service between Britain and the mainland.
The company, a subsidiary of aircraft manufacturer AirCo, adapted a fleet of retired AirCo bombers into passenger aircraft by moving the fuel tanks into the bomb bay, thus opening up the plane's hull for seating.
In more recent years, the Department of Defense poured considerable resources into finding ways to augment the strength of individual soldiers on the ground. One of the most promising new technologies this research turned up was Ekso Bionics' robotic exoskeleton, designed to augment the strength of the wearer's legs. While these systems have obvious advantages on the battlefield, they have even greater peacetime applications in allowing paraplegic individuals to walk.
The devices received FDA approval in 2014 for use in physical therapy. Though they are still limited only to rehab institutions, it will likely not be long before we start to see these exoskeletons helping a wider range of people.
The photos of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walking on the surface of the moon in 1969 are among the most iconic images of the twentieth century. While setting foot on the moon was a tremendous accomplishment for all of humanity, the technology which made it possible developed with a more pragmatic, if slightly cynical purpose.
The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manmade orbiting satellite, in 1957. The launch was seen as a threat by many in the US, reasoning that if the Soviets could launch an object the size of Sputnik into space, they could just as easily launch a nuclear weapon into space. The event kicked off what became known as the space race between the US and USSR.
Research into harnessing energy produced by atomic reactions began in the 1930s after the discovery of the neutron, a subatomic particle with no electrical charge. It wasn't until 1938 that a team of German and Austrian scientists discovered the ability to split large, heavy atoms like uranium by bombarding them with neutrons, a process known as nuclear fission. Once this discovery went public, governments around the world, including all of the major players in the upcoming World War II, invested in projects to develop a nuclear weapon.
The first manmade reactor went live in the US in 1941, and became an important part of the Manhattan Project, the US's nuclear weapons program. After the war, the tremendous cost of learning to develop and harness atomic energy motivated governments to find a civilian application for the technology. This pressure lead to the world's first electricity-generating reactor in 1951 near Arco, Idaho, and finally the first reactor to be connected to a power grid in 1954 in Obninsk, Russia.