From technology that turns urine into electricity to care robots for the elderly, the MadeAtUni campaign celebrates the transformational impact of UK universities

Futuristic headsets to help paralysed people to communicate, smart baby buggies for the blind, a toilet that flushes without water and the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer – all have been identified today as among the 100 most significant breakthroughs to come from UK universities.

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs List has been launched to celebrate the inventions, discoveries and social initiatives from UK universities which have had a transformational impact on people’s everyday lives, including the development of penicillin, the invention of the portable defibrillator, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans, MRIs and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that change lives, including a specially-designed bra to improve the treatment of women having radiotherapy, a sports initiative that uses football to resolve conflict in divided communities, research into the causes of gaming and mobile phone addiction, and new technology that turns urine into electricity which has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the #MadeAtUni campaign to show that universities do much more than just teach students and to bring to life the difference they make to everyone’s lives.

Universities across the country were invited to nominate the one innovation, discovery or social initiative from their institution which they believe has had a significant impact on society. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community, and culture & sport.

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs List: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life can be seen in full here and the A-Z of nominations here.

The campaign follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks on behalf of Universities UK, which found that the public are proud of UK universities but have little understanding of the benefits they bring beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings showed that whilst a significant proportion of the population were interested in hearing about how UK universities lead the world in research, most did not realise UK academics were behind some of the world’s most important discoveries such as MRIs and ultrasound scans.

The campaign is being supported by James Nesbitt, the award-winning actor; and Rebecca Adlington, the two-times Olympic swimming champion.
Adlington, who did not go to university but trained in the pool at Nottingham University, said: “Even though I didn’t go to university myself, my life wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing things that happen at UK universities. It’s the reason we have ultrasounds, which told me my baby daughter was healthy; full-body MRI scans like the ones that helped diagnose my sister’s encephalitis, helping to save her life. I’ve also been lucky enough to train in some of our fantastic university pools.
“For many people, universities are just places where people study, but I want to shine a light on the transformational impact they have on people’s lives.”

Nesbitt, who studied French at Ulster University, where he is now Chancellor, before transferring to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, said: “Do you ever think about where things come from? Things that you rely on and use every day like computers and smart phones? UK universities have been at the forefront of some of the most exciting developments and initiatives of the last century, but not many people know that these innovations come from UK universities and the work of academics up and down the country.

“That’s why, as Chancellor of Ulster University, I’m pleased to be supporting this campaign and helping to champion the many ways that UK universities are making a difference. They transform people’s lives and build a better future for everyone, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics up and down the country.
“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

You can find out more about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign here You can also follow the campaign on Twitter @MadeAtUni and Facebook @madeatuni.