There are few cities which can boast of such dramatic and wide-ranging contributions to science. Of course, we all know how Manchester revolutionised industry with not one but hundreds of inventions and implementations that created the living blueprint for a modern working city between 1760 and 1840. But that spirit of invention never left town. In 1907, Manchester is where Ernest Rutherford first split the atom (yes, right there in his laboratory on Oxford Road) and Alan Turing invented the computer – hard to find two scientific innovations with a greater impact on the wider world.
Manchester’s ability to invent things has made it the darling of the industrial and technological world. The technological innovation that opened the door to mass production in the 18th century was followed by the world’s first passenger railway (now part of the Museum of Science & Industry), the invention of precision engineering (by Joseph Whitworth – immortalised at the Whitworth), the first mechanically powered submarine, the first and only swing aqueduct in the world, the first British plane, and, even the first ever edition of Top of the Pops.
That inventive streak continues today and the laboratories of Manchester University were host to a recent significant discovery: the invention of graphene, an incredible application of pure carbon to create a light, conductive two-dimensional material that is just one atom thick, yet stronger than steel. This discovery won its inventors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010, and the British government is so excited about its potential uses that it has joined with private investors to create two separate graphene research centres at the University at a cost of nearly £100 million.
Art and science came together for a very innovative way for the reopening of the Whitworth, Konstantin Novoselov and artist Cornelia Parker jointly created a meteor artwork called Blakean Abstract. Made from a trace of graphite taken from an artwork in the collection and ignited by a Nobel prize winning scientist’s breath – it lit up the Manchester skies in a collaboration that could only happen in here Manchester.
And that’s not all. Fast becoming one of the UK’s best science festivals, the Manchester Science Festival leaps happily between science, technology, music, art, literature, fashion and something it calls “citizen science” – and it is both serious and entertaining in equal measure.
Future Everything is an annual summit of ideas and digital invention, bringing inspiring people from around the world to Manchester – a hothouse” of innovators, entrepreneurs and digitally-minded creatives fusing technology with art, broadcast, live performance and music.
In summer 2014, Manchester became the European City of Science, a designation it will hold for two years, culminating in its hosting of the EuroScience Open Forum – Europe’s largest scientific conference – in 2016, which is estimated to bring revenue in the region of £8.3 million into the city. There has arguably never been a more exciting time for science in the city.
Invention and reinvention happens all around us too. The city is in state of near constant construction. New districts such as Spinningfields – filled with high-spec offices and high-end eateries – sit close by reinvented ones. The Cathedral Quarter is one, the Northern Quarterand Castlefield two others. In among all the new culture builds are reinventions of the old ones. The Royal Exchange’s theatre in the round sits inside a Grade II-listed trading hall, while Manchester Craft and Design Centre is similarly housed inside a former Victorian fish market. The historic Free Trade Hall has been reimagined as a rather plush hotel, and the Albert Hall, once a Wesleyan Chapel, is now one of the city’s most exciting live music venues. We don’t forget our old buildings in Manchester. We just upcycle them.