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Scientific Research

Scientific research

Exploring the world in the name of science

Many exciting scientific events began in Dundee – from the pioneering Antarctic expeditions of the Royal Research Ship, ‘RRS Discovery’, to the writings of zoologist and university professor Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. This panel also celebrates important scientific discoveries by people with close links to Dundee.

Scientific research

1. Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

This renowned Scottish zoologist became Professor of Biology at the University of Dundee in 1884, aged just 24. In 1917, when he was working at the University of St Andrews, he wrote an influential book called On Growth And Form’ which described the diverse patterns that occur in nature. These patterns include snowflakes, honeycomb, and the beautiful snail shells and ammonites depicted on this panel.


2. Williamina Fleming

Born in Dundee in 1857, Williamina emigrated to the USA in 1878. She became an astronomer almost by accident, when she was employed at the Harvard College Observatory as an analyst. Williamina measured and recorded the spectral images emitted by stars, via photographic plates, and she gained widespread recognition for her work. She became the leading female astronomer of her day, and was awarded honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society of London in 1906.


3. Professor Margaret Fairlie

Margaret studied medicine at the University of St Andrews and University College, Dundee, where she graduated during the First World War. After further training in Manchester, she returned to Dundee in 1919 to work in gynaecology and obstetrics. Following a 1926 visit to the Marie Curie Foundation in Paris, Margaret pioneered the use of radium as a cancer treatment in Scotland. She became Scotland’s first female professor in 1940.


4. Peter Carmichael

Carmichael invented textile machinery that boosted productivity in Dundee’s linen (flax) industry.


5. RRS Discovery’

RRS Discovery’ was the first vessel to be built purely for scientific research, and Dundee’s shipyard was chosen because its builders knew how to construct strong whaling ships that could travel through Arctic pack ice. ‘Discovery’s’ first voyage was to Antarctica from 1901 to 1904. Led by young Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN, the results were groundbreaking: more than five hundred new kinds of marine creatures were discovered and the expedition was the first to sight an Emperor Penguin rookery. ‘Discovery’s’ final voyage as a royal research ship ended in 1931. She served as a Royal Navy training ship in London from 1931 until 1979, and she came home to Dundee in 1986.

6. Discovery Point

Discovery Point is a popular attraction near the River Tay, where visitors can find out about RRS ‘Discovery’s’ various expeditions.


7. Thomas MacLagan

MacLagan researched the effects of salicin in treating rheumatic fever, which contributed to the development of aspirin.


8. Sir James W Black

Serving as Chancellor of the University of Dundee from 1992 to 2006, Sir James was also an eminent pharmacologist who helped to develop two important beta-blocking drugs. These eased the pain of angina (chest pain) and, later, the same approach revolutionised the treatment of stomach ulcers. Sir James was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988.


9. British Oceanographic Expedition (1925-1927)

‘Discovery’ was designated a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1925 when she embarked on the British Oceanographic Expedition to Antarctic waters. The aim of the expedition was to research whale stocks and the migration pattern of whales, and the results were the first step in regulation of the whaling industry.


10. B.A.N.Z.A.R Expedition (1929-1931)

RRS ‘Discovery’s’ final voyage to the southern hemisphere was the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (B.A.N.Z.A.R) in 1929. Many new lands were discovered and charted, and a mass of geological and zoological samples was collected on behalf of the British Government.


11. Dundee Island

Located on the Antarctic Peninsula, Dundee Island was named after the captain of a 19th century whaling expedition who came from the city.


12. Shipping compass

This panel was stitched by

Sandra Allstaff

Cath Gardiner

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