An important, unrecognised and under-exploited innovation is the division of labour in science that separates observers from analysers. Only the latter need special expertise, meaning that it is possible to devise mass-participation experiments involving scientifically unqualified (but scientifically excited) members of the public. These can collect data on a scale unimaginable if done by grant-funded specialists, but more importantly they can give ordinary members of the public the thrill of contributing to the scientific enterprise. I remember as a child using simple water quality kits provided by The Sunday Times to test for local water pollution. There are echoes of such projects today in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ garden birdwatch scheme or the BBC’s SETI@home project. Such mass experiments won’t discover how the universe or life began, but perhaps they could be used to test climate resilience, monitor biodiversity, learn more about perception and behaviour, and much else.
If you are determined to focus on my field, I would say that as a writer I find two of the greatest innovations to be the tea cosy and digestive biscuits.
Hugh Aldersey-Williams is a writer and curator of the Zoomorphic exhibition of new forms in architecture and Touch Me: Design and Sensation, both at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He is author of Findings: Hidden Stories in First-hand Accounts of Scientific Discovery; The Most Beautiful Molecule, an account of the Nobel prize-winning discovery of a new form of carbon called buckminsterfullerene (buy this book from Amazon(UK)).