A history of our pioneering research

For hundreds of years, Queen Mary's pioneering research has had a lasting impact on science, medicine, and the humanities. Take a journey through the history of our innovative research.


1628: Professor William Harvey was an English physician who worked at Barts hospital, and is one of the greatest names in medical history. He was the first person to describe completely the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the brain and body by the heart. Our William Harvey Heart Centre at Charterhouse Square, which opened in 2011 and is dedicated to developing new therapies to tackle the growing burden of heart disease and stroke, was named in his honour.

1749: Percivall Pott was a leading eighteenth century surgeon based at Barts, and one of the founders of orthopedics, and was the first person to describe how to treat a bone fracture without the need for amputation. He later identified the link between exposure to soot and scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps, the first recognised occupational link to cancer, and the first time someone had demonstrated that cancer could be caused by an environmental carcinogen.

1785: Surgeon Sir William Blizard co-founded England's first clinical medical school – The London Hospital Medical College in Whitechapel, which is still training new doctors today. In 1791, he founded the Samaritan Society, the first medical social work society, for London Hospital patients. He was also known for his innovative teaching methods, including introducing the practice of walking the wards, nowadays an indispensable part of medical education. Queen Mary's Blizard Building in Whitechapel is named after him.  

1817: Born in Shoreditch, James Parkinson was a surgeon and political activist most famous for his 1817 work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he described 'paralysis agitans' the condition now known as Parkinson's disease. He became a medical student at The London Hospital in 1776 and, like his father and his son, worked as an apothecary in nearby Hoxton.

1882 Westfield College established with the objective of preparing women for entry to the University of London.

1887 Queen Victoria opens the Queens' Hall of the People's Palace, an important foundation for QMUL as we know it.


1902: Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1931), who commenced his medical training at Barts Hospital in 1874, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the work he did on discovering the lifecycle of the malarial parasite Plasmodium, a pivotal step forward in the treatment of the disease.

1909: A progressive aeronautical laboratory and society were established at East London College.  A.P.Thurston, an aeronautical expert of his time, was responsible for research and lectures under the supervision of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. He delivered a series of public lectures at the College on aeronautics, amongst them one on 'Flying machines', as well as 'Balloons, airships and kites', and 'The mechanical principles of flight'.

1915: The East London College was formally admitted into the University of London.

1921-1922: Dr D Piercy of East London College was awarded a grant from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in support of the aeronautical laboratory and its expansion.

1925: Sir Henry Souttar performed the first successful operation to stretch the mitral valve at the London, where he trained and worked, which formed a basis for modern heart surgery. His unique combination of mathematical, engineering and medical training informed his designs of new types of surgical equipment and put him at the forefront of setting out British guidelines for radiotherapy. Souttar was also the first doctor at the Hospital to use radium in cancer treatment.

1926: The gymnasium at the People’s Palace was converted into a theatre and lectures on dramatic technique started, the first step towards the opening of QMUL’s School of Drama.

1932: Professor The Lord Edgar Adrian (1889-1977) was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1932, together with Sir Charles Sherrington, for their work on the function of neurons. He undertook clinical work at Barts Hospital during World War I, initially as part of his medical degree.

1934 East London College is incorporated under Royal Charter and is renamed Queen Mary College (after Her Majesty Queen Mary, wife of George V).

1936: Sir Henry Hallett Dale (1875-1968) was a renowned pharmacologist and physiologist, and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries relating to the chemical transmission of nerve impulses. He received a scholarship to undertake the clinical part of his medical training at Barts Hospital from 1900-02.  

1937: Barts Hospital became the first hospital in the country to offer mega-voltage radiotherapy to cancer patients, a major advance in the treatment of the disease. It is this legacy that provided the impetus for the formation of the Barts Cancer Institute (BCI), one of the top five cancer research centres in the UK.

1946: An agreement was made between the London Hospital Medical College and Queen Mary College for a lectureship in engineering physics, which would be partly based in the Department of Radiotherapy at the London. This provided some of the foundations for the merger of the two institutions which contribute to the QMUL of today.

1953: Sir George Nelson opened the nuclear particle laboratory, heralding almost two decades of research in the field.

1960:  The House of Commons announced that a license could be granted to set up a nuclear reactor at the Marshgate Lane site.

1964: Installation work for Marshgate Nuclear Reactor Critical Assembly was completed, the first to be built for a UK University.

1965: Criticality, 'critical mass in nuclear reactions' was achieved at Marshgate nuclear reactor.

1968: The new central computer centre was opened in the mathematics building by Lord Mountbatten, the beginning of QMUL’s commitment to technological progress and advancement.

1971: George Sims (Physics with Maths, 1960) invented the UK bar-coding system in 1971. This technology now regulates everything from stock control to ticketless air travel.

1982: Sir John Vane FRS (1927-2004), who established the William Harvey institute, was one of the pre-eminent pharmacologists of the twentieth century, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his work on prostaglandins in relation to research on the pain-relieving properties of aspirin. His research largely contributed to the evolution of new heart and blood vessel disease treatments. 

The nuclear reactor was decommissioned after 18 years of extensive use and research.

1986: Sir John Vane FRS (1927-2004), established the William Harvey Research Institute at Barts Hospital Medical College in 1986 which continues to operate today.

1989 Queen Mary merges with Westfield College to become Queen Mary and Westfield College.

1990: Professor Peter Hennessy of the History department published his first major research monograph, Whitehall. His historically based understanding of constitutional and governance issues has enabled him to make direct interventions in key debates in the House of Lords and influence public debate and parliamentary democracy.

1992: Professor Nick Wald became Director of the Wolfson Institute founded in 1991. He is widely considered one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and neonatal health experts. He pioneered the field of antenatal screening for congenital malformation and made discoveries that form the basis of screening for neural tube defects and Down's syndrome in early pregnancy. The institute continues to be a centre for innovative study in the fields of epidemiology and preventive medicine. 

1993: Professor Jacqueline Rose then based at QMUL’s English and Drama department begins her research on the question of literature and the definition of nationhood, specifically for Israelis and Palestinians, highlighting the important role literature plays in transforming the lived history and possible outcomes of conflict in our time.

1995: Professor Joseph Rotblat (1908-2006), who was a Professor of Physics at Barts Hospital, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs which he established in 1957. He was recognised for his lifelong devotion to nuclear abolition, and identified that the fallout from hydrogen bombs was highly radioactive and a direct cause of cancers in fallout victims.

Queen Mary and Westfield College merges with St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School and The London Hospital Medical and Dental Colleges

1997: Professor Peter Clegg, who was the principle investigator at the European space agency’s infrared observatory, was made Head of Astronomy at QMUL. His team at the agency made around 30,000 observations inside dust clouds within and far beyond the solar system.


2000: The Multimedia and Vision Research Group at QMUL was formed to conduct research in image, video processing and computer vision. The mission of the Group has been to complement traditional electronic areas well represented in the departments, such as antennas and telecommunications.

2001: Our scientists begin working at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and contribute to key advancements in particle physics.

Professor Jane Wills at the School of Geography worked alongside London Citizens on the living wage campaign since it was launched in the UK in 2001, when she mapped the extent of low pay in east London.

2002: The School of Dentistry and Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust identified the low uptake of dental services in local minority ethnic communities, resulting in a scheme to train volunteers from community groups in oral health promotion.

2003: Professor Sir Peter Mansfield FRS (Physics, 1959; PhD, 1962) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2003 for ground-breaking work on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as a diagnostic method. His final year project at QMUL to build a portable NMR spectrometer to measure the earth's magnetic field spurred on his later interests.

2004: Professor Carl Murray, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at QMUL, joins an international team of astronomers and scientists working on the Cassini-Huygens project, a joint NASA/ESA robotic spacecraft mission studying the planet Saturn, its moons and rings. To date the Cassini Imaging Team has been responsible for the discovery of six new moons of Saturn as well as several new rings. Murray’s group at QMUL has a particular responsibility for determining and monitoring the orbits of Saturn's small moons.

2005: The Blizard institute opened its doors as a centre for world-class biomedical research.

The Mile End Institute for the Study of Government, Intelligence and Society was formed, leading to the formation of an undergraduate group seeking to engage students from across the university with issues of politics and government. It has hosted many high-profile speakers from government and the civil service including Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Baroness Williams, David Willetts and Ed Balls bridging the divide between political research and politics in practice.

2006: QMUL agreed to become the first Living Wage campus in the UK, and has since brought all cleaning services in-house to ensure both social justice and improvements in the service – an example of how our research directly impacts on the way that we work. 

2007: The Women at Queen Mary Exhibition was staged in the Octagon, marking 125 years of Westfield College and 120 years of Queen Mary College. It commemorated QMUL’s long-standing commitment to the promotion of gender equality.

2008: Professor Paul Heritage’s work on Amazonia, a project aimed at creating a dialogue around climate change between artists and young people in the UK and the Amazon region of Brazil, explored the potential for artistic influence on social development while building cultural bridges between the UK and Brazil.  Projects around this have been reaching an audience of over 50,000 and accruing over £3.5million of research funding over the past decade.

Queen Mary established the Centre for the History of the Emotions, a leading international forum for research into the history of expression, the effects of science and technology in shaping modern emotion, and resulting implications for public policy in health and education.

2009: Professor Michael Russell (Geology with Chemistry, 1963) was a NASA Senior Research Fellow with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He received the 2009 William Smith Medal for his contribution to applied geology from the Geological Society.

Based in the School of Law, Professor Peter Aldridge’s research has had a direct influence on the British judicial system, leading to an amendment of a 2009 Draft Bill and the resulting revised 2010 Act which ensures the UK now has a reformed law of bribery which stands on rational foundations and is compliant with conventions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

2010: Dr Karin Hing, from the School of Engineering and Materials, invented a novel processing route for the manufacture of porous ceramics, which formed the underpinning science behind ApaTech, a QMUL spin-out company that she co-founded with colleagues from the IRC in 2001. Apatech was acquired by Baxter in 2010 for $330m in recognition of its position as a global leader in the provision of their based bone graft substitute technologies.

Professor Murray and his team’s work with the Cassini spacecraft discovered a new object blazing trails in Saturn’s ring which scientists believe could be the birth of a new moon.   

Dr Hazel Conley published a paper detailing the failure of the UK government to implement laws that protect working women in the wake of the economic crisis, influencing the government performing an equality impact assessment. Our schools of Business and Management, as well as Geography and Law, have created strong links which have resulted in strong interdisciplinary research resulting in successful funding bids such as the AHRC-funded Promoting Equality though Economic Crisis (PEDEC).

2011: McIlwaine’s work to raise the profile of Latin Americans in London and place the community more centrally in public debates and policy frameworks, provided the first official estimate of the size of the Latin American population in London. Her work has informed the work of charities, NGOs and lobbyists, leading to the creation of the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK and the expansion of services at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. 

Dr Sarah Martin wins one of two research prizes awarded by Cancer UK Future Leaders. Her work focused on investigating DNA damage repair as a target for new cancer therapies.

QMUL scientists’ discovery of 16 new gene regions influencing blood pressure offered new potential therapeutic targets for preventing heart disease and stroke - the biggest cause of death worldwide.

The Leo Baeck Institute London (LBI), at the forefront of research on German-speaking Jewish communities in Europe over the last 300 years, moved after 52 years at premises in Marylebone, to the university’s humanities building, ArtsTwo. This transfer of a historically renowned institute to a modern, state-of-the-art building highlighted QMUL’s commitment to both history and progress.

2012: Our scientists play a key role in the discovery of the Higgs boson through their work at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

Professor Lorincz wins Research Project of the Year at THE Awards for work on developing a new screening test to detect the virus that causes cervical cancer.

2013: Professor Jack Cuzick from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine works extensively in breast cancer and was the first to report the effect of tamoxifen on contralateral tumours as an indicator of its potential chemopreventive role. He outlined a new option for preventing breast cancer in high risk post-menopausal women which is more effective than tamoxifen and has fewer side-effects. Taking the breast cancer drug Anastrozole for five years reduced the chances of post-menopausal women at high risk of breast cancer developing the disease by 53 per cent.

QMUL scientists participated in research looking at how robots using cutting-edge technology can reach out to isolated people and enable participation in public spaces.

2014: QMUL becomes the first university in the UK to teach its medical students using Google Glass. QMUL’s medical school, Barts, intends to use the technology primarily for surgical teaching allowing students to watch proceedings live from their mobile devices and laptops.

A new treatment for bladder cancer has been shown to completely cure some people, in the first significant breakthrough in the disease of 30 years. Scientists at QMUL discovered that an antibody allows cancer cells to be picked up by the immune system and eradicated before they can spread.

QMUL helps launch crowd funded moon mission. The mission, called Lunar Mission One, hopes to raise an initial £600,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. If successful, QMUL will play an integral role in the educational aspects of the project at our world-class science education centre, Centre of the Cell.