Brilliant news in today’s new year’s honours list, of a knighthood for David Payne, Professor of Photonics at the University of Southampton. He deserves to be far better known than he is — I explain why in The Geek Manifesto, and to celebrate the honour, I’ve reproduced the passage in question below.
I’m also delighted by another knighthood, for Simon Wessely, Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London. Simon is a compassionate and open-minded scientist who has had to put up with some remarkable poison and smears because of his work on ME/CFS and Gulf War syndrome. He’s also done some remarkable research on military psychiatric medicine. The reasons he deserves his honour are well summed up in the citation for the inaugural John Maddox Prize, which he won earlier this year. In short, he stands up for his science — in just the way I advocate in the book.
Oh, and the paperback of The Geek Manifesto is out on January 3. Amazon seems to be selling it already. So if you didn’t get it for Christmas, now’s the time to order!
Anyway, here’s the Payne extract — it’s from the Geekonomics chapter, in a section headed “The serendipity of science”. Together with other examples of how science has driven innovation, but not necessarily in a predictable way, Payne’s story is worth remembering as George Osborne sets out priorities for UK science spending.
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a CERN computer scientist, developed the hypertext transfer protocol – the ‘http’ of web addresses – he wasn’t trying to invent a revolutionary form of mass communication that would transform countless businesses and enable the creation of entirely new ones. He was seeking a better way for particle physicists to share data, and his elegant solution happened to give birth to the World Wide Web.
David Payne is not as well known as Berners-Lee, yet the Professor of Photonics at the University of Southampton can be just as fairly called a father of the modern internet. Every time you download a track to your iPod or watch a video on YouTube you are probably making use of his research, which laid the foundations of the fibre-optic cable technology that made broadband possible and brought significant economic benefits in its wake.