Great Britain, preeminent in the Industrial Revolution from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, has a long tradition of technological ingenuity and scientific achievement. It was in the United Kingdom that the steam engine, spinning jenny, and power loom were developed and the first steam-powered passenger railway entered service. To British inventors also belongs credit for the miner's safety lamp, the friction match, the cathode ray tube, stainless steel, and the first calculating machine. One of the most famous scientific discoveries of the 20th century, the determination of the double-helix structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule, took place at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University. In February 1997 the first successful cloning of an animal from an adult (resulting in "Dolly" the lamb) was performed at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland's leading animal research laboratory. The United Kingdom is also in the forefront of research in radio astronomy, laser holography, and superconductivity.
The total national expenditure for research and development in 1987–97 was 1.9% of GNP; 2,448 scientists and engineers and 1,017 technicians per one million people were engaged in research and development. The leading government agency for supporting science and technology is the Ministry of Defense, which plays an important role in both the UK's national security and its role in NATO. British industry funds half of all national research and development, and government-industry cooperation in aerospace, biotechnology and electronics have opened new frontiers in science. In 1998, high-tech exports were valued at $64.5 billion and accounted for 28% of manufactured exports.
The largest issue facing British scientists, engineers and technicians in the 1990s is the challenge of providing new technological innovations in the global economy. In 1993, a government white paper, Realizing our Potential , called for the most sweeping changes in British science and technology since World War II. Among the changes called for in this white paper is the creation of a "technology forecasting program" which will allow scientists and engineers from all over Great Britain to have a more direct say in setting national science and technology priorities. It is likely that many of the recommendations from the white paper will be incorporated into national science and technology priorities, including the technology forecasting program, over time.
The most prestigious scientific institution in the United Kingdom is the Royal Society, founded in 1660 in London. The British Association for the Advancement of Science, headquartered in London, promotes public understanding of science and technology.