University Discoveries: About this website

In researching this book, I collected information about thousands of discoveries, inventions, innovations, devices, concepts, techniques, and tools that were born at great American universities and that have changed our lives and the world in which we live. I considered how to present both the breadth and depth of the fruits of research at these institutions. It was clear that listing hundreds of discoveries would be tedious and that concentrating on only a few would deny readers a sense of the wide range of discoveries that have been made over the past seventy-five years or so. In the end, I decided to create a website that would serve as a point of collection, or a clearinghouse, for university discoveries. The website,, is intended as a supplement for the material found in this book.

This site culls information about discoveries from a host of different sources, some of which I’ve mentioned in the body of this book. Many of them come from the universities themselves, which describe on their own websites some of the major products of their research enterprise. Some universities, such as Stanford and MIT, do a terrific job of presenting a sampling of the discoveries that their professors and students have created over time; other distinguished universities do not do justice to the products of their research. Some discoveries found on the website come from sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. I’ve gathered information about innovations and discoveries collected by professional organizations such as the Association of American Universities as well as from organizations that have honored some of the major breakthroughs in science and engineering, including sites such as the Nobel Foundation and the Lasker Foundation.

This is not a systematic catalog of, for example, the most highly cited papers written by university scientists or the best-selling books by humanists. You can find that elsewhere. Nor does the website include the discoveries and innovations that have come from industrial or national laboratories (although there is some overlap, since many of the great scientific industrial labs have made significant contributions to the evolution and development of discoveries at our universities). The sharp focus is on our most distinguished institutions of higher learning.

The information on the site is divided into two basic categories and three subcategories. The major groups are “Discoveries” and “Resources.” Within the “Discoveries” section, there are three subcategories: Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Physical Sciences and Engineering; and Social and Behavioral Sciences and Humanities. In each category discoveries can be identified and sorted by the years in which they were made and the institutions where they took place. Very brief descriptions are provided, and, when available, the scientist(s) or scholar(s) who made the discoveries.

The “Resources” section offers additional sources for learning about university discoveries, ranging from the National Science Foundation’s Nifty 50 (fifty top NSF-funded inventions, innovations, and discoveries highlighted to celebrate the NSF’s fiftieth anniversary in 2000) to university websites that you can link to from the site. I have also provided visitors with “Notable University Links,” where you can find out more about the research achievements and ongoing research projects of specific universities. Finally, you will find the top ten picks of the presidents and provosts (and a few deans) of forty-four of the top fifty research universities in the United States as of 2010.

My hope is that this will become an interactive, dynamic website with content that evolves over time. The site will be periodically updated, and viewers will have the opportunity to make comments on the content of the site as well as to suggest additional discoveries that they believe ought to be included.