40 years of Inspec

By Chris Marker

Since 1969 there have been considerable developments in science, engineering and technology which Inspec has covered and which can be highlighted using the Inspec classification scheme.  Obviously the following events are a personal choice and represent just a small cross section of the subjects Inspec covers.


Possibly the greatest achievement of the last centenary happened 40 years ago this year with the first man stepping on the surface of the Moon bringing a huge impact both scientifically and culturally.

  • a9260 Moon

The first charge-coupled device (CCD) was produced in this year; these devices have many uses as image sensors especially in digital photography.

  • a0762 Detection of radiation (bolometers, photoelectric cells, i.r. and submillimetre waves detection)
  • a4280Q Image detectors, convertors, and intensifiers
  • b2560S Other field effect devices
  • b7230G Image sensors

Robotics moved forward with the first electronic computer controlled robotic arm- the Stanford arm.  

  • c3390 Robotics


The 1970s saw the birth of modern computing. In 1971 Intel released the world's first microprocessor, the 4004 and in 1972 the first scientific hand-held calculator, later designated HP-35, was introduced.  Both Microsoft and Apple were founded in the 1970s.

  • b1265F Microprocessors and microcomputers                                                     
  • c5130 Microprocessor chips
  • c5430 Microcomputers

Although they only became ubiquitous in the 90s the first practical mobile phone for handheld use was developed in this decade.

  • b6250F Mobile radio systems
  • b6220C Telephone stations

The 1970s also saw the Standard Model of particle physics fully formulated. During this decade Stephen Hawking  and others advanced the knowledge of black holes.

  • a0470 Physics of black holes
  • a1210C Standard model  
  • a9760L Black holes                                                                                         

Space exploration continued with the Voyager probes launched on their journeys to Jupiter and Saturn and beyond.

  • a9555P Lunar, planetary and deep space probes
  • a9630K Jupiter and satellites
  • a9630M Saturn and satellites

The late 70s saw the first commercial fibre-optic communication system developed using GaAs semiconductor lasers.

  • a4255P Lasing action in semiconductors
  • a4280S Optical communication devices
  • b4320J Semiconductor lasers
  • b6260 Optical communication


In the 1980s the concept of a quantum computer was first proposed. If these can be built, they will be able to solve certain problems much faster than any of our current classical computers.

  • a0367L Quantum computation
  • c4270 Quantum computing theory
  • c5295 Quantum computing techniques

The first integrated computer mouse intended for personal computer navigation was included with the Xerox 8010 Information System computer.

  • c5540B Interactive-input devices
  • d5030 Printers and other peripherals for office automation

The first image of individual atoms was seen in 1981 using Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy, a technique which has since been used in many applications.

  • a0779 Scanning probe microscopy and related techniques
  • a6116P Scanning probe microscopy determinations of structure
  • a6820 Solid surface structure

Progress in theoretical physics continued with string theory and superstrings becoming more prominent as possible “theories of everything”.

  • a1117 Theories of strings and other extended objects
  • a1130P Supersymmetry in particle physics
  • a1210D Unified models beyond the standard model.

So called high temperature superconductors were also discovered in this decade. These can be used in a variety of applications including powerful electromagnets in Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

  • a7470V Perovskite phase superconductors
  • b3220H High-temperature superconducting materials.

Tim Bernards Lee would also start work on the WWW in this decade although it would not be until the 1990s that the wider world took notice of this new technology.

  • c7210N Information networks

Section D Information Technology of the database, was launched in this decade to cater for a new group of customers - managers and IT users.


In the 90s carbon nanotubes were “discovered” (evidence for them actually came in 1952).  These cylindrical carbon molecules have extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient conductors of heat. They are useful in many applications in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and materials science.

  • a6148 Structure of fullerenes and fullerene-related materials
  • a7125X Electronic structure of fullerenes and fullerene-related materials; intercalation compounds
  • a7360T Electrical properties of fullerenes and related materials (thin films/low-dimensional structures)
  • a7865V Optical properties of fullerenes and related materials (thin films/low-dimensional structures)
  • a8120V Preparation of fullerenes and fullerene-related materials, intercalation compounds, and diamond
  • b0587 Fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and related materials (engineering materials science)
  • b2230F Fullerene, nanotube and related devices
  • e1710 Engineering materials

Data from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was used to produce the first map of cosmic microwave background radiation, the so called primordial "seeds” of our universe.

  • a9870V Background cosmic radiations

Quantum entanglement was demonstrated over a range of kilometres when two widely separated particles were "entangled" and a measurement performed on one particle which instantaneously affected the measured properties of the other.

  • a0365B Foundations, theory of quantum measurement, miscellaneous quantum theories
  • a0367 Quantum information


Progress in particle physics continued with the neutrino mass found through neutrino oscillation experiments. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN was also switched on for the first time in 2008.

  • a1315 Neutrino interactions
  • a1460G Neutrinos
  • a2920L Synchrotrons
  • b7410 Particle accelerators

Space exploration also hit new heights with the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity exploring the surface of Mars long after they were expected to have failed.

  • a9630G Mars and satellites

This decade will also see the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, a hydroelectric river dam in China, one of many recent developments in the renewable energy sector.    

  • a8610 Energy resources and their utilisation
  • b8210 Energy resources
  • b8240 Hydroelectric power stations and plants
  • e3030 Construction industry
  • e2110D Geotechnical structures

It was also in the current decade that Section E: Manufacturing and Production Engineering was added to the database whilst the Inspec Archives (Science Abstracts 1898 - 1968) became available in digital form.


What does the future hold for science engineering and technology? Advances will continue in renewable energy and we may finally see nuclear fusion becoming the power source for the world.  Advances will continue in computing so that future generations could grow up in a world where permanent global access to the Internet is normal. Also theoretical physics could finally produce a “theory of everything”. In the end though it will be the unexpected developments that will truly surprise the world.