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Imperial College, London, UK

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Imperial College was founded as a University of London college of science and technology in 1907. Now it also boasts a medical school having gobbled up St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and Charing Cross Hospital, Hammersmith, along the way.

A University In All But Name

Imperial is distinct from other universities in Britain. Firstly, it's called a college, not a university. However, it actually is a university. Secondly, Imperial College is, to all intents and purposes, independent of the other London colleges - running its own research and degree programmes. But Imperial remains dogged in its focus on science, engineering and medicine. There is a management school and a humanities department, but they're not exactly huge. The Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music are nearby but there, perhaps understandably, is next to no contact or interaction at the student level.

An Abundance of Males

Imperial students, unsurprisingly, fall into most stereotypes. 70% of the college is male - rising to over 90% for some departments - and there are perennial complaints about this. Some people would imagine the female minority to be happy with this situation, but it turns out they are not; it's quality, not quantity that these women with brains are after. Also, with well over a third of the students coming from overseas, you get to hear students from everywhere babbling away excitedly in all sorts of languages — a good thing if you want to improve your foreign language skills.

Biologists are regarded as arts students there, and more than one materials science student has got there after doing a year of aeronautics followed by one of mechanical engineering. If you've never met a boring, grungy, unwashed computing geek before, Imperial supplies them by the labful. The medics tend to look down on everybody else, but then everybody else tends to think they're a stuck-up bunch of 'not-very-interesting people' anyway.

Many Good Points

But all's not bad. The very nice Union Bar is reputably the oldest student bar in Britain, although it has changed location since originally opening. Imperial has an amazingly high proportion of smart, intelligent people who do a whole lot more than just read books or sit in labs all day long. The college has more student clubs and societies than anywhere else in the country and fields very good teams for all kinds of sports and activities. Despite these good points the overwhelming intensity of the people might get to you, so beware...

Roll of Honours

Many great and renowned scientists and public figures have been associated with Imperial College (and its constituents before that). The following is a small representation.

Thomas Huxley was a 19th Century biologist, nicknamed Darwin's Bulldog, for his passionate defence of his theory of evolution in a notoriously famous 1860 public Oxford debate with Archbishop Wilberforce. He extended and refined Darwin's theory, and presented the first explicit direct evidence for human evolution never mentioned by Darwin.

William Perkin was a 19th Century chemist and the creator of the first synthetic dye, mauveine, in 1856, leading to the foundation of the aniline dye industry.

HG Wells was the pioneering science-fiction author, writer of (among other works) The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.

Alexander Fleming was the man who discovered penicillin (the first antibiotic) in 1928. He shared the 1945 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery.

Patrick Blackett was a physicist who developed the use of Wilson's cloud chamber, and thus made important discoveries concerning cosmic rays. He was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize for Physics. He also wrote widely on social and political effects of atomic weapons and became chief scientific advisor to the governments of both Britain and India.

William Penney was a nuclear physicist and mathematician who led Britain's post-war development of the atomic bomb and supervised the first successful test explosion. He also worked with the American atomic bomb development team during World War II. He later became chief of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Denis Gabor was a Hungarian electrical engineer who invented holography1 in 1948 in an attempt to improve electron microscopy. He was subsequently awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Abdus Salam is a Pakistani theoretical physicist who famously put forward his theory of electroweak interaction, the synthesis of electromagnetic and weak interactions, the closest step yet towards a grand unified theory of nature. He shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics and founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste.

Other famous people associated with the college include Brian May, guitarist with rock band Queen who graduated in physics and mathematics and later received a PhD in astronomy, and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was an undergraduate in mechanical engineering.

1The science of holograms.

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