6 students who made world-changing discoveries

Everybody discovers something during their time at university. Some discover themselves, others discover their disinterest in the arts and, me personally, I made substantial steps in regards the discoveries surrounding the limits to which I could drive my body into the ground through indulgence. 

This is not a monument to the average students, however. This article is dedicated to all the amazing young minds that made world-changing discoveries for the betterment of society. Flaming beer-pong is not included in this list.

1. World’s oldest Jurassic dinosaur?


While trying his luck on an archaeological dig in Wales, palaeontology student Sam Davies stumbled across the remnants of a foot which may have belonged to an ancient cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The mini-version of the fearsome creatures was probably only 19.6 inches tall. Experts later speculated that his finding could be the oldest dinosaur ever discovered.

The third year University of Portsmouth student was encouraged to visit the cliffs on Lavernock Beach near Penarth by his tutor – a sure sign that the people we pay thousands of pounds to teach us are occasionally worth listening to.

2. Cancer enigma


Although curing cancer entirely is probably a long way off, minor advancements in the field are worthy of major celebrations, as Victoria Hilditch found out last year.

The final year biomedical science student at Bangor University made ground-breaking progress on the nature of a cell growth regulator Cdc2, a factor of cancer biology that has puzzled many for years, as it can be active and inactive at the same time.

Victoria’s research helped shine light on this mystery, discovering that Cdc2 exists in seven different forms. The breakthrough helped her supervisor later realise that the seven forms differ in their modification pattern, enabling its unusual state of activity.

3. Qur’an rediscovered


There are few books that have had as big an impact on history as the central religious text of Islam, meaning an ancient version of one would be considered a prize possession in any collection. That’s if the collector knew they even had it.

Two well-preserved leaves of parchment dating back to between AD568 and AD645 – roundabout the time the Prophet Muhammad is generally thought to have lived – had been resting in the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library for decades until PhD student Alba Fedeli decided to take a closer look at them last year.

Her analysis left her under the impression the leaves had come from different parchments to the rest of the collection. Tests by Oxford scientists later proved her correct, with a result citing 95.4% accuracy – showing that students can sometimes spot things others have been missing for years.

4. Out of this world


Some discoveries are large in their scope or importance, whereas others are simply just, well, large. And you don’t get much bigger than a new planet, something Chilean astronomy student Maritza Soto came across during her doctoral research at the University of Chile.

Maritza’s research had initially set out with the more modest aim of simply confirming the existence of an already discovered planet orbiting a star twice the size of our sun nearly 300 light years away.

In the process she noticed a spot that hadn’t been sighted before – a spot that turned out to be three times the mass of Jupiter. Talk about putting everyone else’s discoveries in the shade.

5. Lost civilisation


Not everyone can claim a discovery all to themselves, but that’s not necessarily a problem when the thing you’ve discovered is as exciting as a long lost city.

Siberian scientists from Tomsk State University – with student Artyom Yeremin among them – unearthed a 2,500 year-old Saka-Usun settlement in Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul, alongside 200 other artifacts. Not a bad feat given that it’s the tenth biggest lake in the world, with a surface area slightly bigger than that of Brunei.

Among the artifacts were ceramics, whetstones for sharpening knives and bronze ritual sickles. An impressive haul, yet some in the Orthodox Christian Church believe there is a greater discovery to be made at the lake – the body of St Matthew. Worth a second field trip, maybe?

6. Fluid results


Sometimes a student’s research has a deeper motivation than mere passion and the desire to get a good mark – they didn’t even aim for the discoveries they made.

After Helen Beaumont’s husband Clive died following a diagnosis with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), she applied for a PhD at the University of Manchester to study the illness.

She scanned 35 people – half with FTD and half without any form of dementia – and, after analysing the results, realised that you could tell the difference between those with and those without based on the amount and location of fluid in the brain. The findings could help establish benchmarks which can diagnose with greater certainty if someone has FTD, saving time on the diagnosis.