51 Firsts

Established in 1878, Western University has a long history of leadership in research that produces tangible, global impact on health, culture, environment and economies. Located in London, Ontario, Canada, Western roots itself in a history of excellence, but continues to eye next-generation discoveries across disciplines that will forever change the landscape of our planet.

Success, however, is rarely achieved in isolation – instead, it results from local, national and global partnerships. Many of Western’s successes have been made possible only through close collaboration between, and leadership by, partners at Robarts Research Institute, Lawson Health Research Institute, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

From the concept of insulin in 1920 to ongoing progress in human clinical trials of an HIV vaccine, Western and its partners continue to lead efforts to address the world’s largest problems. This is a sample of just 51 discoveries by researchers, clinicians and teams we are proud called – and continue to call – Western, and London, home.

Submit a Western discovery here!

Sort by:

A photograph of Sir Frederick Banting smiling.
As a part-time faculty member, Sir Frederick Banting rose from his sleep in 1920 and wrote down the 25 words that would lead to his discovery of insulin.
An illustration of two cells, one of which has a Barr Body in its nucleus.
Dr. Murray Barr discovered the sex chromatin – now known as the Barr body – in 1948, ushering in a new era in research and diagnosis of genetic disorders.
An illustration of a person in a business suit carrying a briefcase in front of a map of Canada. The person's arm is shaped like a number one, their cufflinks say 'st' and their briefcase reads 'MBA'.
Western established the first Master’s of Business Administration program outside the United States in 1948.
A closeup photograph of a mosquito.
During the 1950s, Tony Brown provided the genetic basis of insect resistance to insecticides, and was the first to identify the chromosomal loci responsible for DDT resistance.
A series of photographs of Dr. Ivan Smith sitting before a scientific machine blended together in various poses.
Researchers led by Dr. Ivan Smith developed the world's first 'cobalt bomb' to treat cancer in 1951, doubling the survival rate for early-stage cervix cancers from 30% to 60%, and benefiting an estimated 35 million cancer patients.
An illustration of of the chemical make up of vinblastine.
In 1958, Drs. Robert Noble and Charles Beer isolated the anti-cancer drug “vinblastine” – the first of a series of chemotherapy drugs used in cancer care – which is still used today.
An illustration of three human brains overlaid on one another.
In 1958, Dr. Charles Drake pioneered the world's first surgical treatment for cerebral aneurysms at the base of the brain.
A photograph of the World Trade Centre buidings being set up to be tested in a wind tunnel.
Alan Davenport’s discovery that wind tunnels could be used to develop wind loads to make structures safer and more economical led to recognition of the Alan Davenport Wind Loading Chain as the basis for the modern practice of wind engineering around the world.
An illustration of a bar graph with a line graph above it.
Economist, John Whalley, has revolutionized policy analysis in areas that include trade and taxation, and pioneered the use of Computational General Equilibrium (CGE) models to analyze expected and unexpected effects of public policy change.
An illustration of Paul de Mayo holding his head and a stick figure with a cane over his right shoulder.
Paul de Mayo’s extensive contributions to photochemistry during the 1960s resulted in the de Mayo Reaction – a form of photochemical enone cycloaddition – being named in his honour.
A photograph of Helen Battle in front of a glass case in a museum.
During her long career at Western, zoologist Helen Battle pioneered the use of fertilized fish eggs to study the effects of pollutants on aquatic life and drinking water, and of carcinogenic substances on cell growth.
An illustration of a hot air balloon over the surface of the ocean with a submarine below. The balloon reads 'Inflation' and the sub reads 'Unemployment.'
Grant Reuber was the first economist to explicitly use the inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation as a policy constraint, so policy makers could no longer institute policies that lowered inflation without worrying about raising unemployment, and vice versa. This breakthrough was the precursor to central banks using a policy rule to determine how much to raise interest rates when inflation increased.
A photograph of the CN Tower from below.
Western opened the first-of-its-kind Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory in 1965, defining the field of wind engineering and testing such structures as the World Trade Center, CN Tower and Confederation Bridge.
A photograph of an unmarked bottle of green oil.
By developing the process of ultrapyrolysis and using a variety of natural biomass products during the 1970s and 1980s, Maurice Bergougnou discovered ‘green oil,’ which is biodegradable and toxicologically safe.
An illustration of a home with a stylized window shaped like the nib of a pen.
The English Department houses Canada’s longest-running Writer-in-Residence program, having hosted writers who include Joan Barfoot, Alice Munro, Penn Kemp and Margaret Laurence, since 1972.
An illustration of a bottle of Aspirin with a heart on the bottle.
In 1978, Dr. Henry Barnett led the Canadian study demonstrating Aspirin can prevent strokes, opening the door for the use of Aspirin to prevent heart disease.
An illustration of a human with a heart on their chest and a bottle of glue being applied to a scar on that heart.
During the 1980s, a team led by Khadry Galil promoted, advanced and expanded a surgical glue from a liquid derivative of cyanoacrylate now used worldwide for everything from emergency medicine and blocking aneurysms, to clamping large blood vessels and periodontology.
A silhouette illustration of a child on a grassy hill next to a grazing cow.
In 1981, Dr. Fred Possmayer discovered a method of extracting and purifying natural surfactant from a cow’s lung to help premature infants breathe, saving millions worldwide.
An illustration of a figure in a white karate gi having knocked back a cluster of other figures in combat.
A team at University Hospital, led by Dr. Calvin Stiller, announced success in a trial using cyclosporine to stop the progress of Type 1 diabetes in 1982.
An illustration of the cross section of a human brain.
Canada’s first human brain MRI was conducted in London in 1982, and led to pioneering advances in cardiovascular, orthopaedic and neonatal MRI.
An illustration of an ear overlaid with letters that appear as an eye exam chart would.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Richard Seewald and Susan Scollie led teams that developed the Desired Sensation Level (DSL) method for paediatric hearing instrument fitting – technology that is now used worldwide.
A photograph of doctors performing surgery.
Researchers with the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at University Hospital performed the world’s first successful combined liver and bowel transplant, in 1988.
An illustration of a timeline with a man looking up at the leftmost edge and a person dressed like Batman at the rightmost edge.
Specializing in industrial and organizational psychology, John Meyer and Natalie Allen developed the Commitment Scales to categorize ways in which employees are attached to their organizations. Used worldwide by businesses and academics alike, the Scales help in the process of developing more committed employees and more appealing workplaces.
A photograph of a man between a scientific instrument that includes two spools of copper wire at either end.
Peter J. Schultz built the first positronic beam device in Canada and used it to advance the study of solid surfaces and thin films in the 1980s and 1990s. This technology allows aviation inspectors to detect damage to material at an atomic level before any visible damage is apparent.
An illustration of a cross section of a grapefruit.
Dr. David Bailey discovered in 1991 that taking grapefruit juice with medication causes inhibition of drug metabolism in humans – the first discovery of a food producing this effect.
An illustration of a green beam of light leaving a building and shooting into the sky.
In 1993, a team led by Robert Sica built and demonstrated the first practical applications of large liquid metal mirrors by integrating one into Western’s Purple Crow Lidar, which allows some of the highest time and space measurements of atmospheric temperature and composition in the upper atmosphere and improves knowledge of weather and climate phenomena.
An illustration of the orbital patterns of Earth and the asteroid, Cruithne.
In 1997, Paul Wiegert and collaborators discovered that near-Earth asteroid 3753 Cruithne is the planet’s first companion asteroid – also referred to as “Earth’s second moon.”
A magnified image of a red blood cell.
Perfusion CT technology developed by Ting-Yim Lee in 1999 has been licensed worldwide to GE Healthcare, helping doctors immediately track blood flow to the brain after stroke - saving time and lives. Nearly every stroke patient in the world benefits from this technology.
An illustration of a pair of feet on either side of a scale.
During the 2000s, Murray Huff demonstrated that a flavonoid derived from citrus fruit can help prevent weight gain and other signs of metabolic syndrome, which may lead to Type 2 Diabetes and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
A photograph of a drop of water.
A wastewater treatment technology developed by George Nakhla and Jesse Zhu at the Particle Technology Research Centre in the 2000s is 10 times more efficient than conventional wastewater treatment methods.
A magnified image of a spider mite.
During the 2000s, Miodrag Grbić led an international consortium that sequenced the genome of the spider mite, which is one of the world’s most destructive agricultural pests, causing more than $1 billion in damage annually. This knowledge will allow for the development of non-pesticide control measures.
An illustration of an Inuit woman in profile with a baby on her back holding a globe in her right hand.
Western hosted the world's first Aboriginal Policy Research conference in 2002 to promote evidence-based research related to indigenous affairs and issues worldwide.
An illustration of a cell tethered to another one, floating away as if carried by a light breeze.
A team led by Paula Foster demonstrated for the first time in 2006 that MRI can be used to detect a single cell in a living animal, allowing scientists to track cellular movement and disease.
An illustration of a woman crossing a gap with a book acting as a bridge.
Established in 2006, the Bridges Project was the first-of-its-kind in Canada to provide an innovative adult education centre specifically for women living in abusive or violent situations.
An illustration of the northern lights.
Julia O’Sullivan authored the first education report focusing solely on the children of Canada’s North in 2007.
A magnified image of a microbe.
In 2007, Neil Banerjee led at team of Canadian scientists that announced the discovery of the oldest evidence of life on Earth – the fossilized trackways of slithering microbes in a 3.35-billion-year-old Australian rock.
A magnified x-ray of a cell.
In 2007, an international team of researchers led by Miguel Valvano discovered a method for compromising the drug-resistant qualities of B. cenocepacia, a bacteria that can lead to fatal lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis.
A magnified x-ray of a cell.
In 2008, Gordon Southam’s team identified the first ecosystem ever found to have only a single biological species – more than 1.5 miles beneath the surface of the Earth, in South Africa.
An illustration of bacteria covered with suckers.
In 2008, a team of chemists developed pancake-shaped nanoparticle pairs that show a large shift in their absorption spectra, allowing them to be used as biosensors.
A photograph of a bee clinging onto a stalk of purple flowers.
In 2008, Graham Thompson helped isolate a region on the honeybee genome that controls when workers help or cheat on their queen. It was the first time genes for selfish cheating behaviour had been isolated from any social animal, and their work provided a strong validation of sociobiological theory.
An illustration of six differently-coloured jigsaw puzzle pieces combined in the shape of a speech bubble.
Although long part of the very diagnostic criteria that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have global difficulty with “linguistic pragmatics” – i.e., making appropriate use of context or knowledge of what is reasonable to say – Robert Stainton helped discover a rich array of pragmatic abilities in people with ASD.
An x-ray of a human knee.
A landmark 2008 study by researchers at Western and Lawson found that common arthroscopic surgery of the knee is ineffective at reducing joint pain or improving joint function among sufferers of osteoarthritis.
A 3d rendering of a sphere constructed from smaller spheres connected via lines of light.
Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, Jan Cami and colleagues discovered carbon molecules known as ‘buckyballs’ in space for the first time in 2010. These are the largest molecules currently known to exist in space.
An illustration of a tornado next to house.
Researchers at The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes applied the first realistic hurricane wind load simulation to a full-scale house in 2008, providing valuable information for how to make structures safer.
An illustration of of two children's heads, overlaid, facing in opposite directions.
Using complete genome sequences of twins and parents, Shiva Singh and colleagues established in 2011 that identical twins do not necessarily share identical DNA sequences. These results question the conclusions of more than 100 years of genetic research that had assumed the genomes of monozygotic twins to be 100 per cent identical.
An illustration of a field of stars, some of which are connected with a dotted line.
In 2011, Pauline Barmby discovered some standard stars used to measure distances can change their masses, which improved understanding of the size of the universe and galaxies within it.
An illustration of a doctor with searchlight eyes examining groups of patients.
In 2012, a team led by Charles Weijer established the world’s first ethical guidelines for cluster randomized trials.
An illustration of a violin overlayed with music notes.
Based on long-term research about German-Jewish composer Hans Gal, Annette Barbara Vogel has produced a series of world-premiere recordings.
An illustration of a human head unravelling.
In 2013, Lorina Naci led a study, which, for the first time, used a simple test of attention and neuroimaging to read human thought via brain activity when conveying specific “yes” or “no” answers.
An illustration of a tennis ball at the edge of a court shaped like a human brain.
A team led by Adrian Owen continues its groundbreaking work related to minimally conscious patients, using EEG to show some patients are able to reliably follow commands, and using fMRI to demonstrate they can experience emotion.
An illustration of a group of black tanks surrounding a white one in the centre.
Chil-Yong Kang has developed the first and only preventative HIV vaccine based on a genetically modified killed whole virus, which is currently in Phase II Human Clinical Trials.