1989. Geneva. Tim Berners-Lee presented his new technological invention to his boss, Mike Sendall, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Initially described by his boss as ‘vague but exciting’, that discovery was the World Wide Web, an innovation that brought together the Internet and hypertext (hyperlinks), allowing information to be retrieved from the Internet.[2-4]
CERN was established in 1953 thanks to the signature of the CERN convention by 12 different States and it represents one of the most influential particle physics institutes in the world. Berners-Lee came from a family in which his parents were already programmers, and graduated from the University of Oxford in 1976 with a degree in physics. He joined CERN in 1980 as a software engineering consultant and created a prototype called Enquire, a sort of virtual platform where lots of information could be stored and shared. The main objective of this new software was creating links between different documents in order to allow researchers to share their results and more easily collaborate with their colleagues.
Following the original presentation of his idea in 1989, it was in November 1990 that, together with CERN colleague Robert Cailliau, Berners-Lee formalised his hypertext project as a proposal: “WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project”. That proposal contains several different elements that we still have nowadays, such as HTML, the protocol HTTP, and URL.
No longer considered ‘vague but exciting’, the World Wide Web can be considered a ‘network of online content’ where there are ‘interlinked HTML pages that can be accessed over the Internet’, providing a valuable tool that many of us use multiple times every day.
In the spirit of Berners-Lee, who encouraged the sharing of data and results, we focused on the biomedical applications of the World Wide Web by analysing two important databases that today make the difference in scientific research. One such informational facility is PubMed. For over 20 years the only way to access biological literature from the MEDLINE database had been through institutions. PubMed revolutionised this, giving the public free access to the database.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the US national medical research agency. Over 153 Nobel Prize winners have been supported by the platform, whose studies have lead to the development of pioneering medical advances (e.g. how viruses cause cancer and the development of MRI).
Today, the World Wide Web keeps on growing, and it offers different services to citizens such as digital health care, full descriptions of different diseases (e.g. Mayo Clinic) but also platforms, like PubMed and NIH, where researchers can share their findings.
As young scientists, the World Wide Web can be a powerful instrument for increasing scientific understanding, and building our knowledge about the world by joining our forces for good.
Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web!
- “Tim Berners-Lee’s Proposal”, CERN, accessed March 12, 2019, http://info.cern.ch/Proposal.html.
- Michael Aaron Dennis, “Sir Tim Berners-Lee”, Encyclopædia Britannica, last modified January 10, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tim-Berners-Lee.
- “Our History”, Who We Are, CERN, accessed March 12, 2019, https://home.cern/about/who-we-are/our-history.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “World Wide Web”, Encyclopædia Britannica, last modified January 10, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/World-Wide-Web.
- “[email protected]: The 30-year anniversary of an invention that changed the world”, CERN, March 4, 2019, https://home.cern/news/news/computing/web30-30-year-anniversary-invention-changed-world.
- World Wide Web (WWW), Definition – What does World Wide Web (WWW) mean?, techopedia.com, https://www.techopedia.com/definition/5217/world-wide-web-www.
- “PubMed”, U.S. National Library of Medicine, accessed March 12, 2019, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/pubmed.html.
- US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1982), MEDLARS and Health Information Policy. http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ota/Ota_4/DATA/1982/8219.PDF.
- “History”, Who We Are, National Institutes of Health, last modified October 4, 2017, https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/history.
Figure 1: “Logo for PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine”, U.S. Government, January 21, 2008, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US-NLM-PubMed-Logo.svg.
Figure 2: “Logo for the National Institutes of Health”, National Institutes for Health, December 1, 2012, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NIH_Master_Logo_Vertical_2Color.png.
About the Authors
Roberto Parisi and Shannon Rennie are both members of the Young Scientists Journal team. Roberto is the journal’s Ambassador to Italy, while Shannon is based in England and also a member of the Outreach Team, as Ambassador for Astrophysics.