Cold War

Mushroom cloud, Maldern Island, 1957
Mushroom cloud, Maldern Island, 1957

The Cold War was a confrontation between the West, led by the United States of America, and the Communist states of the Soviet Bloc, led by the Soviet Union, that lasted from the 1940s to the early 1990s. With the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation making direct conflict highly risky, there was little direct fighting between the two sides, outside a series of smaller 'proxy-wars' fought around the world. However, both sides competed to develop more capable weapons and used science to score propaganda victories over the other. Government funding for scientific research directed towards meeting military objectives was increased substantially. British scientists, in both government research establishments and in industry, found themselves working on secret projects to develop weapon systems and a range of other nationally important scientific endeavours.Alongside guided missiles, nuclear weapons, and combat aircraft, several important everyday technologies emerged from military laboratories, such as liquid crystal displays and carbon fibre. In other areas, such as oceanography, scientists took advantage of military funding to further their own research agendas, whilst simultaneously feeding a strategic need, to understand more about conditions underwater in order to hunt submarines.