Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 00:05 UK

Hunt for all-time top invention

James May with Ferrari in foreground
James May says Apollo 10 lacked style, but it was man's giant leap

Celebrities including Top Gear's James May have launched the Science Museum's hunt to find the most important scientific breakthroughs in history.

The BBC presenter was among 10 famous faces to back an invention from a shortlist for a public vote.

He thinks the Apollo 10 space capsule has had the greatest historical impact. A winner will be declared by October.

The campaign is being held to mark the 100th anniversary of the museum in Exhibition Road, South Kensington.

The shortlist includes the V2 rocket engine, Model T Ford motor car and first model of DNA.

James May said he will vote for the Apollo 10 capsule "as it represents the furthest reach to date of manned exploration".

The shortlist
Stephenson's Rocket
Thompson's Atmospheric Engine
Reynolds' X-ray set
Model T Ford motor car
V2 rocket engine
Apollo 10 command module
Crick and Watson's DNA model
Cooke and Wheatstone's five-needle telegraph
Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine)

Television presenter and biologist Alice Roberts backed the X-ray machine.

She said: "X-rays provided the first possibility of looking inside someone's body without cutting them open - a massive medical advance."

Musician Nitin Sawhney, who chose the discovery of penicillin, said: "As an asthmatic recovering from a debilitating bout of pneumonia, I am painfully aware of how important a role penicillin has played in curing my lung infection.

"Countless lives have been saved by Alexander Fleming's wonder drug."

All 10 inventions and discoveries will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition entitled The Centenary Journey, due to open on 26 June.

Tim Boon, chief curator at the Science Museum, said: "Some of the objects may divide opinion.

"Would we be better off if some of the 'icons' which have had negative consequences had not been invented?"

The public can vote at the museum or on its website.

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