Top 10 Innovations Denmark is Proud of

Denmark is a small country, but as a population of 5.5 million, the Danes are frontrunners of many innovations. While we are sad to admit their undeniably buttery and delicious Wienerbrød (pastry…and what Americans refer to as a ‘danish’) actually originates from Vienna, we have a whole list of other things that the Danes can take credit for inventing:

1. LEGO: These colorful, interlocking, building brick toys all started in little Denmark in 1932 in a workshop in Billund, Denmark run by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. LEGO sets have passed on from generation to generation as a classic in the playroom, and across cultures, and reinvented their toy to match the times by creating more intricate pieces and storylines behind their toy series. Sold around the world, many people do not know the origin of the name, which plays off the Danish language as a mashup of the two Danish words leg godt, meaning, play well.

Turns out though, LEGOs are not just for kids! The European Clinical Psychology core class used LEGOs in an exercise to understand well-being, an out-of-the-box workshop that Student Blogger Jordan Thomas thought was unexpectedly enlightening.

2. The Blue Tooth: These days the Bluetooth capability seems to be built into just about every device, allowing us to avoid fussy wires. It was actually invented by Ericsson, a Swedish cell phone company, but we’d like to throw some credit to Viking king Harald ‘Blåtand’ who inspired the name. Students in our Danish Language and Culture courses might recognize the compound in his name; ‘blå’ meaning blue and ‘tand’ meaning tooth, in which you have a direct translation to ‘Bluetooth.’ When Ericsson sat down to think of a name for their new technology, they clearly must have looked to the King as a metaphor – he is famous for uniting Denmark and Norway under Christianity in the late 900’s, just as Bluetooth unites technology today!

3. Insulin: The Danes are responsible for finding the relationship between hemoglobin and the concentration of carbon dioxide – otherwise known as the Bohr Effect, published by Nobel Peace Prize Winner, August Krogh, and Christian Bohr (son of Niels Bohr) in 1904. This finding contributed to medical research that led to the discovery of insulin at Novo Nordisk, a Danish founded company that is still exploding with innovation today. Starting in fall 2015, we will be offering a new elective course called Diabetes: Diagnoses and Diseases…imagine the field studies this course will offer!

4. Wind Energy: Before you start fact checking us, we will admit that the Americans invented the wind turbine in 1888. Yet, there is good reason for why Denmark was named the Green Capital of Europe in 2014 – Danes LOVE wind energy and are considered leaders in innovation in the field of wind power! As a leading producer of wind turbines, Denmark has installed more than 90 percent of the world’s offshore wind turbines… Students who have traveled on the Sustainable Samsø DIScovery Trip will be quick to agree, as this trip takes them to the Danish island that is 100% renewable with environmentally sustainable energy.

5. The Loud Speaker: Danish engineer Peter Jensen and American, Edwin Pridham, put their heads together in 1915 to invent the ‘Magnavox’,’ the first loudspeaker the world had ever seen. As you can imagine, the use of a speaker for public address was forever changed, as large audiences could actually hear every word loud and clear! U.S. president Woodrow Wilson used the Magnavox in 1919 to address an audience in San Diego.

6. ‘Copenhagenization’: Copenhagen’s bike lanes swarm with cyclists who use their two wheels as a daily form of transport from day and night, rain or shine. The city is clean and the commuters seem to be happy – so why can’t every city uphold this sustainable lifestyle? Mikael Colville-Andersen asked this question back in 2007, and with that, coined the term ‘Copenhagenization’: the act of exporting the CPH bike lifestyle and urban infrastructure to another city. DIS Urban Design students got the chance to join in on Mikael’s fight for bikes, as they worked together to rethink one of Copenhagen’s urban spaces for the sake of bike traffic.

7. Handball: Way back when, it’s said that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were among the first to play a version of what we call handball today. It was later on that the modern game was invented, which many historians attribute to the effort of the Danes, Germans, AND the Swedes. However, historians suggest that Danish athlete, Holger Nielsen, played a big role in formalizing the rules and structure of the game. So although we aren’t confident who we can applaud for these efforts, one thing is for certain and DIS students living in homestays can attest to this: Danes love to gather round together to watch both men and women’s handball matches!

8. Danish Women in Power: When Helle Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark’s first female Prime Minister in 2011, she was neither the first nor the only woman to assume the reins of power in Denmark. The powerful role of women in Denmark makes for some pretty interesting discussions about gender equality, to be had in the Women and Leadership elective at DIS!
9. Pure Yeast: The year 1887 brought excitement to beer drinkers of Denmark, when Dr. Emil Christian Hansen discovered a method of creating pure yeast, ending the beer disease that plagued the country years before. This method changed everything for the industry, and the new yeast was rightfully named as Saccharmoyces Carlsbergensis.

10. New Nordic Wave: If only Danes from hundreds of years ago could see the development of Scandinavian food culture, design, and architecture. Don’t get us wrong – we love traditional Danish culture just as much as the next guy, yet, there is something freakishly creative, aesthetically pleasing, and absolutely lækkert about the new Nordic wave. Danish chefs and designers alike are collaborating on new norms by designing new buildings and menus that are functional and bring out the best in the local conditions, seasons, and resources. Copenhagen is home to the best restaurant in the world and as a city filled with Michelin stars, and critics from around the world have traveled to Denmark’s capital to give this new Nordic taste a shot – including the food critics of DIS, in the Nordic Culinary Culture course. And, several Danish architects, urban designers, and designers have become world leaders in innovation as explored in our course New Nordic Design.

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