What happened today in science history.

Month: September 2019 (Page 1 of 2)

September 30th in Science and Engineering

Sep 30, 1802: Antoine Jérôme Balard, a French chemist who in 1826 discovered the element bromine, was born. He determined its properties, and studied some of its compounds. Later, he proved the presence of bromine in sea plants and animals.

Balard noticed that bromine had an atomic weight that was close to the arithmetic mean of two other known halogens, chlorine and iodine, suggesting that they formed a chemical family. (They do.) He also researched the inexpensive extraction of chemical salts from seawater and made other discoveries in chemistry. He studied and named amyl alcohol. Louis Pasteur and Marcellin Erthelot were among his students.

Sep 30, 1841: A machine “for sticking pins into paper” was patented (U.S. #2275) by Samuel Slocum. He had previous invented but not patented a sewing pin making machine. This new machine aligned several pins in parallel and #pushed them through a folded paper, a convenient way to package the product. One man tending both machines could produce 100,000 pins in 11 hours.

Sep 30, 1842: English geologist, Charles Lapworth who proposed what came to be called the Ordovician Period (505 to 438 million years ago) of geologic strata was born.

Lapworth is famous for his work with marine fossils called graptolites. By carefully collecting and cataloging the tiny fossilized sea creatures, he figured out the original order of layered rocks that had been faulted and folded in England’s Southern Uplands. This method of correlating rocks with graptolites became a model for similar research throughout the world. In 1879, Lapworth proposed a new classification of Lower Paleozoic rocks as the Ordovician Period, between the redefined Cambrian and Silurian periods.

Sep 30, 1846: Dentist Dr. William Morton used an experimental anesthetic, ether, for the first time on one of his patients at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for tooth extraction.

Sep 30, 1862: US patent #36,593 was issued for a revolving turret for battleships to the inventor, Theodore Ruggles Timby When Ericsson built the first turret battleship in the world, the Monitor, he added a turret based on Timby’s design.

Sep 30, 1870: French physicist, Jean-Baptiste Perrin, was born. His studies of the Brownian motion of minute particles suspended in liquids verified Albert Einstein’s explanation of this phenomenon and thereby confirmed the atomic nature of matter.

Perrin also determined by a new method one of the most important physical constants, Avogadro’s number. Avogadro’s number is the number of molecules in a given number of grams of a substance as indicated by the molecular weight. The Perrin obtained agreed closely to that given by the kinetic theory of gases. For this achievement he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926.

Sep 30, 1881: The Godalming town council in Surrey, England, voted to have the world’s first public electricity supply. Instead of renewing the contract with the gas company that lit the community, the town council accepted a less expensive offer from Calder & Barrett to convert to electricity. The mayor and council members saw a demonstration of electrical lighting earlier that week.

The system was AC. The generator was powered by a water-wheel at a local leather mill and supplied lighting to the mill, streets, and some businesses and homes. This system preceeded Edison’s first electric utility by a year.

Sep 30, 1882: Born on this day was Charles Lanier Lawrance, an American aeronautical engineer who designed the first successful air-cooled aircraft engine. These engines were used on many historic early flights. He also designed a new type of wing with exceptionally good lift-to-drag ratio that was widely used in World War I. By the mid-1920s his improvements in engine power and reliability made a remarkable series of long-distance flights possible, including those of Admiral Byrd, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Clarence Chamberlin.

Despite the sensational publicity of these flights, Lawrance remained in obscurity. He once commented, “Who remembers Paul Revere’s horse?” For his J-5 Whirlwind engine, Lawrance was awarded the annual Collier Trophy in 1928.

Sep 30, 1882: Hans Wilhelm Geiger, a German physicist who developed the Geiger Counter, was born. The Geiger Counter was the first successful detector of individual alpha particles and other ionizing radiation. After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Erlangen in 1906, he collaborated with Ernest Rutherford. He used the first version of his particle counter and other detectors in experiments that led to the identification of the alpha particle as the nucleus of the helium atom and to Rutherford’s statement in 1912 that the nucleus occupies a very small volume in the atom.

The Geiger-Müller counter (developed with Walther Müller) had improved durability, performance and sensitivity to detect not only alpha particles but also beta particles (electrons) and ionizing electromagnetic photons. Geiger returned from England to Germany in 1912 and continued to investigate cosmic rays, artificial radioactivity, and nuclear fission.

Sep 30, 1882: The first hydroelectric power plant in the U.S. was opened on the Fox River, in Appleton, Wisconsin. Powered by a water wheel, a single dynamo provided 12.5 kilowatts, enough for 180 lights of ten candlepower each.

Sep 30, 1883: American civil engineer, Nora Stanton Blatch Barney, was born. Her professional and political activities built on her family’s tradition of women leaders. In 1905, she was the first woman in the US to earn a degree in civil engineering and the first junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She wrote a paper on the water supply of Washington, DC, which became a reference work used for over 50 years for studies on the transport of solids in liquids.

In 1908, she married Lee De Forest, inventor of the radio vacuum tube, for whom she worked as a laboratory assistant until 1909, when they separated. In 1908, on a honeymoon trip to France, De Forest transmitted voice communication from the Eiffel Tower to receivers 500 miles away.

Sep 30, 1887: Leslie Herbert Lampitt, English analytical chemist and food scientist, was born. As chief chemist of Lyons, he founded the largest food laboratory in Europe. After serving in WW I, he suggested to Samuel Gluckstein of the food company J. Lyons & Co. that science should be applied to food production.

In Jul 1919, he founded a 3,000 sq. ft. biochemical department, a laboratory analyzing food samples that was the first of its kind in Europe. The staff and activities grew. By 1928, the lab occupied 35,000 sq. feet in a seven-story building. In June of 1949, Oxford graduate Margaret Roberts joined as a research chemist. Later, as Margaret Thatcher, she became Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.

Sep 30, 1902: The “making of cellulose esters” was jointly patented by William H. Walker, Arthur D. Little, and Harry S. Mork of Massachusetts. (US #709,922). A month later, Oct 28, 1902, they also patented artificial silk (US #712,200). Viscose was an early name for the product, which has a silk-like luster. The term Rayon was adopted by the textile industry in 1924 to replace “artificial silk” and other names.

Unlike most man-made fibers, rayon is not synthetic. Made from wood pulp, Rayon’s properties are more similar to those of natural cellulosic fibers, such as cotton or linen, than those of petroleum-based synthetic fibers like nylon.

Sep 30, 1905: Nevill Francis Mott, English physicist, was born. In 1977, he, along with Philip W. Anderson and John H. Van Vleck of the US, shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his independent researches on the magnetic and electrical properties of amorphous semiconductors.

The properties of crystaline semiconductors are described by the Band Theory, which compares the conductivity of metals, semiconductors, and insulators. A famous exception is provided by nickel oxide. According to Band Theory, nickel oxide ought to be a metallic conductor but in reality is an insulator. Mott refined Band Theory to include electron-electron interaction and explained so-called Mott transitions, by which some metals become insulators as the electron density decreases.

Sep 30, 1906: The world’s first international balloon race began. The race began at Jardin des Tuleries, with 17 entrants and 250,000 spectators. The race was sponsored by James Gordon-Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, who was known for financing Henry Stanley’s expedition into Africa to find David Livingstone.

The race was won by a coal-gas balloon from the United States. Pilot Lt. Frank P. Lahm of the U.S. Signal Corps and his co-pilot Maj. Henry B. Hersey, of the Weather Bureau, flew 402 miles (647-km) from Paris, France to Scarborough, England in 22 hours and 15 minutes. Only seven entrants reached England safely. The win promoted ballooning in the USA and the next race in 1907 was held at St. Louis, Missouri.

Sep 30, 1907: A letter was written to the London Times protesting motor car speed traps. The author, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said, among other things, “the police neglect their other duties and look upon trapping as a regular sport, producing income to local government from the £5 or £10 fines for speeds of 20 or 30 mph.” In response to the complaints of dust clouds kicked up by automobiles, Lord Montagu suggested the construction of better roads.

Sep 30, 1917: American inventor, Irving B. Kahn, was born. He invented teleprompter and headed the TelePrompTer company. In the mid 1950’s, Kahn designed and built the first remotely controlled, multi-image, rear projection system. The system could randomly select between 500 slides and larger transparencies. It was built for the US Army facility in Huntsville, Alabama, for making persuasive presentations to visiting Congressmen. Kahn also made many technological contributions to the early cable TV industry. In 1961, Kahn and Hub Schlafley demonstrated Key TV, an early pay TV concept, by showing the second Patterson vs. Johansson heavyweight fight, giving birth to pay-per-view.

Sep 30, 1929: An early manned rocket-powered flight was made by German auto maker Fritz von Opel. His Sander RAK 1 was a glider powered by sixteen 50 pound thrust rockets. In it, Opel made a successful flight of 75 seconds, covering almost 2 miles. Prior to this, Opel had set several land speed records in rocket sleds he built and tested in secret. He gradually got the speed up to 254 km/h (158 mph).

Sep 30, 1935: Boulder Dam, (later renamed Hoover Dam) in Boulder City, Nevada, was dedicated. The concrete-arch dam was the first US hydroelectric plant to produce over a million kilowatts (1 gigawatt) of power. The first four generators came online on Oct 26, 1936. The full complement is 13. The 1 GW milestone was reached in June of 1943, with most but not all generators installed. With all generators on line, generating capacity was 1.45 GW. The power mainly serves the Los Angeles area.

In the 1990s, an upgrade of all electrical equipment was undertaken. Siemens used supercomputers to design the new generators and new turbine wheels. NGK provided all new switchgear and transformers. With no increase in water flow through the turbines, the maximum output power of Hoover Dam has increased to 4.0 GW (4,000 megawatts). Unfortunately, climate change has reduced the amount of water in the Colorado River system so much that the dam only operates at reduced capacity and other hydro facilities nearby are shutdown entirely.

Sep 30, 1939: French chemist, Jean-Marie Lehn, was born. He who shared, with Charles J. Pedersen and Donald J. Cram, the 1987 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for his contribution to the laboratory synthesis of molecules that mimic the vital chemical functions of molecules in living organisms. Such molecules have a highly selective, structure specific interaction. These molecules can effectively “recognize” each other and choose with which other molecules they will form complexes. Of low molecular weight and with very special properties, the molecules in these compounds bind in a selective manner, like a key fits a lock.

Sep 30, 1943: German biochemist, Johann Deisenhofer, was born. Diesenhofer received the 1988 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, along with Hartmut Michel and Robert Huber, for the determination of the three-dimensional structure of certain proteins that are essential to photosynthesis. Using X-ray crystallography, they unravelled the full details of how a membrane-bound protein is built up, revealing the structure of the molecule atom by atom. The protein was taken from a bacterium which, like green plants and algae, uses light energy from the sun to build organic substances. Photosynthesis in bacteria is simpler than in algae and higher plants, but the work has led to increased understanding of photosynthesis in those organisms as well.

Sep 30, 1954: USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, was commissioned at Groton, Connecticut. Its nuclear reactor eliminated diesel engines which previously limited a sub’s range and speed. Nuclear power also eliminated diesel fuel storage spaces and periodic surfacing to recharge batteries.

Nautilus was launched Jan 21, 1954. It could dive longer, faster, and deeper than any submarine before it. It was 319 feet long, with a 27 foot beam (hull diameter), could dive to 700 feet, and travel at over 20 knots. Nautilus broke records in 1958 as the first vessel to travel under the Arctic ice and cross the North Pole. Decommissioned in 1980, the sub was converted into a museum in 1985.

Sep 30, 1982: H. Ross Perot and Jay Colburn completed the first circumnavigation of the world in a helicopter, the Spirit of Texas. The took 29 days. For their trip around the world, which began and ended in Fort Worth, Texas, Perot and Coburn flew a Long Ranger with full navigation equipment, survival gear, and emergency items. Pop-out floats were added, and a 151-gallon auxiliary fuel tank in place of the rear seat was used to enable the Spirit of Texas to fly eight hours without refueling. An Allison 250-C28B turbine engine performed flawlessly for 246.5 hours of flight, flying more than 10 hours a day, over open ocean, barren desert, and tropical rain forest with an average ground speed of 117 mph.

September 29th in Science and Engineering

Sep 29, 1803: French mathematician, Jacques Charles-François Sturm, was born. Among other things, he developed Sturm’s theorem, an important contribution to the theory of equations. Sturm worked as a tutor of the de Broglie family in Paris around 1823, where he met many leading scientists and mathematicians. In 1826, working with Swiss engineer, Daniel Colladon, he made the first accurate measurement of the speed of sound in water (roughly 1,500 meters per second or 4,900 feet per second). In 1827 he wrote a prize-winning paper on the compressibility of fluids.

Since the work of mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650), a problem existed in finding the number of solutions of a given second-order differential equation within a given range of the variable. Sturm provided a complete solution to the problem with his theorem which he published in 1829. Sturm’s theorem has since been applied to many problems including the solution to the Schrödinger equation and its boundary values, a fundamental part of quantum mechanics.

Sep 29, 1859: American physician, Hermann M. Biggs, was born. He pioneered the use of bacteriological studies in the field of public health for the prevention and control of contagious diseases. In 1892, he became the first director of a new Division of Pathology, Bacteriology and Disinfection within the New York City Department of Health, addressing the problem of cholera infected immigrants arriving at the harbor. He eventually became the chief medical officer of the City of New York and in 1914, commissioner of health for the State of New York. The methods he developed spread throughout the USA.

Sep 29, 1901: Italian-American physicist, Enrico Fermi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938, was born. He was one of the chief architects of the nuclear age. He was the last of the double-threat physicists: a genius at creating esoteric theories and also designing elegant experiments.

He developed the theory of beta decay in 1933, postulating that the newly-discovered neutron decaying to a proton emits an electron and a particle he called a neutrino.

Fermi developed theory to explain this decay, which led him to find the weak interaction force. He developed the statistical methods required to clarify a large class of subatomic phenomena. He discovered neutron-induced radioactivity, and he directed the construction and operation of the first controlled chain reaction involving nuclear fission — the first atomic reactor.

Sep 29, 1903: John Heysham Gibbon, the American surgeon who invented the heart-lung machine, was born. As a Harvard research fellow in surgery in 1930, he saw a patient undergoing heart-lung surgery suffocate on his own blood.

This inspired what became his life work. On May 10, 1935, he had built his first external pump, and was able to maintain the cardiac and respiratory functions of a cat. In the late 1940’s, Gibbon received financial and technical assistance from the IBM Corporation to develop an oxygenator with sufficient capacity for a human. On May 6, 1953, with his improved machine he was able to perform the first successful open-heart operation. He repaired an atrial septal defect on 18-yr-old Cecelia Bavolek, maintaining the patient’s heart and lung functions on the machine for 26 minutes.

Sep 29, 1914: A patent, US #1111999, for a “Phonograph-Record” was granted to Thomas A. Edison.

Sep 29, 1920: British biochemist, Peter Dennis Mitchell, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, was born. His work helped to clarify how ADP (adenosine diphosphate) is converted into the energy-carrying compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the mitochondria of living cells.

Sep 29, 1925: American engineer and inventor, Paul Beattie MacCready, was born. His life work focused on the design and construction of ultra-efficient flying machines. He invented the first human-powered flying machines and the first solar-powered aircraft to make sustained flights. In 1977, his pedal-powered Gossamer Condor flew a 1.15 mile figure-eight course demonstrating sustained, controlled, human-powered flight. For this, he won the Kremer Prize. Dr. Peter Lissamen was co-designer with MacCready. In 1979, their human-powered Gossamer Albatross won the second Kremer Prize when it crossed the English Channel.

Sep 29, 1931: American particle physicist, James Watson Cronin, was born. He shared, with Val Logsdon Fitch, the 1980 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons.

Their experiment proved that a reaction of subatomic particles run in reverse does not follow the path of the original reaction. This implies that time has an effect on subatomic particle interactions. The experiment demonstrated a break in particle-antiparticle symmetry for certain reactions.

Sep 29, 1954: The CERN (Centre Européenne de Recherche Nucléaire) convention was ratified by the 12 founding member states. As stated by CERN’s Director General Robert Aymar, “gave the new organization a mission to provide first class facilities, to coordinate fundamental research in particle physics, and to help reunite the countries of Europe after two world wars.” Geneva, Switzerland had been chosen as the site of the new laboratory.

September 27th in Science and Engineering

Sep 27, 1814: American astronomer and mathematician, Daniel Kirkwood, was born. Asteroids orbit the Sun in bands, with gaps in between. His explanation for these gaps was perturbations in the orbits of asteroids caused by Jupiter’s gravity. Objects that orbit in these gaps are regularly disturbed by Jupiter’s pull and eventually move to a different orbit that’s more stable, so gaps appear. A similar mechanism causes the gaps in Saturn’s rings. These gaps are now called Kirkwood gaps.

Sep 27, 1816: Robert Stirling, age 26, applied for a patent for his “Heat Economiser” at Edinburgh, Scotland, patent number 4081/1816. The patent described principles of heat regeneration to reduce fuel consumption in glass and other furnaces, with elements of what is now called the Stirling Cycle engine. While his furnace design came to nothing, 40 years later Siemens made the design practical. In 1827, Stirling patented an engine that worked successfully, now known as the Stirling Engine.

Sep 27, 1818: The German chemist Adolphe Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe was born. He accomplished the first generally accepted synthesis of an organic compound from inorganic materials. The commonly believed doctrine of Vitalism said this was impossible. He also succeeded in producing acetic acid from inorganic compounds, which according to the doctrine was impossible. This put an end to Vitalism. In 1859, he succeeded using phenol and carbon dioxide to produce salicylic acid, which led to the cheaper production of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. The two reactions came to be called Kolbe’s synthesis.

Sep 27, 1825: The first locomotive to haul a passenger train was operated by George Stephenson’s Stockton & Darlington’s line in England. The engine named “Locomotion No. 1” pulled 34 wagons and 1 solitary coach on its journey of 21 miles from Shildon, via Darlington to Stockton in County Durham. This epic journey was the launchpad for the development of the railways, which was to take the world by storm over the following years. Passengers had been hauled before, but only in tests and demonstrations. This time was the beginning of regularly scheduled passenger and freight service.

Sep 27, 1849: Russian physiologist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, who was awarded the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was born. He pioneered the investigation that he named the “conditioned reflex”, as opposed to an innate reflex like pain.

In the experiment which made him famous, he trained a hungry dog to associate the sound of a bell with receiving food. Thereafter, the dog would salivate on hearing the bell alone. He had originally set out to study digestion in dogs, investigating how digestive secretions were regulated. He realized that digestion was partly controlled by external stimuli such as vision and smell, and discovered that the response could be associated with any stimulus, like sound. He published his results in 1903.

Sep 27, 1852: British civil engineer, Sir William Willcocks, was born. He proposed and designed the first Aswan Dam (1898-1902) on the Nile River in Egypt and executed major irrigation projects in South Africa and Turkey.

Sep 27, 1854: The first great disaster involving an an ocean liner on the Atlantic Ocean occurred when the steamship S.S. Arctic sank with over 300 lives lost. When launched in 1850, this oak-framed, pine-planked, masted side-paddle steamer was regarded as the best-outfitted ship travelling between England and New York. With steam power it could average thirteen knots. Its last voyage began on 20 Sep 1854 from Liverpool. Six days out, in a fog bank off Cape Race, Newfoundland, it collided with an iron-hulled French ship, the Vesta. Despite bow damage to each, both deemed it advisable to try to reach land. Only the Vesta reached land three days later. The Arctic lost power, its pumps stopped, and it sank. This loss prompted the universal adoption of on-board foghorns.

Sep 27, 1892: Book matches were patented by Joshua Pusey of Lima, Ohio, ptent #483165. He later sold the patent rights to the Diamond Match Company of Barberton, Ohio. The Diamond Match Company was a conglomerate and built by absorbing a number of smaller match manufacturing companies. In 1895, production exceeded 150,000 matchbooks a day. The first Diamond matchbooks were a dangerous and flimsy novelty, but they were improved. Soon, they became common and we often used for advertisement.

Sep 27, 1908: The first production Ford Model T car rolled out of the factory. It was assembled at the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan, which had built various earlier Ford models such as the B, D, F, K, N, R, and S, in the preceeding four years. The Model T was introduced to the public on Oct 1, 1908. It had a 20-hp 4-cylinder engine, with versions starting at $850. The first 12,000 model Ts were built at the Piquette Avenue Plant, before production was transferred to a new, larger factory at Highland Park.

The Model T was produced for 19 years, until May 26, 1927. Fifteen million were made, making a historic impact on society. As the manufacturing process was refined over the years, production time was reduced from 12 hours per unit to 1 hour 33 minutes in 1913. By the end in 1927, Model T cars rolled off the assembly line every 24 seconds. The Model T was available “in any color you like, as long as it’s black.” This is because black paint was the fastest to dry.

Sep 27, 1910: A U.S. patent for the production of ammonia was issued to Fritz Haber and Robert Le Rossignol, #971,501. This process could produce ammonia on a large scale directly from its component gases, hydrogen and nitrogen, by passing a mixture of them over hot finely-divided osmium metal which served as a catalyst. The Haber process typically takes place at a pressure of 175 atmospheres (2,600 psi) and a temperature of 550 degrees C. The Haber process could easily give an 8% by volume yield of ammonia. Ammonia is used in enormous quantities by modern industry and farming. It’s used directly and as a feedstock for many other processes.

Sep 27, 1918: English radio astronomer, Sir Martin Ryle, who worked on radar for British wartime defense, was born. After WW II, he became a leader in the development of radio astronomy by designing revolutionary radio telescope systems that used the synthetic aperture technique for accurate location of weak radio sources. Using these techniques and interferometry, he and his team located radio-emitting regions on the sun and pinpointed other radio sources so that they could be studied in visible light. Ryle observed the most distant known galaxies of the universe. His 1C – 5C Cambridge catalogues of radio sources led to the discovery of numerous radio galaxies and quasars. For his synthetic aperture work, Ryle shared the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics, along with Antony Hewish. This was the first Nobel Prize recognition of astronomical research.

Sep 27, 1920: American oceanographer and meteorologist, Henry Melson Stommel, was born, He was an expert on physical oceanography, primarily the interpretation of data associated with large scale ocean dynamics. He had a long standing interest in the Gulf Stream. He spent most of his career conducting research at the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Stommel was one of the most influential oceanographers of his time. He proposed many theories that were later proven to be correct. He applied electromagnetic measurements to oceanic flows, the dynamics of estuaries, and the related problem of hydraulic controls, and the interaction of nonlinear eddy-like phenomena.

Sep 27, 1922: Scientists at the Naval Aircraft Radio Laboratory near Washington, D.C., demonstrated that if a ship passed through a radio wave being sent between two stations, that ship could be detected. This was the beginning of radar.

Sep 27, 1925: Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards was a British medical researcher who, with Patrick Steptoe, perfected in-vitro fertilization (IVF) of the human egg. Their technique made possible the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first “test-tube baby,” in July of 1978, to parents that had previously spent nine years trying to start a family. Edwards was the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 2010, “for the development of in vitro fertilization.” His colleague, Steptoe, had died in 1988, so could not be a recipient.

Edwards and Steptoe began their research in the late 1960s, but their research had to be privately funded because the medical establishment found the idea of a “test-tube baby” repugnant. They worked in a secluded laboratory at a small hospital. The work was long and frustrating, with over 100 failures before the first success. Millions of births have since been enabled by IVF.

Sep 27, 1938: British ocean liner “Queen Elizabeth,” the largest passenger liner ever built, was launched at Clydebank in Scotland.

Sep 27, 1941: The first Liberty ship, the S.S. Patrick Henry, was launched. Three months later, it was delivered at Baltimore, Maryland to the U.S. Maritime Commission. It was built in 244 days by the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipbuilding Co. The S.S. Patrick Henry could average a speed of about 11 knots, and had a general cargo capacity of 9,146 tons, although this was often greatly exceeded.

During WW2, the United States stunned the world with its industrial production capabilities. Nothing like it has ever been seen before or since, and the Liberty ships are possibly the best example. With WW2 looming, it was clear that an abundance of freighters would be required. The Liberty Ship was designed to be the first mass-produced freighter. Production was overseen by Henry Kaiser. The USA put 18 shipyards to work and produced 2,710 ships in four years. That’s an average of three ships every two days, an unprecedented level of production. Female workers played a big part in the work. While the ships were only designed for a five year working life, many had much longer careers.

Sep 27, 1950: The answering machine was invented.

September 25th in Science and Engineering

Sep 25, 1644: Danish astronomer, Ole Christensen Rømer, was born. Rømer was the first to demonstrate conclusively that light travels at a finite speed. He made measurements of the length of time between eclipses of Jupiter by one of its moons. These observations produced different results depending on the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun. The size of the error was as much as ten minutes on measurements taken a month or two apart. He reasoned that light took longer to travel the greater distance when earth was travelling in its orbit away from Jupiter. This was correct. For some reason, Rømer never made the speed calculation, but others did from his data. The result is within 20 percent of the true value for the speed of light.

Rømer was a polymath and did many things. He was made Chief of Police in Copenhagen. When he took office, his first act was to fire the entire department and start over, in order to eliminate corruption. He developed the first temperature scale for a thermometer using the freezing and boiling points of water. Fahrenheit visited him and improved on Rømer’s design. He invented the first street lights in Copenhagen, and worked to improve the lives of beggars, the poor, and unemployed. He developed building codes, got the water and sewar systems of Copenhagen working properly, and a very long list of other things in the fields of engineering, mechanics, and navigation.

Sep 25, 1725: French military engineer, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, was born today. He invented the world’s first fuel-propelled vehicle, a large, heavy, steam-powered tricycle. In 1769 he developed the first vehicle driven by a steam engine — a gun tractor commissioned by the French government. The following year he produced the first mechanically driven “horseless carriage”. His steam tricycle, driven by a steam engine, carried four passengers and was the forerunner of the modern automobile.

Sep 25, 1773: Agostino Marla Bassi de Lodi, an Italian entomologist, botanist and bacteriologist, was born today. He’s known as the father of insect pathology for his pioneering work investigating the cause of transmission of disease in animals. Ten years before Louis Pasteur found disease-causing microorganisms, Bassi showed that a silk worm disease was contagious and could be transmitted naturally by direct contact, from infected food, or experimentally by means of a pin previously sterilized in a flame. The causative agent was later shown to be a fungus that multiplied in and on the body of the insect. This was the first microorganism to be recognized as a contagious agent of animal disease. Thus, the first animal pathogen to be understood was of insects, not humans. In 1844, he believed that “contagion by living organisms” also infected humans with measles, syphilis, and the plague.

Sep 25, 1807: American telegraph pioneer, Alfred Lewis Vail, was born today. Vail was an associate and financial backer of Samuel F. B. Morse in the experimentation that made the telegraph a commercial reality. Vail’s contributions were large. He invented the telegraph key. Vail is responsible for the remarkable efficiency of Morse code by applying the principle that the most frequently sent letters should have the shortest code. Morse code has not been in commercial use since 2000 but is commonly used by radio amateurs because it’s effective and fun. Morse has been in used for over 160 years, longer than any electrical coding scheme.

Sep 25, 1832: American civil engineer and architect, William Le Baron Jenney, was born on this day. His technical innovations were of primary importance in the development of the skyscraper. During the Civil War he served as an engineering officer. By 1868 he was a practicing architect who had designed a Swiss Chalet style home with an innovative open floor plan, years before Frank Lloyd Wright worked with the concept. He was a skilled town planners, but his greatest fame came from his large commercial buildings. His Home Insurance Building in Chicago was one of the first buildings to use a metal skeleton for support.

Sep 25, 1839: German paleontologist, Karl Alfred von Zittel, was born. He proved that the Sahara had not been under water during the Pleistocene Ice Age. A distinguished authority on his subjects and their history, he was a pioneer of evolutionary paleontology and was widely recognized as the leading teacher of paleontology in the 19th century. His five-volume “Handbuch der Paläonologie” was arguably his greatest service to science, and it remains one of the most comprehensive and trustworthy paleontological reference books.

Sep 25, 1843: U.S. inventor of the carpet sweeper, Melville Bissell, was born. At his a crockery shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his wife’s health was affected by dust from the packing materials. Out of desperate need for self-preservation, he invented the carpet sweeper. They recognized the sweeper’s marketing possibilities and began to assemble them in a room over the store. The inner workings and cases were made by women working in their homes. Tufts of hog bristles were bound with string, dipped in hot pitch, inserted in brush rollers and then trimmed with scissors. Anna Bissell gathered the parts together in clothes baskets and brought them back to the store for assembly.

Sep 25, 1843: American geologist, Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, was born. He was known for his “planetesimal hypothesis”. With Forest Ray Moulton in 1904, he proposed that the solar system formed after gas flares were ripped from the sun by the gravitational field of a passing star. The flares then condensed into “planetesimals,” arrayed in a spiral extending from the sun, gradually accumulated material and became the planets we know today. In 1881 he headed the glacier division of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sep 25, 1846: German meteorologist and climatologist, Wladimir (Peter) Köppen, was born. Best known for his delineation and mapping of the climatic regions of the world, he played a major role in the advancement of climatology and meteorology for more than 70 years. The climate classification system he developed remains popular because it uses easily obtained data (monthly mean temperatures and precipitation) and straightforward, objective criteria. He recognized five principal climate groups: (A) Humid Tropical (winterless climates); (B) Dry (evaporation constantly exceed precipitation); (C) Humid Mid-Latitude with mild winters; (D) Humid Mid-Latitude with severe winters; (E) Polar (summerless climates).

Sep 25, 1866: American geneticist and zoologist, Thomas Hunt Morgan, was born on this day. He’s famous for his experimental research with the fruit fly by which he established the chromosome theory of heredity. He discovered that a number of genetic variations were inherited together and that this was because their controlling genes occurred on the same chromosome. At Columbia University (1904-28), he began his revolutionary genetic investigations of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Initially skeptical of Gregor Mendel’s research, Morgan performed rigorous experiments which demonstrated that genes were linked in a series on chromosomes and are responsible for identifiable, hereditary traits. In 1910 he discovered sex-linkage in Drosophila, and postulated a connection between eye color in fruit flies and human color blindness. His study of the characteristics inherited by mutants ultimately enabled him to determine the precise behaviour and exact localization of genes. Morgan and his “fly room” colleagues, mapped the relative positions of genes on Drosophila chromosomes. Morgan published his seminal book, The Mechanisms of Mendelian Heredity in 1915. Though this work was not widely accepted initially, Morgan was awarded a Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1933.

Sep 25, 1904: American oceanographer, Columbus O’Donnell Iselin was born on this day. He was director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts from 1940 to 1950 and from 1956 to 1957. He expanded its facilities 10-fold and made it one of the largest research establishments of its kind in the world. Iselin developed the bathythermograph and other deep-sea instruments responsible for saving ships during WW II. He made major contributions to research on ocean salinity and temperature, acoustics, and the oceanography of the Gulf Stream.

Sep 25, 1974: Scientists first reported that freon gases released from aerosol spray cans were destroying the ozone layer.

Sep 25, 1956: The world’s first transatlantic telephone cable system began operating from Clarenville, Newfoundland to Oban, Scotland. Previous cables had been limited to telegraph transmissions.

Sep 25, 1820: Francois Arago announced that a copper wire between the poles of a voltaic cell, could laterally attract iron filings to itself. His discovery came in the same year that Oersted discovered that an electric current flowing in a wire would deflect a neighbouring compass needle. Arago in the same publication described how he had successfully succeeded in causing permanent magnetism in steel needles laid at right angles to the copper wire. Arago and André-Marie Ampère, discussed and experimented with forming the copper wire into a helix to intensify the magnetizing action. However, it was not until 1825 that the electromagnet in its familiar form was invented by William Sturgeon.

September 24th in Science and Engineering

Sep 24, 1501: Italian physician, mathematician and astrologer Girolamo Cardano (a.k.a. Geronimo, Gerolamo, or Anglicized as Jerome Cardan) was born. He was the first to give a clinical description of typhus fever. His book, Ars Magna (“Great Art,” 1545) is one of the great achievements in the history of algebra, in which he published the solutions to the cubic and quartic equations. His mechanical inventions included the combination lock, the compass gimbal consisting of three concentric rings, and the universal joint to transmit rotary motion at various angles, used in nearly every automobile today. He contributed to hydrodynamics and held that perpetual motion is impossible, except in celestial bodies. Cardano published two encyclopedias of natural science, introduced the Cardan grille, a cryptographic tool in 1550. He died by suicide.

Sep 24, 1852: A new invention, the dirigible, a semi-rigid airship, was demonstrated in a flight from Paris to Trappe. Henri Giffard (1825-82) installed a 3 horsepower steam engine of his own design in the gondola of a 147-foot-long spindle shaped coal-gas balloon. This engine turned an 11 foot propeller producing a speed of 5 mph over a distance of 17 miles on a 3 hour trip. This was the first powered and controlled flight ever achieved by humans.

In 1858 he patented a steam injector which became widely used in locomotives, making him rich. However, Giffard was depressive and died by suicide in 1882.

Sep 24, 1870: Georges Claude, French chemist, engineer and inventor was born. He invented the neon light, which was the forerunner of the fluorescent light. Claude was the first to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas around 1902 and make a neon lamp. He first publicly displayed the neon lamp on Dec 11, 1910 in Paris. His French company Claude Neon, introduced neon signs to the U.S. with two “Packard” signs for a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, purchased by Earle C. Anthony for $24,000.

Sep 24, 1889: Alexander Dey patented the dial time recorder or “punch clock” for employees to record their arrival and departure times from work.

Sep 24, 1891: William F. Friedman was born today. He was one of the world’s greatest cryptologists, who helped decipher enemy codes from World War I to World War II. He was born as Wolfe Friedman in Kishinev, Russia. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1893. Originally trained as an agricultural geneticist, he had become interested in cryptology. During World War I, with his wife Elizabeth, he set up a cryptology school for military personnel, which led to appointment by the U.S. as head of the Signal Intelligence Service in 1930. He broke the Japanese “Purple” code before 1940, thus allowing Americans to read much of Japan’s secret messages during World War II.

Sep 24, 1895: French-American physiologist and physician André Frederic Cournand was born today. He shared the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with two others “for their discoveries concerning heart catheterization and pathological changes in the circulatory system”. Cournand helped develop the technique by which a catheter could be threaded through a vein into the heart to withdraw blood samples to determine cardiac abnormalities. In addition, it permits the measurement of blood pressure, blood flow or gas concentrations in various parts of the cardiac circulatory system (atrium, ventricles, or artery).

Sep 24, 1898: American astrophysicist Charlotte Moore Sitterly was born today. She organized, analyzed, and published definitive books on the solar spectrum and spectral line multiplets. Starting in 1945 until the age of 90, she conducted her work at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and the Naval Research Laboratory. She detected that technetium, an unstable element created by nuclear reactions in the laboratory, exists in nature. She made major contributions to the compilation of tables for atomic-energy levels associated with optical spectra, which are now standard reference material in astrophysics. She was awarded the Bruce Medal in 1990.

Sep 24, 1898: Sir Howard Walter Florey, Australian pathologist, was born today. He, with Ernst Boris Chain, researched, isolated and purified penicillin for general clinical use. From 1939, he worked with Chain on natural antibacterial agents produced by microorganisms, leading to their isolation and purification, and the determination of the chemical structure of penicillin. They performed the first clinical trials of the antibiotic. They shared the 1945 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Sir Alexander Fleming, who had discovered antibiotic penicillin in 1928. Florey was knighted in 1944.

Sep 24, 1905: Spanish-American biochemist and molecular biologist, Severo Ochoa, was born. He shared the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Arthur Kornberg for “for their discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid” Ochoa discovered an enzyme in bacteria that enabled him to synthesize ribonucleic acid (RNA), a substance of central importance to the synthesis of proteins by the cell.

Sep 24, 1906: Polidore F. F. Swings, Belgian astrophysicist, was born. He made spectroscopic studies to identify elements and structure of stars and comets. He discovered the first interstellar molecule, the CH radical, called methylidyne or carbyne in 1937. In comet atmospheres he studied the “Swings bands”, which are carbon emission lines. In 1941, with a slit spectrograph he identified a “Swings effect” in the violet CN bands around 387 nm, a fluorescence partly due to solar radiation that shows excitation differences dependant on the Doppler shift caused by a comet’s motion relative to the Sun.

Sep 24, 1907: John Ray Dunning, American nuclear physicist, was born. His experiments in nuclear fission helped lay the groundwork for the development of the atomic bomb. Fission of the rare U235 uranium isotope was verified in an experiment using the microscopic quantity of 20 nanograms. But, great difficulty remained in separating U235 from the more abundant U238. Dunning led the research team at Columbia University which studied the gaseous diffusion method for uranium separation. This process was based on the slightly smaller size of the U235 isotope molecules. When pushed through a porous barrier, U235 would move through faster, and several repetitions would produce almost pure U235.

Sep 24, 1909: Thomas M. Flaherty filed for a U.S. patent for a “Signal for Crossings”. This was the first U.S. patent application for a traffic signal. Patent 991,964 issued on May 9, 1911. His signal used a large horizontal arrow pivoting on a post, which turned to indicate the right of way direction. It was activated by an electric solenoid by a policeman beside the road. Although filed first, it was not the first patent actually issued for a traffic signal. Ernest E. Sirrine filed a different design seven months after Flaherty, but his patent was issued earlier, and thus he held the first U.S. patent for a “Street Traffic System”, 976,939 Nov 29, 1910.

Sep 24, 1918: Michael J. S. Dewar was a Scottish organic chemist who was born in India and attended boarding school in England. His career included both industrial and academic positions in England and the United States. As a theoretician, he was an early master of molecular orbital theory and wrote The Electronic Theory of Organic Chemistry (1949), the first book applying molecular orbital theory to organic chemistry. His experimental work studied carbenium ions, boron chemistry, superconductors, liquid crystals, the biosynthesis of fatty acids, and phenyl radicals.

Sep 24, 1930: John Watts Young, American astronaut, was born. He was the commander of the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, April 12, 1981. He walked on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission, April 21, 1972. He made the first manned flight of the Gemini spacecraft with Virgil Grissom. And he was on the aborted Apollo 13 flight. He became the first person to fly into space six times in a career that was one of the busiest of any NASA astronaut. He piloted four different classes of spacecraft: Gemini, Apollo Command and Service Module, Apollo Lunar Module and the Space Shuttle. Young worked for NASA for 42 years and retired on Dec 31, 2004.

Sep 24, 1945: Ian Stewart, English mathematician was born. He authored many books on mathematics for the lay reader, and others for academics, and textbooks. As a young teenager with a zeal for mathematics, he always read the “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American. From this he not only expanded his knowledge of mathematics, but also acquired the skills needed to be an entertaining communicator. Now, he writes the “Mathematical Recreations” column in Scientific American.

In his career at the University of Warwick, he is a professor of mathematics with special responsibility for public understanding of science. He gave the 1997 Royal Institute Christmas Lectures. On June 8, 2009, he was presented with the award at the Science Museum in London as the first recipient of the Christopher Zeeman medal for public engagement in mathematics.

Sep 24, 1960: The first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was launched in Newport, Virginia. It was the most astonishing vessel of its time and by far the largest warship in the world. It was powered by eight nuclear reactors. Since it doesn’t need to carry its own fuel oil it has much more room for aviation fuel and weapons. In 1963, the Enterprise and two similarly powered cruisers made a non-stop voyage around the world to demonstrate the viability of nuclear power. Length of the ship: 1120 ft, flight deck width: 250 ft, displacement: 93,970 tons, speed: 33 knots, range: 470,000 miles at 20 knots, air complement: 86 aircraft, crew: 5765.

September 23rd in Science and Engineering

Sep 23, 1624: Galileo sent one of his compound microscopes, along with a letter, to a leading scientist of the day, his friend Federico Cesi in Rome. Galileo wrote some tips on how to use the microscope. Galileo did not invent the microscope, but made improvements to it. Galileo also wrote of his own observations, “I have contemplated a great many animals with infinite admiration”. Cesi worked with Francesco Stelluti and viewed the anatomic structure of bees, described in their text, Apiarium (1625), the first publication on microscopic discoveries.

Sep 23, 1791: Johann Franz Encke, German astronomer, was born. In 1819 he established the period of the comet now known by as Encke’s Comet. At at 3.3 years it has the shortest period of any known comet.

Sep 23, 1819: French physicist, Armand-Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau, was born. In 1849, he was the first to measure the speed of light successfully without using astronomical calculations. Fizeau sent a narrow beam of light between gear teeth on the edge of a rotating wheel. The beam then traveled to a mirror five miles (8 km) away and returned to the wheel. If the wheel was spinning at the right speed, and fast enough, a tooth would block the returning light. Knowing the rotational speed and the mirror’s distance, Fizeau directly measured the speed of light. He also found that light travels faster in air than in water, which confirmed the wave theory of light, and that the motion of a star affects the position of the lines in its spectrum. With Jean Foucault, in 1847, he proved the wave nature of the Sun’s heat rays by showing their interference (1847).

Sep 23, 1846: The German astronomer Johann G. Galle discovered Neptune after only an hour of searching, within one degree of the position that had been computed by Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier. Independently of the English astronomer John C. Adams, Le Verrier had calculated the size and position of a previously unknown planet, which he assumed influenced the irregular orbit of Uranus, and he asked Galle to look for it.

Sep 23, 1861: German engineer and industrialist, Robert Bosch, was born. He invented the spark plug and the magneto for automobiles. His firm produced a wide range of precision machines and electrical equipment throughout the world.

Sep 23, 1869: Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) was born. She was the quarantined disease carrier known as Typhoid Mary, the famous typhoid carrier in the New York City area in the early 20th century. Fifty-one original cases of typhoid and three deaths were directly attributed to her. Countless more were indirectly attributed. She herself was immune to the typhoid bacillus (Salmonella typhi).

The outbreak of typhus in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1904 puzzled the scientists of the time because they thought they had wiped out the deadly disease. Mallon’s case showed that a person could be a carrier without showing any outward signs of being sick. This led to most of the health code laws on the books today. She died not from typhoid but from the effects of a paralytic stroke.

Sep 23, 1879: Richard S. Rhodes invented the Audiophone, the first hearing aid.

Sep 23, 1915: American physicist Clifford G. Shull was born. Shull shared the 1994 Nobel Prize for Physics with Canadian physicist Bertram N. Brockhouse. Shull’s part of the award was for his development of neutron-scattering techniques, especially the neutron diffraction process that gave scientists a new tool to investigate the atomic structure of matter.

Sep 23, 1930: Johann Ostermeyer of Athegnenber, Germany, patented his “Improvements in flash lights used for photographic purposes.” The modern photographic safety flash bulb evolved from this design, which used aluminium wire or foil in oxygen. Unfortunately, all too frequently, these versions exploded. The flashbulb was introduced to the American market in 1930 by General Electric. Flash cubes appeared in 1966, and the percussively ignitable “Magicube” in 1970.

Sep 23, 1949: President Truman shocked America with a terse announcement, “We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR.” The alarm stimulated activity in scientific and political circles. An arms race was the clear response. On Jan 31, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced a program to develop the hydrogen bomb. He said, “I have directed … work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or superbomb. Like all other work in the field of atomic weapons, it is … consistent with the overall objectives of our program for peace and security … until a satisfactory plan for international control of atomic energy is achieved.”

Sep 23, 1953: WD-40 was invented and recorded for the first time in the Rocket Chemical Company’s logbook. The aerospace company, located in San Diego, California Southern California was trying to develop a lubricant that penetrated and displaced water. The 40th formulation was successful. It was created by Norm Larsen. In 1958, it was packaged in cans and sold to consumers in San Diego, California as WD-40, its original test designation.

Larsen founded the company in 1953 with the intent to supply materials used in the manufacture of nuclear missiles. WD-40 was originally intended to coat structural components and prevent corrosion by displacing water. WD-40 was widely successful, but it was the company’s only product. So, the company’s name was changed in 1969 to the WD-40 Company.

Sep 23, 1999: the Mars Climate Observer apparently burned up as it was about to go into orbit around the Mars.

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