What happened today in science history.

Category: Environment / Ecology (Page 2 of 2)

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 21st in Science and Engineering

Sep 21, 1756: John Loudon McAdam was born in Ayr, Scotland. He was the inventor of macadam (McAdam) road construction, which consists of three layers of progressively finer crushed stone. Unlike loose gravel, crushed stone tends to lock together and stay in place. He developed methods for road construction where the road surface was slightly above ground level and drainage was considered. He also invented tarmac, where a layer of hot asphalt is used to bind the top layer. (Tar plus mac, tarmac.)

Sep 21, 1832: French physicist and iron master Louis-Paul Cailletet was born. He is noted for his work on the liquefaction of gases. He worked at his father’s metallurgy business and discovered the permeability of iron to hydrogen and other gases, which accounts for the unpredictable behavior of some irons and steels due to dissolved gases. Every professional welder today is conscious of “hydrogen embrittlement”, which is the reason high strength and critical welds are made using low-hydrogen welding rods like 7018.

Later he became interested in liquefaction of gases and measuring if gases deviated from the Ideal Gas Law. He used the Joule-Thomson effect to liquefy gases by compressing them while at the same time cooling them, then allowing expansion again to cause additional cooling. In this way, he was the first to produce droplets of liquid hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, CO, NO2, and acetylene.

He also invented the high-pressure manometer and the altimeter.

Sep 21, 1853: Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was born today. He received the 1913 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in low-temperature physics. He managed to liquefy hydrogen and helium. He obtained his first sample of liquid helium, the substantial amount of 60 cc, in 1908.

He also studied the resistance of metals at low temperatures and discovered superconductivity.

Sep 21, 1866: French physician and bacteriologist Charles-Jules-Henri Nicolle was born. He received the 1928 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery that typhus was transmitted by the body louse. The clue was that typhus patients continued to spread the disease until they were bathed and issued new clothing. Further investigation led to the body louse as the disease vector.

Sep 21, 1895: Spanish aeronautical engineer, Juan de la Cierva (Codorniu) was born today. He invented the autogiro (autogyro) in 1923. The autogyro can land and take off in much shorter distances than a fixed-wing aircraft. While it cannot hover because the rotor is not powered, it can still spin safety to the ground (autorotation) if the engine fails. Ironically, he died in a fixed-wing plane accident.

Sep 21, 1895: The Duryea Motor Wagon Company became the first American auto manufacturer to open for business. In 1893, Frank Duryea and his brother, Charles, designed the first gasoline-powered automobile built in the U.S. Since it didn’t need a horse, it was called a “horseless carriage”. It was first test driven in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Sep 21, 1901: American physicist Lee Alvin DuBridge was born. He was best known as the president of Caltech (California Institute of Technology) from 1946 to 1969. He had a long career as an academic administrator, advisor to three presidents, and served on the boards of the RAND Corporation and numerous great institutions like the Huntington Library.

Sep 21, 1907: English marine geophysicist Sir Edward (Crisp) Bullard was born. His work with geomagnetism produced the first satisfactory measurements of geothermal heat flow through the earth’s crust beneath the oceans. Bullard made early measurements of gravitational variations in the East African Rift Valley. He helped develop the theory of continental drift. He used computers to analyze the fit of the rifted continents on each side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Most importantly, perhaps, he developed the dynamo theory of geomagnetism, which explains that Earth’s magnetic field is generated by the convection of molten material in the Earth’s core.

Sep 21, 1909: Canadian-American oceanographer Richard Howell Fleming was born. He researched ocean currents, chemistry and biochemistry. He applied oceanography for military uses and studied the disposal of atomic wastes in the ocean. Fleming worked with the first comprehensive synoptic two-year survey of the Northern Pacific Ocean, charting currents, tides, winds, depths, and temperatures and observing plant and animal life.

Sep 21, 1921: A huge explosion at a fertilizer factory at Oppau, Germany, caused 500 deaths. Destruction at the site included hundreds of neighboring houses. The fertilizer made was a 50/50 mix of ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate. Storage silos reached up to a hundred feet high. This fertilizer had a tendency to form solid clumps and it was routine to break it up with bulldozers and dynamite. The mixed fertilizer was not regarded as explosive because it was difficult to initiate and no explosion had ever happened before in such circumstances. However, this time, dynamite caused 4,500 tons of fertilizer to explode, creating a crater 250 feet diameter and 50 feet deep.

Sep 21, 1926: American physicist Donald Arthur Glaser was born. He received the 1960 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of the bubble chamber, which is used to observe and photograph the tracks left by subatomic particles.

Sep 21, 1971: American medical patient known as The Bubble Boy, David Vetter was born. He was born with the genetic disease, severe combined deficiency syndrome (SCID) in which the immune system is non-functional. This disease is quickly fatal but modern technology allowed the design of a sterile plastic bubble in which he could live. He lived for twelve years. He was publically identified only as David or The Bubble Boy. He died after a bone marrow transplant from his sister that was hoped would save him. It might have saved him, but despite careful screening, the marrow contained the Epstein-Barr virus. This resulted in Burkitt’s lymphoma, which killed him.

The media was never fully informed of the truth about The Bubble Boy, and were fed benign information. In fact, the young man suffered terrible emotional turmoil from the loneliness and confinement. The movie made about this is also inaccurate.

With the diagnosis of lymphoma, he was released and lived his final 15 days outside the bubble. The most important thing learned for the first time here was that a virus can cause cancer.

Sep 21, 2003: The NASA Galileo space probe ended its eight-year mission to Jupiter as planned. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California directed the craft into Jupiter’s atmosphere to burn up, completely vaporizing its structure. This prevented the possibility of any later uncontrolled fall onto a moon causing contamination with bacterial life from Earth.

Contact was lost with the spacecraft slightly after 3:40 p.m. EDT. More than 1,000 people who worked on the Galileo program gathered at the Laboratory to celebrate the end of the mission. Galileo was first conceived in 1976 as a mission to Jupiter and its moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa.

Newer posts »