We owe these ten people a great deal for their work in various fields of science. Let’s get to know who they are.
#1. Stockings, sleeping bags, seat belts, parachutes, tarpaulins and even dental floss are just some of the products that can be derived from the strong and stretchy polymer, nylon. Its inventor, Wallace Carothers, had to abandon his work as a professor at Harvard in order to join the company where he eventually invented nylon. What is the name of the company?
Carothers was born on April 27 1896 in Iowa. Growing up, he was a keen student and was fond of experimenting. His academic prowess was proven when he received his Ph.D at the age of 28, shortly after which he became a professor at Harvard. By then, he had already developed interest in polymers and substances of high molecular weight. In 1927, he left Harvard to join DuPont. DuPont was as of then funding research. His assignment was to work on an unexplored aspect which would benefit people and the company. He decided to continue his work on polymers. After the ups, downs and failures he experienced, he was able to produce what is now known as nylon on 28th February 1935 through an intensive process which includes the condensation polymerisation reaction.
Carothers had been suffering from severe bouts of depression. This was worsened by the death of his sister, Isobel, early in 1937. A day after his birthday in the same year, he committed suicide by drinking lemonade which he had spiked with potassium cyanide.
#2. Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug used for treating cancer. Before its discovery, men suffering from testicular cancer had little medical remedies. The experiment that led to the discovery of cisplatin was conducted by Barnett Rosenberg, Ph.D. He tested it on an animal and found that the drug attacked tumors. On which animal was the drug tested?
Dr. Rosenberg was a biophysics researcher at the Michigan State University (MSU). He had noticed that microscopic pictures of dividing cells looked like the pattern of iron shavings placed in a magnetic field. He wanted to know if an electrical field would also affect cell division, so he placed platinum in a solution containing bacteria and turned on the electric power. The bacteria cells stopped dividing. It was later discovered that this was as a result of a compound of platinum released by electrodes. He named it cisplatin. In order to know if it affected tumors, he tested the drug on a sarcoma mouse model. The drug worked — it attacked the tumors which shrank and never returned.
The drug has helped to cure testicular cancer and other cancers such as lung, bladder, cervical and ovarian cancers. Due to the toxicity of cisplatin, it has to be taken in small amounts.
#3. For a long time, atoms were believed to be the smallest existing particles of matter. This changed when J. J. Thomson proved the existence of electrons. When conducting experiments on cathode rays he was able to determine the existence of these extremely tiny negatively charged particles. At first they were not known as electrons, what name did he give them?
John Joseph Thomson is best known for discovering the electron. He worked in the Cavendish Laboratory under Lord Rayleigh after graduating from Trinity College at Cambridge. He replaced Rayleigh as the Cavendish Professor of Physics at the age of 28. From his research on cathode rays (glowing streaks of light that accompany electrical discharge in a high vacuum tube), he determined that atoms contain tiny negatively charged particles which he called corpuscles (a Latin word meaning “small body”) although they are now called electrons since they are the basic units of electricity. He also suggested a “plum pudding” model of the atom. He won the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics amongst several other awards (including a knighthood by king Edward VII in 1908). His son, George, also won a Nobel Prize. He died in the summer of 1940 and was buried near Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
#4. While singing in his church choir, Arthur Fry, a 3M employee, was annoyed when his paper bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal. This made him lose most of his lines. He tried to figure out how to make the bookmarks stick temporarily to his hymnal in a way that they could be easily detached and not damage the hymnal. This led to the invention of which popular office product?
In 1968, Spencer Silver, Fry’s co-worker at 3M was working on an adhesive. His development was light and easy enough to remove an peel apart. He knew his invention was great, but what use was it? Silver’s adhesive could make pieces of paper stick without remaining permanently attached. This was just what Art Fry needed! Fry decided that the sticky papers would work better as notes, so two other members of their research team found a way to make the adhesive stick to a piece of paper. Their product was called Press n’ Peel and could stick and be removed from paper and other objects.
#5. One of the pre-eminent physicists of the 20th century, this scientist was the first to apply the quantum concept to the problem of atomic and molecular structure. His father had been nominated twice for a Nobel Prize but failed to win any. He (and later his son, in 1975) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his work. What name does he bear?
Niels Bohr was born in Copenhagen in 1885. His father, Christian, was a professor of physiology at the university of Copenhagen. Bohr had a younger brother, Harald, with whom he played several football matches for local club, Akademisk Boldklub, in their youth. Niels was interested in physics from an early stage and chose it as his course of study at university. He proposed a model of the atom in which electrons occupied only certain orbits around the nucleus. It was the first model based on the quantum theory. The basic principles of his model are still accepted by scientists today. He is also known for his Principle of Complementarity. He founded the Institute of Theoretical Physics (now known as the Niels Bohr Institute) in the University of Copenhagen. Bohrium, an element, is named in his honour.
#6. In 1826, John Walker, a chemist in the UK, was busy mixing some chemicals at home. He noticed that a lump had accumulated on his mixing stick and wanted to get rid of it. He rubbed it on the floor to remove the dried mixture from the stick, but instead of peeling of, it ignited. What did John Walker call his invention?
He sold the first friction matches at the local bookstore. He wasn’t keen in patenting the idea so Samuel Jones took advantage and started selling ‘lucifers’. These were shorter than friction lights and came in a more portable package. Jones called them lucifers for a reason: when they were ignited, they sent off a shower of sparks and smoky fumes accompanied by the foul smell of sulfur dioxide. They also came with a word of warning: “Persons whose lungs are delicate should by no means use lucifers”. The matches used today are improvements on the old types and are mostly made of phosphorus.
Charles Sauria invented the white phosphorus match.
The word, match, was derived from an Old French word ‘meche’ which refers to the wick of a candle.
#7. Much of Pierre Curie's life was overshadowed by his wife's extraordinary achievements. Apart from earning a math degree at the age of 16 and "licence es sciences" at the age of 18, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 with his wife, Marie, and Henri Becquerel for their work on radiation. What was the cause of his death?
Pierre Curie also pioneered scientific research in fields of magnetism, radioactivity and crystallography. He co-discovered the piezoelectric effect (whereby compressed crystals gave off an electric field) with his brother, Jacques. Much of his early education was provided by his father, a doctor. He was appointed a supervisor at the School of Physics, Paris, where he received his doctorate degree in 1895. He discovered nuclear energy with his wife from heat emitted by radium.
Pierre was known to become unaware of his environment when thinking. This was probably the case when he was crossing a street on April 19, 1906. It was raining. He slipped and fell under a horse drawn cart. He instantly died after fracturing his skull. His wife lived till 1934. She died of aplastic anaemia, a disease of the blood caused by exposure to large amounts of radiation.
#8. There is a popular legend about an Abyssinian goatherd. Kaldi, as he was known, is credited with discovering coffee. He noticed that whenever his goats ate the berries from a certain tree, they became so energized that they began dancing and jumping. One day, he decided to taste the berries and found himself dancing with his goats. He shared his experience with others and the energizing berries became widely known. Around what time is this believed to have happened?
The event is estimated to have occurred around 850 AD. Abyssinia is around present day Ethiopia. Some coffee shops and cafes have names that contain Kaldi. In fact, Ethiopia’s biggest coffee chain is called Kaldi’s.
Whether the legend is true or not, it effectively describes the sensation felt when coffee is taken. The sensation experienced by Kaldi and his goats is because of the caffeine contained in coffee. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant. Too much of caffeine has many side effects which include insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, nausea, increase breath and heart rate among others. For this reason, many have decided to stop taking coffee. Caffeine can be removed from coffee through several processes. Decaffeinated coffee can be naturally prepared by dissolving coffee in carbon (iv) oxide.
#9. Perhaps John Dalton's greatest achievement was formulating the atomic theory of matter in chemistry. Apart from that, he contributed to other scientific fields such as meteorology, physics and colour blindness. Earlier in his life, his father had wanted him to become a priest. Which denomination was he a member of?
John Dalton will always be remembered for formulating the atomic theory which he proposed in 1804. He was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He also did a lot of work on colour blindness which is commonly regarded as Daltonism. He derived the name, atom, from a Greek word ‘atomos’ which means indivisible.
Dalton was born into a family of Quakers and he was mostly influenced by one of the most powerful quakers at that time, Elihu Richards, who helped by supporting him financially. He worked under Richards from the age of ten. This was how he earned a living since his family was no longer able to take care of him. Much of what he knew in the sciences was learnt from John Gough, a blind intellectual. Dalton himself and even his brother was colour blind.
On 27th July 1844, Dalton, who had suffered from several strokes, fell from his bed and was found dead by his attendant. He was given a civic funeral.
#10. He determined that oxygen was necessary in combustion and named it (although erroneously). His emphasis on careful observation and experimentation helped revive chemistry and make it what it is today. Who, considered as the father of chemistry, is described above?
Antoine Lavoisier was a major contributor to what is now known as chemistry. For one thing, his experiments were key in proving many modern theories in chemistry. He was the first to coin the term ‘element’ and isolated many substances as elements, many of which are still considered so. He named oxygen so because he thought (incorrectly) that it was necessary in the formation of acids, oxygen means ‘acid maker’. He wrote the first list of elements and helped establish modern methods for naming chemicals.
Lavoisier was an influential nobleman in his time and was an administrator of the tax firm, Ferme Generale. His economic and political activities helped him funding his research work. At the peak of the French Revolution, Lavoisier was charged with tax fraud and selling adulterated tobacco. He was convicted and executed on 8th May 1784 at the age of 50.