Topics in the News
Chromosome Number in Humans
The Purpose of Sex.
Scientifically, sex has a single purpose: to pass on one's genes to a new generation. The genes are part of the DNA molecules, the basis of heredity within each cell. In turn, the DNA is packaged into structures called chromosomes. Every species of animal and plant has a certain number of such chromosomes within each of its cells. Remarkably, it was not until 1956 that the number of human chromosomes was correctly determined.
In 1865 Gregor Mendel published his famous work on genetics in which he used garden peas in his experiments. Mendel showed that certain characteristics of the peas were inherited in predictable ways. Some traits were dominant and others recessive. If two pea plants are crossed, for example, one might have a dominant trait that determines the shape of the pea while the other might have a recessive trait that calls for a different shape. When these two are crossed, all their offspring will have the dominant-type pea shape. Only if the recessive gene is inherited from both parents will the pea have the recessive-type shape.
Sperm + Egg = ?
Mendel had no idea that the genes he was studying were located in the chromosomes. In the 1880s, Pierre-Joseph von Beneden found that the germ cells, or seeds, contain half as many chromosomes as...
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Communication skills are the key to advancing civilization. Until the earliest humans developed a way to communicate effectively, they were little different from the other animals around them. Civilizations that developed written communication methods tended to be much more successful than those that did not. Mathematical skills developed written communication even further. There were distinct limits to the engineering capabilities of ancient cultures without a mathematical system that was easy to use and understand.
During the 1950s communication was rapidly improved by several highly technical innovations. Advancements in electronics made television available to almost everyone. Then electronic engineers developed systems of broadcasting and receiving broadcast signals in color. Eventually shows could even be taped for high-quality broadcast at the convenience of the television studio. The result of these technological capabilities was a reshaped society that spent its leisure time differently and was better informed than ever before. Americans who rarely read newspapers were, by the end of the decade, faithful viewers of the evening news and thus had daily exposure to world events that could frequently be viewed as they happened.
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The Computer Comes of Age
The computer is a tool whose power is almost beyond comprehension. It developed as an enhancement of adding machines, made possible by electronic innovations. Precursors of the modern computer were required by scientists for their increasingly intricate and detailed calculations. After World War II these machines developed almost naturally to serve the needs of people for a reliable method to perform more-mundane calculations.
The business potential for computers is obvious today, when they are the operations centers for even small businesses. Computers have made it possible to run businesses more efficiently by performing reliably certain tasks that formerly required people whose work had to be checked for accuracy. Still, there was great opposition to computers when they were first developed.
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Computer Predicts Election
Power of UNIVAC.
The 1952 presidential election between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson demonstrated the power of the computer in the living rooms of millions of Americans. Even the programmers did not believe in the ability of their computers to make predictions.
UNIVAC vs. Cronkite.
Before 1952 the networks had to broadcast election results as they were returned, precinct by precinct, all over the United States. This was a long and tedious process for the networks and the viewers alike that sometimes took days. Election predictions were unsystematic and untrustworthy. In April 1952 CBS representatives approached Remington-Rand about using their adding machines and typewriters in the election coverage in exchange for free television advertising. One of the Remington-Rand employees suggested a new twist: use their UNIVAC computer to predict the election results, and viewers would be "glued to the tube" through the tedious precinct-by-precinct results just to. see if the computer was correct. The deal was made even though newscasters had their doubts. Walter Cronkite, the well-known CBS newscaster, said, "Actually, we're not depending too much on this machine. It may turn out to be just a sideshow.…"
Since computers were so new, no one had ever tried to enter...
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Computer Technology: Evolving Science
The UNIVAC of 1950 was far different from microcomputers. It was fourteen-by-seven-by-nine feet, the size of a small bedroom. A set of five thousand vacuum tubes made it work. It worked on a decimal (ten-digit) system rather than a binary (two-digit) system. The internal memory was one thousand words, which was the memory unit and each word consisted of twelve digits or letters (although it could process multiple magnetic tapes simultaneously with millions of bits of information on them). Software, a term that means stored programs, existed only in a primitive form, but it hardly resembled the software that was common-place by the end of the decade as internal memory systems in computers improved.
Major changes were made in the computer between 1950 and 1959. The transistor revolutionized the industry by replacing vacuum tubes in the computer's processing unit. Transistors also made the computer easy to miniaturize, allowing its imposing size to be reduced without any loss of function. One of the most important features of transistors is their ability to calculate in the binary numbering system. The decimal system uses ten digits (from 0 to 9) to express numbers. The binary system uses only the digits 0 and 1. All the numbers with which we are familiar in the decimal system can be expressed by a string...
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In atomic physics an accelerator is an atom smasher. It takes a subatomic particle, speeds it up, and smashes it into a group of atoms. The result is a new set of subatomic particles that have new properties to be studied. The faster the original particles move before smashing into atoms, the more subatomic particles result.
Accelerators were first built in the early twentieth century with direct current. Electrons were used to smash atoms, but the process was very slow by 1950s standards. The original cyclotrons were developed in the 1930s. They moved particles in a circular path using magnetic fields before bombardment. Acceleration of the particles was accomplished with a series of electrical-field "boosts" or "kicks" in the pathway.
The 1940s saw the birth of synchrocyclotrons, which increased the speed of particles even more by synchronizing the kicks with the movement of the particles. By this time the particles, now much larger and heavier protons instead of electrons, were accelerated to speeds approaching the speed of light. As Albert Einstein had predicted, the protons' mass increased at such speeds.
In the 1950s physicists needed to produce even faster...
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The purpose of sex is to create a new generation. Its methodology is the transmitting of genetic material. This genetic material is contained within the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in the nucleus of our cells. Within DNA are regions called genes. These genes carry the code for manufacturing the various proteins that allow the cells to function and make us what we are. The sex cells, sperm and ova, contain only one copy of the DNA (some of which was from the mother and some from the father in each sex cell). When these cells combine, they provide the double strand of DNA required to make new cells with a unique genetic code.
Learning the Process.
In the early 1950s very little was known about genes and how they function. The major achievement of the decade was determining the structure of DNA. With that knowledge, scientists determined that DNA contained the code for genes. Three molecular biologists made discoveries in the 1950s that permanently altered scientists' perception of life.
DNA was first isolated in 1869, but its significance was unknown. In the early 1950s Rosalind Franklin, working in the lab of Irish scientist M. H. F. Wilkins (who had studied uranium isotopes for use in the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project), used X-ray...
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Dental Drills: High Speed and Painless (More or Less)
Before 1950 dental drills were available, but they were slow and required a series of belts and pulleys. Having teeth drilled was a long and tedious process. Dentists could treat only a few patients each day. The process of drilling teeth was so painful, though, that patients did not complain about the wait: they wanted as many days between treatments as possible.
In 1951 a Swedish dentist made an airpowered, high-speed drill. This tool was a significant advance, but it had technical problems. It produced heat and could only be run for a short while before it burned the dentist's hand. In 1953 American dentist Robert Nelson and engineer John Kampula, funded by the American Dental Association, developed a water-powered drill. It ran at high speed, stayed cool, and did not require belts and pulleys. It had other technical drawbacks, though, including a slight drip of oil in the patient's mouth during use.
In 1957 Washington, D.C., dentist John Borden designed an airpowered drill called the Airotor, the hit of the Rome International Dental Congress that year, which used ball bearings to increase its efficiency. The water-cooled Airotor was five times faster than the fastest drill then available. It operated at 350,000 revolutions per minute, compared...
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A Better Test.
In the 1950s important advances were made in scientists' ability to date fossils accurately. While radioactive dating techniques had been developed before 1950, the new radioactive-potassium dating system devised during the decade was much more reliable.
Radioactive dating is possible because all naturally occurring material contains small amounts of radioactive isotopes, which are maintained at a predictable ratio to nonradioactive elements in the same material. When an animal dies, the nonradioactive traces remain stable during decay, but the radioactive traces diminish at a steady rate over a very long period of time. Long after an organism's death, the amount of radioactive element remaining in dead tissue can be carefully measured and compared to nonradioactive material to determine how long it has been since the organism's death.
Standard radioactive dating processes such as carbon dating, discovered in 1948, will not work for most fossils, though. Fossilized remains contain very little carbon, if any, from the original organism. The only methods of dating fossils in the early 1950s were crude. A scientist might date a new specimen based on knowledge of the age of other specimens in the area. Or the scientist might know how deep...
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A Time of War.
The H-bomb, or hydrogen bomb, resulted from scientific research that developed from the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan to end World War II. The H-bomb technology follows from that required for the A-bomb, so H-bomb development did not begin in earnest until the 1950s.
The A-bomb is based on nuclear fission. The nuclei of uranium atoms are bombarded with neutrons propelled from a magnetized coil. As a result, the uranium atoms are split (fission), releasing enormous amounts of energy. In addition, during the process neutrons are released, which can interact with even more uranium nuclei. The final product is a self-sustaining nuclear reaction that releases enormous amounts of energy. When this energy release is contained in a small area, it produces a bomb.
The H-bomb is based on nuclear fusion. Instead of splitting atoms, it combines atoms. As a result, there is a small amount of matter converted into a massive amount of energy. Atoms of deuterium were found to be good candidates for fusion. Deuterium is an atomically heavy form of hydrogen that occurs naturally in small amounts. The H-bomb can release even more energy than the A-bomb, but it requires considerable energy to detonate. The easiest way to reach the...
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ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile—a long-range missile that takes advantage of the scientific laws of flight trajectory. The concept was born in the cold war, when new atomic bombs, or warheads, were developed in an attempt to maintain military superiority over the Soviet Union. As the arms race progressed, it became clear that a new delivery system for warheads had to be developed. Atomic weaponry could be placed on bombers, as it had been in World War II, but the bombers had to be kept on constant alert, which meant that some planes were flying all the time. The bombers were vulnerable to attack by antiaircraft defense systems, and the effectiveness of the warheads was limited by the number of planes carrying them that could reach their targets. A more effective delivery system had to be developed.
The science of rocketry became a military priority during World War II. Some early rockets were used as terrorist weapons late in the war, After the war ended, scientists working in the Nazi rocketry program were recruited by both the United States and the Soviet Union. From the late 1940s onward both countries engaged in a frantic race to be the first to develop rockets capable of delivering atomic weaponry from domestic launchpads to strategic enemy sites.
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During the 1950s jet aircraft replaced slower, propeller-driven planes. In the military the change was swift; in civilian aviation it took place more slowly. World War II forced the United States government to accelerate research and development of high-performance jet aircraft in order to counter the German air force's jet fighters. While American pilots never flew jets during the war, the air force tested a number of jet-and rocket-powered planes from 1942 onward.
The jet age arrived on 27 August 1939 when Erich Warsitz flew a turbojet-powered Heinkel 178 aircraft at Marienehe airfield in Nazi Germany. German officials shrugged indifferently. In the United States, Bell Aircraft's XP-59 Airacomet jet made its debut on 1 October 1942 over Muroc, California. Neither plane was substantially faster than its piston-engine counterpart, and while both aircraft served as prototypes and training models for later, more-advanced jet aircraft, early jet engines only hinted at the possibilities of super-sonic flight.
Attitudes changed on 14 October 1947 when a Bell X-1 rocket plane, piloted by Capt. Charles ("Chuck") Yeager, reached a speed of 964 miles per hour (Mach 1.06) in level flight at an altitude of 42,000 feet over California's Muroc Air Base. The...
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Mapping the Ocean Floor
With the development of sonar in World War II, a means was provided for studying the contour of the land underneath the oceans. Before sonar, the configuration of the ocean floor was mapped by a crude tracing method. A weight on a long chain or cable was lowered from a ship until the weight hit bottom. The depth of water at that point was determined. Then the weight was dragged slowly to show how the depths changed from place to place. Very deep oceans, strong
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In spring 1951 Charles H. Townes was in Washington, D.C., to attend a conference at the Office of Naval Research. He was trying to develop ways to produce extremely high frequency radio waves. The applicable technology of the day was vacuum tubes, and there was simply no way to make them so that they could produce waves high enough in frequency to satisfy Townes. While sitting on a park bench Townes realized how he could produce the radio waves he wanted using atoms and molecules instead of vacuum tubes.
Townes's concept used Einstein's theory of "stimulated emission of radiation." Einstein suggested that forcing radiation (light or microwave, for example) past a group of atoms stimulates them to release energy. This energy will travel in the direction of the stimulating source and be of the same frequency as the source. Einstein theorized that energy is released in what he called quanta—certain specific amounts, not randomly. Townes returned home to Columbia University to work on the idea after the conference.
Townes worked with J. Weber to find just the right stimulating force for his microwaves. Then they had to couple it with an atomic structure that would respond with the correct wavelength of energy. In 1954 they developed a device...
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The Microwave Oven
The microwave oven was born in 1946 by accident. Percy Spencer was in one of his Raytheon Company laboratories standing next to a magnetron, which is the operational part of radar equipment, with a chocolate bar in his pocket. The candy melted. Possessed of a scientist's inquisitiveness, Spencer sent for unpopped popcorn. When he put it next to the magnetron, the popcorn popped. After Spencer conducted careful experiments, Raytheon patented the "high frequency dielectric heating apparatus" in 1953.
After Magnetrons, What?
After the war Raytheon was in a quandary. The need for its radar equipment had dropped sharply. Raytheon hoped to continue to supply the government with magnetrons, but who knew when the government would want thousands of magnetrons a week again? The new heating apparatus seemed the answer to a corporate prayer.
The first "Radarange" weighed 750 pounds and cost three thousand dollars. It was a commercial product, attractive to restaurants, but not suitable for home use. Then Tappan formed an alliance with Raytheon. Skilled engineers were able to reduce the size of the magnetron and make a version marketable in 1955 as a home appliance. They were still expensive and bulky,
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The New Frontier
The Soviet Union was the first nation to enter space. On 4 October 1957 it launched the first artificial satellite, called Sputnik I. The Soviet satellite was a small metal ball that did not do much of anything. It weighed 185 pounds, was 23 inches in diameter, and orbited Earth every 90 minutes. It carried two tiny radio transmitters that produced a repetitive beeping noise as it traveled. Sputnik /seemed to demonstrate that the Soviets were capable of producing rockets that could also send nuclear weapons to land on American soil.
America responded energetically. In 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created to meet the challenge. During 1958-1959 America launched nineteen satellites. These included the communications satellite Score, which had a military significance. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had a moon fixation: they wanted to launch a satellite into lunar orbit in order to study the moon's surface close up. Both the Soviet Metcha, called Lunik in the U.S., and the American Pioneer IV missed the moon and went into solar orbit, where they soon turned into cinders. In 1959 the Soviets achieved moon orbit with their Lunik III,
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New Submarine Needed.
During World War II the Germans had proven the effectiveness of submarines by using them to devastate Allied shipping early in the war. With the development of sonar and the use of depth charges, submarines became less of a threat, but they still could not be ignored.
Image Pop-UpThe USS Nautilus, an atomic powered submarine, was commissioned in October 1954, the start of an atomic fleet.
Coming Up for Air.
World War II-era submarines had to surface at least once a week and stay on the surface for a while, and thus their effectiveness was diminished. Diesel or gasoline engines require oxygen for combustion. Submarines with these engines had to replenish their oxygen supplies with fresh air to keep the engines running and to freshen the atmosphere so the crew would have breathable air.
Capt. (later Adm.) Hyman Rickover realized the potential for a nuclear-powered submarine. The nuclear reactor would heat a fluid. The fluid would pass through a heat exchanger (like a radiator) and convert water to steam. The steam would run a turbine that powered the sub, leaving...
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The concept behind oral contraceptive pills is fairly simple. Every month, women have a cycle of hormones produced by their ovaries. This cycle leads to ovulation, or the production of an egg that can become fertilized to result in pregnancy. The two main hormones produced by the body in this cycle are estrogen and progesterone. If their levels do not rise and fall in accordance with the body's requirements during the monthly cycle, ovulation normally does not occur, and even if it does, unbalanced hormone levels could prevent the uterus from accepting the resultant pregnancy. The oral contraceptive pill was designed to manipulate levels of these two hormones to prevent unwanted pregnancy effectively.
An interesting group of people was involved in the development of oral contraceptives. Margaret Sanger was a pioneer of women's rights and founded the organization Planned Parenthood. Her friend Katherine McCormick was an heiress (McCormick farm machinery) who funded much of the project. Gregory Pincus and M. C. Chang were Massachusetts biologists. John Rock was a Boston gynecologist willing to try the new method on women volunteers. Russell Marker was a chemist and entrepreneur who made it all possible because of his work with Mexican yams.
A Marriage of Interests....
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In the 1950s light astronomy, that is, scientific advancement based on what one could see through various telescopes that magnified images, was nearing its technological limit. The giant telescope at Mount Palomar was producing sharp, clear views of celestial bodies, including the planets. These images would not be greatly improved until satellites began transmitting pictures of the planets from close range decades later. The next big technological breakthrough in astronomy during the 1950s was the radio telescope.
Radio astronomy was born in 1932, when K. G. Jansky noted that radios picked up static from some source. He traced this to radio waves emitted by celestial bodies, especially certain stars. This curious finding became the field of radio astronomy. It was subsequently discovered that all stars emit various waves: light is one form of electromagnetic wave; radio is a nother, with a longer wavelength. Using a telescope with a special antenna, an observer can detect these radio waves on ground stations. These receivers are usually made of a large wire-mesh concave dish with a central antenna. They can be grouped to scan wider areas of the sky.
Radio telescopes are versatile. They can be mounted on pivots so that they can be...
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Critical to any scientific research is the ability to measure. Various measuring methods have been used in biochemistry over the years—some crude, some sophisticated. Most assay systems for materials in the body have limited use because they require a greater quantity of what is to be measured than is available. The body can spare only small amounts of hormones and other biological molecules for testing purposes.
Rosalind Yalow and Solomon Berson were well prepared as a research team to tackle the problem of measurement testing. Yalow had a Ph.D. in physics and expertise in radioactive materials. Berson was a physician and researcher. Together they developed the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique, which has been applied not only in medical science but also in a wide range of fields.
The concept of RIA is simple, but it requires some background knowledge. Part of the immune system functions by producing antibodies to foreign substances. With various manipulations, the immune systems of mammals can be forced to make antibodies to almost anything. Antibodies are very specific. An antibody recognizes a chemical structure, and it will bind only to that one structure. Even similar structures will not be recognized by the antibody. But...
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The Saint Lawrence Seaway
A Binational Waterway.
One of the engineering marvels of the twentieth century is the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which provides sea access from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes along the northern border of the United States. The Saint Lawrence River provides the natural outlet for the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, but small channels and rapids prevented navigation by vessels much larger than a canoe, and so the river was closed to commercial use. The demands of commerce required a waterway accessible to large oceangoing vessels. That required re digging a long stretch of the river.
The idea of opening up the Saint Lawrence originated in 1895. In 1907-1910 three powerful American congressmen proposed a plan to build a plant to use water flow to produce electricity—hydroelectric power—and dig part of the seaway in the process. When the Alcoa Aluminum Company applied to the Canadian Parliament for permission to export power to America without a license in 1910, it was alleged that the company attempted to bribe members of the Parliament. The American congressmen who proposed the scheme all had personal financial interests in it as well. Parliament rejected the plan.
After that the seaway project was postponed for decades as the United States and...
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Not Cut Out for the Army.
In 1952 Americans were shocked by the news that George Jorgensen, a twentysix-year-old private in the U.S. Army Service Command at Fort Dix, New Jersey, had an operation to change his sex. Jorgensen was unhappy as a man and wanted to change his body to that of a woman. He went to Denmark for the surgery to make the transformation.
A Quiet History.
Jorgensen's was not the first sex-change operation. In a highly publicized case, a woman in Great Britain was converted to a man by similar means in order to be able to inherit a title and land available only to a man. In fact, Jorgensen might not have been even the first American to have undergone a sex-change procedure. His notoriety was based on the fact that his case was publicized.
At the Rigs Hospital in Copenhagen, Jorgensen was subjected to slow changes in his hormone levels as surgical procedures were used to remove his male organs and produce female genitals. The hormonal therapy produced breasts and other necessary physical changes.
A Curious Nation Awaits News.
While Jorgensen was undergoing therapy at Rigs, someone who knew him informed an American news reporter of the procedure. The reporter convinced Jorgensen's parents to...
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Telephones in the Age of Technology
TV on the Front.
The TV phone was first described in the popular press in 1950. The U.S. Army saw a need for a voice communicator that could cover long distances and include the capability of sending pictures at the same time. For example, an infantry commander near the front lines might want to call headquarters and point on a map to show where enemy positions were located to request artillery assistance. Such a capability would require the ability to link a telephone and a television video screen. Producing a live television show required lots of fancy gadgetry that was not applicable for field use. Moreover, the telephone lines used by the military could be secured, but live television broadcasts could not. Thus, a telephone TV was superior to a field TV transmitter,
A Soundproof Booth.
The army solved this problem by developing a TV phone booth. It was first displayed at the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. A person could enter the booth and sit in a specific location. The receiving party would enter a similar booth at another location. The booth included an overhead TV screen, a telephone, and a TV camera pointed at the seat. Special lamps were required for the video image. Maps, charts, and the like could be held in front of the camera while the parties conversed on the phone about them.
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Just a Quiet Evening.
After World War II Americans wanted peace, Korea and the cold war notwithstanding, and they found it at night in their living rooms where a few hours of escapism were delivered for free by a new gadget, the television. Television technology allowed transmission of high-quality images, and mass-production techniques meant that sets were available and affordable. But the pictures on those televisions were blackand-white, and industry leaders hoped for more.
In 1951 a CBS engineer named Peter Goldmark devised a method of color television Broadcasting. The concept of color television is simple. All pictures are transmitted and received as combinations of red, green, and blue. Goldmark's system required a set of whirling red, green, and blue filters placed in front of the camera lens; a similar set of filters inside the television set decoded the color signals. A black-and-white television set could not receive the pictures transmitted by a Gold-mark-equipped camera. Not only could it not receive color pictures, it could not receive pictures at all. Since ten million people in the United States already owned black-and-white sets, there was what businessmen call sales resistance to the introduction of the Goldmark system in the United States.
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While radio telephone was being considered for the continental United States, it was the only option available for transatlantic voice communication. Such telephone links were at the mercy of storms and assured a great deal of static in connections at the best of times. The only transatlantic communication option was the telegraph, via a transoceanic telegraph cable the first one of which was laid in 1866. Since 1928 consideration had been given to linking the continents with a cable system for direct telephone communication.
The transatlantic cable was actually just two big specially coated and insulated wire bundles laid along the ocean floor: one eastbound, one westbound. The cable required a series of more than one hundred tiny "repeaters," electronic components (made of vacuum tubes) which amplified the sound carried along the cable and made up for volume lost in the long trip as sound traveled across the Atlantic. The coatings and insulation had to be able to withstand pressures of 6,800 pounds per square inch and a 26,000 pound pull.
The cable was an engineering master-piece. It was designed to carry thirty-six conversations at a time and up to twelve hundred calls a day. The cable itself cost $40 million. It had to be more than...
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Before transistors, electronic equipment consisted of glass tubes containing electronic components. The inside of the tubes was kept in a vacuum to avoid air interference with their function. The concept of replacing these tubes with simpler devices started in the late 1930s at Bell Labs, the research arm of the old national AT&T telecommunications monopoly. The idea was shelved during World War II.
Using semiconductor materials made out of the metal germanium, a crude device was developed in late 1947. William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain are credited with developing the transistor, but they worked with a large number of people at Bell Labs in the process. There were two problems with the original transistor. One was obtaining enough germanium to produce meaningful quantities of transistors. The other was purifying germanium adequately, Gordon Teal and J. B. Little at Bell Labs worked out a new purification method later improved upon by William Pfann, who developed what was called the zone refining technique, also developed at Bell Labs.
In 1950 only about thirteen pounds of germanium were produced each year in the whole world. Because it was so scarce, it was also expensive to obtain, so the transistors produced at the time were...
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Women in Science and Technology
In 1951 Marion Donovan had a problem. The diapers of the day were made of cloth. As a young mother, she had to wash her baby's diapers by hand in hot water, then bleach and boil them. The only alternative was an expensive diaper service. Marion Donovan's solution was "The Boater." Made of an absorbent layer coated with a piece of shower curtain, The Boater was a disposable diaper held in place by snaps (instead of the usual safety pins). Remarkably, manufacturers were not interested in the product. Donovan manufactured her product herself and was quite successful.
The term supermom refers to a woman with a career who also successfully raises a family. A prime example is Rosalyn Yalow. After graduating from college, she was denied positions in graduate school on the grounds that a Jewish woman did not belong in science. She persevered and received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois in 1945. She worked at a Veterans Administration hospital in New York with a physician, Dr. Solomon Berson. With Berson's medical knowledge and Yalow's knowledge of radioactive materials, they developed the technique known as radioimmunoassay (RIA), used to measure accurately the presence of various substances (such as hormones and viruses, for example) in the body, even if they are only present in very...
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Carlson, Chester 1906-1968
INVENTOR OF XEROGRAPHY
Chester Carlson was an ingenious and determined man who saw a problem and solved it. After graduating from college, he worked briefly for Bell Laboratories. He lost this position during the Depression of the 1930s and went to law school. He eventually became a patent attorney. To copy the information from various sources required for his job, he had to write it out tediously by hand. Carlson saw the need for a copying machine and set about making one. He used the kitchen of his apartment as a laboratory. His landlord's daughter came to his door to investigate a foul odor one day. She was intrigued enough by his activities to marry him.
He began from a basic scientific principle: some charged particles (positive or negative), when exposed to light, will attach themselves to a surface that has the opposite charge. After some experimentation, he placed an image on a charged metal plate and shone a light on it. The light hit the plate, and the charged particles lightened or disappeared where light hits the plate (depending on how much light hits it). So he used a...
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Higginbotham, Willy ?-?
INVENTOR OF FIRST VIDEO GAME
Willy Higginbotham was a physicist. During World War II he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory to work on radar display. He contributed to research on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and helped develop a radar system associated with the B-29 bomber. After the war, Higginbotham worked for the U.S. government at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where every year there was an open house. People could come in and tour the nuclear research lab and see the equipment used and displays of work in progress. Higginbotham feared that visitors to the open house were bored.
A Visitors' Game.
As director of the instrumentation division of the lab, he decided to make something interesting for the public in 1958. He took spare parts from an oscilloscope and some other equipment around the lab, hooked it together, and created a game for his visitors to play. On a five-inch screen, Higginbotham electronically drew a tennis court. A bouncing dot of light represented the ball. Two controls (one on either side) included a button and a knob. When the button was pushed it caused the ball to move across the court; the knob controlled the ball's speed. The tennis game was an instant success with Brookhaven guests. While their eyes may have glazed over at...
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Hopper, Grace Murray 1906-1992
Grace Hopper graduated from Vassar College in 1928 and entered Yale University, where she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics in 1934. She returned to Vassar to teach, but World War II changed her career path.
In 1943 she joined the WAVES, (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) as a lieutenant and was sent to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project, There she learned to program the Mark I, the world's first large digital computer. After the war she was a research fellow at Harvard for three years before she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, which became a division of Remington Rand. By 1959 she was director of automatic program development for the UNIVAC division at Remington Rand, the first commercial computer. At Remington Rand, Hopper changed the computer forever.
Prior to her work computers were programmed in machine language, a purely digital, very complex coding structure that required a precise knowledge of...
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Kinsey, Alfred C. 1897-1956
Alfred Kinsey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and his family moved to South Orange, New Jersey, when he was ten years old. He was ill during much of his childhood, suffering rickets (bone deformity from lack of vitamin D), rheumatic fever (which affected his heart), and typhoid fever. His deeply religious family was very protective. While other boys played baseball, Kinsey collected plant specimens and wrote poetry. Even in high school he avoided female companionship rather than upset his religious parents, who disapproved of dating.
Kinsey's father wanted him to become a mechanical engineer, and he initially tried this field at Stevens Institute, where his father worked. After a stunning failure, he decided to become a biologist. His father gave him one suit of clothes for support, and Kinsey enrolled in Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to study biology. After graduation he won a scholarship for graduate studies in applied biology at Harvard University.
Kinsey chose to study gall...
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Kornberg, Arthur 1918-
The son of Jewish immigrants, Arthur Kornberg grew up in New York and attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, graduating three years ahead of schedule. His favorite course was chemistry. He went to the City College of New York and then, in 1937, to medical school at the University of Rochester. Biochemistry is the main chemistry course during medical school. In Kornberg's day it was a dull course describing the chemical contents of body fluids.
Kornberg's main interest was in internal medicine, but that interest soon led him to research. He had always had a mild jaundice, or yellowing of the white parts of his eyes caused by an excess of the chemical bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is formed as old red blood cells break down to be replaced, and normally it is removed rapidly by the liver. He found other medical students with similar jaundice and compared them to controls (people without jaundice) and to people recovering from hepatitis. His first paper, based on this research, was published in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Kornberg continued his bilirubin research in internship, and then on a navy ship. As the army and navy were expanding for World War...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
McMurray, Bette Clair 1924-1980
INVENTOR OF LIQUID PAPER CORRECTION FLUID
Bette Clair McMurray dropped out of school when she was seventeen because of disciplinary difficulties. In the 1940s there were very few jobs open to young women. She could not type, but she got a job as a secretary for a law firm because of her personality. The attorneys sent her to night school for her high-school diploma and secretarial training. She married Warren Nesmith in 1942, and their son (Michael) was born in 1943. After she and her husband divorced in 1946, she had to provide for her son and herself, and she attempted to do so, relying on her shaky secretarial skills.
In 1951 McMurray was an executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust in Dallas. The typewriters used there had ribbons made with carbon film. Erasing errors made on these typewriters looked messy. As an amateur painter, McMurray knew that artists made corrections by painting over mistakes rather than erasing them. So, she began using a white tempera paint to paint over her mistakes.
It did not take long for the secretaries at the Texas Bank and Trust to catch on to McMurray's idea. By 1956 she was bottling "Mistake Out" in her garage for their use. She started learning about how paints are made and...
(The entire section is 374 words.)
Sanger, Margaret 1879-1966
Margaret Sanger was directly responsible for the development of the oral contraceptive pill, though that accomplishment was only a very small part of her life's work. She was convinced at an early age that women had to have control of their reproduction as a matter of health and well-being. Also, she predicted the horrible consequences of unchecked population growth. Thomas Malthus had done this first a century before, but his work was flawed by a failure to realize the potential of new technologies in farming to feed more mouths. Sanger predicted World War II as a consequence of over-population.
She was born in 1879, the sixth of eleven children of Michael and Anne (Purcell) Higgins. Her father encouraged his children to think freely. When an insulting teacher drove Margaret Higgins from public school in the eighth grade, the family pooled their money to send her to the private Hudson River...
(The entire section is 688 words.)
Von Braun, Wernher 1912-1977
Early Interest in Rocketry.
Wernher von Braun was born in Prussia in 1912. His father, a baron, was minister of food and agriculture during the Weimar Republic before Hitler came to power in Germany, and his work caused him to move frequently. Baroness von Braun had broad interests, including astronomy, which she passed to her son. In school, von Braun was particularly poor at math and science. His father moved him to a more practical school that taught farming and land management. He did well there, and his mother encouraged his interest in astronomy by buying him a telescope as a reward. He later recalled that his interest in space travel was further excited by an article on flight to the moon that he read when he was eighteen. For whatever reason, he became involved with astronomy and rocketry, interests that led him to study engineering at institutes in Berlin and Zurich, where he assisted the famous scientist Hermann Oberth in his studies of rocket-propulsion systems.
Von Braun joined a rocketry club in Berlin that leased an abandoned field for test launches. In...
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People in the News
Jim Backus and his team at IBM introduced the computer language FORTRAN in 1956.
In 1955 C. J. Balentine and Earl B. Reitz described the first 330,000-volt circuit breaker for use in the new Muskingum River Plant of the Ohio Power Company, which operated at the highest transmission voltage in the United States.
John Bardeen, Leon N. Cooper, and John R. Schrieffer explained superconductivity by supposing the existence of coupled electrons that cannot be split in 1957.
William and Lyle Boyd identified thirteen separate human races in 1956 after studying blood groups.
Owen Chamberlain, working in 1955 with Emilio Segre, succeeded in producing antiprotons.
In 1959 Dr. William M. Chardack, a physician, and Wilson Greatbatch, an electronics engineer, developed the first heart pacemaker, which could be implanted in a human's chest for up to five years.
In 1957 Scovil G. Feher and H. Seidel introduced the first solid-state maser, which was used in radio astronomy and timekeeping. It could emit a signal whose frequency was constant within a variation of one second every 300,000 years.
Kenneth Lynn Franklin, using a radio telescope, detected radio waves from Jupiter in...
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NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS
During the 1950s there were thirty Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences. Of those, fourteen were won or shared by twenty-seven Americans. The Nobel Prize is widely considered to be the highest honor bestowed upon scientists and signifies worldwide recognition of their work.
1950: Physiology and/or Medicine, P. S. Hench and E. C. Kendall
1951: Chemistry, E. M. McMillan and G. T. Seaborg
1952: Physics, F. Bloch and E. M. Purcell; Medicine and/or Physiology, S. A. Waksman
1953: Medicine and/or Physiology, F. A. Lipmann
1954: Chemistry, L. C. Pauling; Physiology and/or Medicine, J. F. Enders, F. C. Robbins, and T. H. Weller
1955: Chemistry, V. du Vigneaud; Physics, W. E. Lamb, Jr., and P. Kusch
1956: Physics, W. B. Shockley, W. H. Brattata, and J. Bardeen; Physiology and/or Medicine, D. W. Richards, Jr., and A. F. Cournand
1958: Physiology and/or Medicine, J, Lederberg, G. W. Beadle, and E. L. Tatum
1959: Physics, E. Segré and O. Chamberlain; Physiology and/or...
(The entire section is 166 words.)
Walter Sydney Adams, astronomer, former director of the Mount Wilson Observatory whose observations proved Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, 10 May 1956.
Dr. Robert Grant Aitken, 87, leading astronomer, 29 October 1951.
Dr. Oakes Ames, 75, botanist, 28 April 1950.
Maj. Edwin H. Armstrong, 63, inventor of FM radio, 1 February 1954.
Liberty Hyde Bailey, 96, renowned botanist and agricultural educator, 26 December 1954.
Dr. Francis M. Baldwin, 66, leading biologist, 2 February 1951.
Lawrence Dale Bell, founder of Bell Aircraft Corporation, codesigner of experimental jet-powered Bell X-1 and X-2 aircraft, 20 October 1956.
Dr. Charles F. Berkey, 88, former head of the geology department at Columbia University, a leader in applying geology to engineering, 22 August 1955.
Clarence Frank Birdseye, inventor and industrialist, developed methods of freezing and dehydrating foods, held more than five hundred patents, 7 October 1956.
Dr. Isaiah Bowman, 71, internationally famous geographer, 6 January 1950.
William H. Buell, 72, chemical engineer who developed the tracer bullet, 24 December 1950.
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Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958);
Atomic Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1955);
David R. Bates, Space Research and Exploration (New York: W. Sloane, 1958);
The Book of Popular Science (New York: Grolier Society, 1959);
Erik Bergaust, Satellite! (Garden City, N.Y.: Hanover House, 1956);
Edward Callis Berkeley, Computers, Their Operations and Applications (New York: Reinhold, 1956);
Berkeley, Symbolic Logic and Intelligent Machines (New York: Reinhold, 1959);
Franklyn Mansfield Branley, Experiments in Sky Watching (New York: Crowell, 1959);
Andrew Donald Booth, Automation and Computing (New York: Macmillan, 1958);
Otis W. Caldwell, Everyday Science (Boston: Ginn, 1952);
Groff Conklin, ed., Science Fiction Thinking Machines (New York: Vanguard, 1954);
Robert Alan Dahl, Domestic Control of Atomic Energy (New York, 1951);
William H. Desmonde, Computers and Their Uses (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964);
The Effects of Atomic Weapons (Washington, D.C.: Government...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
Important Events in Science and Technology, 1950–1959
- Commercial color transmission of CBS television "Color-cast," starring Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey.
- The Sulzer weaving machine begins modern commercial production of cloth using an automatic loom.
- In January, inventor George Eastman develops a method to use regular movie cameras to produce color movies. Before this, only Technicolor cameras produced color movies.
- On March 29, RCA demonstrates the first electronic color television tube.
- In November, dairy scientists implant an embryo in the uterus of a cow at the University of Wisconsin.
- The first 3-D movies are produced.
- The first transcontinental television transmission is broadcast from the United States.
- In February, American mathematician Dirk Brouwer uses a computer to predict the orbits of the nine planets in our solar system.
- In February, Du Pont produces Orlon, a synthetic acrylic fiber that can be spun into yarn and knitted. Despite its synthetic origin it feels soft to the touch.
- In April, the Remington Rand Corporation sells the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer).
- In June, the nuclear testing station at Arco, Idaho,...
(The entire section is 1647 words.)