Topics in the News
During the 1990s global warming became a major concern for scientists and the public. Many scientists warned that carbon dioxide and other gases from the burning of fossil fuels were collecting in the atmosphere and acting like the glass walls of a green-house, trapping heat on the surface of the Earth. They predicted that average temperatures could rise as much as 6.3 degrees F (3.5 degrees C) over the next century, threatening coastal areas with flooding as the polar ice caps melted and warmer sea waters expanded, and causing massive climate changes throughout the world. They cited evidence of heat waves, shrinking polar ice, and rising seas, all thought to be caused by global warming, and pointed to specific evidence that global warming was no longer a potential but a real threat to the environment. In Antarctica, Adelie penguin populations declined 33 percent in twenty-five years because the sea ice where they lived was shrinking. In Bermuda and Hawaii, rising seas killed coastal mangrove forests and caused beach erosion. Skeptics questioned the presumed connection between human activity and global warming, arguing that while the global temperature might be rising, it could be the result of normal changes in weather patterns. They pointed out that Earth had undergone several major climate shifts throughout its known history and suggested that these normal shifts, not the...
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The Human Genome Project.
The International Human Genome Project (HGP) officially launched in 1990, was a multibillion dollar effort to map all of the estimated one hundred thousand genes on the twenty-three pairs of human chromosomes and read their entire sequence. In the center of any normal human cell there are forty-six X-shaped chromosomes, and within each chromosome is bundled a double-stranded helix of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Made up of varying combinations of four different nucleotides within the DNA molecule, each gene carries instructions for everything from hair color and height to how the brain is organized. All of the genes together are collectively called the genome. Thus mapping or decoding all of the genes in the human genome would give scientists unprecedented understanding of the human body and could point to the eventual diagnosis, cure, or elimination of many genetic diseases. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asserted that this research was the most important organized scientific effort that humankind had ever attempted. By 1999 one-quarter of the human genome code had been spelled out by teams of scientists working on the HGP and by its corporate competitors. Computer technology played an important role in making genetic research possible, providing the communication and...
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In 1997 Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute in Scotland successfully cloned a sheep named Dolly from the cell of an adult ewe. Wilmut replaced the DNA in a normal sheep egg with the DNA from the ewe's mammary gland, and then inserted the egg into the womb of another sheep, where it grew into an exact replica of the donor. This achievement was the first time that an animal had been cloned from an adult cell, not an embryo. It was a milestone in genetic engineering, indicating that it was possible to mass produce identical copies of a mammal. Many people worried about the ethical implications of this new technology, since the same techniques used to make Dolly might one day be used to clone humans. In 1993 researchers at George Washington University had cloned human embryos and nurtured them in a petri dish for several days. Their project had provoked protests from ethicists and politicians, and raised concerns about genetic engineering in general. When a group of scientists experimented with creating headless mice that could provide organs and tissues to others, people feared that headless human clones kept solely as organ donors for their "parent" might be a tempting next step. Fearing the moral implications of such a future, President Bill Clinton issued a moratorium banning research into human cloning in all federally sponsored laboratories and asked that private researchers also...
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The revolutionary technology of the Internet and the World Wide Web created a whole new digital culture in America during the 1990s. The idea of an "Information Superhighway" that could link anyone in the world through nearly instantaneous data transmission became a reality, and terms such as "cyberspace" and "the Net" became part of everyday speech. The introduction of the Internet into mainstream American society changed the ways that business and commerce was conducted, information exchanged, and social interaction carried out.
Joseph C. R. Licklider, a psychologist at M.I.T., first envisioned the idea of an Internet, or an inter-connected computer network. In August of 1962 he wrote a series of memos discussing his "Galactic Network" concept. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which anyone with a computer terminal could quickly access data and programs from another computer. In 1962 Licklider became the first head of the computer research program at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a bureau of the Department of Defense. Created in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, ARPA was the first U.S. response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik (4 October 1957). The mission of ARPA was to ensure that the United States maintained a lead in applying...
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Internet and Big Business
In the 1980s Microsoft created the operating system (OS) known as Windows. Microsoft had made its name by creating DOS, the clunky OS that sat inside every IBM personal computer (PC). Windows was originally a graphical user interface (GUI) intended to run on top of DOS in order to make it easier to use. In other words, it was like a new and improved façade on top of an old building. A GUI used pictures rather than words, making the PC easy and intuitive. Computer researchers at Xerox Parc actually created the first GUI, using a mouse to point to information on the screen. Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple Computers, saw a demonstration of the GUI at Xerox Parc and realized that it was the future of personal computers. Under his direction, Apple developed the wildly popular Macintosh with its GUI, which by 1987 was selling a million units a year, competing with the IBM PC. The Macintosh was so easy to use that it threatened the dominance of IBM, and hence, Microsoft's DOS, in the personal computing market. Microsoft answered with Windows, releasing version 1.0 in 1985. Compared to Macintosh, which had launched in 1984, Windows 1.0 was unstable and unattractive. But Microsoft continued to work on its new product. Windows 2.0 was introduced in 1987, featuring the use of icons (like the Mac), overlapping windows, and PIF files (instructions for Windows on how to run a DOS...
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Internet and Digital Citizens
Who Was Connected?
In September 1997 the Wired Magazine/Merrill Lynch Forum Digital Citizen Survey, conducted by Luntz Research Companies, polled 1,444 Americans to examine their views on technology and society. The results showed that a new technologically connected population was emerging. It divided those polled into four groups: the superconnected, who exchanged e-mail at least three times per week and used a cell phone, a beeper, a laptop, and a home computer; the connected, who exchanged e-mail at least three times per week and used three of the four technologies above; the semiconnected, who used at least one but not more than four of the target technologies; and the unconnected, who did not use any of the target technologies. Of those surveyed, 2 percent were superconnected, 7 percent were connected, 62 percent were semi-connected, and 29 percent were unconnected. The survey showed that "Digital Citizens"—connected and superconnected Americans—constituted 8.5 percent of the overall population. These Digital Citizens were young, but not as young as might be expected; there were more connected Americans in their forties than in their twenties, but only 11 percent older than fifty-five. By gender, they were almost evenly divided, at 52 percent male and 48 percent female. They were 87 percent white, 5 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic, and more than half lived in the...
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Internet and Society
Society and the Internet.
In the four years after Netscape Navigator was introduced to the public (between 1994 and 1998), the number of Americans using the Internet increased from five million to sixty-two million, with traffic on the Internet doubling every one hundred days. By 1999 there were more than eleven million domain names registered on the Web, with more than seventy million websites, "www," "@," and "dot com" had become new icons of the so-called Information Age, The Internet was only thirty years old. No other invention had grown so fast to reach so many people. The Internet was a revolution in communications. With e-mail, people could share ideas and information faster and cheaper than through telephones or letters. "Virtual communities" proliferated, with far-flung groups of people with shared interests connecting in chatrooms and newsgroups. Internet users had access to websites all over the world, and with the proliferation of commercial websites, they could shop for virtually anything on-line. By the end of the decade more e-mail was being exchanged than first-class letters delivered by the U.S. postal system. The Internet was responsible for one-third of the total U.S. economic growth in 1998, generating $301 billion in business. Yet, no one really controlled it.
One of the key social effects of the...
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Mobile, or wireless, communications became a significant part of American life during the 1990s. At the turn of the century a Wired poll showed that the mobile phone was the most important technological development of the era, with a majority of respondents indicating that a mobile phone was the technology that they used most in their daily lives, more than a computer, e-mail, or the Internet. Mobile telephones became ever smaller and more portable, and could be carried inconspicuously. Lower costs and greater convenience gained millions of new customers for mobile-phone technology every year. By 1995 there were approximately eighty-five million users of cellular telephony worldwide, with thirty-two million in the United States alone. As of June 1999 there were more than seventy-six million wireless communications subscribers in the United States, with 38 percent of these using digital wireless technology.
History of Mobile Communications.
The walkie-talkie, developed in the late 1930s, was one of the first practical applications of mobile communications. Along with the first mobile telephone, invented in 1941, the walkie-talkie used radio waves to communicate. The first commercial wireless telephone service was actually available in 1946, but the equipment for it filled the trunk of a car, and only a handful of...
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Music and Movies
The Moving Picture Experts Group Level 3 (MP3) was a computer format that compressed tens of megabytes of a compact disc (CD)-quality audio file into just a few megabytes, making high-quality digital audio easily downloadable. Music industry executives were concerned about MP3, arguing that it was being used to steal intellectual property. Many websites offered songs without copyright permission, posing a major threat to record labels and performers. Record companies launched efforts in 1998 and 1999 to bring what they saw as bootlegging under control. Still, some recording artists felt that MP3 might be a good thing, introducing a new way to bring their music to the public. Many musicians saw MP3 as a way to sidestep the powerful music publishing business and use the Internet to distribute their songs. With the introduction of portable devices in 1998, MP3 became the most popular trend in consumer audio. The portable digital music players stored music files on tiny memory cards and played them back. They held about an hour's worth of music, which could be changed as often as the user wished, and could be carried anywhere. In 1998 record companies sued the makers of a portable MP3 player in an effort to keep them off the market, but lost the case.
Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) is a high-capacity multimedia data-storage medium,...
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Atom Level Manipulation.
One of the most revolutionary technologies being explored during the 1990s was nanotechnology, which involved the manipulation of matter at the atomic level. Although it was still in the developmental stages by the end of the decade, important advances had been made toward mastering this extreme miniaturization of technology. Scientists speculated that nanotechnology would eventually have profound effects on information technology, medicine, national security, energy, and the environment, sparking the production of supercomputers that fit into the palm of a hand, or tiny devices to fight disease and repair injury from inside the human body. Nanotechnology dealt with matter in its most elemental forms: atoms and molecules. The basic measuring unit in nanotechnology, the nanometer, was the width of three atoms. Ten nanometers was one thousand times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair. Nanotechnology, scientists predicted, would make it possible to manufacture, replicate, or distribute any substance known to humans as easily as information could be replicated on a computer. By the end of the 1990s, extensive nanotechnology research was already underway in Japan, Europe, and the United States. In the United States at least eleven government agencies were funding molecular nanotechnology research, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National...
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Facing criticisms early in the decade that his agency was wasting money, Daniel S. Goldin, director for most of the 1990s of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, announced that NASA would find ways to do more with less. His management mantra was "faster, better, cheaper." NASA had great successes during the decade, including the Mars Pathfinder Lander, built for a tenth of the cost of its predecessors and hailed as a huge success. In addition, NASA returned American hero John Herschel Glenn Jr., the first American to orbit the Earth, to space in 1998, to a surge of public approval. The space agency, however, did suffer some humiliating losses during the decade. The $194 million Mars Polar Lander, with the Deep Space 2 Probe, was launched on 3 January 1999 and lost on 3 December. Worse, perhaps, was the catastrophic failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter, launched 11 December 1998 and lost in September 1999. The prime cause of the failure was that the builder of the spacecraft, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, provided one set of specifications in old-fashioned English units, while its operators at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory were using the metric system. The report on the failure also uncovered management problems that let the mistake go undiscovered, including poor communication between mission teams, insufficient training, and inadequate staffing. With the "faster,...
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Technology played an important part in warfare in the 1990s, helping to make campaigns shorter and more precise, and ensuring U.S. military superiority through technology. During the Persian Gulf War (1991) the United Nations (UN) forces functioned with a computer-like war plan that devastated essential
Chemical and Biological Weapons.
Chemical and biological weapons were, unlike nuclear weapons, easy to produce, hide, and use. Biological warfare was the use of pathogens to harm or kill an adversary's military forces, population, food, or livestock. Any nation with a reasonably advanced pharmaceutical and medical industry had the capacity to mass-produce biological weapons, which were especially threatening because they could be self-replicating; simply infecting a few individuals could lead to a mass outbreak that could kill thousands. Yet, biological warfare...
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Andreessen, Marc 1971-
FATHER OF THE MOSAIC BROWSER AND NETSCAPE NAVIGATOR
Born 9 July 1971, Marc Andreessen was often referred to as the "boy-wonder" of the new Information Age. The self-proclaimed "media junkie" helped to create a revolution in the way people accessed and shared information. In 1993 Andreessen was a student working at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NSCA) in Urbana-Champagne, Illinois, when he created an easy-to-use, point-and-click graphical interface browser for the Web, called Mosaic. (A Web browser is a computer program that retrieves and interprets documents on the World Wide Web.) That same year, he and his coworkers at NCSA released free versions of Mosaic for Windows and Macintosh. By the end of the year the browsers were being downloaded from the NCSA at an average rate of one thousand per day. While the invention of the World Wide Web made the Internet accessible to anyone, it was the invention of the Mosaic browser that permitted Web use to explode in popularity.
After Mosaic was released to the public, companies wanting to commercialize the product...
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Berners-Lee, Tim 1955-
INVENTOR OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, revolutionizing the Internet and making the vast sums of information it contained easily accessible to anyone with a computer. Born 8 June 1955, in London, Berners-Lee was encouraged to think creatively about science from an early age. He studied physics at Queen's College, Oxford, graduating in 1976, and once built a working computer out of spare parts and a TV set. After attending Oxford, he spent two years working for Plessey Telecommunications Ltd., a major British Telecom equipment manufacturer, and then at D. G. Nash Ltd. From June to December 1980 he consulted as a software engineer at CERN (Conseil European pour la Recherché Nucleaire) in Geneva.
Inventing the Web.
While at CERN Berners-Lee wrote a program designed for storing information using random associations and called it "Enquire," short for Enquire Within Upon Everything (1856), a Victorianera encyclopedia he remembered from his childhood. "Enquire" was never published, but it later became the basis for the development of the World Wide...
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Collins, Eileen 1956-
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins was the first woman ever selected to pilot, and later command a mission on a space shuttle. Born 19 November 1956, in Elmira, New York, Collins graduated from Syracuse University in 1978 and became one of the first women to go straight from college into Air Force pilot training. She was a T-38 instructor pilot and a C-141 aircraft commander, was chosen to join NASA in 1990, and became an astronaut in 1991. By 1999 she had flown more than five thousand hours in more than thirty different types of aircraft.
On 5 March 1998, at the White House, Collins was officially named the first woman Space Shuttle commander. She led the crew of STS-93 on a five-day mission aboard space shuttle Columbia on 22-27 July 1999. The crew deployed one of the most precious cargoes ever taken into space: the $1.5 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a huge, sophisticated telescope that would allow astronomers to see into deep space, observing black holes and quasars, in order to obtain more information about the origins of the...
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Glenn, John 1921-
John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born 18 July 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, and received a bachelor of science degree in Engineering. He received honorary doctoral degrees from nine colleges and universities. Glenn served as a naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War. He joined the ranks of legendary astronauts on 20 February 1962, when he climbed into the Friendship 7 (Project Mercury) capsule and lifted off on an Atlas-6 rocket, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. His orbital flight lasted four hours, fifty-five minutes, and twenty-three seconds, all but seven minutes being in weightlessness.
Politician in Space.
On 16 January 1998 NASA announced that Glenn would return to orbit. From 29 October to 7 November 1998 he served as a Payload Specialist 2 on the STS-95 crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At age seventy-seven, Glenn was the oldest man ever to go into space. He was chosen for this space mission while serving as a four-term Democratic U.S. Senator from Ohio, a position he had held...
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Lucid, Shannon 1943-
Shannon Matilda Wells Lucid was born on 14 January 1943, in Shanghai, China, but she grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma. She received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Oklahoma in 1963, and master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in biochemistry from the University of Oklahoma in 1970 and 1973, respectively. Selected by NASA in 1978, Lucid became an astronaut in August 1979. She married Michael F. Lucid of Indianapolis, Indiana, and has two daughters and one son.
Lucid was qualified for assignment as a mission specialist on space shuttle flight crews. Some of her technical assignments included the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL); the Flight Software Laboratory in Downey, California, working with the rendezvous and proximity operations group; Astronaut Office interface at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, participating in payload testing, shuttle testing, and launch countdowns; spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) in the JCS Mission Control Center during many space shuttle missions; Chief of Mission Support; and Chief of...
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Negroponte, Nicholas 1943-
COMPUTER PROGRAMMER, AUTHOR
By envisioning the merger of newspapers, television, entertainment, and computers, Nicholas Negroponte became a prophet and visionary of the Digital Age, He grew up in Switzerland, London, and New York in a wealthy shipping family. Negroponte studied at MIT, where as a graduate student he specialized in the then-new field of computer design. He joined the faculty there in 1966 and for several years divided his teaching time between MIT and visiting professorships at Yale, University of Michigan, and the University of California at Berkeley.
In 1968 Negroponte founded the pioneering Architecture Machine Group at MIT, a combination lab and think tank responsible for many radically new approaches to the computer-human inter-face. In 1980 he served as founding chair of the International Federation of Information Processing Societies' Computers in Everyday Life program. In 1982 he accepted the invitation of the French government to become the first executive director of the Paris-based World Center for Personal Computation and Human Development, an experimental project originally designed to explore the potential for computer technology in enhancing primary education in underdeveloped countries. Most famously, Negroponte was cofounder and director of the MIT Media...
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Venter, Craig 1946-
Craig Venter graduated from high school in 1964, with the reputation of being a chronic discipline problem, and moved from San Francisco to Southern California to sail and surf. In 1967, when he was twenty-one, he went to Vietnam as a Navy hospital corpsman. Venter planned to become a doctor after the war and work in underdeveloped countries, but upon earning a Ph.D. in six years, he decided to go into in medical research. He married Claire Fraser, a molecular biologist, and the pair joined the National Institutes Health (NIH).
In the 1980s Venter was studying genes at the NIH when he came up with a new, faster way to decode DNA by feeding messenger RNA (mRNA), copied into a more stable form known as cDNA, into an automated gene sequencer he had acquired for his laboratory. When Venter published his first paper based on this work, scientists had identified only about four thousand genes, each one representing years of painstaking labor. Venter's paper added 347 new genes to that list, and soon he was finding twenty-five per day. James Watson, director of the National Center...
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People in the News
Texas billionaire Edward P. Bass, envisioning the eventual colonization of Mars, funded the creation of Biosphere II in 1991, in order to study how earthlings might survive in a totally enclosed, greenhouse-like environment that mimicked conditions on Earth. The experiment failed, and Biosphere II was turned into a research facility for Columbia University.
Commander Curtis L. Brown, pilot Steven W. Lindsey, flight engineer Stephen K. Robinson, mission specialists Scott E. Parazynski and Pedro Duque (of Spain), and pay-load specialist Chiaki Mukai (of Japan) were the six astronauts who accompanied former astronaut, U.S. senator, and senior citizen John Herschel Glenn Jr. on his return to space aboard the shuttle Discovery in October 1998.
In 1995 R. Paul Butler and Geoffrey W. Marcy helped develop a way to detect planets orbiting distant stars as far away as forty or fifty light years. On 18 October, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz were the first astronomers to actually find a planet circling a distant star. Butler and Marcy did not actually see the planets, which would require technology even more sophisticated than the Hubble Tele-scope; instead, they inferred the existence of the planets by measuring their effects on distant suns. By April of 1996 they had discovered five...
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1990: Jointly to Jerome I. Freidman, Henry W. Kendall, and Canadian Richard E. Taylor for their pioneering investigations concerning deep inelastic scattering of electrons on protons and bound neutrons, which have been of essential importance for the development of the quark model in particle physics.
1991: No American winner.
1992: No American winner.
1993: Russell A. Hulse and Joseph H. Taylor Jr. for the discovery of a new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation.
1994: For pioneering contributions to the development of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter, Canadian Bertram N. Brockhouse for the development of neutron spectroscopy, and Clifford G. Shull for the development of the neutron diffraction technique.
1995: For pioneering experimental contributions to lepton physics, Martin L. Perl for the discovery of the tau lepton, and Frederick Reines, for the detection of the neutrino.
1996: David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff, and Robert C. Richardson for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3.
1997: Americans Steven...
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J. Franklin Hyde, 96, chemist, inventor of silicone—the stuff of breast implants—and other silicon compounds, 11 October 1999.
Henry W. Kendall, 72, physicist, cofounder of the Union of Concerned Scientists, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1990, and professor of physics at MIT, 14 February 1999.
Joseph C. R. Licklider, 75, psychologist, Internet visionary, and advocate of computer science programs; as Director of the Information Processing Techniques Office of the Pentagon he established the intellectual framework from which the Internet would develop, 7 August 1990.
Linus Carl Pauling, 93, chemist, the only man in the world to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes, one in chemistry (1954) and one for peace (1962). Also considered the champion of Vitamin C and its curative powers, 19 August 1994.
Carl Edward Sagan, 62, astronomer and author, whose lifelong passion was searching for intelligent life in the cosmos, 20 December 1996.
Jonas Salk, 80, virologist, using killed virus discovered a vaccine for polio in the 1950s, 23 June 1995.
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., 74, astronaut, the first American in space and one of only twelve men to walk on the moon, 21 July 1998.
Eugene Shoemaker, 69,...
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Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Fischietti, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999);
Jerry E. Bishop and Michael Waldholz, Genome: The Story of the Most Astonishing Scientific Adventure of Our Time—The Attempt to Map All the Genes in the Human Body (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990);
Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park: A Novel (New York: Knopf, 1990);
Esther Dyson, Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age (New York: Broadway Books, 1997);
Niles Eldredge, Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998);
Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997);
Bill Gates, with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, The Road Ahead (New York: Viking, 1995);
James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (New York: Pantheon, 1999);
Thomas Gold, The Deep Hot Biosphere (New York: Copernicus, 1999);
Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in NaturalHistory (NewYork: Norton, 1991);
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Important Events in Science and Technology, 1990–1999
- On April 24, the space shuttle Discovery puts the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit around Earth.
- On May 22, Microsoft releases Windows version 3.0, which sells close to thirty million copies in a year; Windows becomes the industry standard in consumer operating systems.
- On June 1, U.S. president George Herbert Walker Bush and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev sign a bilateral agreement to stop producing chemical weapons and to begin destroying stocks of agents by the end of 1992.
- In September, American geneticist W. French Anderson performs the first gene therapy on a four-year-old girl with an immune-system disorder called Adenosine Deaminase (ADA) deficiency.
- In October, the Human Genome Project (HGP) begins to map all human genes on their respective chromosomes.
- Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki, writes the code for the open-source Linux operating system and releases it over the Internet under a free public license.
- On April 3, the U.N. Security Council approves a Gulf cease-fire that includes stripping Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons.
- On August 14, scientists report that a worldwide band of volcanic dust from the eruptions of Mount...
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