Welcome to the second ‘Everyday Science’ post, exploring the inventions, discoveries and birthdays for every day of the year! If you haven’t read January’s post yet, click here! Otherwise, continue reading below about petrol, famous scientists and the exact length of our year!
In 1884, on February 1st, the very first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It’s length spanned only words from A to ant after 5 years of work and it was not until 1928 that the entire 10-volume, 400,000 word dictionary was completed. The second edition doubled it’s size to 20 volumes and the 3rd edition is unlikely to be printed in hard copy and instead will only be used electronically due to the great reduction in dictionary sales in recent years.
The first sale of ethyl petrol! In 1923, anti-knock petrol containing tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) was sold following 5 years of intensive testing. Out of thousands of compounds, they searched for one that would prevent petrol from combustion early, creating a ‘knocking’ sound that damaged engines. TEL eliminated this problem; however it was highly poisonous to workers and environmentally polluting. Despite this, it was more than 50 years later before TEL was banned because of how greatly it improved vehicle performance. Today, petrol is nearly exclusively ‘unleaded’ and contains safer anti-knock agents to give the same effect.
This is the day Elizabeth Blackwell was born in 1821. She was featured in January’s post for the postage stamp made in honour of her, but I’d like to add a little more. She was in the end allowed into the Geneva Medical School because the staff asked the students’ opinion on having a woman study with them. They accepted her a fellow peer, unlike most other women, a theme that I believe is commonly seen among groundbreaking women. They are accepted by men yet ostracised by their own fellow women. Anyway, that’s a personal opinion and Elizabeth Blackwell was an incredible woman.
February 4th was the first day of the world’s long surgery, lasting until February 8th in the year 1951. The operation was to remove a 140 kg ovarian cyst, half the woman’s weight. As it was so large, it could not be removed using standard procedure as it posed significant danger to the woman’s heart and instead it was slowly drained of over 90 kg of fluid before they removed the entire cyst. Remarkably, the woman survived after a fairly rapid recovery and a second operation to remove more excess flesh. Read more about this operation here.
Apollo 14, the 3rd manned moon mission landed on the moon and was the most precise landing to date, only 27 metres from the target site. Their aim was primarily to collect soil samples that were distributed to scientists in 15 countries and orbital photography to determine future landing sites on the moon’s surface. On February 6, they took off to return to earth.
But before they left, Alan Shepard took the opportunity to be proclaimed the first man to play golf on the moon! Despite the difficulties of playing in his space suit (he was forced to use only one hand) he reported that one of his 2 shots travelled “miles and miles and miles” due to the weakness of the moon’s gravity (1/6 of earth’s).
The game we all know … Monopoly was first marketed on February 7, way back in 1935, after it’s invention by Charles Darrow 2 years previously. He was granted a patent by December in 1935 and it is now one of the world’s most well-known games. What a legacy to leave behind!
Birth of Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev in 1834, a famous chemist you may remember from high school science as the man who invented the periodic table. The russian scientist not only organised the groups of elements into their current order but predicted as-of-yet undiscovered elements and many of their properties. You can read more about his life here.
Continuing with chemistry, in 1996, element 112, ununbium, was created by a german team. The sole atom lasted on a thousandth of a second before decaying by emitting an alpha particle.
You’ve heard of the British royal family and haemophilia, haven’t you? This terrible genetic disease prevents blood from clotting, so one can bleed to death from the smallest cut. Anyway, on February 10 in 1840, Queen Victoria, a carrier of the haemophilia gene was married. Out of her following 9 children, 3 received the genes: 2 daughters and a son. Consequently, due to the intermarrying of royal houses around Europe, many royal families in the 19th and 20th centuries displayed or carried the disease, hence it gained a name as ‘the royal disease’.
Thomas Edison was born on the 11th of February in 1847, later to grow up and hold a world record at 1039 patents (including joint patents). Also known as “the Wizard of Menlo Park”, today he is most remembered for his electric lightbulb. Additionally he helped establish the world’s first industrial research laboratory in Menlo Park.
The birthday of well-known Charles Darwin, the first person to provide a theory of evolution with examples, evidence and principles to back it up. 150 years on, it is currently the mainly taught theory; however, at the 2016 Royal Society meeting of over 200 well-respected scientists, it was concluded that “Darwinian theory is broken and may not be fixable”, a great win for creationists and intelligent design advocates. Read more in this really interesting article about the conference here.
France isn’t exactly one of the first countries to come to mind when I think about nuclear weapons, but regardless, they are one of the nine countries worldwide to have nuclear weapons. Their first bomb, Gerboise Bleue was detonated as a test on February 13 in 1960 in a region of the Sahara desert.
We’ve all heard about Dolly, the cloned sheep, haven’t we? She lived a short 6 1/2 years before succumbing to a lung disease on February 14, 2003. However, as she was cloned from an adult cell, her telomeres (“junk” DNA that safeguards the information) were as short as an adult’s, leading to a shorter life expectancy anyway, as discussed briefly in The Science in January.
Galileo Galilei (wonder if he got teased about that name) was born on February 15, 1564 in Italy. He was one of the first ‘real’ scientists in a period where science was gradually emerging from natural philosophy and superstition. However, society hadn’t yet learned to accept science and he spent a large portion of his life battling the church and was eventually convicted of heresy for refusing to recant his views on the correct, Copernican view of the solar system. Read about his life and other achievement here.
We all know the emergency numbers: 000-Australia, 111-NZ, 911-America and so on. But when did they start? Back in 1968 … really not that long ago, as this month marks 50 years since the first telephone system to recognise 911 as a national emergency number.
I’m sure you learnt about the periodic table in school and could tell me that it’s a way of organising all the elements that make up our world. Some of you would be able to recall that our current table is thanks to Dmitri Mendeleev. I don’t think, before now, any of you would have been able to confidently say that he took February 17, 1869 off work to organise the elements, finally arranging them into the periods and rows we know today.
Michelangelo. The famous artist. Also known for his incredible drawings of human anatomy; however, February 18 marks the day that the world lost a man of such achievement, combining science and art. It reminds of one of Einstein’s quotes, “Creativity is just intelligence having fun.”
Coming back to astronomy now, the man who proposed the view that Galileo held that got him arrested … Nicholaus Copernicus. I don’t really understand how he managed to conclude that the Earth travels around the sun, also rotates around its axis daily and slight changes in rotation that cause equinoxes to change days. Additionally, he worked out that stars were very distant. How did he manage that in one lifetime, starting February 19 in 1473?
Gender diversity in STEM? We’ve seen the few females throughout history, including Caroline Mikkelsen, the first woman to visit Antarctica on February 20, 1935. Just as a side note, I’d love to visit Antarctica and no-one really seems to understand it, so let me know in the comments if you’re keen as well!
Today marks the biggest biological breakthrough of the 20th century (at least I hope I can call it that). Today was the day that James D. Watson and Francis Crick first announced their double helix model of DNA to the world, preceding their April paper. This discovery laid the groundwork for pretty much all of modern biology in genetics, cells, biochemistry, proteins….
J. Michael Bishop? Never heard of him? Born February 22nd, 1936, he won the 1989 Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine for a discovery that revolutionised our understanding of one of our deadliest diseases … cancer. They showed that normal genes could cause cancer under particular conditions as the introduction of cancer genes cause a mutation in the genetic code, creating oncogenes (cancer genes) that result in nearly unlimited growth (think tumour).
What a wonderful day. You can remember today about the amazing polio vaccine and how mass vaccination began this day, 64 years ago, ridding the world of a crippling disease.
Now today marks another important event in today’s eyes. Steve Jobs was born, setting out into a life of invention that has revolutionised our society with Apple having sold over 1 billion iPhones!
Britain entered into the atomic era, opening their plutonium plant for operation on February 25 in 1952. They tested their first bomb in October that year and are now considered to be one of the ‘atomic nations’.
RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) which first demonstrated to the English Air Ministry officials today in 1935. Their decision to adopt it led to installing the technology across the English borders at the outbreak of WWII to protect against German invasion by giving troops time to plan a defence or counterattack.
The neutron is a subatomic particle that found in the nucleus of an atom. Their role is to prevent the positive protons from repelling each other explosively by providing a barrier of sorts. This is essential as I once read someone describe the repulsive force of protons as two wrecking balls that had the force to rip through several metres of reinforced concrete and steel as if it was tissue paper. Anyway, these neutrons were first discovered today in 1932 by Dr James Chadwick.
The birthday of Linus Pauling, an amazing scientist who applied his knowledge of quantum physics to chemistry and in particular, chemical bonding. He applied much of this to protein structure, publishing a theoretical paper also on February 28, describing the theoretical structure of proteins. He won a Nobel prize for this work in Chemistry and later a Nobel peace prize for acting towards nuclear peace.
And that brings me to the end. I’ve missed the 29th, but after all, it’s not a leap year, that comes next in 2020. What is remarkable though, is that each year has exactly 365.2422 days. This means that every 100 years, we miss a leap year … unless the year is divisible by 400. It’s a bit confusing but it saves Christmas moving back into spring!