March in Science History

Everday Science

First day in March! Hurray! But really, this was a big month for magic, some Nobel prize winners and for inventors and patents. I mean heaps of really normal, everyday things that we take for granted all turned up in March!


March 1

A prop for one of Houdini’s secret magic tricks was patented on the first day in march in 1921. The invention was a diving suit that could help in underwater escapes. It was constructed in two parts with a simple lever that could release the parts and allow the diver to escape easily or put on himself. However, before you think Houdini was cheating, apparently he never used the suit in an escape.

March 2

The first airplane flight to travel the whole way around the Earth nonstop landed on March 2nd, 1949. It took 94 hours at an average speed of 400 km/h and had to be refuelled mid-flight on several occasions. It was a British flight and served to demonstrated their aerial dominance over the skies during the cold war era.

March 3

Alexander Graham Bell has the honour of his birthday on March 3rd; however he lived from 1847-1922. Regardless, you can still honour his legacy by phoning a friend, as he originally developed the wired telephone. I still don’t understand how we can transmit sound over a wire, through a satellite, I can’t comprehend how he could!

March 4

We’ve all heard of how the world’s warming and the oceans are rising. However a 2014 study published on March 4 warns that if global temperature rises 3 degrees celsius this century then nearly 1/5 of UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be affected. That’s a lot so please be environmentally friendly.

March 5

The USA issued its 5,000,000th patent back in 1991 on March the 5th for a pretty cool process pioneered by the microbiologist Lonnie. O. Ingram … turning rubbish (or garbage, trash, whatever you call it) into fuel! This uses a genetically modified bacterium, made from 2 other bacteria. Aren’t bacteria just absolutely awesome!

March 6

Michelangelo was born today, way back in 1475. But, wait up, you say … isn’t this a science blog? Michelangelo’s an artist! Well he also used his artistic skill to draw extremely accurate pictures of human anatomy, allowing others to learn visually about their bodies!

March 7

Henry Draper was born. This caught my eye because he was an amateur astronomer and worked with his wife in photographing stars and nebulae. I read this in the amazing 2016 non-fiction work, ‘The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars’. It’s a truly worth-it read, speaking about women who were underpaid, extremely undervalued and rejected but continued with their work  because of a true passion for astronomy. You can get it here!

March 8

Take a guess at the weight of the largest meteorite to ever land on Earth’s surface. If your guess was 1,774 kg then you cheated. But that is the size of the meteor that landed in Jilin, China in 1976 on March the 8th as part of a 4-ton meteor shower.

March 9

What had you really achieved in life by the time you were 11? I bet you hadn’t found a 10-metre complete Ichthyosaurus, but Mary Anning, who died on the 9th of March 1947 did. She went into fossil collecting following her father and as a source of income for her poor family and was eventually granted honorary membership with the Geological Society of London. A STEM pioneer indeed!

March 10

Name a word with 3 y’s and a z. Stuck? Try syzygy, an astronomical term describing when planets line up. And on March 10 1982 a syzygy of all nine (Pluto was included back then) planets lined up on one side of the sun within 98 degrees. The closest they can get is within 30 degrees, but we can’t expect that again until 2854.

March 11

Apparently March 11, way back in 105 BC, was the day when a Chinese offical, Ts’ai Lun, invented paper. He showed his samples to the current emperor, Han Ho Ti, and revolutionised the world by removing the need to write on heavy bamboo, silk or animal skins. This ‘first paper’ was made from bamboo and mulberry fibres along with some little less normal things- fish nets and rags!

March 12

The birthday of a more recent Noble prize winner, Leo Asaki. He won the prize in Physics in 1973 for work demonstrating the processes of electron tunnelling in solid materials. The Japanese scientist shared the award with two colleagues: Ivar Giaever and Brian Josephson.

March 13

Oxygen is essential for life. Oxygen makes up 21% of the air and we require it to survive, in order for our cells to perform aerobic cellular respiration to give us enough energy. Oxygen was “discovered” by Joseph Priestly in 1775, despite the fact we’d been breathing it for a while before then. However, he’s credited with like isolating and naming it, along with a whole host of other compounds!

March 14

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164 062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253 594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659 334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936 072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540917153643689259036 001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738 193261179310511854807446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912983 367336244065664308602139494639522473719070217986094370277053921717629317 675238467481846766940513200056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717 872146844090122495343014654958537105079227968925892354201995611212902196 086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837297804995105973173281 609631859502445945534690830264252230825334468503526193118817101000313783 875288658753320838142061717766914730359825349042875546873115956286388235 3787593751957781857780532171226806613001927876611195909216420198….

That’s the first 500 digits of pi to celebrate pi day on March 14 this year!

March 15

Who would have guessed that atomic reactors were ever used in medicine! But to the contrary, the first US atomic reactor ever built specifically for medicine was opened on March 15 1959. It was primarily used to develop a treatment for patients of the glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer before the reactor was closed in December of 2000.

March 16

Did you know that Helium is the only naturally occurring element that we didn’t find on Earth first? In fact, it was noted as an element in the sun and other stars before Heinrich Kayser, born on March 16 1853, finally found it in Earth’s own atmosphere.

March 17

March 17 1981 was the date of the first patent ever granted for a living organism. After a very long court case, it was eventually decided that regardless of whether the invention was living or not that it could be patented. The organism in question was a bacterium with an edited genome that could degrade oil. As such, it could be used to clean up oil spills without degrading the environment! Read more here.

March 18

Quick quiz: what is considered high temperature for nuclear physicists? Only 30 degrees above absolute zero, or -243 degrees celsius. It was the discovery of superconductivity at these “high-temperatures” that was announced at the American Physical Society in 1987, exciting physicists beyond belief at this huge jump from previous ‘high temperatures’ of -269 celsius!

March 19

For all the Aussies, today was the day, in 1932, that the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened after nearly 9 years of construction.

March 20

Today we remember the death of Sir Isaac Newton, the incredible scientist and mathematician. During his 84 years on Earth he developed the study of calculus  contributed very widely to science, in particular optics and his laws of motion and universal gravity. And as mentioned in a previous post, his equations are good enough that NASA stills used them for moon landings because they’re close enough when travelling close to Earth.

March 21

You may remember the Piccard family with the twin birthdays of Auguste and Jean Piccard, balloonists on 29th January. Well Auguste’s grandson continued the trend, and March 21st marks the day that he set down his balloon after 20 days of flight in the world’s first round-the-earth balloon flight!

March 22

Today marks the launch of the first US rocket ever built. It achieved an altitude of about 105 km, not a huge amount, but the US were catching up behind Germany who had achieved a similar feat a year beforehand.

March 23

The noble or inert gases form the far right column of the periodic table and earn their name for not reacting with pretty much anything. That’s why today is a historic day, remembering the first compound created with a noble gas back in 1962. The element: xenon. The other reactant: platinum hexafluoride. The product: a stable yellow-orange solid of XePtF6. It’s remarkable that it was stable because xenon would normally have no reason to bond or stay in a chemical bond because it has all the electrons it wants. No more and no less, which makes this feat remarkable!

March 24

Today we remember the announcement of a discovery that won it’s discoverer the 1905 Noble prize for medicine. The discoverer was a German scientist, Robert Koch, with the remarkable news that he had discovered the bacillus that caused all strains tuberculosis, a common and deadly disease. It was a remarkable piece of research that eventually could lead to the treatment of TB and saved thousands of lives.

March 25

We all know Marie Curie, the only woman to win 2 Nobel prizes, and only scientist to win in 2 different fields. Well, in 1903 both Curies were published in The Times with this quote about radium, an element to eventually lead to their deaths via radiation poisoning:

“possesses the extraordinary property of continuously emitting heat, without combustion, without chemical change of any kind, and without any change to its molecular structure, which remains spectroscopically identical after many months of continuous emission of heat … such that the pure Radium salt would melt more than its own weight of ice every hour … A small tube containing Radium, if kept in contact with the skin for some hours … produces an open sore, by destroying the epidermis and the true skin beneath … and cause the death of living things whose nerve centres do not lie deep enough to be shielded from their influence.”

March 26

Fire extinguishers are all around us, generally with several in every public building, a fact made possible by their patent, awarded in 1872 to Thomas J. Martin. Every time a fire extinguishers saves us from a big huge fire, we really have to thank him!

March 27

Speaking of patents. Today in 1968 marks the day where some inventors were recognised for sticking a sail on a surfboard. Yeah, welcome windsurfing! Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer filed their patent for a “Wind-Propelled Apparatus” … perhaps they were surfers themselves and just dressed it up in fancy words?

March 28

A lot common things today started on March 28: first washing machine patent (1797), first hospital ambulance (1866), patent for radio fax (1905), first seaplane took off (1910).

March 29

Did you know that you could transplant fingernails? I sure didn’t, but apparently in 1980, it happened for the first time, with a section of toenail grafted back onto the thumb of a 12 year-old who had completely lost the nail. Well that’s certainly a new fun fact to remember!

March 30

Speaking of yet another patent for something common. You’d barely believe it. The patent for a pencil with an eraser on the end was awarded to Hyman L. Lipman in 1858. Those things you can buy in literally every stationary, newsagent or supermarket … tracing back to history!

March 31

For the last day, let’s talk about a living scientist. The particle physicist Carlo Rubbia shared in the discovery of W and Z subatomic particles. These particles are carries of the weak nuclear force, which you may or may not remember as one of the 4 main forces that govern everything.


Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about March today and the wonderful science and scientists from then. Maybe this is your month to add your name to history … or just to learn something new!

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