It’s April, the 4th month of year, and the month that is traditionally opened with April Fool’s Day! It’s also a month that we’ve said goodbye to many famous scientists, while also opening the doors to new people and discoveries.
April Fool’s Day! It stemmed originally from New Year’s celebrations in Roman and Hindu cultures and there was some uproar when we switched to using the Gregorian calendar. As such, people began to send others on “fool’s errands” and such, a tradition that has grown progressively to today!
Jumping waaaaay back in history now. The birthday of Charlemagne, a Frankish emperor from the 8th and 9th centuries AD. His contributions? He began massive educational reform by establishing schools at all monasteries and abbeys. We can then trace a tradition of learning from this time, up until the 12th century, where medieval scholarship flourished. The only down point was that this education was for boys … girls had to stay back and wait for centuries longer before they were recognised as having able minds and even today there is gender prejudice against women, particularly in STEM.
First cell phone call! Back in 1973, with a 25cm-long portable phone that weighed about 850 grams. Today’s phones are only pocket-sized and weigh about 8 times less! And interestingly, we spent so long trying to get our phones smaller and smaller and now we’re just trying to get them bigger and bigger again!
You’re sniffling and coughing … a cold, and what’s the first thing you do? Go grab some vitamin C! Unfortunately it won’t help much because you’re already sick, but we’re only able to do this because in 1932, Professor C. Glen King finally isolated vitamin C after 5 long, hard years of trying, using (wasting?) thousands of lemons while attempting to seperate the different compounds. But his discovery meant that WWII troops didn’t die of scurvy and he got to be chair of the nutritional society!
Driverless cars are one of the big things everyone’s talking about, but nobody really seems to care about driverless trains. That might in part because they’ve been around since 1964, when, on April 5, the driver shut the doors, pressed a button and the train went speeding off under London. It’s a pretty cool train … it travels between stations responding to coded impulses in the track itself! In contrast, driverless cars have far more obstacles and complexity so it’s understandable why they’re only just stepping up now.
James Watson’s birthday. He’s one of the two men who won the 1962 Nobel prize for their discovery of the structure of DNA. It’s a remarkable achievement, but the men do not also recognise the contributions of Rosalind Franklin, a female biochemist working towards the same goal using x-ray diffraction to get “pictures” of DNA. Watson and Crick were showed one of these images and used this information to complete their model without ever mentioning Rosalind Franklin.
We know that the we use the metric system (metres, kilograms, etc.), but when did it start? Well, back in 1795, the French government made it law to use the brand new metric system after the Academy of Sciences was commissioned the task in 1790. They defined a metre as one ten-millionth of the distance between the Earth’s poles and the equator. That required the computation of the distance by measuring some angles from the sun in two different cities, Barcelona and Dunkirk, a pretty impressive achievement!
Today marks a pretty recent and incredibly significant event. Back in 2016, SpaceX successfully landed a first reusable rocket! While we might have read over it as just another thing, it’s really revolutionary in our understanding and development of further and far cheaper spaceflight!
“Scientia Potentia Est“- knowledge is power
These words are attributed to Sir Francis Bacon and lend their wonderfulness (if that’s a word) to this site! April 9th marks the day Sir Francis Bacon died, but his amazing legacy and influence on the scientific method lives through to today!
The safety pin was invented and it has an interesting story. Walter Hunt was short of cash and, in the space of 3 hours, came up with the idea and built a model, filed a patent and immediately sold the patent rights for $400!
The birthday of James Parkinson back in 1755. He was physician carrying on from his father and in 1817, was the first person to describe the condition we named after him, Parkinson’s disease. Remarkably, he was also the first person to describe appendicitis in a scientific article and linked a burst appendix to death.
We’ve all seen and become increasingly annoyed with spam. But how many of you know that before 1994 on April 12, the world had never seen spam? A man by the name, Laurence Canter created a simple program that flooded the internet with advertising for his law firm!
Birthday of ….. Thomas Jefferson! In addition to being a founding father and US President, he was also an astronomer, inventor and scholar. His main area of scientific interest was in collecting and classifying fossils as well as scientific farming practices, informed by heavy correspondence with other scientists.
Lawrencium, atomic number 103, was produced for the first time today in the US, back in 1961. It’s mass is 262 atomic mass units and was named after Ernest Lawrence who invented the cyclotron, a device that enabled the discovery of many artificial radioactive elements! However, scientists have only produced a net total of several thousand atoms overall, and those decay on the time scale of minutes and hours.
Birthdays of two very famous men, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the incredible painter, inventor and engineer who filled thousands of sketchbooks with plans and diagrams for incredible machines is probably more well-known. However, the other particularly famous man lends his name to an incredible relationship, Euler’s formula, e^(iπ)+1=0. Leonhard Paul Euler (1707-1783) was one of the founders of the field of pure mathematics and demonstrated its application in some areas of science, unfortunately, some great ideas don’t play out so well. He blinded one of his eyes staring at the sun as a 28 year-old trying to work out a new method of measuring time.
Today marks the death of Rosalind Franklin, an incredible woman who’s often remembered as missing out on the Nobel prize for discovery of the structure of DNA when her work using x-ray diffraction was stolen by James Watson and Francis Crick. She actually died in 1958, 4 years before the two men were awarded the prize so there was no opportunity for her to be nominated as the prize is never awarded posthumously.
April 17 was the day that Apollo 13 landed safely back on Earth (well in the Pacific ocean, so technically not earth) after its eventful attempted moon journey that was aborted when an oxygen tank burst. The 3 astronauts had to create a makeshift CO2 purifier but remarkably managed to survive, with astronaut A. J. Lovell, Jr. reaching a combined total of 700 hours in space!
Another death in 1955 of another very famous scientist, perhaps the most famous of them all, Albert Einstein! His theories of relativity are incredible and he’s known as a creative thinker; however, he won his Nobel prize for something else … explanation of the photoelectric effect.
“Creativity is just intelligence having fun.” -Albert Einstein
And another death. Charles Darwin this time. It seems we lost many famous scientists in April, Darwin died at age 73 in 1882 after having published 6 editions of one of the most controversial works in history, On the Origin of Species.
The usage of the first US electron microscope was demonstrated on April 20 in 1940. Electron microscopes work by bouncing a beam of electrons against a metal-coated sample and measuring the reflection back to create a grey-scale image at far greater magnifications than traditional light microscopes. However due to the whole metal-coated issue, they can’t be used to image living organisms and along with a few other differences, it means we’re still using both types of microscope: electron and light.
Apollo 16, a manned moon mission landed at that destination on April 21st in 1972, on 2 years after the failed Apollo 13. They spent 71 hours on the moon’s surface, conducting 9 experiments, collecting 11 lunar material samples and travelled nearly 27 km in their lunar rover.
This is Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970 to raise awareness about environmental pollution and damage. You can join in this year on Sunday, April 22nd and read more here.
Birthday of Max Planck, a theoretical physicist who’s managed to put his name on every second large or small quantity! We’ve got the Planck length, Planck constant, Planck units, Planck scale, Planck mass, Planck temperature, Planck time and Planck charge. The remarkable thing is that he arrived at all of these numbers using the speed of light and gravitational constant (and 3 other constants) such that anybody else in the universe could define identical quantities! Maybe that’ll be our way of communicating with aliens…..
This marks the day that the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, carried by the space shuttle Discoverer. It’s been such a revolutionary telescope, chiefly because it’s in orbit and can take images without having Earth’s atmosphere get in the way to blur images. And have you heard about the James Webb Space Telescope to be launched sometime soon?
Another death, this time of Anders Celcius at age 42 in 1744. He gave his name to the temperature scale he developed where 0 is the point water freezes and 100 is the point it boils. However, he’d actually originally designed it the other way around, with 0 as boiling and 100 as freezing, but a kind soul inverted it for him and we still use it very heavily today.
John Sutliff patented a perpetual motion machine today in 1882. It didn’t work though. We know that we can’t build a machine that keeps itself going without anything added. The closest we’ve got is solar power because that is continually renewable.
Element 105, dubnium, enters the scene in 1970 by fusing the nuclei of two other elements, californium and nitrogen. It’s half-life is only 1.6 seconds and was considered a more reliable claim than a previous claim of discovery in 1968.
You know those really funny inventions that are completely impractical? Well today, back in 1953, a patent was issued for one such thing, an overcoat for two people or Siamese twins.
The French Academy of Sciences held it’s first ever public meeting on April 29th in 1699, after it’s foundation by Louis XIV in 1666. This meeting was held in the Louvre and the society still exists today.
Today in 1879, a fantastic announcement was made by Joseph John Thompson, the existence of electrons. Today electrons are seen to form nearly the basis of chemistry as nearly all reactions either transfer electrons or rely on differing charges as changed by electron numbers.