May the Science be with us

Welcome to the month of May, a month of discovery, adventure, dreams and a couple well-mourned deaths.


May 1

Computers form the basis of so many modern technologies as they’re imbedded within your phone, tablet and other normal electronics. And they have to be programmed. So on May 1st we recognise that the first ever BASIC script (a fairly simple programming language) was written and run at about 4:00am in 1964.

May 2

Leonardo da Vinci died May 2nd 1519. His incredible genius well befitted one of Einstein’s quotes, “creativity is intelligence having fun” as he contributed to science and engineering while also being most remembered for his artworks and sculptures.

May 3

This is truly a historic day, the date of the first recorded eclipse, way back in 1375 BC courtesy of the Babylonians. In fact, by the 8th century BC these same Babylonians were regularly and accurately recording eclipses, whereas the Chinese did not reliably record an eclipse until 4th June 180 BC.

May 4

May 4th, “May the Fourth be with you”. This has been Star Wars Day since 1979 as a congratulation to Margaret Thatcher as she became Prime Minister of Britain. However, it was only 7 years ago that the world saw the first organised celebration of the day. So, ‘may the force be with you, too!’

May 5

Perhaps if you’ve ever done Chemistry or electronics of some type, you might have come across the terms ‘anode’ and ‘cathode’, relating to the sites of oxidation and reduction (electron “swapping”) in an electrochemical (electricity-generating) cell. Well, these terms were coined on May 5th in 1834 by William Whewell, based from Greek prefixes of ‘ana’ (up), and ‘kata’ (down). Oh, and it’s also Revenge of the Fifth Day as well!

May 6

Very first adhesive postage stamp was sold in Britain in 1840. Imagine who would have bought it though? Why buy a stamp if they’re not a “normal” thing? Perhaps they updated all their postmen to accept anything with a stamp. But then, could you have forged a stamp? So many questions to deal with when setting up new infrastructure….

May 7

The space shuttle Endeavour was first launched on May 7th in 1992. It’s primary role was to replace the previous shuttle, Challenger, and also set records for space walk duration and number of astronauts simultaneously outside of the craft.

May 8

Someone I think everybody would recognise was born on May 8th in 1926. Guess what? It’s David Attenborough who’s travelled the world for to make BBC shows and documentaries about nature and natural history. Now he’s still speaking in these; however, not travelling to all the Earth’s remotest corners any longer as he’s currently 91!

May 9

Today marks the beginning of a revolution. It’s been exactly 58 years since birth control pills were officially announced as safe methods of contraception, without significant adverse side effects. Today we do recognise the effect on the mental health of some women regularly consuming ‘the pill’, which can result in increased depressive thoughts and feelings.

May 10

The birthday of Cecilia Payne, an English-American astronomer. She remarkably applied atomic physics laws to the study of astronomy, identifying temperature and density of stars and concluding that hydrogen and helium were the most abundant elements in the universe and demonstrating the chemical makeup of the sun (99% hydrogen, 1% iron). However, as she was a woman, her supervisors largely ignored this for another 20 years before it was verified by a male astronomer.

May 11

Another birthday, this time that of Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman! He showed mathematical and scientific prowess from a very young age and studied subatomic physics at MIT, eventually sharing a Nobel prize with 2 other men for work on quantum electrodynamics, which forms the basis of cavity quantum computing, a possible method for building a quantum computer.

May 12

And yet more birthdays! Florence Nightingale, ‘the lady of the lamp’ who also revolutionised medical practice by using statistics to demonstrate poor conditions and how to improve them.

May 13

I bet you’ve used Velcro. On shoes or bags or any piece of children’s clothing, it’s holding things together with a clever system of hooks and loops. And it was today, exactly 60 years ago that the trademark Velcro was registered!

May 14

A very famous moment. The first trial vaccination … the famous injection of cowpox to prevent smallpox. Edward Jenner inoculated a boy who was only 8 years old at the time with cowpox and several weeks later, exposed him to smallpox. Thankfully for the boy (and Jenner) the hypothesis was correct and contraction of cowpox does indeed prevent sickening with smallpox in many cases.

May 15

Birthday of Pierre Curie, husband of Marie Curie. He won the 1903 Nobel prize along with Marie Curie, in fact facing significant struggle in insisting that she be included in the nomination. Later Marie Curie won her own Nobel, being the first and only person to win Nobel prizes in two different fields.

May 16

And the space shuttle Endeavour, after it’s launch on May 7th, returns to Earth safely landing!

May 17

And the birthday of Edward Jenner, mentioned just a moment ago for May 14th and smallpox. Well he managed to coin the name vaccine, arising from the latin vaccinia, meaning cowpox and vacca meaning cow. So next time you go in for a tetanus booster, remember that your ‘vaccination’ literally means cow!

May 18

Back in 1967, artificial insemination was legalised on the 18th of May. Today, it’s a considerable option for infertile couples to increase chances of pregnancy by giving the sperm a “shortcut” as opposed to the 48-72 hours they normally take to reach the egg.

May 19

This has to make your day. On May 19 in 1987, a patent was issued to Chet Fleming for “keeping a head alive”. Not a head connected to a body. Fleming’s patent was for severing an animal’s head from it’s body and connecting it to tubes that simulate the physiological and biochemical processes that the rest of the body normally performs. What’s more shocking is that it’s been tested and even recommended for use on humans with terminal illnesses.

May 20

1506, Christopher Columbus’ death. The famous Italian explorer, “discovering” America while trying to find a better route from Europe to Asia that avoided travelling around Africa. Unfortunately, it only takes us a glance at a map to see that America is very much in the way!

May 21

The first US research institute was dedicated on May 21st, 1894. I actually would have thought it was earlier, but no, the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology claims first place and still exists today as a leading biomedical research institute!

May 22

You’ve probably seen some sort of metal paint tube for a type of oil paint, or at least you could easily google it. But a metal toothpaste tube? And yes, the collapsible metal toothpaste tube was invented today, 126 years ago.

May 23

The birthdate of Carolus Linnaeus in 1707, the Swedish naturalist who came up with the basis of our current biological classification scheme and the naming of organisms by their genera and species name.

May 24

For those uncivilised Americans out there who use the out-dated useless imperial system as opposed to the infinitely superior metric system, you’ll be glad (or upset) to realise that Gabriel Fahrenheit, founder of the Fahrenheit temperature scale, was born on May 24th 1686. His logic was that 0 degrees was represented by the freezing point of a 50-50 ice-salt mixture.

May 25

Today marks 78th anniversary of a truly historic medical test … a demonstration of the potency of penicillin. 8 mice were injected with deadly bacteria, 4 given penicillin, and 4 not. And guess what, the lucky 4 survived and the others didn’t and the drug was brought into mainstream use as an antibiotic.

May 26

The birthday of Sally Ride, the first American woman space and third woman in space after 2 Russians, Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya. Her historic flight was in June of 1983.

May 27

You probably either have Pyrex or (if you’re a student) have heard of it. Pyrex is the trademark for the patent issued on May 27th in 1919 for sodium borosilicate glass, with it’s inventors noting it’s possible and practical application to baking dishes.

May 28

Today marks the date of the first ever Mars landing by the USSR Mars 3 lander. It seemed a success … for the first 20 seconds. After this point, it completely stopped relaying video data and shut down. The orbiter continued to measure data from it’s orbit position for another 8 months.

May 29

Today (back in 1919) was the date of a historic experiment … an experimental justification for Einstein’s theory of relativity. The theory predicted that starlight was bent around the sun’s gravity and during a total solar eclipse, this was indeed observed and provided the first experimental support for the theory.

May 30

And to end this month … we mark the anniversary of the discovery of krypton in 1898! The element was discovered by Morris William Travers and the name literally translates to mean ‘hidden’!

May 31

And May 30th wasn’t actually quite the end … I think we deserve to recognise that today way back in 1578, the Roman catacombs were discovered by accident! The hard workers were just digging and digging, opening new doors (or tunnels) for historians to avidly explore!



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