What are your Christmas plans?
Probably less exciting, nerdy or esoteric than those of the following collection of characters. For starters, Christmas Day is also Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday (although it could also be January 4th, depending on the calendar used). He’s the guy who came up with the idea and early theory of gravity and co-developed the mathematical technique of calculus. He applied his ideas about gravity to predict the movement of planets and objects in space and explain why the Moon orbits the Earth instead of flying off into space.
And talking about space, December 25th is also right in the middle of one of the servicing missions to the Hubble telescope. Astronauts were sent up to fix a failed gyro that had rendered the telescope out of action in case of further failures. Their Christmas present was finishing the repairs so it could get back into action and they could return to Earth!
Still on the topic of space, Edmund Halley’s prediction that the now-called “Halley’s comet” would return in 1758 was eventuated on Christmas Day with its spotting by a german farmer/amateur astronomer. Had Halley not died in 1742, it would have made an extremely satisfying Christmas gift!
And gifts can also inspire science. Dr Irving Cooper received a wine bottle opener for Christmas. But rather than drink, he was fascinated by the cold carbon dioxide gas that it released (as a method of removing the cork) and tried freezing and thawing small sections of his skin. Can’t you just imagine him, complete with a cheeky grin as he froze parts of his body and watched them defrost!
Anyway, this interesting activity led him to realise that the effect of freezing was extremely localised and allowed him to conclude that it could be a useful surgical technique. And voila! Cryosurgery was born.
I’m sure there are far more dedicated scientists who have been lost in thoughts about their research on many other Christmases, but I hope you enjoyed learning about these! And go have fun decorating your ‘chemistree’!