Who was H.G. Wells?

Known as the father of science fiction, H.G. Wells was not juts a prolific writer, he was also a visionary who advocated world peace and social equality through his books. Here's a recap of Wells' life and works as another birth anniversary goes by.

The setting of the story is Surrey, Woking in England. It begins with the narrator observing that no one would have thought that our world would be watched keenly by intelligent beings. And that as we busied ourselves with our concerns we were being studied and ‘scrutinized’.

The narrator notes”… perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water…."

The unnamed narrator slowly takes us on a journey of a planetary invasion. What began as flashes of light on the surface of Mars soon turns into a full-blown planetary invasion with 'Martians' landing on Earth. A Martian Invasion!

The War of the Worlds (1898), a science fiction novel by English writer H.G. Wells talks about the extraterrestrial race and the conflict between humans and Martians.

The War of the Worlds is just one among the many works by the author who is considered the father of science fiction.

Early Life

Wells was born in 1866 in Kent, England to parents who were household helps. When Wells was just years old, he broke his leg. During the time he spent recuperating, he started reading. This unfortunate event, in fact, made him an ardent reader.

At the age of 14, Wells was apprenticed to a draper (a dealer in cloth). When he was 17, he started teaching at a grammar school.

When he was 18, he clinched a scholarship at the Normal School of Science in London and studied biology. But he left the college without a degree and started teaching in private schools. It would be years later that he would obtain his degree. He graduated in 1888 and started teaching science. But he turned to writing soon.

Wells as a writer

His penchant for science is seen in the bevy of science fiction he created.

In The Time Machine (1895), the story takes us on a journey of time travel when the narrator invents the time machine.

It would be interesting to note that The Time Machine is the first novel Wells published.

It was not just science fiction he delved into. Wells also wrote about the lower classes. Having had a very humble upbringing, Wells could draw upon his life experiences as well.

He wrote novels about the lives of the lower- and middle-class people and also reflected on the problems of Western society. He also advocated world peace and social equality through his books.

Vocal about social progress

Wells was a socialist. He was actively promoting social progress through his books. This can be seen in A Modern Utopia (1905), where he maintains that science can change the world. He also joined the Fabian Society, a British socialist organization.

Futuristic Wells

Wells has written over 100 books. A visionary, Well's novels are oddly prophetic Reading him would make you wonder how he could foresee so much into our future. But perhaps that's what science fiction is all about. The modern-day inventions of the phone, email, tanks, lasers, gas warfare and so on echo in Well's novels.

 But there are a few predictions that haven't come true, such as the invention of the time machine, a Martian invasion, and a man who turns invisible, to cite a few.

A World State

Wells envisioned a world government, which he detailed in A Modern Utopia (1905). He thought that this idea of a world state would ensure peace.

One can surmise that the outbreak of the war made him despondent and dejected. His last book Mind at the End of its Tether (1945) reflects this, with its gloomy future for humankind

He passed away in 1946, in London.

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What was invented by DF Arago in 1820?

On September 25, 1820, French physicist Francois Arago announced his discovery of an occurrence of electromagnetism. This was just one of Arago's many contributions as he spent a lifetime for the progress of science.

It isn't often that we come across a person who contributes significantly to a number of different fields. Such polymaths - individuals whose knowledge encompasses a wide range of subjects - have always been rare. Frenchman Dominique Francois Jean Arago was one such person in this world, as he donned the hat of a physicist. mathematician, astronomer, and politician in an eventful life.

Born in 1786 in Estagel, Roussillon, France, Arago was one of 11 children. Educated at the Municipal College of Perpignan, Arago was drawn towards mathematics from a young age. He was admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, where he succeeded French mathematician Gaspard Monge as the chair of Analytic Geometry at the young age of 23.

Love for optics

He made his first major contributions to science in the decade that followed. Working with French engineer Augustin-Jean Fresnel, Arago was able to show that while two rays polarised in a plane can interfere with each other, two beams of light polarised perpendicular to each other cannot interfere with each other. This research led to the discovery of the laws of light polarisation.

In 1820, Arago briefly interrupted his optical work to significantly expand on electromagnetic theories. Having been invited to Geneva to witness the experiments of Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted linking electricity to magnetism, Arago was instantly converted and developed a huge interest in the subject.

Apart from repeating the Geneva experiments at the Paris Academy, Arago also experimented on his own. He was able to demonstrate that by passing an electric current through a cylindrical spiral of wire, it could be made to behave like a magnet. The temporary magnetisation allowed it to attract iron filings, which then fell off when the current ceased. He announced this occurrence of electromagnetism on September 25, 1820.

Electromagnetic induction

Soon after, Arago discovered the principle of the production of magnetism by rotation of a nonmagnetic conductor. He was able to show that the rotation of a nonmagnetic metallic substance like copper created a magnetic effect as it produced rotation in a magnetic needle suspended over it. It was another decade before English scientist Michael Faraday explained these using his theory of electromagnetic induction in 1831.

Arago served as the director of the Paris Observatory from 1830. As an astronomer, he was among the first to explain the scintillation of stars using interference phenomena. He was also able to provide vital stimulus to young astronomers, including Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier.

"With the point of his pen"

In 1845, Arago suggested to his protege that he investigate the anomalies in the motion of Uranus. These investigations resulted in Le Verriers discovery of Neptune in 1846, and Arago best summed it up when he called Le Verrier the man who "discovered a planet with the point of his pen". Arago backed Le Verrier in the dispute between Le Verrier and British astronomer John Couch Adams over priority in discovering Neptune and even suggested naming the planet for Le Verrier.

Amidst all his scientific endeavours, Arago also found time to back the ideas of others. Even though French photographer Louis Daguerre was struggling to sell his daguerreotype process, he was able to catch the attention of Arago, who served as the permanent secretary of the French Academy of Sciences.

Advocate for photography

Arago arranged for the first public display of daguerreotypes in January 1839 and used the buzz it created for his lobbying. He was able to get the French Parliament to grant pensions to Daguerre and Isidore Niepce, son of French inventor Nicephore Niepce, so that they could make all the steps of the photographic process public. Arago stated that "France should then nobly give to the whole world this discovery which could contribute so much to the progress of art and science" and the technical details were made public on August 19, 1839 (hence celebrated as World Photography Day).

Optics and the study of light remained close to Arago's heart and he devised an experiment to prove the wave theory of light. In 1838, he described a test for comparing the velocity of light in air and in water or glass. The elaborate arrangements required for the experiment and his own failing eyesight, however, meant that it wasn't performed. Shortly before Arago's death, French physicists Hippolyte Fizeau and Leon Foucault demonstrated the retardation of light in denser media by improving on Arago's suggested method.

For a man who spent so much of his time pursuing science, he was also able to devote to other causes as a politician. Following the July Revolution of 1830 and up until his death in 1853, Arago was active as a politician, delivering influential speeches regarding educational reform, freedom of press, and the application of scientific thought for progress. After the February Revolution of 1848, he served as the Minister of War and the Navy and used his power to abolish slavery in French colonies. Arago's influential life highlights the fact that he always possessed the faculty to inspire and stimulate those around him and the public at large, both in the realm of science and in politics.

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Who is the first Latin American to fly into space?

Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, (born Jan. 29, 1942, Guantánamo, Cuba), Cuban pilot and cosmonaut, the first Latin American, the first person of African descent, and the first Cuban to fly in space. After the revolution of 1959, Tamayo Méndez joined the Cuban air force as a pilot.

Born in 1942, Mendez makes no mention of his father in his book Un cubano en el cosmos (A Cuban in the cosmos). As he lost his mother to tuberculosis while just eight months old, he grew up as a poor orphan in Guantanamo.

Limited schooling

He worked as a shoeshine boy, sold vegetables, delivered milk and worked as an apprentice carpenter by the time he reached his teenage years. Even though he had limited opportunities for schooling, he excelled at it in whatever little chance he got.

After joining the Association of Young Rebels during the Cuban Revolution, Mendez made his way to a technical institute. Here, he saw a chance to pursue his dream of flying and he readily enrolled himself into a course for aviation technicians, passing it with flying colours in 1961.

His success at this course gave him the confidence to become a pilot and make his dream a reality. He was then selected to travel to the Soviet Union to further his studies and learn to fly the Soviet MiG – 15 fighter jet. Mandez rose through the ranks in the next 15 years, becoming a captain in the Cuban Air Force by 1978.

Interkosmos programme

 During the time Mendez was making his way up the Cuban Air Force, the Soviet Union had designed and formed the Interkosmos space programme (1967) and had the first flight of this programme in 1978. The objective of Interkosmos was to help the Soviet Union's allies with crewed and unscrewed missions to space.

The search for the first Cuban Cosmonaut began in 1976 and a long list of 600 was shortlisted to two by 1978: Mendez and the other being Jose Lopez Falcon. It could have been purely based on merit, or it might have been an act of propaganda with political motivations, but what we do know is that Mendez was selected to fly aboard the Soyuz 38 mission.

On September 18, 1980, Mendez created history as he flew aboard Soyuz 38 along with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko. On that same day, they docked at the Salyut 6 space station, and Mendez met Soviet cosmonauts Leonid Popov and Valery Ryumin as the hatch opened and was sealed.

Over the next seven days, Mendez completed 124 orbits around the Earth, conducting a number of experiments on science and health. There were a total of nine experiments, including those that studied stress, blood circulation, immunity, balance, and the growth of a single crystal of sucrose in weightlessness.

Instant fame

Mendez and Romanenko landed back on Earth on September 26 and the former was lauded by both the Cubans and the Soviets Mendez became an instant national hero and was honoured with the Hero of the Republic of Cuba medal, and received The Order of Lenin from the Soviets, among many other recognitions.

Mendez, who is now an 80-year-old, rose to the position of brigadier general following his space flight. He spent many years leading the education efforts of the Cuban army. Cuba's Museum of the Revolution in Havana is home to the space suit that Mendez used for his historic Voyage.

The Interkosmos programme successfully flew many non-Soviets, including India's Rakesh Sharma and astronauts from Britain, Japan, France, and Vietnam, among many other countries. Mendez's flight not only made him the first Cuban cosmonaut, but also the first with African heritage to make it to space.

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On August 8, 2007, space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-118 mission was successfully launched. Among the crew members was Barbara Morgan, the first teacher to travel into space. Barbara Morgan, in full Barbara Radding Morgan, (born Nov. 28, 1951, Fresno, Calif., U.S.), American teacher and astronaut, the first teacher to travel into space. Morgan earned a B.A. in human biology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1973.

Among the many new things during the COVID-19 pandemic was the school classroom, or the lack of it. During the height of the pandemic in the last two years, students were often seen attending virtual classrooms from homes with the teachers conducting the classes from their houses.

A group of students in the U.S. experienced something similar 15 years ago. Only that their teacher, Barbara Morgan wasn't teaching virtually from the comfort of her home. Morgan was the first teacher to travel into space and she did do some teaching while in space!

Born in November 1951 in Fresno, California, Morgan obtained a B.A. in human biology from Stanford University in 1973. Having received her teaching credentials by the following year, she began her teaching career in 1974 in Arlee, Montana, teaching remedial reading and maths.

She taught remedial reading, maths, and second grade in McCall, Idaho from 1975-78, before heading to Quito in Ecuador to teach English and science to third graders for a year. Following her return to the U.S., she returned to McCall, Idaho, where she taught second through fourth grades at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School until 1998.

Teacher in Space

Morgan's tryst with space began in July 1985 when she was selected as the backup candidate for NASA's Teacher in Space programme. As the backup to American teacher Christa McAuliffe, Morgan spent the time from September 1985 to January 1986 attending various training sessions at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. After McAuliffe and the rest of the crew died in the 1986 Challenger disaster, Morgan replaced McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space designee and worked with NASA's education division.

Morgan reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1998 after being selected by NASA as a mission specialist and NASA's first educator astronaut. Even though Morgan didn't participate in the Educator Astronaut Project, the successor to the Teacher in Space programme, NASA gave her the honour of being its first educator astronaut.

Following two years of training and evaluation, Morgan was assigned technical duties. She worked in mission control as a communicator with in-orbit crews and also served with the robotics branch of the astronaut office.

Further delay

Even though she was assigned as a mission specialist to the crew of STS-118 in 2002 and was expected to fly the next year, it was delayed for a number of years following the 2003 Columbia disaster. It was on August 8, 2007 that Morgan finally flew into space on the space shuttle Endeavour on STS-118.

The STS-118 was primarily an assembly-and-repair trip to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew were successfully able to add a truss segment, a new gyroscope, and external spare parts platform to the ISS. Morgan served as loadmaster, shuttle and station robotic arm operator, and also provided support during the spacewalks. All this, in addition to being an educator.

Answers from space

For the first time in human history, school children enjoyed lessons from space, conducted by Morgan. Apart from speaking to the students while in space, she also fielded questions. For one question from a student on how fast a baseball will go in space, she even had another astronaut Clay Anderson throw the ball slowly before floating over to catch it himself. While that opened up the opportunity of playing ball with yourself while in space, she also informed the student that the ball can be thrown fast, but it is avoided in order to not cause any damage to the craft and the equipment on board.

Following the first lessons from space, the Endeavour returned to Earth on August 21 after travelling 5.3 million miles in space. Having carried 5,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the ISS, it returned with 4,000 pounds worth of scientific materials and used equipment.

As for Morgan, she retired from NASA in 2008 to become the distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University. A post created exclusively for her, it entailed a dual appointment to the colleges of engineering and education. As someone who strongly believes that teachers are learners, she continues to teach and learn, be it from space, or here on Earth.

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William Bateson was an English biologist who was the first person to use the term genetics to describe the study of heredity, and the chief populariser of the ideas of Gregor Mendel following their rediscovery in 1900 by Hugo de Vries and Carl Correns. His 1894 book Materials for the Study of Variation was one of the earliest formulations of the new approach to genetics.

Bateson became the chief popularizer of the ideas of Mendel following their rediscovery. In 1909 he published a much-expanded version of his 1902 textbook entitled Mendel's Principles of Heredity. This book, which underwent several printings, was the primary means by which Mendel's work became widely known to readers of English.

"Bateson first suggested using the word "genetics" (from the Greek [Offsite Link]  genn?, ?????; "to give birth") to describe the study of inheritance and the science of variation in a personal letter to Alan Sedgwick... dated April 18, 1905. Bateson first used the term genetics publicly at the Third International Conference on Plant Hybridization in London in 1906. This was three years before Wilhelm Johannsen used the word "" to describe the units of hereditary information. De Vries had introduced the word "pangene" for the same concept already in 1889, and etymologically the word genetics has parallels with Darwin's concept of pangenesis.

Bateson co-discovered genetic linkage with Reginald Punnett, and he and Punnett founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910. Bateson also coined the term "epistasis" to describe the genetic interaction of two independent traits.

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On July 25, 1854, American inventor Walter Hunt received his patent for a paper shirt collar-"Improvement in shirt collars". This was one of Hunt's many inventions, the more popular of which are the safety pin and the sewing machine.

When you use a safety pin or see the paper collar in a shirt do you ever stop to think about how it came to be in the first place? There are many such inventions that silently go about doing their roles effectively, without pomp and fanfare. When it concerns the safety pin or the paper collar, they are probably taking a leaf out of their inventors book. For American inventor Walter Hunt spent a lifetime inventing without becoming a household name despite his successes.

Born in 1796 in the rural part of New York, very little is known about Hunt's early childhood. His obituary mentions that he was more interested in people and what he could do for them rather than his own welfare, right from childhood. It was a trait that he had throughout his life as he devoted himself to his dear ones, often giving away everything in his possession, even if that meant he didn't have enough to provide for himself.

Hunt's first patent

Hunt's family worked in a textile mill in the town of Lowville. With his ability to provide mechanical solutions to even complex problems, Hunt was able to work with Willis Hoskins, the mill owner, inventing and patenting a machine for spinning flax and hemp. This patent, which they obtained in 1826, was Hunt's first.

In 1833, Hunt invented a sewing machine that used a lockstitch - the first time an inventor had not tried to replicate a hand stitch with their machine. There's reason to believe that Hunt never patented it at the time as his daughter talked him out of commercialising the device, warning that its success would leave a lot of seamstresses unemployed.

This meant that the first patent for a lockstitch sewing machine went to American inventor Elias Howe in 1846. In the aftermath, Hunt applied a patent for his sewing machine in 1853. While the Patent Office recognised Hunt's precedence and he therefore received public credit for the invention. Howe raked in the money as his patent continued to be valid owing to certain technicalities.

Repaying a debt

Between the time he invented and patented his sewing machine, there was once a time when Hunt found himself owing a man a $15 debt. Eager to invent something that would allow him to erase the debt. Hunt is believed to have twisted an ordinary metal wire until he ended up with a device he called the "dress pin".

Even though the idea wasn't entirely novel and the concept can even be dated back to the Roman empire, Hunt was able to bring in innovations that made a lasting impact. With a clasp to keep the pin's point inside a protective case and a spring at one end that forced the other end in place. Hunt's dress pin had all the features now found today in every safety pin.

Hunt received a patent for his dress pins on April 10, 1849 and sold its rights for just $400 off his own volition. The money helped him repay his debt, even though it was only a minute fraction of the substantial fortune that his invention created.

Muslin and paper

A little over five years later, on July 24, 1854, Hunt received a patent for his paper shirt collar - "Improvement in shirt collars". He used a base of thin white cotton muslin and pasted very thin white paper on both its sides. These collars could be pressed between heated forms to make the shape of the neck. These collars were then varnished, thereby guarding it against the effects of sweat and also allowing it to be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

Until his death in 1859, Hunt continued to invent and patent devices, which included a knife sharpener, heating stove, ice boat, fountain pen, and a reversible metallic heel for shoes, to name a few. Even though he sold the rights to most of his patents, allowing others to enjoy the financial rewards that his devices brought, he was respected and recognised as someone who had spent his entire lifetime inventing.

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On May 29, 1885, self-tought inventor Jan Ernst Matzeliger conducted the first public demonstration of his shoe-lasting machine. By automating a stage of shoe production that everyone thought was impossible to do, Matezliger forever change the shoe manufacturing industry.  

Do you know what the term "lasting" means in the shoe industry? Lasting corresponds to the operation of stretching the shoe upper over the foot form or "last". There are many ways in which these lasting operations are performed and almost all shoes in today's world are lasted in some way.

For the longest time it was believed that lasting could not be automated. Even as the rest of the shoe-making process was mechanised, hand lasters held a special place in the footwear factory as they continued to pull uppers over and nail them onto the lasts. Dutch inventor Jan Ernst Matzeliger changed all that with his shoe-lasting machine.

Matzeliger was born in 1852 on a coffee plantation in Dutch Guiana-now Suriname, a small country on the northern coast of South America. Even at the young age of 10, Matzeliger demonstrated a natural aptitude for machinery as an apprentice in machine shops.

Fights language barrier

 At the age of 19. Matzeliger went to the sea, spending two years as a mechanic on a merchant ship before settling in Philadelphia, the U.S. As he spoke very little English, he had to be content doing odd jobs. including that of a shoemakers apprentice, for the next few years. When he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1877, he was looking to pursue his interest in shoe making.

Finding work in a shoe factory, Matzeliger did everything that was entrusted upon him during his 10-hour work day. He spent the evenings and nights educating himself, studying English to improve his fluency in the language and studying other subjects to enhance his mechanical abilities. He dabbled with art as well, painting pictures that he gifted to his friends and even conducting classes in oil painting.

Looks to automate lasting

Matzeliger noticed that while shoe companies had machinery for most purposes, lasting was still done by hand. While many believed that it was impossible for a machine to replicate this important step, Matzeliger took it upon himself to automate the process.

Years of experimentation followed as he tried to duplicate the movements of the hand lasters that he observed in the machine he was building. Apart from securing a working space and access to machine tools at the company he worked with, he also scraped through their junkyards and factory dumps to find usable machinery that he could alter for his requirements. By 1882, he had a working device ready.

Matzeliger filed for a patent on January 24, 1882. The text and drawings of his 15-page document, however, were so complex that an inspector had to visit him to understand the workings of his machine.

Better than the best

Matzeliger received a patent for his lasting machine on March 20, 1883. This machine employed pincers to hold an upper, pulled it over the last and held it in place, before pinning the leather to the last and discharging the completed shoe. Matzeligers machine could easily outdo even the best of hand lasters, who managed 60 pairs of shoes a day.

In the next couple of years. Matzeliger further tweaked this device with engineering improvements to make it industry-ready. When he was finally satisfied, he held a public demonstration on May 29, 1885. The machine reproduced the technique used by hand lasters. but at a much greater speed-it was capable of producing as many as 700 pairs of shoes each day.

Along with two investors who provided capital in exchange for two-thirds ownership of the device, Matzeliger formed a company to market his machine. With the demand for the lasting machine increasing rapidly, the organisation grew fast and soon merged with many other shoe manufacturers to form the United Shoe Machinery Company.

Matzeliger, however, didn't enjoy the financial windfall that followed as he died from tuberculosis in 1889 at the young age of 36. Despite the prejudices that he suffered, both because of his colour and the fact that he lacked formal education, Matzeliger not only revolutionised footwear production, but also made high-quality shoes affordable for everyone. We don't have to look beyond the shoes we wear each day to see the lasting impact that one young man who was tirelessly driven by an idea has had.

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The Wright brothers need no introduction. Best known for achieving the first powered heavier-than-air craft flight, the Wright brothers obtained the patent for a "Flying Machine" on May 22, 1906.

The names of Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright will forever be intertwined with the history of flying machines. For, the Wright brothers were the first to achieve the flight of a powered heavier-than-air craft.

 The elder of the two, Wilbur, was born in 1867 and was the third child in the Wright family. Orville was the sixth of seven children that his parents had. The seeds for an idea about flying were sown when Wilbur and Orville were still two young boys.

A toy that inspires

Their mother gave them a toy helicopter to play with. This little piece of wood that had two rubber bands to turn a propeller laid the foundation for a lifetime's work.

Drawn towards flying, the Wright brothers spent plenty of time observing birds in flight. This allowed them to notice that lift was created when birds soared into the wind and the air flowed over the curved surface of their wings. They use this knowledge to build kites, which they even sold to their friends.

Cycling to aviation

As avid cyclists, Wilbur and Orville owned a bicycle shop as adults. Despite the fact that they had less than 10 years of combined high school education, the experience of building bicycles provided them the understanding of early engine design - be it using chains, sprockets, or ball bearings.

Years of riding a bicycle gave them ideas as to how they could control and balance an aircraft. Add to this the countless hours that they had spent observing flight in nature and they had the necessary knowledge and interest to get started.

By 1899, the Wright brothers ventured into flying. Between 1900 and 1902, they researched every aspect of flight, from roll, pitch, and yaw to the rudder, elevator, and performance of the wing. In order to test the aerodynamic qualities of wing models, they even developed the first wind tunnel. The brothers also worked on their own piloting skills by making over a thousand flights on a series of gliders at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Master a control system

Their years of trial and error allowed them to master their glider in all three axes of flight: pitch, roll, and yaw. While the pitch was operated by a forward elevator, their breakthrough discovery included the simultaneous use of roll control with wing-warping and yaw control with a rear rudder.

Even though they had just started conducting experiments with propellers and begun to build their own engines, they applied for a patent in March 1903 for their control system. They were granted U.S. Patent 821,393 for a "Flying Machine" on May 22, 1906. This patent is significant as it laid down a useful and modern means of controlling a flying machine, regardless of whether it was powered or not.

Not ones to be kept waiting, the Wright brothers had already made the first free, controlled, and sustained flights in a powered, heavier-than-air craft on a chilly day at Kitty Hawk, on December 17, 1903. With just a handful of others witnessing history, Orville stayed 12 seconds in the air and flew 120 feet in the first trial at 10.35 a.m. In the fourth and final trial of the day, Wilbur achieved the longest flight of 59 seconds in the air and reached a height of 852 feet. In a little over 100 years since then, human beings have flown farther and faster than ever before, and continue to progressively get better at it.

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Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, and Steven Weinberg were awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the unification of the weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics to be shared equally between Professor Sheldon L. Glashow, Harvard University, USA, Professor Abdus Salam, International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy and Imperial College, Great Britain, and Professor Steven Weinberg, Harvard University, USA, for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alla the prediction of the weak neutral current.

Physics, like other sciences, aspires to find common causes for apparently unrelated natural or experimental observations. A classical example is the force of gravitation introduced by Newton to explain such disparate phenomena as the apple falling to the ground and the moon moving around the earth.

Another example occurred in the 19th century when it was realized, mainly through the work of Oersted in Denmark and Faraday in England, that electricity and magnetism are closely related, and are really different aspects of the electromagnetic force or interaction between charges. The final synthesis was presented in the

1860’s by Maxwell in England. His work predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves and interpreted light as an electromagnetic wave phenomenon.

The discovery of the radioactivity of certain heavy elements towards the end of last century, and the ensuing development of the physics of the atomic nucleus, led to the introduction of two new forces or interactions: the strong and the weak nuclear forces. Unlike gravitation and electromagnetism these forces act only at very short distances, of the order of nuclear diameters or less. While the strong interaction keeps protons and neutrons together in the nucleus, the weak interaction causes the so-called radioactive beta-decay. The typical process is the decay of the neutron: the neutron, with charge zero, is transformed into a positively charged proton, with the emission of a negatively charged electron and a neutral, massless particle, the neutrino.

Although the weak interaction is much weaker than both the strong and the electromagnetic interactions, it is of great importance in many connections. The actual strength of the weak interaction is also of significance. The energy of the sun, all-important for life on earth, is produced when hydrogen fuses or burns into helium in a chain of nuclear reactions occurring in the interior of the sun. The first reaction in this chain, the transformation of hydrogen into heavy hydrogen (deuterium), is caused by the weak force. Without this force solar energy production would not be possible. Again, had the weak force been much stronger, the life span of the sun would have been too short for life to have had time to evolve on any planet. The weak interaction finds practical application in the radioactive elements used in medicine and technology, which are in general beta-radioactive, and in the beta-decay of a carbon isotope into nitrogen, which is the basis for the carbon-14 method for dating of organic archaeological remains.

Credit : The Nobel prize

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The first woman to travel in space was Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. On 16 June 1963, Tereshkova was launched on a solo mission aboard the spacecraft Vostok 6. She spent more than 70 hours orbiting the Earth, two years after Yuri Gagarin’s first human-crewed flight in space.

Tereshkova was born on 6 March 1937 in the village of Bolshoye Maslennikovo in central Russia. Her mother was a textile worker, and her father was a tractor driver who was later recognised as a war hero during World War Two. At the time of his death on the Finnish front, Tereshkova was only two years old. 

After leaving school, Tereshkova followed her mother into work at a textile factory. Her first appreciation of flying was going down rather than up when she joined a local skydiving and parachutist club. It was her hobby of jumping out of planes that appealed to the Soviets' space programme committee. On applying to the cosmonaut corps, Tereshkova was eventually chosen from more than 400 other candidates. 

Tereshkova received 18 months of severe training with the Soviet Air Force after her selection. These tests studied her abilities to cope physically under the extremes of gravity, as well as handle challenges such as emergency management and the isolation of being in space alone. At 24 years old, she was honourably inducted into the Soviet Air Force. Tereshkova still holds the title as the youngest woman, and the first civilian to fly in space. 

While Tereshkova remains the only woman to have flown solo in space, her mission was a dual flight. Fellow cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovsky launched on Vostok 5 on 14 June 1963. Two days later, Tereshkova launched. The two spacecraft took different flight paths and came within three miles of each other. The cosmonauts exchanged communications while making 48 orbits of Earth, with Tereshkova responding to Bykovsky via her callsign ‘Seagull’. During the flight, the Soviet state television network broadcast a video of Tereshkova inside the capsule, and she spoke with the Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the radio. 

In her later life, Tereshkova was decorated with prestigious medals and has held several prominent political positions both for the Russian and global councils. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, she was an official head of State and was elected a member of the World Peace Council in 1966. 

Today, she holds the position of Deputy Chair for the Committee for International Affairs in Russia. She also remains active within the space community and is quoted as suggesting that she would like to fly to Mars - even if it were a one-way trip. 

Credit : Royal  museums greenwich

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Charles Darwin was an English scientist who proposed that evolution happened through ‘natural selection’. According to Darwin, the organisms that lived on are those which had the best traits to survive their environment, and passed on those traits to following generations.

Charles Robert Darwin, (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution.

The Theory of Evolution by natural selection was first formulated in Charles Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species" published in 1859. In his book, Darwin describes how organisms evolve over generations through the inheritance of physical or behavioral traits, as National Geographic explains. The theory starts with the premise that within a population, there is variation in traits, such as beak shape in one of the Galapagos finches Darwin studied.

According to the theory, individuals with traits that enable them to adapt to their environments will help them survive and have more offspring, which will inherit those traits. Individuals with less adaptive traits will less frequently survive to pass them on. Over time, the traits that enable species to survive and reproduce will become more frequent in the population and the population will change, or evolve, according to BioMed Central. Through natural selection, Darwin suggested, genetically diverse species could arise from a common ancestor.

Credit: Live Science

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Peter Higgs is a British physicist who proposed the existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle, which was confirmed through the discovery at CERN, a European Organization for Nuclear Research, in 2012. He and Belgian physicist François Englert were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles." The Higgs boson is the fundamental particle associated with the Higgs field, a field that gives mass to other fundamental particles such as electrons and quarks.Higgs was born in England in 1929. He was taught at home as a child. Later, he attended Cotham Grammar School in Bristol and was inspired by the work of the school alumnus Paul Dirac founder of the field of quantum mechanics. Peter Higgs graduated in Physics from King's College London in 1950 and achieved a master's degree in 1952. He was awarded a Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1951 and performed his doctoral research in molecular physics under the supervision of Charles Coulson and Christopher Longuet-Higgins. He received his PhD degree in 1954 and became a lecturer in mathematical  physics at Edinburgh in 1960 and remained there till his retirement in 1996.

In 1956, Higgs began working in quantum field theory. In 1964, he proposed the theoretical existence of the Higgs Boson. Higgs developed the idea that particles - massless when the universe began - acquired mass a fraction of a second later as a result interacting with a theoretical field (which became known as the Higgs field). Higgs postulated that this field permeates space, giving mass to all elementary subatomic particles that interact with it. Independently of one another, both Peter Higgs and the team of François Englert and Robert Brout proposed this mechanism. In 1964, Physical Review Letters, published Higg's paper which predicted a new massive spin-zero boson (now known as the Higgs boson). In 2012, two experiments conducted at the CERN laboratory in Geneva confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle. Definitive confirmation that the particle was the Higgs boson was announced in March 2013.

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Who was Fizeau and Foucault?

Foucault and Fizeau began working together in the late 1830s. They improved the photographic technique of the day, and used it to snap the first photo of the Sun. Working independently, the two scientists worked on measuring the speed of light.

 The son of a physicist, physician, and professor of medicine, Fizeau was born in Paris in 1819. The fact that Fizeau's father left him a fortune meant that he was free to pursue his own interests, without having to worry about making a living. Even though he initially wished to be a physician like his father, he eventually focused on scientific research, choosing to study astronomy.

Foucault was born in the same year and in the same city as Fizeau. The son of a publisher, Foucault was a rather timid boy and enjoyed limited success academically. After receiving most of his education at home, he enrolled in medical school as his mother wanted him to become a doctor. That didn't last long, however, as the mere sight of blood freaked him and he dropped out.

What Foucault lacked through formal training, he made up with his dexterity, intuitive understanding of nature, and an ability to build gadgets. Once he left medical school, he set out on his new career by working as a lab assistant.

Common love for photography

Fizeau and Foucault came together through their interest in the Daguerre photographic process that had been recently invented. Even though photography was still in its infancy and its mainstream use in astronomy was still decades away, Fizeau and Foucault decided to turn their camera towards the sun.

While they came together for this project late in the 1830s, adapting the then existing photographic process to astronomy was no easy feat. It took them years, but on April 2, 1845, they succeeded in what they set out to do - capturing the sun in considerable detail. These images are the first surviving detailed daguerreotype photographs of the surface of the sun.

Terrestrial experiment

 Fizeau's work with Foucault inspired him to attempt and calculate the speed of light, the value of which was neither known accurately, nor measured by means of a terrestrial experiment. Fizeau built an apparatus that placed a cogwheel and a mirror eight kilometres apart.


By sending pulses of light between them and rotating the cogwheel, Fizeau was able to observe how fast the beam of light travelled. He also observed obscured reflections when the light struck one of the cogs when the wheel was spinning very fast. By precisely measuring the times, speeds, and distances involved, Fizeau was able to calculate and arrive at the value of 3,13,300 kilometres per second for the speed of light.

Foucault replaced the cogwheel with a rotating mirror. This improved apparatus is now known as the Fizeau-Foucault Apparatus. When the mirror rotated, light was reflected at different angles, which could now be measured accurately. Foucault arrived at 2,99,796 kilometres per second for the speed of light.

Advances in technology went hand-in-hand with the work of hundreds of scientists who performed hundreds of experiments to arrive at the current speed of light's value. Defined to be 2,99,792.458 kilometres per second according to a 1983 declaration by the 17th General Congress on Weights and Measures, the speed of light is now one of the most well-established values in physics. It is measured so accurately that even the definition of metre is now a derived quantity from this. And it all started when Fizeau and Foucault decided to work together.

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Who was Robert Koch?

Dr Robert Koch was a pivotal figure in the golden age of microbiology. It was the German bacteriologist who discovered the bacteria that causes anthrax, septicaemia, tuberculosis and cholera, and his methods enabled others to identify many more important pathogens. Thanks to his contributions to the field, he is sometimes known as the father of bacteriology, a title shared with Louis Pasteur.

Koch’s first important discovery was on anthrax, a disease that killed large numbers of livestock and some humans. Rod-shaped structures had been observed in the blood of infected animals, but the cause of the disease was still uncertain.

Koch found that the disease could be spread by the blood of infected animals, and hypothesised that it was caused by living bacteria. He developed sophisticated techniques for observing bacterial growth on microscope slides, and saw that anthrax could form spores that survived desiccation, but produced more bacteria when put back into a moist environment. This explained how contaminated soil could remain toxic for years.

Although others had earlier determined that germs cause disease – notably Pasteur and Joseph Lister – Koch was the first to link a specific bacterium, in this case bacillus anthracis, to a specific disease.

Koch learned that dyes helped to make bacteria visible and identifiable under the microscope, and published the first photographs of bacteria. He proudly announced to his parents he had taught himself to read at the age of five with the aid of the newspapers the adults read and then discarded. He even has a crater on the moon named after him. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905 for his tuberculosis findings and is considered one of the founders of microbiology.

Credit : Stanford

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Who was Subramanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian-born American astrophysicist who contributed to our understanding of massive stars. He shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983, with William A. Fowler Born in Lahore, into a Tamil family, Chandrasekhar grew up in Madras (today's Chennai). Chandrasekhar studied physics at Presidency College, Madras, and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, in England, in 1930. Here, he worked under R.H. Fowler on an improved model for the limiting mass of the degenerate star.

Chandrasekhar came up with a concept, later called the 'Chandrasekhar Limit Chandrasekhar improved upon the accuracy of the calculation in 1930 by calculating the limit for a polytrope model of a star in hydrostatic equilibrium, and comparing his limit to the earlier limit found by E. C. Stoner for a uniform density star. He showed that there is a maximum mass that a white dwarf star could reach and beyond which it would collapse or form black hole. The value of this limit was derived as 1.44 times that of solar mass. He published a series of papers related to this between 1931 and 1935. Chandrasekhar Limit was initially ignored, sometimes ridiculed, by the community of scientists because it supported the existence of back holes. But they were considered impossible at that time. It took years before the idea was accepted.

In 1937, Chandrasekhar was recruited to the University of Chicago faculty, a position he remained at until his death. He and his wife became American citizens in 1953.

Varied interest

Chandrasekhar is considered to be one of the first scientists who combined the disciplines of physics and astronomy. In fact, he was known for mastering several fields. Chandrasekhar studied stellar structure, hydrodynamics, radiative transfer, mathematical theory of black holes and colliding gravitational waves.

For 19 years, he served as editor of the Astrophysical Joumal and turned it into a world-class publication.

Chandrasekhar was instrumental in establishing the Ramanujan Institute of Mathematics in Madras in 1940s. He had strong association with many scientific institutions and young scientists back in India. Chandrasekhar died in 1995.


Chandrasekhar was fittingly honoured by NASA when it ran a naming contest for one of the Observatories that it was planning to name after Chandrasekhar. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia in 1999.

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