Physical Scientists

I got my August issue of scientific American last week. In it is an article providing a different take on the origin of the universe? Many of you probably know that the current hypothesis on the origin of the universe is George Gamow's Big Bang hypothesis (the term is borrowed from Fred Hoyle....Hoyle, in a BBC interview, was making fun of Lemaitre/Gamow's view that the universe began in a cosmic egg, exploded and expanded, as Alexander Friedman and Edwin Hubble contended; Hoyle believed in what he called the Steady State hypothesis...that the universe has always been around). The Big Bang…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:08

Robert Openheimer: Men of Ideas

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Robert Oppenheim (1904-1967) was an American theoretical physicist who is best known for heading the scientific aspect of the Manhattan Project (Leslie Groves led the overall project), the effort to develop the first atomic weapon. He and his group of top notch scientists managed to develop the first atomic bomb and eventually those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation they wrought convinced the Japanese empire to end the war in August of 1945. Openheimer is known for been the founder of theoretical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, at a time American science was at best…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:07

John Logie Baird: Men of Ideas

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John Logie Baird (1888-1946) was a Scottish inventor who played a key role in the invention of the Television. Whereas there is some dispute as to who actually invented the TV, the British have no doubt as to who did so, Baird did. Baird is credited with being the first person to produce a live moving image on television in halftones by reflected light. Baird demonstrated his television and its live moving images in 1925, at a London Department Store. He demonstrated the world’s first color transmission in 1926. In 1927 Baird demonstrated long distance transmission of television between London…
Robert Goddard (1882-1945) was an American physicist and engineer who pioneered controlled liquid fueled rocketry. He launched the first liquid fueled rocket in 1926. He is the father of modern rocketry. Our age has sent a man to the moon and is currently exploring space thanks to Goddard’s efforts in understanding rockets and launching them. Clearly, Goddard was a man ahead of his times. In the 1920s and 1930s when he was attempting to manufacture and launch rockets the general public was not aware of what rockets were and few were interested in rockets. It was only during the Second…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:05

George Washington Carver: Men of Ideas

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George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was an African-American agronomist who made contributions to scientific farming in the Southern United States. He provided agricultural extension studies to farmers thereby enabling them to apply scientific farming methods to their farming practices hence improving their crop yields. For example, planting cotton over and over on the same soil depletes the soil’s nutrients whereas rotating different crops (say, peanuts) and cotton on the soil improved the quality of the soil. Carver taught farmers to rotate their crops on the same soil. Many claims were made regarding Carver’s findings and inventions, for example, on how peanuts…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:03

Henry Ford and Karl Benz: Men of Ideas

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Henry Ford (1863-1947) was an American inventor who improved on the nascent industry of automobiles and constructed an assembly line and mass produced cars (Model T). His efforts revolutionized the auto industry. Henry Ford had a goal: place a car in every American families reach and, by and large, succeeded in that endeavor (along with other car manufacturers, of course). He made his car cheap enough for the average American working family to be able to purchase it and did they buy his cars! Henry Ford transformed the mode of transportation in the United States from horses and carriages to…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:02

The Wright Brothers: Orville and Wilbur

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The Wright Brothers: Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912) were American inventors credited with inventing the airplane. Other people had glided and even flown with two fixed winged planes but it was the Wright brothers who first flew in a controlled, two fixed winged plane (they named their airplane Flyer 1). Both brothers were trained in mechanics and owned a bicycle repair shop and later began to manufacture their own bicycles. Apparently, they were obsessed with discovering how to fly planes and devoted their free time to reading all available literature on the subject and building models of airplanes. Convinced that…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:57

Thomas Edison: Men of Ideas

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Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was an American inventor. He invented many devices chief among them is the electric bulb. He was an astute businessman and vigorously marketed his inventions. Indeed, he established what is considered the first laboratory to research for new inventions for his business to sell. Many of the inventions attributed to his invention were probably invented by other people working for him. He founded the General electric company, which still exists today, to provide electric power to the public. Edison began his inventions at Newark, New Jersey. The first invention that brought him fame was the phonograph in…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:56

Alexander Graham Bell: Men of Ideas

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Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was a Scottish-American inventor who invented the telephone. Bell made other inventions, such as in hydrofoils and aeronautics but his lasting legacy was his invention of the telephone. Bell began his career teaching the deaf and dumb to talk or use sign language. As a result of health issues he and his family moved from Britain to Canada and he eventually obtained a job at Boston, Massachusetts teaching students with hearing and speaking problems. Some of his students included Helen Keller. While in Boston, Bell began to tinker with ways to have two people who are…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:56

George Stephenson: Men of Ideas

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George Stephenson (1781-1848) was an English mechanical engineer. He built the first public railway line in the world, using steam locomotives. He is considered the father of Railways. Stephenson did not invent the first locomotive engine; that credit goes to Richard Trevithick who in 1804 rigged such engines to help pull coal out of coal mines. Stephenson’s first locomotive engine, designed in 1814, was also for hauling coal out of coal mines (Killingworth wagon way, and named Blucher after the German whose blueprint for the design he said influenced his design). What made Stephenson famous was constructing an eight mile…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:55

James Watts: Men of Ideas

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James Watts (1736-1819) was a Scottish inventor. He made improvements on the steam engine, improvements that laid the foundation for the industrial revolution and ushered in our age. Watt did not discover the steam engine, others before him did, but he figured out a way to incorporate latent heat in running engines. He not only improved steam engines but also mass produced them thereby making them readily available to those who desired them. His engines were used for pumps and produced reciprocating motion. With encouragement from Boulton, Watt improved his engine further and found a way to convert the reciprocating…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:54

Johannes Guttenberg: Men of Ideas

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Johannes Guttenberg (1400-1468) was a German goldsmith credited with inventing the metal moveable type printing. Although such printing type may have existed in China for several centuries, Guttenberg was the first in the Western world to make it possible. In so doing he made it possible to mass produce books. Prior to him books, mostly Bibles, were laboriously hand written and reproduced by hand. Making books easily and cheaply produced meant that people with ideas could now print their ideas and sell them and that way spread alternative ideas than was taught by the Catholic Church. In a manner of…
Francis Crick (1916-2004) was an English molecular biologist. James D Watson (1928- ) is an American molecular biologist. Crick and Watson are noted for been the co-discoverers of DNA in 1953, for which they won the Nobel Prize in Biology in 1963. According to his biography, Crick was interested in how molecules make the transition from non-living to living things and how the brain makes the conscious mind. Apparently, he succeed in the former and failed in understanding the later, for no one has understood how the brain makes consciousness, mind. Crick and Watson worked hard and eventually showed how…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:51

John Von Neuman: Men of Ideas

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John von Neumann (1903-1957) was a Hungarian turned American mathematician. He made mathematical contributions in many areas including functional analysis, quantum mechanics, computer science, statistics, economics, game theory, geometry and hydrodynamics. He is considered one of the best mathematicians of the twentieth century. Neumann was a member of the Manhattan Project that exploded the first atomic bomb. He provided mathematical analysis of whatever was needed. He provided operator theory of quantum mechanics. Neumann was an outstanding mathematician and that is just about all that can be said for him. As a human being he had very little to recommend him…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:17

Paul Dirac: Men of Ideas

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Paul Dirac (1902-1984) was a British theoretical physicist. He made seminal contributions to Quantum Mechanics. Dirac was noted for formulating what is now called Dirac equation, which describes the behavior of fermions and which led to the prediction of the existence of anti matter. For this discovery he was awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Erwin Schrödinger). Dirac built on Pauli’s non-relativistic spin systems to propose what is now called Dirac equation, a relativistic equation of motion for the wave function of the electron. His equation led him to predict the existence of an anti electron particle,…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:15

Edwin Hubble: Men of Ideas

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Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) was an American astronomer. With his telescope, Hubble demonstrated the existence of other galaxies other than our own, the Milky Way, and in so doing profoundly changed our understanding of the universe. He showed the immensity of the universe, now calculated to be over thirteen billion light years across. Hubble showed that the universe is expanding. Finally, he showed that light coming from other galaxies, redshift, increased in proportion to the distance of that galaxy from the Milky Way. Hubble’s discoveries consist of the fact that there is more than one galaxy. During his time, early part…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:14

Louis Broglie: Men of Ideas

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Louis Broglie (1892-1987) was a French physicist. In his 1922 doctoral thesis he introduced the theory of electron waves. He developed this idea into what is now called Broglie hypothesis, which states that any moving particle or object has an associated wave (that is, moving matter has both particular and wave function). In effect, Broglie united the wave and particle functions of particles. He further united the physics of light and matter by showing that the wave-particular function is applicable to all matter, not just light. For this discovery he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1929. Broglie’s work…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:13

Erwin Schrodinger: Men of Ideas

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Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961) was an Austrian-Irish physicist. He contributed what is now called Schrodinger equations in quantum mechanics and for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933. He is also known for his thought experiment called the Schrodinger cat thought experiment. Like his Friend, Albert Einstein, Schrodinger’s fame rests on four papers he published in quick succession. In the first paper, in 1926, he showed that there is energy eigenvalues for the hydrogen-like atom, proving a derivation of the wave equation for time independent systems. The second paper solved the quantum harmonic oscillator problem. The third paper…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:11

Wolfgang Pauli: Men of Ideas

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Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) was an Austrian theoretical physicist. He is noted for his discovery of the exclusion principle, a principle that underpins the structure of matter. In 1945, Pauli received the Nobel Price in physics for his work on Exclusion Principle (also called the Pauli Principle). The Exclusion Principle states that no two electrons could exist in the same quantum state, identified by four quantum numbers including his two-valued degree of freedom. Pauli identified the electron’s spin degree of freedom. His research played a key role in validating Heisenberg’s matrix theory of quantum mechanics. Pauli used Heisenberg’s metric theory to…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:10

Neils Bohr : Men of Ideas

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Neils Henrik Bohr (1885-1962) was a Danish physicist. He made fundamental contributions to the understanding of the structure of the atom and to quantum mechanics. For his work in quantum mechanics he received the Nobel Prize in 1922. He later worked on the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic weapon. Bohr improved Ernest Rutherford’s hypothesis on the structure of the atom; in 1913 he published a paper showing that the electron circled the nucleus of the atom; he further showed the chemical properties of each element is largely determined by the number of electrons circling its nucleus; he also…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 06:10

Max Born: Men of Ideas

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Max Born (1882-1970) was a German, Jewish physicist and mathematician. He played a crucial role in the development of quantum mechanics, solid state physics and optics. Born was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in physics for his Statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics. Born was more a mathematician than anything else. His contribution is rendering the various discoveries on quantum mechanics in mathematical language. Born was a professor of physics at Berlin University and many of his students proceeded to win the Nobel Prize in physics. As a Jew, the Nazis made life difficult for Born and he emigrated to the…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 04:10

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: Men of Ideas

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Steve Jobs (1955- ) and Bill Gates (1955- ) are two America university drop outs whose computer and internet wizardry has come to represent the face of computers and the Internet. Whereas they were not the actual inventors of computer or the Internet but they represent the computer as we now know it. Steve Job and his friend Steve Wozniak, were the first to translate big computers into small computers, what is now called personal computers. They built the first table top computers (Apple) and marketed them. Other people got into the game and now there are tons of computer…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 03:57

Albert Einstein: Men of Ideas

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Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a German, Jewish mathematician and physicist. He is best known for his theory of special relativity, his mass energy equation (E=MC2) and his translation of Planck’s notion that light is emitted in quanta to photons. Einstein’s special relativity theory reconciled mechanics to electromagnetism and his general relativity theory improved on Newton’s gravitation theory. Einstein made other contributions to physics but his special and general relativity and studies on light are considered his seminal contributions to science. Upon leaving college, Einstein worked at a Zurich Patents’ office. While there he had time to study what was dear…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 03:56

Fred Hoyle: Men of Ideas

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Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was an English astronomer. He is best remembered for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis and his contrarian nature, his taking opposing perspectives on what atheistic scientists would like the public to believe, that there is no God; Hoyle believed in God. Hoyle’s primary scientific work was on stellar nucleosynthesis, how the atoms in stars decay and transmuted to other atoms (different elements). He observed that one particular nuclear reaction, the triple-alpha process, generated carbon. There is a large amount of carbon in the universe making it possible for our carbon based life forms. He speculated on the…
Saturday, 24 March 2012 03:55

George Gamow: Men of Ideas

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George Gamow (1904-1968) was a Russian theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He contributed to the idea of the Big Bang origin of the universe by demonstrating alpha decay via quantum tunneling, radioactive decay of atoms, star formation and stellar nucleosynthesis. Essentially, Gamow showed how atoms in the sun are formed and how their nucleus eventually decays to release the radiation (light and heath) that we pick up on earth. This understanding of the formation and decay of stars and by generalization the galaxies and the universe contributed to our understanding of the origin of the universe and how it would eventually…