In the late 1700’s it occurred to a young English scientist named Edward Jenner that milkmaids, who were notoriously prone to suffering from a troublesome but non-lethal disease called cowpox, seemed impervious to catching the deadly smallpox virus. Intrigued by the possibility that the cowpox was somehow making them immune he began testing his hypothesis on sometimes unwitting subjects, the most famous of which was James Phipps, an 8 year old boy reported to be the son of Jenner’s gardener.
Jenner tracked down a milkmaid who had been infected by a cow named Blossom and extracted material from her blisters with which he inoculated Phipps in each of his arms. A few weeks after the boy had recovered from his bout of cowpox, he was repeatedly exposed to smallpox but was unaffected. In total this experimented was repeated 23 times with the same result.
Jenner’s work on small pox vaccinations (vacca is Latin for cow) lead eventually to the modern vaccine which has saved millions of lives worldwide. Blossom’s hide was preserved after her death and now hangs on the wall of St. George’s medical school, where Jenner was educated.
Genetically Modified Food
While still the center of much worldwide controversy, genetic modification of plants has helped feed millions of people living in famine stricken countries. If there is a true inventor of this procedure it would be Gregor Mendel who in the mid 1800’s coaxed plants into swapping traits that wouldn’t have other wise occurred naturally. However, it was Norman Borlaug who utilized this science to feed people around the globe.
In the 1940’s, Borlaug’s work helped solve a major wheat production problem in Mexico, who at the time as importing the majority of their grain. From Mexico he went on to India where he introduced new wheat strains that quadrupled their food production and just in case he hadn’t done enough to to help save people from starvation he moved to China and then to Africa each time increasing food supply of the countries he visited and did so by genetically modifying the plants indigenous to the area.
In 1970, Borlaug earned a Noble Peace Prize for his effort to end world hunger. He was also the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom amongst many others.
You know those grainy clips you see of computers from the 1940’s and 50’s? The ones where there are rooms upon rooms filled with hardware to run a simple game of Pong? Well, that all ended with the invention of the integrated circuit.
In 1958, Jack Kilby was a new employee at Texas Instruments and as the new guy on board wasn’t allowed a vacation like the rest of the staff. Working alone in the lab, Kilby had the revolutionary idea to build a chip using a block of semiconductor material cutting out the need for wires and other components. When he showed his creation to his supervisors they allowed him build a test version which worked beautifully.
There is almost no aspect of modern life that is not influenced by the integrated circuit or microprocessor so you can thank Kilby the next time you power on a computer, start a modern car or answer a cell phone.
The original inventor of the first microscope is a matter of some debate though the most likely candidate is a dutch lens maker named Sacharias Jansen. Jansen, with the help of his father, developed both a single lens microscope in 1595 and a compound microscope in 1609, both of which helped to revolutionize the way we see the world.
With the use of the microscope, scientists of the day began exploring the world on a smaller level than ever before possible. It’s invention lead to the discovery of bacteria, viruses, cell structure and DNA all of which has advanced civilization in one way or another.
Like a lot of notably inventions, the discovery of radio waves and the inventions that first made use of them have been attributed to various people. However, the officially recognized father of radio is Guglielmo Marconi.
In 1888, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated that he could generate and detect electromagnetic radiation, or what we now call radio waves. His work inspired Marconi to build his own equipment and experiment with radio waves with the intention of creating a practical method for relaying messages. After many years of research and attempts to length the distance over which he could broadcast signals, Marconi made the first ever wireless communication over the open sea reaching a distance of around 4 miles. In 1901 he made the first ever transatlantic transmission which traveled around 2,100 miles.
Marconi’s work made it possible for us to communicate wirelessly for the first time in history. The radio operators aboard the Titanic were employees of the company he later founded.