science

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Synthetic Production of Penicillin Professor Alexander Fleming, holder of the Chair of Bacteriology at London University, who first discovered the mould Penicillin Notatum. Here in his laboratory at St Mary's, Paddington, London (1943). Credit: Official photographer (Public domain)

Synthetic Production of Penicillin Professor Alexander Fleming, holder of the Chair of Bacteriology at London University, who first discovered the ...(more)

Alexander Fleming's famous discovery of penicillin at St Mary's Hospital in 1928 was occasioned by a speck of penicillium notatum mold, from a mycology lab one floor below, fortuitously contaminating an uncovered culture plate while he was away on vacation. Touring a modern research laboratory many years later, Fleming commented with interest upon the dust-free, air-conditioned environment in which its technicians labored. "What a pity you did not have a place like this to work in," his guide remarked. "Who can tell what you might have discovered in such surroundings." Fleming's reply? "Not penicillin!" [Moldy bread was first used to treat infections by the ancient Egyptians. Indeed, Fleming was not even the first person to describe the antibacterial properties ...
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Bahnhof Göttingen
Wolfgang Pauli. Credit: Nobel foundation (Public domain)
Wolfgang Pauli. Credit: Nobel foundation (Public domain)
It was a standing joke among Wolfgang Pauli's colleagues that the famed theoretical physicist should be kept as far away from experimental equipment as humanly possible. His mere presence in a laboratory, it was said, would cause something to go wrong: the power would fail, vacuum tubes would suddenly leak, instruments would break or malfunction... Indeed, such was the frequency of Pauli-related incidents that the strange phenomenon came to be known as the 'Pauli Effect'.  One day, some important experimental equipment in Professor James Frank's laboratory at the Physics Institute at the University of Gottingen unexpectedly blew up for no apparent reason. Moreover, Pauli, who was on his way to Denmark, had not even entered the building.  Only later ...
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Depicted person: William Randolph Hearst – American newspaper publisher (1863-1951) . Credit: Wikipedia user AnonymousUnknown author (Public domain)
Depicted person: William Randolph Hearst – American newspaper publisher (1863-1951) . Credit: Wikipedia user AnonymousUnknown author (Public domain)
William Randolph Hearst, always in search of sensational stories, once sent a telegram to a leading astronomer: "Is there life on Mars?" it read. "Please cable 1000 words." The astronomer's reply? "Nobody knows"—repeated 500 times.
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NAND-Gate transistor. Wikipedia photo from Dgarte (<a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
NAND-Gate transistor. Wikipedia photo from Dgarte (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Moore's law refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965: the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits, he noted, had doubled every other year. The technological innovations driving Moore's law had massive economic consequences. As transistors shrank, and chips became faster, the market for them grew, allowing chipmakers to recoup their costs and reinvest in more R&D to make their products smaller still... The demise of this virtuous circle has been predicted many times. "There's a law about Moore's law," Microsoft vice-president of Research Peter Lee once quipped: "The number of people predicting the death of Moore's law doubles every two years."
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One day in 1856, 18-year-old English schoolboy William Henry Perkin, inspired by a teacher's comment regarding the potential value of synthetic quinine, began to experiment with the substance in his home laboratory. Though he failed to produce synthetic quinine as he had hoped, Perkin noticed an odd purple tint in the mess he had produced. He promptly left school, opened a factory, and became a millionaire producing "mauveine," the world's first synthetic dye. * As Wikipedia explains: In 1856, William Henry Perkin, then age 18, was given a challenge by his professor, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, to synthesize quinine. In one attempt, Perkin oxidized aniline using potassium dichromate, whose toluidine impurities reacted with the aniline and yielded a black ...
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Now there is a <em>Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy</em> movie
Now there is a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie
"Scientists in Cambridge spent three years calculating one of the fundamental keys to the universe—The Hubble Constant [the velocity at which a typical galaxy is receding from Earth divided by its distance from Earth] that determines the age of the universe. This process mirrored a passage in [Douglas Adams's] cult science fiction novel and radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which an alien race programs a computer called Deep Thought to provide the ultimate answer to understanding life and the universe. "In the novel, seven and a half million years later Deep Thought comes back with the result, 42. "In an extraordinary coincidence when the Cambridge scientists finally calculated the Hubble Constant they found the answer ...
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Photograph of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. Credit: "Photo by Messrs. Dickinson, London, New Bond Street" (according to http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/hst/scientific-identity/fullsize/SIL14-T002-07a.jpg) (Public domain)
Photograph of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. Credit: "Photo by Messrs. Dickinson, London, New Bond Street" (according to http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/hst/scientific-identity/fullsize/SIL14-T002-07a.jpg) (Public domain)
Lord Kelvin once worked out a method for measuring the depth of the sea using piano wire and a narrow-bore glass tube, plugged at the upper end. One day, in the course of experimenting with his invention, he was interrupted by a colleague (James Prescott Joule), who—astonished by the unusual apparatus—asked Kelvin what on earth he was doing. "Sounding," said Kelvin. "What note?" Joule asked. Replied Kelvin, "The deep C!"
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Stonehenge, UK
Stonehenge. Credit: garethwiscombe (<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>)
Stonehenge. Credit: garethwiscombe (CC BY 2.0)
From QI.com: Following the 1921 publication of Alfred Watkins' book The Old Straight Track adherents to dowsing and New Age beliefs claimed Stonehenge stands on the intersection of numerous leys (lines connecting ancient sites which resonate a special 'energy'). To prove this is nonsense mathematician Matt Parker did a similar analysis using the locations of the 800 branches of Woolworths. He found that they could also be mapped onto precise geometrical patterns with the same level of accuracy. He claimed (tongue in cheek) that this pinpoint accuracy suggested that Woolworths managers positioned the stores as a form of 'landmark satnav' allowing travellers to find their nearest pick'n'mix outlet. He could also not rule out the possibility that alien help ...
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Bison bison. Original caption: "scientists are helping users of American rangelands meet the challenge of managing multiple uses sustainably."). Credit: Jack Dykinga (Public domain)

Bison bison. Original caption: "scientists are helping users of American rangelands meet the challenge of managing multiple uses sustainably."). Credit: ...(more)

From NPR (Oct 2016): For a decade, people who study Europe's bison population have been baffled by a genetic mystery. The animals, which are a protected species, seemed to have appeared out of thin air about 11,000 years ago. "There's something very fishy in the history of European bovids," says Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide, one of the lead authors of a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Before 11,000 years ago, all the bison in Europe were thought to be of a variety called steppe bison, which ranged all the way across what is now Russia into Alaska and the North American mainland during the last Ice Age. But shortly after the steppe bison disappeared ...
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Angelholm, Sweden
Richard Handl and his radioactive kitchen <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>(CC BY-SA 3.0)</a>
Richard Handl and his radioactive kitchen (CC BY-SA 3.0)
From The Guardian: A Swedish man arrested [in Angelholm, Sweden, in 2011] on charges of unauthorised possession of nuclear material after trying to split atoms in his kitchen says he was only doing it as a hobby. Richard Handl said he had the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his flat in southern Sweden when the police showed up. He said on Wednesday he had always been interested in physics and chemistry and "just wanted to see if it was possible to split atoms at home". Handl kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove. Only later [after six months] did he realise it might not be legal and sent a ...