January Birthdays

Isaac Newton (January 4, 1643) was a British physicist, mathematician, and astronomer. His contributions were several, important, and truly influential for the advancement of science. In optics he showed that light is composed by seven different colors that can be diffracted using a prism. He explained that this phenomenon is what causes the rainbow; the incidence of rays on water droplets, in the humid atmosphere after the rain, causes this diffraction. Advancing these ideas he proposed that the colors we see is because there is only one component of a ray of light that reflects from an object and when it excite our retina we can see that color. A second contribution is the developing of calculus, mathematical tools that uses very small increments to define and describe change. The third and most generally known contribution is his studies on mechanics, energy and gravity. He proposed three laws of motion; a body always continues its motion in the same direction at least an external force act on it. The second law says that force is described by a mass being accelerated, and the third says that every action have an equal an opposite reaction. When he applied these law to Kepler’s third law he come up with the Law of universal gravitation. His most famous books were Opticks 1704 and the mathematical principles of natural philosophy 1687 (The Principia).

Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942) is an English physicist and mathematician. His interest is in studying and understanding the basics laws of the universe. Based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity he proposed that the universe, space and time, started with the big bang and will end with black holes. His work on black holes lead his to show the ‘Hawking’s radiation’. Black holes are not completely black but that they emit radiation and some (the small one) evaporate and disappear. Hawking’s work lead him to understand the need to find one universal law where quantum theory and general relativity can be united to explain how the laws of science explain the universe. This has idea has been and is currently intensively search. He is at Cambridge University as Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. He has written several very influential books such as A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, The Universe in a Nutshell, as well children books and others scientific literature.

Katharine Burr Blodgett (January 10, 1898) was an American chemist and physicist. She was always interested in science and received a masters degree in science; investigating the chemical structure of gas masks and found that carbon can absorb most poisonous gases. She went to become the first women to be awarded a doctorate degree in physics at Cambridge University. Back in the States she started her research in science and concentrated in surface chemistry. One of the most important contributions to science was the development of non-reflecting glass use now a days in optics; for picture frames, eye glasses, microscopes, camera lenses, and other uses in metallurgic. The other contribution was the production of smoke screens, this was used for the protection of soldiers during the second world war. She published many papers, is the inventor on eight patents, and received many awards including the induction into the National Inventors hall

Sydney Brenner (January 13, 1927) is a South African biologist whose main interests are genetics, physiology, and molecular biology. He has been a leading scientist in DNA research, developmental genetics, molecular biology. One of his contributions was that the proposed and showed, with Francis Crick, that three nucleotides code for one amino acid and the triplet UAG (uracil, adenine and guanine) code for a termination of translation. He won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his groundbreaking work on how cell death is used as an instrument to regulate tissue and organ architecture during development. Brenner pioneered the used of the small nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, as a model organism to study the biology for apoptosis or regulated cell death. This small nematode, starts life with 1090 cells and the adult end up with 959 cells after specific cells are targeted for apoptosis, it is transparent so individual cells and their progeny can be followed, and reproduces quickly. This model organism has become one of the most important instruments to study basic biology, such as the neuronal physiology. Brenner’s research is important because apoptosis is used in many developmental processes across phyla and in addition he was able to link genetic analysis to organ formation.

Diane Fossey (January 16, 1932) was an American zoologist, well known for her work on the behavior of the mountain gorilla. She started as an occupational therapist in a children’s hospital in Kentucky. After a visit to Kenya where she met the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, she became interested in the mountain gorilla. Leakey was interested in human evolution and thought that in order to understand our own evolution, the study of our closest evolutionary relatives would be important. After she returned to the states, under Leakey’s advice, she decided to go back to Africa and studying the gorillas in their own habitat. The gorillas eventually got used to her presence and she was able to live among them, to gather data, and record their behavior, communication, and social structure. Fossey took a break in her research to get her doctoral degree in zoology at Cambridge University, and then she went back to Rwanda to establish a research center on the mountain gorilla. Fossey become more and more interested in protecting the endangered gorilla, she become vocal and generated international attention on her fight against poachers. In 1986, she was assassinated, her body was found close to her camp in Rwanda, the culprits were not found. Because of her efforts several protections were instituted and now even though the gorillas still endangered, the number are slowly increasing. Her most famous book, which was made into a movie, is ‘Gorillas in the mist’.

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