Scientist born in January

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 water droplets, in the humid atmosphere after the rain, act as prisms and when the sun rays pass through them the light is diffracted. Advancing these ideas he proposed that the colors we see is because there is only one component of a ray of light that is reflected from an object (the rest is absorbed) and when this light excite our retina we can see that color. A second contribution was the developing of calculus, a set of mathematical tools that use very small increments to define and describe change. The third and most generally known contribution was his studies on mechanics, energy, and gravity. He proposed three laws of motion; the first law says that a body always continues its motion in the same direction at less an external force act on it. The second law says that force is described by a mass being accelerated (F=ma), and the third law states that every action have an equal an opposite reaction. When Newton applied these laws to Kepler’s third law he come up with the Law of universal gravitation of the planets. His most famous books were Opticks in1704 and the mathematical principles of natural philosophy in 1687 (The Principia).

Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942) is an English physicist and mathematician. His interest is in studying and understanding the basic 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. He focused his studies on black holes and this lead him to propose the existence of the ‘Hawking’s radiation’. Black holes are not completely black but they emit  a radiation, consequently black holes eventually will evaporate and disappear. The speed at which this happens depends on the size of the black hole, small ones evaporate first. 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 idea has been and is currently intensively researched by many scientist. Currently he works at Cambridge University as Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. He has written several 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 is the author of extensive 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 out of many substances, carbon can absorb most poisonous gases. Continuing her scientific training, Blodgett went to become the first woman to be awarded a doctoral degree in physics at Cambridge University. Back in the States she started her own research and decided to concentrate her investigations on surface chemistry. One of her most important scientific contributions was the development of non-reflecting glass. This is widely used in optics; for picture frames, eye glasses, microscopes, camera lenses, and other uses in metallurgic. A second contribution was her work on the development and production of smoke screens. These saved many lives when 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 of fame.

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, and molecular biology. One of his contributions was that the proposed and showed, with Francis Crick, that three nucleotides code for one amino acid and that the triplet UAG (uracil, adenine and guanine) codes for the termination of translation. He called such triplets, stop codons. Brenner won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2002 for his groundbreaking work on how the process of cell death is used 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 of apoptosis or regulated cell death. This small nematode, starts life with 1090 cells and the adult ends up with 959 cells after specific cells are targeted for apoptosis. C. elegans is transparent so the division, migration, and fate of individual cells and their progeny can be followed. Also this worm reproduces quickly and it is easy to keep in the laboratory. This model organism has become one of the most important instruments to study basic biology, such as the neuronal physiology and cell fate. Brenner’s research is important because he showed how apoptosis is used in many developmental processes across phyla and in addition he was able to link genetic analysis to organ formation.

Dian 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 (Homo sapiens) evolution, the study of our closest evolutionary relatives would be important. After Fossey returned to the states, under Leakey’s advice and persuasion, she decided to go back to Africa and study 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’.