Scientists Born in December

Werner Heisenberg (December 4, 1901) was a German physicist; he proposed the theory of uncertainty for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1932. Heisenberg’s early work was in developing explanations for important concepts like the Zeeman effect where atomic spectral lines were splitted by a magnetic field. To account for this phenomena mathematically, Heisenberg introduce half-integer (1/2) quantum numbers. Continuing working in this area, he used algebra matrices to explain the spectrum intensities of the electron as an anharmonic oscillator. The publication resulting from this work, in conjunction with Born and Jordan, is considered the foundational paper in quantum mechanics. On a second important paper he proposed his principle of uncertainty, where the position and the momentum of a particle cannot be both simultaneously measured but a relationship occurs between these and that  can be described. Thus he used probability to describe his atomic theory. Later Heisenberg’s work focused on the still searched today  ‘quantum field theory’. This theory joins quantum mechanics and relativity seeking to explain the relationship between particles and forces. During the Second World War he worked unsuccessful in the German atomic bomb project, his continuing working in Germany as a physicist and delivering frequent lectures in other countries during the War were controversial. After the war Heisenberg continue to work on quantum field theory.

Grace Murray Hooper (December 9, 1906) was an American mathematician and Physicist involved in programing the first computers, specifically developing software concepts. She took leave from her academic position at Vassar College to join the United States Naval reserve during the Great War and was assigned to work and do research on computing. Through out her career in academia, army, and industry Hooper worked as a mathematician and in the field of engineering and applied physics. She wanted to make computers easier to program and to applied to tasks with the intent that more people can use it. Hooper and her team developed the first complier, the A-O compiler that translated symbolic mathematical code into a computer code. She believed that the way to open computer usage to the regular population was to write user-friendly programs. Her second compiler was designed for automatic payroll calculation and automatic billing, the FLOW-MATIC and later the COBOL. She had a hard time convincing people to adopt her advances; eventually she convinced the army to use her program to great success. She received many awards and was a great speaker giving many lectures and talks.

Edward Lawrie Tatum (December 14, 1909) was an American molecular geneticist who won the Nobel Prize in 1958. His training in nutrition and metabolism of bacteria during his doctoral studies, laid the foundations for his later and more influential work. After receiving his Doctoral degree, Tatum investigated gene function and regulation by finding substances that determined the eye color in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, later he move on to work on the fungi Neurospora crassa. In order to study gene regulation he produce nutritional mutants, this lead him and his student Lederberg to demonstrate bacterial recombination for which they shared the Nobel Prize in 1958. Tatum’s foundational research started the important field on bacterial genetics. He showed how is the genetic material of bacteria organized and most importantly he discover how genes regulate biochemical processes. Tatum accepted a position as the head of the department of Biochemistry at Rockefeller Institute. He wrote several papers and was in the editorial board of science journals.

Richard Leakey (December 19, 1944) is a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and a conservationist for the Kenyan wild life and environment. Leakey is the son of the famous Louis and Mary Leakey, he did not wanted to follow the family’s career at first so he chose to become a safari guide. Eventually he went back to paleoanthropology and dig in Lake Turkana in Kenya where he found interesting stone tools and for the next ten years he and his team dug an abundance of hominid remains dated 1.6 million years ago. Leakey wrote two books about his findings and a controversial interpretation of it. He proposed that three species of hominids coexisted in East Africa and that Homo erectus was the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens. Now we know that H. erectus went extinct and H. helderbergensis is probably the common ancestor of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis. Later in his career Leakey become director of the Kenyan museum and Wildlife conservation and Management department of Kenya. He was very interested on the preservation of wild life, and under his watch he decreased management corruption and poaching of elephants. His drive to help his native Kenya led him on to politics but this move was not successful. He went back to conservation, wrote many books, and gave several lectures about conservation of wildlife and the environment.

Robert G. Aitken (December 31, 1864) was an American astronomer, whose main contribution was in the extensive study of binary stars. He worked in the Lick observatory and become the director for several years. Lick surveyed many binary starts, comets, and planetary satellites measuring their position and tracing their orbits. The lunar greatest impact crater in the moon is named after him, as well as the minor planet #3070. He wrote a massive book ‘New General Catalogue of Double Stars within 120 degrees of the North Pole’ that provided an incredible amount of information about stellar masses for the use of future astronomers. Aitken become editor of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.