Scientists born in June

Edwin Krebs (June 6, 1918) was an American biochemist. He started his scientific career as a medical doctor. However, while waiting to secure a position, Krebs spent time doing research in chemistry and biochemistry. He discovered that laboratory research is what he wanted to do and dedicated the rest of his career to biochemistry. Krebs was interested in how muscle cells acquire energy from glycogen. He studied the protein phosphorylase, which is involved in breaking down glucogen into its glucose units, when the cell muscle requires energy. This research led him to consider the role of ATP in regulating protein activity. He found that phosphorylase is activated by kinases and de-activated by phosphatases. Kinases are enzymes that take a phosphate form ATP and attached it to a protein. Phosphatases perform the opposite function, these enzymes that take phosphate off proteins. This work opened a new area of biology, the study of the interplay between phosphorylation-dephosphorylation as an important process in the regulation of most proteins’ function. For this work Krebs in conjunction with Edmond Fischer received the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1992. He also received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1989 and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1989.

Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909) was an American physician and medical researcher. She trained as a medical doctor at Columbia University medical center, while working as an intern she become interested in anesthesiology. At that time, only nurses were practicing it, Apgar went through the anesthesiology course and transformed the area into a medical practice. She became the first head of the division of anesthesiology within the Surgery department. After several years of actively recruiting and teaching medical residents, the division of anesthesiology become a department with medical doctors rather than nurses practicing anesthesiology. Against Apgar expectations the position of chair was given to a male colleague. She continued to work and teach. She was most interested on the effects that anesthesia had on the newborn. In order to measure the health status of the newborn, she develop the “Apgar scores”. This is a method to measure heart rate, respiration, movement, irritability, and color one minute after birth.  In order to validate the Apgar score method, she use blood work and attended many births. During this process she become interested on birth defects. Apgar become the head of the new division of Congenital malformations at March of dimes national foundation. Later in her career she taught teratology and genetics, wrote a book, and gave many lectures. Apgar received many awards including being honored by a U.S. postage stamp in 1994 and she was included into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.

Susan Elizabeth Blow (June 7, 1843) was an American educator who opened the first public kindergarten in the United States. She followed the ideas of the German philosopher Friedrich Froebel. Froebel thought that children should be educated by self-activity and play and that the teachers should encourage self-expression through individual and group play. Within a year of opening her kindergarten, Susan Blow opened a training school for kindergarten teachers and made Missouri a focal point of early education in the country. She lectured widely in the Northeast including Teachers College at Columbia University and wrote several books on kindergarten education.

Eric Wieschaus (June 8, 1947) is an American Developmental Biologist. As a child he wanted to become an artist, it was a summer program funded by the National Science Foundation to encourage high school students to become scientists, that convinced him to become a biologist. Wieschaus model organism is the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, he encountered them for the first time during his sophomore year at college. While working and learning fly genetics, he become interested in embryology, the mechanisms and forces that drive rearrangements during embryogenesis. During his doctoral work at Yale University and Basel, Wieschaus developed cell linage techniques. He used x-rays to produce mitotic recombination to produce clones; a group of cells containing a common genetic characteristic. In the late 1970s, he started his Lab at the European Molecular Biology in Heidelberg (EMBL), here he and Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard set up a very comprehensive mutagenesis experiment. The idea was to saturate the fly genome with mutations affecting embryonic development. The aim was to use the mutations to disrupt gene expression and look at the effects on the fly’s features or phenotype. In this manner they identified key components in pathways governing patterning, morphology and differentiation. The genes he identified are conserved throughout multicellular organisms and many play roles in human malformations and cancer. For this work he shared the 1995 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Edward Lewis. Wieschaus went back to the USA and has been a professor at the Molecular Department at Princeton University. Later in his career, he elucidated the basic components of the Wnt pathway and the connection to β-catenin and APC. Wieschaus in currently focusing on the biophysical and cell biology mechanisms that control cell movements during gastrulation. He is a member of the National Academy of sciences and a member of the Max Planck Society.

Frances Crick (June 8, 1916) is mainly remembered as one of the scientists that elucidated the three-dimensional structure of DNA. He was a British physicist and a biologist, early in his career he worked out the general theory of x-ray diffraction by a helix, specifically the protein α-keratin. This knowledge helped him, when looking at Rosalind Franklin data of x-ray diffraction of DNA, to recognize that DNA was also a helix. In conjunction with James Watson they proposed the mechanism of DNA three-dimensional structure and form of replication in which one strand of DNA can be copy by reading the other strand. Crick was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1962 in conjunction with James Watson and M. Wilkins. In his later work, Crick and co-workers proposed the structure of small viruses, of polyglycine, and among other proteins, collagen. Later in his career he focused on biochemistry and genetics, he investigated the process by which proteins are synthesized and worked on the elucidation of the genetic code.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (June 11, 1910) was a French ocean explorer and engineer. He co-invented the Aqua-Lung to allow divers to move freely underwater, a small submarine for underwater surveillance, and underwater cameras. It was during the second world war (WWII) that he started to produce underwater films and from there he dedicated his time to oceanic research. His love for the ocean led him to star several organizations, under the Cousteau group, dedicated to marine exploration. Later in his career he produced several documentaries, movies, and wrote many books about the ocean and marine conservation. His great achievement was to popularize ocean research advocate for the conservation of marine environments.

James Clerk Maxwell (June 13, 1831) was a Scottish mathematician and a physicist. His many contributions influenced and allowed other great scientist like Albert Einstein and Max Planck to develop ideas like the special theory of relativity and the quantum hypothesis. One of his great contributions was to use Michael Faraday’s observations and to write those ideas in mathematical form producing his famous equations on electromagnetism. Based on this, he constructed a mathematical model that allowed scientists to infer that light behave as an electromagnetic wave. He published his theory in the masterpiece “Treatise on electricity and magnetism”. Maxwell also did research in color photography and the viscosity of gases. He was the first to use probability and statistics to describe the movement of gases, known as “The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution”.

Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902) was an American cytogeneticist. Earlier in her career she started to use histological techniques to map genes to the ten chromosomes in corn. During her investigations she discovered mobile genetic elements, transposable elements or ‘jumping genes” for which she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1983. She found that these transposable elements, controlling color, could change location within the chromosome and affect the gene expression of other genes. This is the basis of the different kernel color in corn. McClintock’s work, in the 1940s, was not appreciated by her male colleges. Eventually after the structure of DNA was solved and people corroborated her result by experimentation, her contributions were recognized, and the noble prize was awarded to her.

Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 28, 1906) was an American physicist born in Germany. As a child and the only daughter of a university professor she grew up among scientists like her neighbor the well-known physicist Hilbert. Goeppert started to study mathematics but soon change to physics, inspired by the lectures of the great physicist Max Born in Gottingen. She completed the doctoral dissertation under Born with a thesis on a theoretical treatment of two photon processes. Goeppert moved to the United states with her new husband, an American Chemist. For several years she collaborated with him and work for no pay; the anti-nepotism rule of many universities does not allow husband and wife to work in the same institution. Goeppert first scientific regular position was as senior physicist at the Argonne National Laboratory. During her work with E. Teller on the origin of chemical elements, she noticed that the most abundant and stable elements have certain number of either protons or neutrons, she called them “the magic numbers”. Goeppert was able to calculate the energy levels that matched the magic numbers by assuming the existence of spin-orbit coupling. This evidence strongly supported the shell concept for the nucleus and earn her the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics which she shared with Hans Jensen. She was awarded many prized and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Paul Broca (June 28, 1824) was a brilliant French brain surgeon. He was the first person to locate the speech center of the brain. The Broca area is located toward the center of the frontal lobe in the left hemisphere of the brain. This area is used when we speak or read aloud, it is critical for the ability to form and articulate words. Broca discovered that lesions in the left frontal lobe, but not the right side, interfere with the ability to speak clearly even though the person can understand speech.

Joseph Hooker (June 30, 1817) was a British botanist. Like many upper-class people in the eighteen century, he was educated as a medical doctor and then embarked on a naval expedition as an assistant surgeon and naturalist. The purpose of this expedition to Antarctica was to map the South magnetic pole. The mission was accomplished but the ships were badly damage in a storm and they expedition had to spent months in the Malvina islands of the coast of Eastern South America. During this time Hooker collected many specimens, flora and fauna, that he took back with him to England. He published his observations in a very detailed and extensive descriptions of his findings, this made him well known as a taxonomy botanist. Hooker did many other expeditions to India, Himalayas, Syria, Palestine, Morocco, and western United States. He was rapidly becoming the best botanist of his time, for his work he was elected member of the Royal Society. He was appointed assistant director of the botanical gardens a Kew, much like his father. In this position, he oversaw the development of this scientific center as a prime research institution into the anatomy and physiology of plants. The fact that he brought and successfully grow plants from all over the world had also a commercial implication. Countries explore and exploit those resources in the native areas or transplanting them to Europe. He became president of the Royal Society and receive many awards like the knighthood and the Order of Merit.