Scientists born in March

Arthur Kornberg (March 3, 1918) was an American biochemist and enzymologist. His early research focused of the study of co-factors, molecules that assist enzymes in their chemical reactions, in bacteria and in vitro. These investigations led him to discover two cofactors, FAD and DPM, essential for basic reduction/oxidation biochemical reactions. Kornberg then focused his interest on elucidating each step on the pathways of the synthesis of pyrimidine and purine nucleotides. Kornberg took this research further and investigated how these mononucleotides are linked together into polynucleotides like DNA or RNA. His investigations were fruitful; he isolated and showed that the enzyme DNA polymerase is responsible for synthesizing DNA during replication and also for DNA repair. All this contributions were recognized and Kornberg was awarded with Severo Ochoa, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959. His later research focused on the biology of poly-phosphates. Kornberg had a very active academic record; he published many books, received many honors, and belonged to several scientific institutions such as the American society of biological chemistry and the national academy of sciences among others.

Jane Goodall (March 4, 1934) is an English ethologist whose research on chimps, pan troglodyte, revealed a lot about their behavior and cleared up many misconceptions about our evolutionary cousins. Ethology is the study of animal behavior under natural conditions. Goodall was always interested in animal behavior; eventually she went to Africa for a holiday and met Louis and Mary Leakey. She joined the Leakey’s anthropological expedition at Olduvai Gorge but instead of studying fossils, Goodall decided to study extant primates, the chimps. She spent many years in close proximity with chimps in Tanzania; from her observations we discovered that chimps are not aggressive. Like any animal, chimps are aggressive when feel threaten but Jane persisted until the animals learned to accept her presence. Goodall also documented chimps playing, in social activities, and using tools to get food form termite mounds. The National Geographic society sponsored her research and thus her story got out to the world. Goodall have written many book about her research and make documentaries about her time in Africa. She won the 1974 Walker Prize. Later Goodall got involved in promoting the conservation of wild chimpanzees and their habitat and continues speaking about conservation and environmental issues.

Lynn Margulis (March 5, 1938) was an eminent American evolutionary biologist. Her most significant contribution was the study of the role of symbiosis in the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. She proposed that evolutionary novelties not only happen by DNA mutations selected by evolution but that there are other processes involved in producing new characteristics that help create new organisms and promote diversification. Margulis advanced the idea that major rearrangements occurred in cells including the incorporation of an organism inside another or the merging of two organisms, endosymbiosis. She proposed that the mitochondria and chloroplast are descendants of bacteria that were engulfed by another cells. She went further in proposing that also the nuclei and the cilia were also products of endosymbiosis. Her ideas were met with skepticism until molecular data was available. Technological advances in DNA sequencing revealed that the mitochondrion is a descendant of an alpha-protobacterium and the chloroplast came from a cyanobacterium. Later in her career Margulis proposed, in conjunction with James Lovelock, the Gaia hypothesis that said that Earth is a self-regulatory organism where inorganic and organic matter are interdependent at all levels. Margulis wrote many scientific and popular books explaining her theories and ideas about early cellular evolution. She received many prizes like the Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnaean Society of London in 2008 and honors such as elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.

Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879) was a German physicist and probably the most influential thinker on the physical nature of life. His interest on science was influenced by his electrical engineer uncle, the books he read as a child specially Euler’s algebra and a compass given to him by his father. His interest in physics and specially quantum mechanics was awakened during his school and college years. He worked as a teacher and then as a patent officer in 1902. After work, in his free time he dedicated his time to his passion. At that time science was going into a renewal because the explanation of how the world works using mechanics could not explain other phenomena like electromagnetism. In his free time, Einstein was thinking and working on these ideas. In 1905, he published three papers on the Brownian motion, the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation, and the special theory of relativity. That year he received in doctorate degree from the University of Zurich with a dissertation about the Brownian motion. Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work on the quantum nature of light, however he is mostly known for his theories of relativity. Practical application of his theory of general relativity predicts that gravitational forces arise from the geometry of the space and time continuum (first proposed by Minkowski) and thus is affected by the presence of matter. This was confirmed during an eclipse of the sun in 1919 when light passing by the sun was deviated as predicted by Einstein general theory of relativity. He then became famous, and travelled extensively around the world giving talks. His scientific pursuits then focused on generating a theory that would link quantum mechanics and relativity. This proved elusive since we are still looking for such unifying physical theory. Einstein left Germany during the Second World War and move to the USA. He became a sponsor for world peace and for the freedom of scientific pursuit.

Walter Gilbert (March 21, 1932) is an American molecular biologist and shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Sanger and Berg, for elucidating a way of sequence nucleotides (DNA and RNA). Gilbert received his doctorate degree from Cambridge University in chemistry and physics. During his early career Gilbert focused on mathematical formulations of theoretical physics, specifically the quantum theory of fields. During his time in England he met Jim Watson and joined the efforts to isolate RNA, this was a pivotal moment in his career since he decided to become a molecular biologist. Gilbert next focused on elucidating how proteins are made, he showed step by step the dynamics of how the ribosome, tRNAs, and mRNA work together to add an amino acid to a growing peptide. He isolated a showed the existence of repressor proteins in bacteria which role is to stop translation when a product in no longer needed. The contribution that earned him the Nobel Prize was the development of a chemical technique to sequence nucleotides using gel electrophoresis. Gilbert contributions did not sop there, he worked on the production of mammalian proteins in bacteria, mainly insulin. He became a proponent for the Human Genome project and works with several biotechnology companies.

Amalie Emmy Noether (March 23, 1882) was a German mathematician, who made very important contributions in physics and mathematics specially the Noether theorems. In spite of her brilliance at school, she had a very difficult time being accepted to university because she was a woman. Eventually she was accepted to a university and received her doctoral degree in 1907 from Gottingen summa cum laude. This did not help her obtain an academic position; she had to lecture under a male collage and mostly do research as a junior investigator. Noether developed two important theorems in 1915 she showed a connection between the conservation laws and symmetry. For instance a system invariant under translation of time, space, or rotation must obey the laws of conservation of energy, linear momentum, and angular momentum respectively. Eventually her greatness was acknowledged, Noether was invited by eminent physicists Klein and Hilbert to assist them in understanding the law of conservation of energy in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. She became a very respected mathematician and with the help of scientist like Hilbert and Einstein, the university allowed her to lecture under her own name. She continued to make many contributions especially in abstract algebra. In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany; difficult times for scientists in Germany made her moved to the USA. Sadly Noether career was cut short for she died in 1935 a few days after complications from surgery.

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