Scientists born in September

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. His most important contribution in the area evolutionary science is the idea of punctuated equilibrium. Gould proposed that evolution does not happen by constant changes through vast amounts of time, like Darwin proposed, but that from time to time a sudden event will happen that provoked morphological change in response. He described several examples like the Cambrian explosion where after an extinction event, lots of new life forms arise or the rise of the mammals after the cretaceous extinction of the dinosaurs. These sudden modifications will be followed by long time of constancy where almost no major evolutionary changes happen. Gould was a prolific writer of science and most of his books deal specifically with concepts aimed to popularize evolutionary thought.

Irène Curie (September 12, 1897) was a French physicist and the daughter of the Nobel Prize winners Pierre and Mary Curie. She started as her mother’s assistant and eventually become a scientist herself. She won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 along with her husband for producing artificial isotopes. Their research included the bombardment of chemical compounds with alpha particles to artificially produce radioactive compounds of chemicals that normally are not radioactive. Her work on the action of neutrons on heavy elements was the seed for the investigation and discovery of uranium fission. She was a commissioner for atomic energy and oversaw the construction of the center for nuclear physics that housed a synchro-cyclotron in Paris. As a member of the National Committee of French women, Irene Curie promoted the intellectual and social advancement of women and she was an active participant in the World Peace Council.

Murray Gell-Mann (September 15, 1929) is an American physicist whose main contribution was the classification of strongly interacting subatomic particles into an arrangement called ‘the eight fold’ for which he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1969. He proposed that those particles were composed of fundamental units called quarks. These ideas were subsequently confirmed by experiments. Gell-Mann introduced the concept of strangeness, a quantum property that describes the chaotic decay pattern of certain particles. The main idea is that  when these particles interact, via the strong forces that bind the atomic nucleus components, strangeness is conserved. Later in his career, he constructed the quantum field theory of quarks which describes all the nuclear component and their strong interactions. His most popular book is The Quark and the Jaguar (1994) where he explores ideas about simplicity versus complexity.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (September 16, 1893) was a Hungarian biochemist that won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1937 for isolating and discovering the role of ascorbic acid or vitamin C during the oxidation of nutrients. He became interested on how sugars are broken down into simpler elements like carbon dioxide and water. He identified many of the components and reactions of the citric acid cycle. This work was completed a few years later by Krebs who produced the complete citric acid cycle. Szent-Gyorgyi later work focused on the elucidation of muscle contraction, he identified actin, myosin, demonstrated that they act together as a complex during muscle contraction, and showed that ATP provided the required energy source. He wrote several books pertaining to his area of research, biochemistry.

Steven Arthur Pinker (September 18, 1954) is an American cognitive psychologists and linguistic. He has make many contributions in the area of the evolutionary aspect of language development. Pinker proposed that language is a human instinct, wired in our brains by evolution. He further explains how through the study of language we can learn how the mind works. Pinker’s thesis is that human thoughts are built around core of primal ideas and he explains how children place these ideas into categories as they grow. In his later work he examines human nature and psychology and proposes that historically violence is in the decreased because the best part of humanity (the angel within) tends to prevail. He was written several very influential books targeted to the public, like the language instinct, the stuff of thought, and others.

Thomas H. Morgan (September 25, 1866) was an American geneticist and developmental biologist that won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1933 for his theory of inheritance. Morgan most influential work was to show that genes are linearly positioned in the chromosomes and that they are responsible for defining a trait. Morgan questioned Mendel’s Laws of inheritance; he thought inheritance couldn’t be as simple as Mendel’s result showed and he was skeptical to the idea of the unit of inheritance (genes). In order to understand this genetics and further its study, he switched from his previous field of embryology to genetics, using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly). This allowed him to discover traits that are always inherited with the male fly and thus linked to the X chromosome. He also discovered linkage, where some genes are always inherited together. Morgan and his students, mapped genes to specific locations in the chromosome showing that genes are linked because they reside in the same chromosome. Based on his experimental results, Morgan accepted Mendel’s results. He wrote several books in the area of genetics and embryology. He is remembered as the scientist that expanded Mendelian genetics to cover other methods of inheritance now called non-Mendelian genetics.