The 1910s Science and Technology: Headline Makers
The 1910s Science and Technology: Headline MakersAlbert Einstein
Albert Einstein (1879–1955) German-born American physicist Albert Einstein is perhaps the twentieth century's most celebrated scientist. He electrified the physics community with his special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory of relativity in 1916. In the first, he speculated that space and time are not absolute, and are independent realities. The speed of light, however, is a constant in all frames of reference. His general theory extended his earlier work to account for systems moving relative to each other at any speed, even if those speeds are changing. Primarily, this theory centers on the large-scale effects of gravitation.
Robert Goddard (1882–1945) Robert Goddard's first trailblazing experiments in rocketry, the initial steps that led to the exploration of space, were conducted during the decade. In 1916 and 1917, he experimented with rockets fueled by solid chemical propellants, but found this means of propulsion unsatisfactory. In 1926, he and two assistants detonated the world's first liquid-fueled rocket. Upon America's entry into World War I (1914–18), Goddard developed small rockets to be used as weapons by the U.S. Army.
Irving Langmuir (1881–1957) Irving Langmuir, a General Electric researcher, was an all-purpose scientist. He made a significant contribution to the development of the modern lightbulb when he proved that adding inert gas to the bulb enhanced the life of its tungsten filament and made the bulb more energy efficient. His work on a mercury vacuum pump became a key development in the evolution of the radio tube. While investigating atomic structure, he was involved in groundbreaking research on electrically charged gases. During the decade, Langmuir began his studies of surface chemistry that led to his winning the 1932 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Henrietta Leavitt (1868–1921) While employed at the Harvard College Observatory astronomer Henrietta Leavitt established a method for ranking star magnitudes (numbers representing a celestial body's brightness) on photographic plates. She also discovered more variable stars (stars whose brightness periodically changes) than any other astronomer. In fact, the 2,400 variables she catalogued were about half the known variables at the time. In 1912, Leavitt ascertained the amount of time it takes for a Cepheid star to complete its bright-dim cycle. Such determinations were central to the eventual determination of intergalactic distances.
Theodore Richards (1868–1928) Chemist Theodore Richards, a Harvard professor and researcher, was fascinated by the precise calculation of atomic weights. This interest led to his painstaking measurement of the atomic weight of water. Through his research, he proved that the ratio of oxygen to hydrogen in water was 15.869 (rather than 16, which had been the common belief). Previous measurements of certain chemicals, Richards found, had been calculated using impure samples. He also discovered that the atomic weight of lead that had been exposed to radioactive uranium differed from that of unexposed lead. For his work, Richards became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1914.
Henry Russell (1877–1957) Princeton University professor Henry Russell was most celebrated for his groundbreaking work in the charting of stellar evolution. Drawing on the collective insights of previous astronomers, he challenged the accepted pattern of stellar development, which held that stars evolved from blue (hot) to red (cool). Russell concluded that red stars represented both the beginning and end of stellar evolution. He published his findings in 1913.
Vesto Slipher (1875–1969) Vesto Slipher began his career as an assistant to the renowned astronomer and writer Percival Lowell (1855–1916). Under Lowell's guidance, Slipher searched for evidence of water and oxygen on Mars and measured the length of a day on Venus. He found that Uranus rotated once every 10.8 hours, and he determined the rotational periods of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Slipher was among the first astronomers to offer evidence of the existence of interstellar gases and dust. He also completed research involving spiral nebulae (large bodies of dust or gas in space), observing that the majority of fourteen nebulae he had studied were receding from our solar system at high rates of speed.
Alfred Sturtevant (1891–1970) Alfred Sturtevant was the first geneticist to realize that the frequency of crossing-over between genes is an index to the distance between them. This acknowledgment allowed him to produce the first basic genetic map. Additionally, he discovered that double crossing-over between genes can occur. While conducting experiments on fruit flies in the laboratory of the renowned geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866–1945), Sturtevant was able to trace inheritance patterns. This work served as the basis for much subsequent research into general genetic behavior.