The 1960s Science and Technology: Headline Makers

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The 1960s Science and Technology: Headline Makers

Murray Gell-Mann
John Glenn
Virgil "Gus" Grissom
Harry H. Hess
Marshall W. Nirenberg
Joseph Weber

Murray Gell-Mann (1929–) In 1961, physicist Murray Gell-Mann developed the theory of the "eightfold way" to explain the "particle zoo" resulting from the discovery of some one hundred new subatomic particles (particles in an atom's nucleus). He showed that all subatomic particles belong to several families, which have similar properties. He also theorized that all subatomic particles are composed of three basic units, which he named quarks (a word Gell-Mann took from Finnegan's Wake [1930], a novel by James Joyce [1882–1941]). For his work, Gell-Mann received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1969.

John Glenn (1921–) John Glenn became a hero when he piloted America's first orbital flight around Earth in 1962. After being postponed twice due to poor weather conditions, Glenn's Mercury-Atlas rocket, with the space capsule Friendship attached, took off from Cape Canaveral on February 20, while millions of Americans watched on national television. After three orbits around Earth, Glenn had to return to the ground due to mechanical difficulties. The flight was considered a success though, and Glenn received a tremendous reception upon his return to Cape Canaveral. President John Kennedy even flew to Florida to congratulate Glenn personally on the flight.

Virgil "Gus" Grissom (1926–1967) Virgil "Gus" Grissom was a key figure in the United States' manned spaceflight program. He became the second American in space in the Project Mercury program. Then he helped design and construct the spacecraft for Project Gemini, and was on board during the first two-man Gemini flight. Grissom made headlines one final time as the focus of a tragedy. He and his copilots Edward H. White (1930–1967) and Roger Chaffee (1935–1967) were engaged in a launch pad test of the first Apollo/Saturn capsule. During the test, a flash fire broke out in the pure oxygen atmosphere on board, killing all three astronauts.

Harry H. Hess (1906–1969) When oceanographer Harry H. Hess served in the U.S. Navy, he became intrigued by the presence of flat-topped mountains, located underwater, which were identified by his sonar equipment. He named these mountains "guyots" in honor of Arnold Guyot (1807–1884), the Swiss American who was Princeton University's first professor of geology. Hess determined that the guyots were volcanic islands formed along the mid-ocean ridges. He theorized that they were moving under Earth's continents and pushing the continents apart, gradually widening the ocean's floor.

Marshall W. Nirenberg (1927–) Marshall W. Nirenberg, working at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, performed groundbreaking experiments in biochemistry during the early 1960s. He successfully produced synthetic protein (polyphenylalanine), which proved to be an important step leading to the discovery of the genetic code (the "instructions" in a gene that tell a cell how to make a specific protein). Nirenberg accomplished this breakthrough by controlling the chemicals he introduced into the test tube and noting the proteins produced. In 1968, Nirenberg shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the "interpretation of the genetic code and its function."

Joseph Weber (1919–2000) In 1916, Albert Einstein (1879–1955) shook the physics world with his general theory of relativity. In his theory, Einstein accounted for bodies moving relative to each other at any speed, even if those speeds are changing. Furthermore, Einstein proposed that those bodies give off gravity waves which travel at the speed of light. Einstein's theory generally was accepted by the scientific community. However, it was not until 1968, when physicist Joseph Weber published the results of a ten-year experiment, that these waves were proven to exist. Weber accomplished this by developing a gravitational wave detector, consisting of a large, freely suspended aluminum cylinder, which was able to measure volumes smaller than the size of a nucleus.

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The 1960s Science and Technology: Headline Makers

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The 1960s Science and Technology: Headline Makers