Looking back at 1,000 years of discovery
We asked leading scientists and academics from a wide range of
BOSTON — *Clocks map the universe Margaret Geller is a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a professor of astronomy at Harvard University.
Technological Advances 1. Accurate clocks. Without accurate clocks we cannot map the earth or the universe. One might say that clocks enable us to write our address in the universe. They are also crucial for computing, communications devices, and a long list of other technologies.
2. Printing press. The printing press made broad dissemination of knowledge possible. It ultimately made information accessible to the poor as well as to the rich.
3. Steam engine. Invention of the steam engine led to the Industrial Revolution. It underlies the development of factories, and it made mass- produced goods possible. It also brought a new era in transportation.
4. The transistor. A 20th-century consequence of the understanding of quantum mechanics, the transistor was critical for the revolution in computing and communications we are now experiencing. I suspect that its impact on society will only increase.
Scientific Advances 5. Biological evolution. Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, their predecessors, and followers provided the fundamental understanding of the development of life on Earth. It provides a large portion of the answer to the question: Where do we come from? Although the mechanisms of evolution are not yet completely understood, the fossil record provides abundant evidence for the theory.
6. Germ theory. The germ theory was the first important step toward understanding bacterial and viral diseases. It was the basis for early public-health measures and vaccines.
7. Newtonian mechanics. Isaac Newton laid out a theory for understanding the general motions of objects and the first understanding of gravity. From bridge building to motions of objects in the solar system, Newtonian mechanics are the underpinnings. Newtonian mechanics are an important element in understanding our place in the universe.
8. Understanding of electricity and magnetism (Maxwell's equations). As in nearly all branches of science, many people contributed to the understanding of electricity and magnetism. Power generation, electrification, and a host of devices we use every day come from this understanding. Electricity and magnetism are important for understanding light. In fact, Maxwell's equations were an important part of the impetus for Einstein's development of special relativity in the 20th century.
9. Quantum mechanics. This field of 20th-century physics explains the structure of atoms, the nature of light, and the interactions between light and matter. On the practical side, the development of quantum mechanics has led to advances in chemistry, the understanding of materials, and the development of devices such as the transistor and CCDs (charge-coupled devices) in video cameras. On the purely theoretical side, quantum mechanics expanded our view of the universe to the physics of the very small.
10. The periodic table. This table of the elements is a shorthand way of writing down many of the fundamentals of chemistry. Even without an understanding of quantum mechanics, the periodic table "predicts" the way atoms combine to form molecules. Although it predates quantum mechanics, the arrangement of elements in the periodic table corresponds to the arrangement of electrons in atoms.
*Power of the printing press Lord Porter, a Nobel Laureate of chemistry, is professor and chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London; emeritus professor of chemistry of the Royal Institution of Great Britain Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Imperial College.
1. Printing. The first mass communication.
2. Electric power. Electric motor and the electric light.
3. Radio. Including television and direction finding.
4. Photography. The cinema.
5. Flight of heavier-than-air machines.
6. Antibiotics such as penicillin.
7. Semiconductors, calculators, and the computer.
8. The laser. The source of coherent light.
9. Structure of DNA. The basis of life.
10. Genetic Engineering. Biological manipulation.
*'Language of modern science'
John Bahcall is professor of physics at The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. 1. The discovery of calculus provided the language of modern science.
2. The Copernican revolution removed man and the earth from the center of the universe.
3. Newton's theory of gravitation revealed the macroscopic world as understandable and describable quantitatively.
4. Discovery of the laws of electricity and magnetism transformed human life by making possible nearly all the gadgets for communication and convenience that dominate modern society, including such special cases as the pacemaker, the microwave heater, the computer, and the television set.
5. The discovery of quantum mechanics provided the description of the submacroscopic world and showed human understanding at its greatest.
6. The discovery of the expansion of the universe showed how vast is the cosmos and how insignificant man is in the scheme of things.
7. The understanding of DNA holds the key to understanding ourselves and other living creatures.
8. The development of nuclear bombs threatens the existence of civilization.
9. Publication of the "Origin of the Species" established the framework for understanding the evolution of the species and the development of complex forms of life.
10. The understanding of the periodic table opened the window to the world of atoms and the countless scientific and technological advances based upon a correct appreciation of chemical processes and bonds.
*Edison and electrotechnology Bob White is the former president of the National Academy of Engineering.
1. Gutenberg's invention of the printing press and movable type helped make other intellectual pursuits much easier.
2. Galileo and his conclusions about the earth rotating around the sun proved we weren't the center of the universe.
3. Modern communications and computer technology and how they've channeled together. Specifically, Robert Norton Noyce and Texas Instruments' Jack Kilby who discovered the computer chip. This led to the advent of the Internet and the Information Age.
4. Development of technology that measures the environment and the weather. Specifically, weather forecasting based on radar and satellite technology, understanding how ecosystems work, and the discovery of plate tectonics.
5. Energy. Steam and electric power led to the discovery of an electric motor, for which Michael Faraday laid the foundations with his work in electrotechnology. Edison, who was a great engineer, used it well with his invention of the electric light.
6. In biology, the discovery of the double-helix DNA. This has helped scientists understand heredity and disease. Also, the work that Austrian Gregor Mendel did on plants and heredity.
7. The internal combustion engine. Its discovery paved the way toward modern transportation, including cars and airplanes.
8. Space missions. The invention of the rocket led to the moon missions and an ability to place human beings on other planets.
9. Newton's discovery of gravity. Before the discovery, man had no idea why planets navigated the sun. Knowledge of this fundamental law opened doors for many other scientific discoveries.
10. Einstein's theory of relativity led us to understand that the world operates on principles that are different from what we are familiar with. Technology in space travel and development of nuclear weapons stem from this theory.
*Antibodies and human bodies Edward Dean Miller is the dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and chief executive of Johns Hopkins
Medicine. 1. The understanding of antibiotics and infectious disease. This combined with the discovery of penicillin in 1928, which meant that diseases such as pneumonia and infected wounds could be medically treated. But the understanding of bacteria and viruses has been a mixed blessing. Aside from helping people, it has led to threats of germ warfare and germ "weapons" like anthrax.
2. Discovery of insulin by Sir Frederick Grant Banting in 1922. That was important because it forwarded an understanding of how the endocrine system controlled the human body.
3. The discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. That discovery of the underpinnings of life is where we are now with the Human Genome Project.
4. The invention of roentgenography and technologies that help visualize the human body. Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen invented the X-ray in 1895. That led to magnetic resident imaging (known as MRI), CAT scans, and other technologies that look inside the human body.
5. The use of radiation as treatment starting with Marie Curie, who discovered radium. The technology enables physicians to channel radiated energy to kill harmful cells. Radiation therapy started in the 1920s.
6. Advances in engineering made during the 1800s, especially those made by the father of modern engineering, Isambard Brunel. These included the first coal- powered ship to go from England to the United States, which people predicted couldn't be done.
7. Orville and Wilbur Wright's first successful airplane flight.
8. Thomas Edison and the invention of electricity speaks for itself.
9. George Eastman and the Kodak Company. Because the invention of the camera has allowed almost anyone to keep a photo album and has led to other technologies such as portable video cameras.
10. The inventions of technologies enabling space travel. Landing on the moon. This has led to plans for a Mars mission in 2019 and orbiting satellites with global positioning satellite technology that enables cell phones to work.
*Cells: a small wonder Nancy Hopkins is Amgen professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1. Cells. All living things are made up of cells, from just one cell, as in the case of bacteria, to many, as in a mouse or a tree. Even the human brain is a collection of cells, not a bowl of gelatinous pudding.
2. DNA. The structure of this self-replicating molecule explains the biological meaning of life: how organisms reproduce themselves. It also explained how the information to construct biological systems is written in a genetic code, how changes in DNA can result in new organisms, and how subtle errors in DNA can result in human genetic diseases.
3. Evolution explains the origin of the diverse species on Earth. An understanding of DNA helped to explain how they might have arisen.
4. Classical mechanics explains the behavior of large bodies.
5. Quantum mechanics describes the microscopic nature of matter.
6. Thermodynamics describes the transformation of states of matter.
7. The printing press spread the word with revolutionary consequences.
8. The computer.
9. Discovery of infectious disease.
That bacteria and viruses cause the most common devastating human diseases contributed to their control via vaccines, antibiotics, and modern sanitation. 10. Contraception gave the other half of the population control over their lives.
*Motoring to progress Leon Lederman is resident scholar at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
1. Newtonian mechanics and the theory of gravity established the base of the mathematically stated theory of forces and motion and the unification of terrestrial and astronomical mechanics. Isaac Newton also invented calculus and the style of all of the physics that followed.
2. Antoine Lavoisier, generally considered to be the father of modern chemistry, invented a new terminology that suggested the logic of chemical reactions and, in particular, the distinction between elements and compounds.
3. Michael Faraday's study of the connections of electricity and magnetism, the invention of the electric motor, the electric generator, and the crucial law of induction spurred progress.
4. Charles Darwin wrote the "Origin of Species" and the theory of natural selection. This theory of evolution tells us who we are and how we came to be.
5. Louis Pasteur's successful application of the germ theory of disease in the production of alcohols, the silkworm disease, anthrax, and rabies was the origin of [the modern medical] battle against disease.
6. James Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and Heinrich Hertz's verification of the electrical nature of light. Maxwell's four equations predict the existence of electromagnetic waves and fully account for the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio, radar, microwaves, visible light, ultraviolet, and infrared radiation.
7. Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. The crisp statement of the plausible fact that the laws of physics should be independent of the state of steady motion of the observer (Special Theory) and of the general motion (General Relativity) made a profound change in mankind's view of space, time, and gravitation.
8. Quantum mechanics. The revolution created by many scientists - including Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Born, and Dirac - gave us understanding and control of the atom: the basis of all chemical processes and the foundation of modern biology. It generated a vast technology, including microelectronics, which led to the computer revolution. But its conceptual foundations were so bizarre that many of its founders turned against it.
9. The big bang theory of cosmology, founded by many, including Edwin Hubble, Robert Wilson, and Arno Penzias, asserts that the universe was created 12 billion years ago in a cosmic explosion and has been expanding since.
10. The discovery of the structure, function, and manipulation of DNA created the new subject of molecular biology.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society