Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17: Mary Adela Blagg

Memorial to Blagg in her hometown.

Mary Adela Blagg
May 17, 1858 – April 14, 1944

Mary Blagg was an English astronomer.

She was born in Cheadle, Staffordshire, and lived her entire life in that locale. Mary was the daughter of a solicitor, John Charles Blagg, and France Caroline Foottit. She trained herself in mathematics by reading her brother's textbooks. In 1875 she was sent to a finishing school in Kensington. There she studied algebra and German. She later worked as a sunday school teacher and was the branch secretary of the "Girls' Friendly Society".

By middle age she became interested in astronomy after attending a university extension course, taught by Mr. J. A. Hardcastle. Her tutor suggested working in the area of selenography, particularly on the problem of developing a uniform system of lunar nomenclature. (Several major lunar maps of the period had significant discrepancies in terms of naming the various features.)

In 1905 she was appointed by the newly-formed International Association of Academies to build a collated list of all of the lunar features. She worked with Mr S. A. Saunder on this very tedious and lengthy task, and the result was published in 1913. Her work produced a long list of discrepancies that the association would need to resolve. She also performed considerable work on the subject of variable stars, in collaboration with Professor H. H. Turner. These were published in a series of ten articles in the Monthly Notices, in which the Professor admitted that the large majority of the work had been performed by Mary Blagg.

After the publication of several research papers for the Royal Astronomical Society, she was elected as a fellow in 1916, after being nominated by Professor Turner. She was the first woman to be allowed entry into that society.

In 1920, she joined the Lunar Commission of the newly formed International Astronomical Union. They tasked her with continuing her work on standardizing the nomenclature. For this task she collaborated with Karl Müller (1866-1942) of Vienna, a retired government official and amateur astronomer. (The crater Müller on the Moon was subsequently named after him.) Together they produced a two volume set in 1935, titled Named Lunar Formations, that became the standard reference on the subject.

During her life she performed volunteer work, including caring for Belgian refugee children during World War I. One of her favorite hobbies was chess. She was described in her obituary as being of "modest and retiring disposition, in fact very much of a recluse", and rarely attended meetings.

The crater Blagg on the Moon is named in her honor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 13: Carl von Linné

Carl von Linné
May 13, 1707 – January 10, 1778

Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus) was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.

In the history of science, the Scientific Revolution is a period when new ideas in physics, astronomy, biology, human anatomy, chemistry, and other sciences led to a rejection of doctrines that had prevailed from Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, and laid the foundation of modern science. According to the majority of scholars, the Scientific Revolution began with the publication of two works that changed the course of science in 1543 and continued through the late 17th century.

In his Systema Naturae, published in 1767, Carl von Linné cataloged all the living creatures into a single system that defined their morphological relations to one another: the Linnean classification system. Linné is one of the great figures in science; one who embodies the spirit of discovery that guided the great astronomers of the Scientific Revolution.

Linnaeus's main contribution to taxonomy was to establish conventions for the naming of living organisms that became universally accepted in the scientific world—the work of Linnaeus represents the starting point of binomial nomenclature. In addition Linnaeus developed, during the great 18th century expansion of natural history knowledge, what became known as the Linnaean taxonomy; the system of scientific classification now widely used in the biological sciences.

The Linnaean system classified nature within a hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into Classes and they, in turn, into Orders, which were divided into Genera (singular: genus), which were divided into Species (singular: species). Below the rank of species he sometimes recognized taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank (for plants these are now called "varieties"). His groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics.

Only his groupings for animals remain to this day, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since Linnaeus' conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics. While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid 'observable characteristics' has changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus' time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their relationships to each other), the fundamental principle remains sound.

The Lunar crater Linné is named in his honor.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 12: John Russell Hind

John Russell Hind
May 12, 1823 – December 23, 1895

John Hind was an English astronomer. Some sources give his name as John Russel Hind with only one "L". However, 19th century British astronomical magazines consistently spell his name with two "L"s.

Hind was born in 1823 in Nottingham. At age 17 he went to London to serve an apprenticeship as a civil engineer, but through the help of Charles Wheatstone he left engineering to accept a position at the Royal Greenwich Observatory under George Biddell Airy. Hind remained there from 1840 to 1844, at which time he succeeded W. R. Dawes as director of the private observatory of George Bishop. In 1853 Hind became Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, a position he held until 1891.

Hind is notable for being one of the early discoverers of asteroids. He also discovered and observed the variable stars R Leporis, U Geminorum, and T Tauri (also called Hind's Variable Nebula), and discovered the variability of μ Cephei. Hind discovered Nova Ophiuchi 1848 (V841 Ophiuchi), the first nova of modern times (since the supernova SN 1604).

Hind's naming of the asteroid 12 Victoria caused some controversy. At the time, asteroids were not supposed to be named after living persons. Hind somewhat disingenuously claimed that the name was not a reference to Queen Victoria, but the mythological figure Victoria.

Hind was a Fellow of the Royal Society (1851) and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1853). The Lunar crater Hind and the asteroid 1897 Hind are named in his honor.

Monday, May 11, 2009

May 11: Richard Phillips Feynman

Richard Phillips Feynman
May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988

Richard Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, together with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime and after his death, Feynman became one of the most publicly known scientists in the world.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing, and introducing the concept of nanotechnology (creation of devices at the molecular scale). He held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at Caltech.

Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics in both his books and lectures, notably a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, and The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman is also known for his semi-autobiographical books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and through books about him, such as Tuva or Bust! He was also known as a prankster, juggler, and a proud amateur painter and bongo player. Richard Feynman was regarded as an eccentric and a free spirit. He liked to pursue multiple, seemingly unrelated, paths, such as biology, art, percussion, Maya hieroglyphs, and lock picking.

Feynman also had a more-than-casual interest in biology, and was a friend of the geneticist and microbiologist Esther Lederberg, who developed replica plating and discovered bacteriophage lambda. They had mutual friends in several other physicists who, after beginning their careers in nuclear research, moved for moral reasons into genetics—among them Leó Szilárd, Guido Pontecorvo, Aaron Novick, and Carl Sagan.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10: Augustin-Jean Fresnel

Augustin-Jean Fresnel
May 10, 1788 – July 14, 1827

Augustin-Jean Fresnel was a French physicist who contributed significantly to the establishment of the theory of wave optics. Fresnel studied the behaviour of light both theoretically and experimentally. He is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Fresnel lens, first adopted in lighthouses while he was a French commissioner of lighthouses, and found in many applications today.

His researches in optics, which continued until his death, appear to have begun about the year 1814, when he prepared a paper on the aberration of light, which, however, was not published. In 1818 he wrote a memoir on diffraction for which in the ensuing year he received the prize of the Académie des Sciences at Paris. He was in 1823 unanimously elected a member of the academy, and in 1825 he became a member of the Royal Society of London, which in 1827, at the time of his last illness, awarded him the Rumford Medal. In 1819 he was nominated a commissioner of lighthouses, for which he was the first to construct a special type of lens, now called a Fresnel lens, as substitutes for mirrors.

His labours in the cause of optical science received during his lifetime only scant public recognition, and some of his papers were not printed by the Académie des Sciences till many years after his death. But as he wrote to Young in 1824: in himself 
"that sensibility, or that vanity, which people call love of glory" had been blunted. "All the compliments," he says, "that I have received from Arago, Laplace and Biot never gave me so much pleasure as the discovery of a theoretic truth, or the confirmation of a calculation by experiment."
His discoveries and mathematical deductions, building on experimental work by Thomas Young, extended the wave theory of light to a large class of optical phenomena. In 1817, Young had proposed a small transverse component to light, while yet retaining a far larger longitudinal component. Fresnel, by the year 1821, was able to show via mathematical methods that polarization could be explained only if light was entirely transverse, with no longitudinal vibration whatsoever.

His use of two plane mirrors of metal, forming with each other an angle of nearly 180°, allowed him to avoid the diffraction effects caused (by the apertures) in the experiment of F. M. Grimaldi on interference. This allowed him to conclusively account for the phenomenon of interference in accordance with the wave theory.

With François Arago he studied the laws of the interference of polarized rays. He obtained circularly polarized light by means of a rhombus of glass, known as a Fresnel rhomb, having obtuse angles of 126° and acute angles of 54°.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 9: Ernest Harry Vestine

Geomagnetism: The magnetosphere shields the surface of the Earth from the charged particles of the solar wind and is generated by electric currents located in many different parts of the Earth. 

Ernest Harry Vestine
May 9, 1906 – July 18, 1968

Ernest Vestine was an American geophysicist and meteorologist. 

He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Swedish parents. At the age of two his family moved to Alberta, Canada, where he was raised. He earned a B.S. in math and physics in 1931 from the University of Alberta. The following year he joined the Canadian Meteorological Office in Toronto. During the Second International Polar Year, 1932-3, he led a Canadian expedition to Meanook, which lies in the northern part of Alberta. The team established a magnetic observatory at the site. In 1934 he left to study at the University of London, where in 1937 he earned a Ph.D. in applied mathematics.

During the early 1930s he began a collaboration with the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and in January, 1938 he was hired as an assistant by the Institute's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. He was soon promoted to chief of the department's Land Magnetic Survey section. In 1946 he became the head of the Section on Theoretical Geophysics. In 1947, E. H. Vestine et al produced a comprehensive, two-volume work detailing all the geomagnetic data of the Department. In addition to his research into geomagnetics, he collaborated with studies into seismology and cosmic rays.

In 1957 he performed work relating to the International Geophysical Year. The same year he left the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism to join the RAND Corporation. There he performed studies on planetary and space science, as well as issues concerning national security. From 1964 until 1968 he served as president of the American Geophysical Union's Geomagnetism section.

The Lunar crater Vestine is named in his honor.

Friday, May 8, 2009

May 8: James H. "Dutch" Kindelberger

James H. "Dutch" Kindelberger
May 8, 1895 - July 27, 1962

James Kindelberger was an American pioneer of aviation. He was also a leader of North American Aviation for a number of years. The International Aerospace Hall of Fame inducted Kindelberger in 1977.

Kindelberger was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, to German immigrants. His parents taught him the typical German virtues; he always believed in hard work, orderliness and punctuality. In World War I he was a member of the US Army Air Service.

North American Aviation was a major US aircraft manufacturer, responsible for a number of historic aircraft, including the T-6 Texan trainer, the P-51 Mustang fighter, the B-25 Mitchell bomber, the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and the X-15 rocket plane, as well as Apollo Command and Service Module, the second stage of the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle orbiter and the B-1 Lancer. Through a series of mergers and sales, North American Aviation is now part of Boeing.

Kindelberger became the president and general manager of North American Aviation in 1934. He was promoted to chairman and chief executive officer in 1948, with Lee Atwood replacing him as president. In 1960, Atwood took over as chief executive when Kindelberger retired. Kindelberger remained chairman of the board until his death in 1962. "Under his guidance, North American Aviation broke technological barriers; produced propeller- and jet-powered fighters and bombers, military trainers, rocket engines, and rocket-powered aircraft; and began its role as the prime contractor for the country's space program". Between the years 1935 and 1967, North American Aviation (under Kindelberger's direction) built more military aircraft than any other airplane maker in U.S. history. Kindelberger was recently honored in a documentary by filmmaker William Winship. "Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon", which profiles four of America's legendary aerospace pioneers --William Boeing, Donald Douglas, Dutch Kindelberger, and James McDonnell --whose achievements led the nation and the world from the era of open-cockpit biplanes to the very threshold of Space. 

After World War II Atwood expected there would be a need for improved rocket engines based on those developed by the Germans for the V-2. The two decided in 1946 to invest $1 million in a rocket engine test facility in Santa Susanna, California, and a supersonic wind tunnel at Los Angeles International Airport. This paid off when North American landed the contract to develop the Navaho, a rocket-boosted intercontinental cruise missile. Navaho allowed North American to develop expertise in rocket engines, inertial navigation systems, and supersonic aerodynamics. This in turn led to securing contracts for many advanced aerospace vehicles in the late 1950s - the X-15 manned hypersonic spaceplane, the Hound Dog missile, and the XB-70 Valkyrie triple-sonic bomber. The XB-70 required the company to develop new materials, welding, and manufacturing processes.