DAVID HILBERT (1862-1943)

1900 – France

‘Mathematics is concerned with formal symbolic systems. It is an activity that uses a series of symbols and rearranges them according to various formal rules. This separates it from any concrete reality and consequently there is nothing external to its workings that can be used to validate it, so all of its arguments must be capable of justifying themselves’

The pursuit of formalistic ideas led to many developments within mathematics. Hilbert introduced an original approach to ways of considering mathematical invariants. An invariant is something that is left unchanged by some class of functions. In terms of a geometrical transformation, an invariant would be an object that does not alter its shape or size while it is being moved. He proved that all invariants could be expressed in terms of a finite number – a number that can actually be counted.

Hilbert spent the first two decades of the 20th century struggling to construct a self-justifying system of arguments that would prove that a finite number of steps of reasoning could not lead to a contradiction. This work was itself contradicted in 1931 when Czech born KURT GODEL published his incompleteness theorem, showing that every consistent theory must contain propositions that are undecidable. Godel pointed out that when proving statements about a mathematical system at least some of the rules and axioms must derive from outside that system. By doing this you create a larger system that will contain its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical systems of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete. In doing this Godel showed that truth is more important than provability.

Amongst the list of 23 problems presented to the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris in 1900, was the question of decidability, the ENTSCHEIDUNGSPROBLEM: is it possible to find a definite method for deciding whether any given mathematical assertion was provable?
image depicting a 3-dimensional Hilbert curve used as link to http://mathworld.wolfram.com/
In modern terms this ‘definite method’ would be called an algorithm. ALAN TURING answered the question in the negative in April 1936, but may have been anticipated by the American logician Alonso Church. While Church appealed to contemporary mathematics to make his point, Turing had introduced a theoretical machine that could perform certain precisely defined elementary operations. By doing this, Turing created a foundation for modern theories of computation.

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MAX PLANCK (1856-1947)

1900 – Germany

‘Energy is not a continuous quantity but it is quantised; it flows in discrete packets or quanta. When particles emit energy they do so only in quanta’

According to Quantum theory, the energy (E) of one quantum (photon) is given by E = hf where f is the frequency of radiation and h is Planck’s constant.
Its value is 6.63 x 10-34 joules per second

h is a tiny number, close to zero, but it is has a finite value. This implies energy is released in discrete chunks, a revolutionary notion.

photo portrait of MAX PLANCK ©

MAX PLANCK

By the late 1800s the science of thermodynamics was developing to the point that people were beginning to understand the nature of energy.
The traditional view was that energy was released in a continuous stream and that any amount of energy could be indefinitely divided into smaller and smaller ‘lumps’. Planck’s work on the laws of thermodynamics and black body radiation led him to abandon this classical notion of the dynamic principles of energy and formulate the quantum theory, which assumes that energy changes take place in distinct packages, or quanta, that cannot be subdivided. This successfully accounted for certain phenomena that Newtonian theory could not explain.

The basic laws of thermodynamics recognised that energy could not be created or destroyed, but was always conserved. The second law was drawn from an understanding that heat would not pass from a colder body to a hotter body.
The study of thermodynamics was based on the assumption that matter was ultimately composed of particles. LUDWIG BOLTZMAN had proposed an explanation of thermodynamics, saying the energy contained in a system is the collective result of the movements of many tiny particles rattling around. He believed the second law was only valid in a statistical sense; it only worked if you added up all the bits of energy in all the little particles.
Among his detractors was Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck.

Planck began his work on the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. He investigated how materials transform between solid, liquid and gaseous states. In doing so he found explanations for the laws governing the differing freezing and boiling points of various substances.
He also looked at the conduction of electricity through liquid solutions (electrolysis).

In the mid 1890s Planck turned his attention to the question of how heated substances radiate energy. Physicists were aware that all bodies radiate heat at all frequencies – although maximum radiation is emitted only at a certain frequency, which depends on the temperature of the body. The hotter the body, the higher the frequency for maximum radiation. (Frequency is the rate per second of a wave of any form of radiation).

Planck had been considering formulae for the radiation released by a body at high temperature. Using ideas developed by ROBERT KIRCHOFF, he knew it should be expressible as a combination of wavelength frequency and temperature. For a theoretical ‘black body’, physicists could not predict expressions that were in line with the behaviour of hot bodies at high frequencies and were in agreement with other equations showing their nature at low frequencies. Thus no law could be found which fitted all frequencies and obeyed the laws of classical physics simultaneously.
Plank resolved to find a theoretical formula that would work mathematically, even if it did not reflect known physical laws. His first attempts were partially successful, but did not take into account any notion of particles or quanta of energy, as he was certain of the continuous nature of energy. In an ‘act of despair’ he renounced classical physics and embraced quanta.

The final straw had been a concept developed by John Rayleigh and James Jeans that became known as the ‘ultraviolet catastrophe’ theory. They had developed a formula that predicted values for radiation distribution and worked at low frequencies, but not at high frequencies. It was at odds with Planck’s formula, which worked for high frequencies but broke down at low frequencies. In June 1900 Rayleigh had pointed out that classical mechanics, when applied to the oscillators of a black-body, leads to an energy distribution that increases in proportion to the square of the frequency. This conflicted with all known data.

Planck’s answer was to introduce what he called ‘energy elements’ or quanta and to express the energy emitted as a straightforward multiplication of frequency by a constant, which became known as ‘Planck’s constant’ (6.6256 x 10-34 Jsec-1). This only works with whole number multiples which means for the formula to have any practical use one must accept the radical theory that energy is only released in distinct, non-divisible chunks, known as ‘quanta’, or for a single chunk of energy, a ‘quantum’. This completely contradicts classical physics, which assumed that energy is emitted in a continuous stream. The individual quanta of energy were so small that when emitted at the everyday large levels observed, it appears that energy could seem to be flowing in a continuous stream.
Thus classical physics was cast into doubt and quantum theory was born.

Planck announced his theory on December 14 1900 in his paper ‘On the Theory of the Law of Energy Distribution in the Continuous Spectrum’. Planck said ‘energy is made up of a completely determinate number of finite equal parts, and for this purpose I use the constant of nature h = 6.55 x 10-27(erg sec)’

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When ALBERT EINSTEIN was able to explain the ‘photoelectric’ effect in 1905, suggesting that light is emitted in quanta called ‘photons’, by applying Planck’s theory – and likewise NIELS BOHR in his explanation of atomic theory in 1913 – the abstract idea was shown to explain physical phenomena.

Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918.

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ALFRED NOBEL (1833- 96)

1901 – Sweden

  • 1866 – Invents dynamite

  • 1876 – Invents blasting gelatin

  • 1886 – Invents ballistite

  • 1896 – Nobel Foundation set-up to comply with the terms of Nobel’s will

  • 1901 – First Nobel Prizes awarded

A Swede educated in Russia, France and the United States, Alfred Nobel was a chemist who set up a factory to manufacture the relatively unstable nitro-glycerine to serve the civil-engineering market. After a disaster in 1864, Nobel found a way to stabilise the liquid explosive with kieselguhr, which he called dynamite. He went on to develop blasting gelatin, ballistite and a series of detonators.

The success of Nobel’s dynamites was compounded by his holdings in oil, leading to vast personal wealth. He left much of his fortune to funding the establishment of a series of awards, one of which included an accolade for peace.
There was another dedicated to literature, with the remaining three presented for achievements in the sciences. The first Nobel prizes for medicine (or physiology), physics and chemistry were awarded in 1901.

The prizes are awarded annually, according to the terms of Nobel’s will; ‘to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.’

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IVAN PAVLOV (1849 – 1936)

1903 – Russia

‘A conditioned reflex is a learnt response to an environmental stimulus’

The process of learning to connect a stimulus to a reflex is called conditioning.

An innate or built-in reflex is something we do automatically without thinking (such as moving our hand away from a flame).

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Ivan Pavlov and his staff


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ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)

1905 – Switzerland

  1. ‘the relativity principle: All laws of science are the same in all frames of reference.
  2. constancy of the speed of light: The speed of light in a vacuüm is constant and is independent of the speed of the observer’
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EINSTEIN

The laws of physics are identical to different spectators, regardless of their position, as long as they are moving at a constant speed in relation to each other. Above all the speed of light is constant. Classical laws of mechanics seem to be obeyed in our normal lives because the speeds involved are insignificant.

Newton’s recipe for measuring the speed of a body moving through space involved simply timing it as it passed between two fixed points. This is based on the assumptions that time is flowing at the same rate for everyone – that there is such a thing as ‘absolute’ time, and that two observers would always agree on the distance between any two points in space.
The implications of this principle if the observers are moving at different speeds are bizarre and normal indicators of velocity such as distance and time become warped. Absolute space and time do not exist. The faster an object is moving the slower time moves. Objects appear to become shorter in the direction of travel. Mass increases as the speed of an object increases. Ultimately nothing may move faster than or equal to the speed of light because at that point it would have infinite mass, no length and time would stand still.

‘The energy (E) of a body equals its mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared’

This equation shows that mass and energy are mutually convertible under certain conditions.

The mass-energy equation is a consequence of Einstein’s theory of special relativity and declares that only a small amount of atomic mass could unleash huge amounts of energy.

Two of his early papers described Brownian motion and the ‘photoelectric’ effect (employing PLANCK’s quantum theory and helping to confirm Planck’s ideas in the process).

1915 – Germany

‘Objects do not attract each other by exerting pull, but the presence of matter in space causes space to curve in such a manner that a gravitational field is set up. Gravity is the property of space itself’

From 1907 to 1915 Einstein developed his special theory into a general theory that included equating accelerating forces and gravitational forces. This implies light rays would be bent by gravitational attraction and electromagnetic radiation wavelengths would be increased under gravity. Moreover, mass and the resultant gravity, warps space and time, which would otherwise be ‘flat’, into curved paths that other masses (e.g. the moons of planets) caught within the field of the distortion follow. The predictions from special and general relativity were gradually proven by experimental evidence.

Einstein spent much of the rest of his life trying to devise a unified theory of electromagnetic, gravitational and nuclear fields.

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ROBERT MILLIKAN (1868-1953)

1909 – USA

The charge on the electron’

Photograph of ROBERT ANDREWS MILLIKAN ©

ROBERT ANDREWS MILLIKAN

Millikan measured the charge on the electron.

His experiment showed that the electron is the fundamental unit of electricity; that is, electricity is the flow of electrons.
From his experiment Millikan calculated the basic charge on an electron to be 1.6 × 10-19 coulomb.
This charge cannot be subdivided – by convention this charge is called unit negative, -1, charge.

Millikan also determined that the electron has only about 1/1837 the mass of a proton, or 9.1 × 10-31 kilogram.

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SOREN PETER SORENSEN (1868-1939)

1909 – Denmark

‘A scale of acidity and alkalinity. It runs from 0 (most acid) to 14 (most alkaline).
A neutral solution has a pH of 7’

photograph of SORENSEN in the laboratory

SORENSEN

A solution is acidic when the pH is less than 7 and basic (alkaline) when the pH is greater than 7.
The scale is logarithmic.

The pH measures the concentration of hydrogen ions, H+ , in water.

pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration.

The pH scale can only be used for solutions of acids and bases in water.

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Acid-Base Scale diagram

Acid-Base Scale

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HEIKE KAMERLINGH-ONNES (1853-1926)

1911 – Holland

‘At very low temperatures, some materials conduct electricity without any resistance: that is, virtually without any loss of energy’

Photograph of KAMERLINGH ONNES with his apparatus in 1926

KAMERLINGH ONNES

These materials are called superconductors. In 1908 Kamerlingh-Onnes found that metals such as mercury, lead and tin become superconductors at very low temperatures.

It is now known that about 24 elements and hundreds of compounds become superconductors near absolute zero.

Superconducting technology advanced little until 1986, when scientists developed a metallic ceramic compound that becomes superconductive at around the temperature of liquid nitrogen – minus 196 degrees Celsius.

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ERNEST RUTHERFORD (1871-1937)

1911 Manchester, England

‘The atom contains a core or nucleus of very high density and very concentrated positive charge. Most of the atom is empty space, with the electrons moving about the tiny central nucleus’

Early photograph of ERNEST RUTHERFORD

ERNEST RUTHERFORD

Working under JJ THOMSON (1856-1940) at the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory and later at the McGill University in Montreal, in 1898 Rutherford put forward his observation that radioactive elements give off at least two types of ray with distinct properties, ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ rays.

In 1900 he confirmed the existence of ‘gamma’ rays, which remained unaffected by a magnetic force, whilst alpha and beta rays were both deflected in different directions by such an influence. Although both displayed the ability to stab through solid matter, alpha rays were far less penetrating than beta rays.
He proved through experimental results that they were helium atoms missing two electrons.

Alpha Beta Particles, Gamma Rays in a Magnetic Field

Alpha Beta Particles, Gamma Rays in a Magnetic Field

Alpha rays are in fact positively charged helium atoms that become true helium when they slow down and their charge is neutralised by picking up electrons.
Beta rays were later shown to be made up of electrons, and gamma rays to have a shorter wavelength than X-rays.

diagram showing comparative penetrations of Alpha Beta Gamma radiation

Alpha Beta Gamma radiation

In Montreal, Rutherford worked with Frederick Soddy and showed that over a period of time, half of the atoms of a radioactive substance could disintegrate. During the process the substance spontaneously transmuted to other elements. During radioactive decay, one kind of atom (radium) was ejecting another kind of atom (helium).

Working with other elements, Rutherford and Soddy found that each radioactive element had its own characteristic ‘half-life’. After one half-life, a sample retained only half its original radioactivity, after two half-lives a quarter, after three half-lives an eighth. The half-life of thorium emanation, now known as radon, was close to a minute. The half-lives of other radioactive elements ranged from a split-second to many billions of years. That of radium was 1620 years, while uranium had a half-life of 4.5 billion years.

The concept of half-life provides a way of measuring the age of rocks. As radioactive atoms decay they emit alpha particles. As these are essentially helium atoms, the amount of helium gas accumulates within the pores and fissures of a sample of a uranium mineral as a measure of how many atoms have decayed. Heating samples to drive off their helium and measuring the amount gives an indication of their age.
In order to provide more reliable dates, measuring the amount of lead, the ultimate decay product, compared with the amount of uranium, eliminates the errors introduced by the escape of some of the helium decay product to the air.

Dating rocks in this way gives an estimate of the age of the Earth, and by implication also the Sun, of around 4.5 billion years.

A radioactive atom is simply a heavy atom, which happens to be unstable. Eventually it disintegrates by expelling an alpha, beta or gamma ray. What remains is an atom of a slightly lighter element. A radioactive atom may decay more than once. Uranium, for instance, transforms itself into a succession of lighter and lighter atoms, one of which is radium, until it achieves stability as a non-radioactive atom of lead.

English: Radioactive decay modes

  

Working with HANS GEIGER (1882-1945), Rutherford developed the Geiger counter at Manchester University in 1908. This device measured radiation and was used in Rutherford’s work on identifying the make-up of alpha rays.

While he was at McGill, Rutherford had experimented firing alpha particles at a photographic plate. He had noticed that, while the image produced was sharp; if he passed the alpha particles through thin plates of mica, the resulting image on the photographic plate was diffuse. The particles were clearly being deflected through small angles as they passed close to the atoms of mica.
In 1910 his team undertook work to examine the results of directing a stream of alpha particles at a piece of platinum foil. While most passed through, about one in eight thousand bounced back – that is, deflected through an angle of more than 90 degrees.

Deflection of alpha Particles by Thin Metal Foil

Deflection of alpha Particles by Thin Metal Foil

In 1911 he put forward the theory that the reason for the rate of deflection was because atoms contained a minute nucleus that bore most of the weight, while the rest of the atom was largely ’empty space’ in which electrons orbited the nucleus much as planets orbit the Sun. The reason that one in eight thousand alpha particles bounced back was because they were striking the positively charged nucleus of an atom, whereas the rest simply passed through the spacious part.

But what was an atomic nucleus made of?
At 100,000th the size of the atom, it would take decades of painstaking experiments to discover.

In 1919, working in collaboration with other scientists, Rutherford artificially induced the disintegration of atoms by collision with alpha particles. In the process the atomic make-up of the element changed as protons were forced out of the nucleus. He transmuted nitrogen into oxygen (and hydrogen) and went on to repeat the process with other elements.

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WILLIAM HENRY BRAGG (1862-1942) WILLIAM LAWRENCE BRAGG (1890-1971)

1912 – England

X-rays scattered from a crystal will show constructive interference provided their wavelength ( λ ) fits the equation

2d sin θ = n λ 

where d is the spacing between atoms of the crystal, θ the angle through which the rays have scattered and n is any whole number

This is the cornerstone of the science of X-ray crystallography.

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Symmetrically spaced atoms cause re-radiated X...

Symmetrically spaced atoms cause re-radiated X-rays to reinforce each other in the specific directions where their path-length difference, 2d sin θ, equals an integer multiple of the wavelength λ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NIELS BOHR (1885-1962)

1913 – Denmark

‘Electrons in atoms are restricted to certain orbits but they can move from one orbit to another’

Bohr’s was the first quantum model for the internal structure of the atom.

Bohr worked with RUTHERFORD in Manchester and improved upon Rutherford’s model, which said that electrons were free to orbit the nucleus at random.

Classical physics insisted that electrons moving around the nucleus would eventually expire and collapse into the nucleus as they radiated energy. Bohr resolved the issue surrounding Rutherford’s atomic structure by applying the concept of quantum physics set out by MAX PLANCK in 1900.
He suggested that the electrons would have to exist in one of a number of specific orbits, each being defined by specific levels of energy. From the perspective of quantum theory, electrons only existed in these fixed orbits where they did not radiate energy. The electrons could move to higher-level orbits if energy was added, or fall to lower ones if they gave out energy. The innermost orbit contains up to two electrons. The next may contain up to eight electrons. If an inner orbit is not full, an electron from an outer orbit can jump into it. Energy is released as light (a photon) when this happens. The energy that is released is a fixed amount, a quantum.

Quanta of radiation would only ever be emitted as an atom made the transition between states and released energy. Electrons could not exist in between these definite steps. This quantised theory of the electrons’ orbits had the benefits of explaining why atoms always emitted or absorbed specific frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and of providing an understanding of why atoms are stable.

Bohr calculated the amount of radiation emitted during these transitions using Planck’s constant. It fitted physical observations and made sense of the spectral lines of a hydrogen atom, observed when the electromagnetic radiation (caused by the vibrations of electrons) of the element was passed through a prism.
The prism breaks it up into spectral lines, which show the intensities and frequencies of the radiation – and therefore the energy emissions and absorptions of the electrons.

Each of the elements has an atomic number, starting with hydrogen, with an atomic number of one. The atomic number corresponds to the number of protons in the element’s atoms. Bohr had already shown that electrons inhabit fixed orbits around the nucleus of the atom.
Atoms strive to have a full outer shell (allowed orbit), which gives a stable structure. They may share, give away or receive extra electrons to achieve stability. The way that atoms will form bonds with others, and the ease with which they will do it, is determined by the configuration of electrons.
As elements are ordered in the periodic table by atomic number, it can be seen that their position in the table can be used to predict how they will react.

In addition to showing that electrons are restricted to orbits, Bohr’s model also suggested that

  • the orbit closest to the nucleus is lowest in energy, with successively higher energies for more distant orbits.
  • when an electron jumps to a lower orbit it emits a photon.
  • when an electron absorbs energy, it jumps to a higher orbit.

Bohr called the jump to another orbit a quantum leap.

Although it contained elements of quantum theory, the Bohr model had its flaws. It ignored the wave character of the electron. Work by WERNER KARL HEISENBERG later tackled these weaknesses.

Bohr’s theory of complementarity states that electrons may be both a wave and a particle, but that we can only experience them as one or the other at any given time. He showed that contradictory characteristics of an electron could be proved in separate experiments and none of the results can be accepted singly – we need to hold all the possibilities in mind at once. This requires a slight adjustment to the original model of atomic structure, we can no longer say that an electron occupies a particular orbit, but can only give the probability that it is there.

In 1939 he developed a theory of nuclear fission with Jon Archibald Wheeler (b.1911) and realised that the 235uranium isotope would be more susceptible to fission than the more commonly used 238uranium.
The element bohrium is named after him.

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HENRY GWYN JEFFREYS MOSELEY (1887-1915)

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1914 – Manchester, England

‘Moseley’s law – the principle outlining the link between the X-ray frequency of an element and its atomic number’

ca. 1910s --- Physicist Henry Gwyn Jeffreys MOSELEY --- Library Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

MOSELEY

Working with ERNEST RUTHERFORD’s team in Manchester trying to better understand radiation, particularly of radium, Moseley became interested in X-rays and learning new techniques to measure their frequencies.
A technique had been devised using crystals to diffract the emitted radiation, which had a wavelength specific to the element being experimented upon.

In 1913, Moseley recorded the frequencies of the X-ray spectra of over thirty metallic elements and deduced that the frequencies of the radiation emitted were related to the squares of certain incremental whole numbers. These integers were indicative of the atomic number of the element, and its position in the periodic table. This number was the same as the positive charge of the nucleus of the atom (and by implication also the number of electrons with corresponding negative charge).

By uniting the charge in the nucleus with an atomic number, a vital link had been found between the physical atomic make up of an element and its chemical properties, as indicated by where it sits in the periodic table.
This meant that the properties of an element could now be considered in terms of atomic number rather than atomic weight, as had previously been the case – certain inconsistencies in the MENDELEEV version of the periodic table could be ironed out. In addition, the atomic numbers and weights of several missing elements could be predicted and other properties deduced from their expected position in the table.

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ALFRED LOTHAR WEGENER (1880-1930)

1915 – Germany

‘Continental land masses are constantly in motion. The Earth’s land surface was once one big super-continent. About 250 million years ago it broke up into the continents we know today, which have since drifted to their present positions’

Photograph of ALFRED WEGENER ©

ALFRED WEGENER

Wegener proposed that the continental land masses are moving over the face of the Earth.
Rock under the ocean is principally Basalt, a denser rock than the Granite that makes up the continents. At the start of the Earth’s history there was just a single landmass, which began to break up 200 million years ago, and the parts are still moving. Mountain ranges have been produced where one moving land mass crashes into another, pushing rocks together and forcing them upwards in folds. The tectonic plates move over the asthenosphere carried by convection currents in the magma below.

Up until and beyond Wegener’s death his ideas had little scientific credence – until in the 1950s the mid-Atlantic ridge was discovered. It was this discovery that led to the concept of the tectonic plates.

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ROBERT GODDARD (1882-1945)

1915 – USA

‘Demonstrates that rocket engines can produce thrust in a vacuum’

‘Robert Goddard stands as the epitome of the early American desire to conquer space’

It was generally believed that it would be impossible for a rocket to move outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, as there was nothing for it to push against in order to gain propulsion. Goddard had already gone a long way to revoking this assumption by 1907 in completing calculations to show that a rocket could thrust in a vacuum, and had backed up this concept with physical experiment in 1915.

His booklet “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” described the multi-stage principle and presented advanced ideas on how to improve the performance of solid-fuel rockets.

‘I have read very attentively your remarkable book A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes edited in 1919 and I have found in it quite all the ideas which the German Professor H.Oberth published in 1924′ (in a letter from Soviet engineer & author Nikolai Alexsevitch Rynin)

In 1926 he launched the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket using gasoline and liquid oxygen; the 2.5 second, 41 feet flight proved that liquid-fuel propellants could be used to power a rocket instead of exploding in a catastrophic detonation.
Over the next decade, Goddard filed patents for guidance, control and fuel pump mechanisms.

In spite of his success (by 1935 he had launched a rocket at Roswell, New Mexico which traveled faster than the speed of sound and another which achieved an altitude of 1.7 miles – a record at that time) the US Government largely ignored his efforts until the space race gathered momentum in the 1940s and 1950s.
The government was eventually forced to pay one million dollars to Goddard’s widow for patent infringement in acknowledgement of the use they had made of his designs as a basis from which to begin development.

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JOHANNES BRONSTED (1879-1947) THOMAS LOWRY (1874-1936)

1923 – Denmark

‘An acid is a molecule or ion capable of donating a proton ( a hydrogen nucleus, H+ ) in a chemical reaction, while a base is a molecule or ion capable of accepting one’

The Bronsted-Lowry concept extends Arrhenius’ concept as it includes reactions that take place in the absence of water.

The strongest known acid is an 80 percent solution of antimony pentaflouride in hydrofluoric acid.
The strongest known base is caesium hydroxide.

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Conjugate Acid-Base Pairs

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FREDRICK BANTING (1891-1941)

1923 – Toronto, Canada

‘Discovery of insulin’

Early research had shown that there was almost certainly a link between the pancreas and diabetes, but at the time it was not understood what it was.

We now know a hormone from the pancreas controls the flow of sugar into the blood stream. Diabetics lack this function and are gradually killed by uncontrolled glucose input into the body’s systems.

Banting believed that the islets of Langerhans might be the most likely site for the production of this hormone and began a series of tests using laboratory animals.
After successfully treating dogs – showing signs of diabetes after the pancreas had been removed – with a solution prepared from an extract from the islets of Langerhans, Banting’s team (Best, MacLeod and Collip) purified their extract and named it insulin.

Human trials successfully took place in 1923 and dying patients were restored to health. The same year, industrial production of insulin from pigs’ pancreas began.

In the Second World War Banting undertook dangerous research into poisonous gas and was killed in an air crash while flying from Canada to the United Kingdom.

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LOUIS DE BROGLIE (1892-1987)

1924 – France

‘The wave-particle duality of matter.
Like photons, particles such as electrons also show wave-particle duality, that is, they also behave like light waves’

Einstein had suggested in one of his 1905 papers that the ‘photoelectric’ effect could be explained by an interpretation that included electromagnetic waves behaving like particles. De Broglie simply reversed the argument and asked: ‘if waves can behave like particles (a stream of quanta or photons), why should particles not behave like waves?’

Louis de Broglie (1892-1987), French physicist. De Broglie was instrumental in showing that waves and particles can behave like each other at a quantum level (wave-particle duality). He suggested that particles, such as electrons, could behave as waves. This was confirmed by Davisson and Germer in 1927. He was awarded the 1928 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work.

LOUIS DE BROGLIE

By applying quantum theory de Broglie was able to show that an electron could act as if it were a wave with its wavelength calculated by dividing PLANCK‘s constant by the electron’s momentum at any given instant. His proposal was found to be plausible by experimental evidence shortly afterwards.

BORN, SCHRODINGER and HEISENBERG offered arguments to the debate. NIELS BOHR provided some context in 1927 by pointing out that the equipment used in experiments to prove the case one way or another greatly influenced the outcome of the results. A principle of ‘complementarity’ had to be applied suggesting the experimental proof to be a series of partially correct answers, which have to be interpreted side by side for the most complete picture. Uncertainty and Complementarity together became known as the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics.

Eventually, the ‘probabilistic’ theories of Heisenberg and Born largely won out. At this juncture, cause and effect had logically been removed from atomic physics and de Broglie, like Einstein and Schrödinger, began to question the direction quantum theory was taking and rejected many of its findings.

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SATYENDRA NATH BOSE (1894-1974) ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)

1924 – India & Germany

‘At temperatures close to absolute zero atoms and molecules lose their separate identities and merge into a single ‘super-atom’. This ‘super-atom’ is known as Bose-Einstein condensate’

Like solid, liquid, gas and plasma (hot ionized gas), Bose-Einstein condensate is a state of matter.

Photograph of BOSE ©

BOSE

Velocity in a gas of rubidium as it is cooled:...

Velocity in a gas of rubidium as it is cooled: the starting material is on the left, and Bose–Einstein condensate is on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In quantum mechanics, elementary particles can, in some circumstances, behave like waves. The waves – which are waves of probability – describe where a particle is most likely to be at a given moment. The uncertainty principle dictates that it is impossible to know the exact position of a particle. In 1924, while in Germany, Einstein predicted, based on ideas originally suggested by Indian-born Bose, that when atoms approach absolute zero the waves would expand and finally overlap; the elementary particles of which they are composed all merge into a single quantum state.
This state is now known as Bose-Einstein condensate.

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WOLFGANG PAULI (1900- 58)

1925 – Austria

‘No two electrons in an atom can have the same quantum number’

A quantum number describes certain properties of a particle such as its charge and spin.

An orbital or energy level cannot hold more than two electrons, one spinning clockwise, the other anti-clockwise.

Electrons are grouped in shells, which contain orbitals. The shells are numbered ( n = 1,2,3 etc. ) outwards from the nucleus. These numbers are the ‘principle quantum numbers’.
An increase in n indicates an increase in energy associated with the shell, and an increase in the distance of the shell from the nucleus. The number of electrons allowed in a shell is 2n2. Each shell contains sub-shells or energy sub-levels. A shell can only have n sub-shells. A shell is given a number and a letter ( s,p,d,f,g,etc. ). For example, the electron shell structure of lithium is 1s22s1 (two electrons in ‘s’ sub-shell of the first shell, and one electron in ‘s’ sub-shell of the second shell; the superscript indicates the number of electrons in the shell).

The Pauli principle provided a theoretical basis for the modern periodic table.

1930 – Austria

‘The radioactive beta decay of an atomic nucleus in which a neutron turns into a proton and emits an electron does not seem to follow the law of conservation of energy.’

To account for the missing energy, Pauli postulated that a particle of zero charge and zero mass is released in such reactions.

A few years later ENRICO FERMI named the new particle a neutrino.
There are three known types of neutrino – muon, tau and electron.

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ERWIN SCHRODINGER (1887-1961)

1926 Austria

‘The complex mathematical equation describing the changing wave pattern of a particle such as an electron in an atom. The solution of the equation gives the probability of finding the particle at a particular place’

This equation provides a mathematical description of the wave-like properties of particles.

the Schrodinger equation

Schrödinger developed what became known as ‘wave mechanics, although like others, including EINSTEIN, he later became uncomfortable with the direction quantum theory took. His own proposal was built upon that of LOUIS DE BROGLIE – that particles could, in quantum theory, behave like waves. Schrödinger felt that de Broglie’s equations were too simplistic and did not offer a detailed enough analysis of the behaviour of matter, particularly at the sub-atomic level. He removed the idea of the particle completely and argued that everything is a form of wave.

PLANCK’s work had shown that light came in different colours because the photons had different amounts of energy. If you divided that energy by the frequency at which that colour of light was known to oscillate, you always arrived at the same value, the so-called Planck’s constant.

Between 1925 and 1926 Schrödinger calculated a ‘wave equation’ that mathematically underpinned his argument. When the theory was applied against known values for the hydrogen atom, for example in calculating the level of energy in an electron, it overcame some of the elements of earlier quantum theory developed by NIELS BOHR and addressed the weaknesses of de Broglie’s thesis.
Schrödinger stated that the quantum energies of electrons did not correspond to fixed orbits, as Bohr had stated, but to the vibration frequency of the ‘electron-wave’ around the nucleus. Just as a piano string has a fixed tone, so an electron wave has a fixed quantum of energy.

Having done away with particles, it was required that a physical explanation for the properties and nature of matter be found. The Austrian came up with the concept of ‘wave packets’ which would give the impression of the particle as seen in classical physics, but would actually be a wave.

The probabilistic interpretation of quantum theory based on the ideas of HEISENBERG and BORN proposed that matter did not exist in any particular place at all, being everywhere at the same time until one attempted to measure it. At that point, the equations offered the best ‘probability’ of finding the matter in a given location. Wave mechanics used much simpler mathematics than Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics, and was easier to visualise.
Schrödinger showed that in mathematical terms, both theories were the same and the rival theories together formed the basis for quantum mechanics.

Photograph of Schrödinger ©

ERWIN SCHRODINGER

Schrödinger joined Einstein and others in condemning the probabilistic view of physics where nothing was explainable for certain and cause and effect did not exist.

Ironically, PAUL ADRIAN MAURICE DIRAC went on to prove that Schrödinger’s wave thesis and the probabilistic interpretation were, mathematically at least, the equivalent of each other. Schrödinger shared a Nobel Prize for Physics with Dirac in 1933.

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