Friday, October 31, 2014

Adolf von Baeyer and the Color Blue

Adolf von Baeyer
(1835 – 1917)
On October 31, 1835, German chemist and Nobel Laureate Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer was born. He was the first who succeeded with the synthesis of indigo (1880) and formulated its structure (1883), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1905.

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer was interested in chemical experiments from early age. His father was a lieutenant-general and originated the European system of geodetic measurement. Von Baeyer enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1853 studying mostly mathematics and physics. He visited Bunsen's laboratory in Heidelberg and began working on methyl chloride. Von Baeyer published his first work in 1857 and was able to start working at Kekulé's private laboratory in Heidelberg. He became interested in the ingenious structure theory and received his doctorate in 1858 in Berlin for his work on cacodyl compounds which had been done in Kekulé's laboratory. [1,3]

About two years later, the scientist became university teacher and lecturer in organic chemistry at the "Gewerbe-Akademie" in Berlin. In 1866, the University of Berlin, at the suggestion of A.W. Hofmann, conferred on him a senior lectureship, which, however, was unpaid. In this period however, Baeyer started his work on indigo, which soon led to the discovery of indole and to the partial synthesis of indigotin. Also in this period, Baeyer developed his theory of carbon-dioxide assimilation in formaldehyde. He was appointed chair at the University of Munich after Justus von Liebig had passed away and Baeyer was able to perform the synthesis of indigo. One year later, in 1881, the Royal Society of London awarded him the Davy Medal for his work with indigo. To celebrate his 70th birthday, a collection of his scientific papers was published in 1905. [1,2]

Adolf von Baeyer's work was known to be completed with admirable penetration and extraordinary experimental skill. He was careful never to overestimate the value of a theory. While Kekulé sometimes approached Nature with preconceived opinions, von Baeyer would say: "I have never set up an experiment to see whether I was right, but to see how the materials behave". Even in old age his views did not become fixed, and his mind remained open to new developments in chemical science. [1]

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short video on how to create indigo.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hans Grade - German Aviation Pioneer

Hans Grade before takeoff, 1912
On October 30, 1909, German aviation pioneer Hans Grade won the 40.000 Reichsmark "Lanz-Preis der Lüfte", flying a new monoplane design, the 'Libelle' (Dragon Fly), the first really airworthy motor plane of Germany. Most probably, you have never heard of Hans Grade, who is also scarcely known in his home country. Nevertheless, he is one of the early pioneers of aviation and today, we will tell his story.

Hans Grade was born on May 17, 1879, in Köslin, the largest city of Middle Pomerania in today's north-western Poland. Working as a trainee in mechanical engineering in Grevenbroich, Cologne, he studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin from 1900 to 1904. In 1903, Grade designed and constructed his first motorbike in Köslin and took over an engine workshop. In 1905, he founded the Grade-Motoren-Werke GmbH in Magdeburg and in 1907, he began experiments with a triplane at Magdeburg Athletic Field. On 28 October 1908 he successfully conducted the first motor-flight over German soil in a motorized triplane aircraft of his own construction at Magdeburg, where he succeeded in making a short hop, attaining an altitude of 8 meters. In September 1909, he made the first recognized flight of a German designed and built airplane from the Johannisthal Aerodrome at Berlin. The first flights were scarcely more than hops, but by November, 1909, he had logged one journey of 55 minutes duration.

On 30 October 1909, flying a new monoplane design he won the 40.000 Reichsmark "Lanz-Preis der Lufte", for the first German to fly a flat "8" in a German aircraft with German engine around two pylons 1000 meters apart, no match for pilots from other nations at that time. In 1910, Grade established the first aviation school in Germany. Grade continued with air displays in Hamburg, Bremen, Breslau and Magdeburg. On April 10, 1910, Grade sets an altitude record in Magdeburg of 1450 meters and in 1912 he was awarded The Crown Medal 4th class by the German Emperor.

It was also a Grade monoplane that carried Germany's first air mail, when pilot Pentz made a flight from Bork to Bruck in February 1912 with a small sack of mail in his lap. Although successful, Grade monoplanes did not become as famous as many contemporary European designs, and for this reason comparatively few were built. The small aircraft company, founded with his prize money, did not survived the Versaille-agreement of 1918. His extraordinary construction of driving a car with no use of a gear-box did not stand against the established constructions.

In 1921 he established an automobile company called "Grade Automobilwerke AG", which produced small, 2 seater personal cars. The Grade Automobilwerke AG was closed in 1927 owing to financial difficulties. After the Nazi takeover in the 1930s Grade tried, without success, to develop a new Volksflugzeug and in 1934 he undertook research projects for the German aircraft manufacturers. In 1939 May 14 he re-flew his original monoplane from 1909, then 30 years old, at Berlin Tempelhof Airport for about 550 metres to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Hans Grade died in 1946 at the age of 67.

At yovisto you can learn more about the future of aviation and space flight in the presentation from Marc Millis on 'Space Flight Predictions: After AI & Transhumanism'

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Othniel Charles Marsh and the Great Bone Wars

O.C. Marsh (back row and center), surrounded by armed assistants for his 1872 expedition.
On October 29, 1831, American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh was born. Being one of the preeminent scientists in the field, he discovered over 1000 fossils and contributed greatly to knowledge of extinct North American vertebrates. From the 1870s to 1890s he competed with rival paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope in a period of frenzied Western American expeditions known as the Bone Wars.

The term "paleontology" was coined just nine years before Othniel Charles Marsh's birth October 29, 1831 on a farm in Lockport, New York. A family of modest means, his father's only ambition for his son was that he become a field hand on the family farm. But his mother Mary was the younger sister of famous banker and philanthropist George Peabody. Unfortunately she died when the boy was not quite 3 years old. With the support of his millionaire uncle, Marsh graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover in 1856 and Yale College in 1860. He then studied geology and mineralogy at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School (1860-1862), and afterwards paleontology and anatomy in Berlin, Heidelberg and Breslau (1862-1865). He returned to the United States in 1866 and was appointed the first Professor of vertebrate paleontology at Yale University in the U.S. It was at this time, in the early 1860s, while Peabody was making plans for the eventual distribution of his fortune to worthy causes, that Marsh persuaded him to include Yale in his list of beneficiaries and to establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale with a gift of $150,000. In 1867 he was appointed one of the Museum’s first curators, and also assumed the (unofficial) directorship of the Museum which he had been instrumental in establishing.[2] Marsh himself received a substantial inheritance after Peabody’s death in 1869, which spared him the necessity of receiving a salary from Yale — and doing the teaching to earn it.

Marsh should meet his strongest competitor and opponent Edward Drinker Cope, while being in Berlin as a graduate student. Edward Drinker Cope was born nine years after Marsh on July 28, 1840 to a wealthy family in Pennsylvania. He took an immediate liking to natural history as a child and attended classes at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. At 18, Cope published his first scholarly article while working as a researcher at the Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1863, to avoid Cope being drafted into the Civil War, Cope's father sent his son to Germany to study natural history. There he met fellow graduate student O.C. Marsh at age thirty-two, also attending the University of Berlin. Marsh held two university degrees in comparison to Edward's lack of formal schooling past sixteen, but Edward had written 37 scientific papers in comparison to Marsh's two published works. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1864, Cope and Marsh maintained their friendly relationship and maintained correspondence, exchanging manuscripts, fossils, and photographs.[4]

Legend has it that the battle between the men began when Marsh paid some of Cope's hired diggers to send fossils to him and not to Cope. Matters became worse in 1870, when Cope published a description of Elasmosaurus, a giant plesiosaur - and Marsh gleefully pointed out that Cope had accidentally placed the skull on the wrong end of the beast. The battle was on: for the next twenty years, the two men attacked and slandered each other in print, while they and their crews raced to find and describe the most and the finest new fossils. Each scientist hired field crews to unearth and ship back fossils as fast as possible. The rival crews were known to spy on each other, dynamite their own and each other's secret localities to keep their opponents from digging there, and occasionally steal each other's fossils - all the time exposed to harsh conditions and danger from hostile Native Americans. Marsh eventually "won" the so-called "Bone Wars" by finding 80 new species of dinosaur, while Cope found 56. Cope did not take this lightly, and the two fought within scientific journals for many years to come, rumored to be at the expense of recognized scientific method.[4]

Credited with the discovery of more than a thousand fossil vertebrates and the description of at least 500 more, Marsh published major works on toothed birds, gigantic horned mammals, and North American dinosaurs. He also wrote Fossil Horses in America (1874) and Introduction and Succession of Vertebrate Life in America (1877). Marsh garnered national attention in the late 1860s when he revealed that the alleged remains of a prehistoric man known as the Cardiff Giant were fake.[3] O.C. Marsh died on March 18, 1899, a few years after his great rival Cope

At yovisto you can learn more about paleontology in the TED talk of Dr. Paul Sereno on 'What can Fossils Teach Us?'.

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