Monday, December 31, 2012

Henri Matisse in the Rush of Colors

Henri Matisse
(1869 – 1954)
On December 31, 1869, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse, French draughtsman, sculptor and writer artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship, was born.

Henri Matisse grew up in a wealthy merchant family in France and began his law studies in Paris in 1887. He started gaining his interest in painting rather late at age 18 and made the decision to become a professional painter quick, to his father's disappointment. He was soon busy painting numerous still-lifes and landscapes traditionally and was introduced to Impressionism and the back then unknown Vincent van Gogh in the late 1890's by the artist John Peter Russell, who deeply influenced Matisse and his knowledge concerning colors and various painting methods. A typical paining of this period depicts the 'Vase of Sunflowers ' from 1898.

Henri Matisse's reputation grew and he became an influential artist of his time. He is also seen as one of the leaders of Fauvism. This painting style focuses on strong colors combined with the realistic elements from the Impressionism era. This movement lasted for only about four years but depict an important period in Matisse's life who was able to exhibit his painting 'Woman with a Hat' at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. The work faced diverse criticism, but was later sold to the art collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein.

A great impact to Henri Matisse's career was the younger painter Pablo Picasso, a great friendship evolved between the enthusiastic artists after meeting for the first time at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein. Even though their paintings differed enormously from each other, they were able to influence each other's works and paintings like 'The Dessert: Harmony in Red' by Matisse were characteristic for this period.

In the late 1910's, Matisse left Paris for the French Riviera and created works characteristic for their relaxing mood like 'Odalisque with Arms Raised'. Even though his health situation began to worsen, Matisse was still highly active with his paintings and created his famous 'Blue Nudes' series. His last major work was the interior design of the glass windows of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence.

Henri Matisse passed away on November 3, 1954.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a discussion by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker about Matisse's Painting 'The Red Studio'.

References and Further Reading:
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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rudyard Kipling and his Tales of India

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Portrait by John Collier
On December 30, 1865, English short-story writer, poet, and novelist Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born, remembered for his tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children, was born in Bombay, India.

Rudyard Kipling was born at Bombay, India, to John Lockwood Kipling, himself an artist and principal of the Jeejeebyhoy Art School, and Alice Kipling. Family ties from his mother's side include the famous painters Sir Edward Burne-Jones (one of the most important of the Pre-Raphaelites) and Sir Edward Poynter, but also Stanley Baldwin, a future Prime Minister. His early years in India, until he reached the age of six, seem to have been rather idyllic, but in 1871 the Kipling family left India to return to England. While John and Alice Kipling left again for India after 6 months, Rudyard and his younger sister were left as boarders with the Holloway family in Southsea. During his five years in this foster home he was bullied and physically mistreated, and the experience left him with deep psychological scars and a sense of betrayal.

In 1877 Kipling’s mother returned to England and collected him from ‘The House of Desolation’ as he grimly refers to the Holloway’s later in his autobiography. Thus, he could attend the United Services College in Westward Ho, Bideford. He was wearing spectacles, for Kipling was nearly blind without them and his undiagnosed vision problems were the source of much grief from his schoolteachers. He learned to defend himself from bullies and settled into the life of a student.

In 1882 he returned to India, where he worked for Anglo-Indian newspapers. In 1886 he became a subeditor for the Civil and Military Gazette and in 1887 he moved to the Allahabad Pioneer, a better paper which gave him greater liberty in his writing. But, subsequently he became chiefly known as a writer of short stories. In style, the stories showed the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, Bret Harte, and Guy de Maupassant. But the subjects were Kipling's own: Anglo-Indian society, which he readily criticized with an acid pen, and the life of the common British soldier and the Indian native, which he portrayed accurately and sympathetically. A prolific writer, he achieved fame quickly.

In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Balestier, an American. Their honeymoon took the couple as far as Japan, but they settled on the Balestier estate near Brattleboro, Vermont, where they remained until 1899 and began some of the happiest years of Kipling's life, during which he wrote some of his best work. In 1894 appeared his Jungle Book, which became a children's classic all over the world. Kim (1901), the story of Kimball O'Hara and his adventures in the Himalayas, is perhaps his most felicitous work. In 1902 he bought a house in Sussex which would remain his home in England until his death. In 1907 Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. In the following years Kipling travelled intermittently, and continued to publish stories, poems, sketches, and historical works. He died on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

At yovisto you can lern more about Rudyard kipling in Professor Elleke Boehmer's lecture on 'The Emergence of the Everyday: Kipling and Indian Regional Writing'

References and Further Reading:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Assassination of Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket (1120-1170 AD),
stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral
On December 29, 1170 AD, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church, was assassinated by followers of the King in Canterbury Cathedral. The very last hours of Thomas Becket’s life are the reason why we remember him at all. If the four knights sent for his assassination had not completed their bloody work as he defied their master King Henry II to the last, Becket might have been only slightly better known than his predecessor Theobald.

Thomas Becket was born about 1118 or in 1120 in Cheapside, London, on 21 December, which was the feast day of the Aposte St Thomas as son of Gilbert Becket and his wife Matilda. Gilbert's father was from Thierville in the lordship of Brionne in Normandy, and was either a small landowner or a petty knight. Gilbert began his life as a textile merchant, but later on became a property-owner, living on the rental income from his properties.

At age 10 Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory in England and later attended a grammar school in London. After finishing his education in England, France and Italy, Thomas Becket joined the staff of Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and also sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. In 1154 Thomas Becket was named Archdeacon of Canterbury by Theobald. When Henry II became king of England in the same year, he asked Archbishop Theobald for advice on choosing his government ministers. Thereby, on the suggestion of Theobald, Henry appointed Thomas Becket as his chancellor. The position as chancellor was rather important as it involved the distribution of royal charters, writs and letters. The king and Becket soon became close friends, while Becket carried out many tasks for Henry II including leading the English army into battle.

When Theobald died in 1162, Henry chose Becket as his next Archbishop of Canterbury. The decision angered many of the leading clergymen. They argued that Becket had never been a priest, had a reputation as a cruel military commander and was rather materialistic. Moreover they feared that as Becket was a close friend to Henry II, he would not be an independent leader of the church.

After being appointed Thomas Becket began to show a concern for the poor. Instead of wearing expensive clothes, Becket now wore a simple monastic habit. As a penance for previous sins he slept on a cold stone floor, wore a tight-fitting hairshirt that was infested with fleas and was whipped daily by his monks. Thomas Becket soon came into conflict with Roger of Clare. Becket argued that some of the manors in Kent should come under the control of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Roger disagreed and refused to give up this land. Becket sent a messenger to see Roger with a letter asking for a meeting. Roger responded by forcing the messenger to eat the letter.

In 1163 Becket opposed his friend and king Henry II in a matter of taxation, acting as the champion of the people. He also maintained vigorously all the prerogatives of the Church, in spite of the King's anger and hostility. In 1064 Henry caused the Constitutions of Clarendon to be drawn up, embodying, as the King asserted, the ancient customs and laws of the country, but Becket refused to abide by them, declaring them contrary to canon law. The archbishop firmly resisted the King's authority whenever it conflicted with what he held to be the rights of the Church. Henry was determined to humble his former friend the archbishop, and under various pretexts mulcted him in large sums of money. Finally, when Becket, driven to desperation appealed to the Pope, he was declared a traitor and compelled to flee secretly from England, on November 2, 1164, to France, where he remained for the next six years. Henry confiscated Becket's property and was threatened by him with excommunication and interdict. Finally, in 1170, after the King's son had been crowned by the Archbishop of York, in direct opposition not only to custom and law, but also to the commands of Becket and the Pope, Henry felt obliged to make terms. Becket, anxious to return to England, was promised the restoration of all his confiscated property.

Becket landed in England on December 1, 1170, and immediately the struggle between the two former friends, the king and the archbishop, broke out anew. Becket refused to absolve the bishops who had taken part in the coronation, because, after having disobeyed the Pope, they were unwilling to swear to obey in the future. Finally, on December 29, 1170, four knights went to Canterbury to demand, in the name of the King, the absolution of the bishops. Becket refused and the knights withdrew from the cathedral transept where they were, only to return with an armed following. Becket forbade his attendants to lock the doors, saying, "God's house must be closed against no man." There, by the altar, he was murdered, declaring, "For the name of Jesus and for the defense of the Church I am ready to embrace death." Three years after his death the Pope made Thomas a saint in 1173.

The story of Thomas Becket is also subject of T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral and Jean Anouilh's play Becket, which was made into a movie with the same title. Moreover, the struggle between Church's and King's power is the main theme of Ken Follett's novel The Pillars of the Earth, of which one of the last scenes features the murder of Thomas Becket.

At yovisto you can learn more about the religious landscape of England during the later medieval period in the lecture of Prof. Keith Wrightson from Yale on 'Late Medieval Religion and Its Critics'

References and Further Reading:

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Lumière Brothers invented the Cinema

Auguste and Louis Lumiére
On December 28, 1895, the Lumière Brothers performed 10 movies for their first paying audience at the Grand Cafe in Boulevard des Capucines, marking the debut of the cinema.

The Lumière brothers attended a famous technical school in Lyon and their father owned a photography business both sons were employed in, which were in the 19th century probably the best conditions for a major success in the film business.

Louis Lumière made several technical improvements to the field of photography, paving their way to produce moving images. And when their father left the business for retirement in 1892, the brothers took action and began producing their first films, which they needed further technical improvements for and patented several of these including the cinematograph. Even though it is not clear whether the brothers really invented the machine, they held its patent from the early 1890's. The machine was about to revolutionize mass entertainment due to its combination of a camera, a printer and a projector. The first movies were publicly projected at Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris. During this history making event, 10 short films were demonstrated including the first movie ever recorded 'Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon'. Each movie was about 50 seconds long and highly fascinated the people of Lyon and beyond. One of the movies 'The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station', was subject of an urban legend, well known in the world of cinema. The story goes that when the film was first shown, the audience was so overwhelmed by the moving image of a life-sized train coming directly at them that people screamed and ran to the back of the room.

Due to the instant success, the brothers were able to open their first cinematograph theaters, which were later better known as cinemas in metropolis around the globe like New York or London. At the Paris Exhibition of 1900, they projected their movies on a screen measuring 16 by 21 meters with their improved cinematograph. Since films were enjoyed by all classes of society, the brother's success was unstoppable, the film industry was born and depicts an important part of our lives until today. 

At yovisto, you may enjoy two of the earliest movies by the Lumière Brothers. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and Baby`s lunch, both produced in 1895.

References and Further Reading:

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Louis Pasteur - the Father of Medical Microbiology

Louis Pasteur
(1822 – 1895)
On December 27, 1822, French chemist Louis Pasteur was born, who is considered one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases.

Louis Pasteur was born into a poor family as the son of a tanner in France. In his school years the young patriot was an average student, favoring drawing and painting various images. Still he earned his Bachelor of Science in 1842 and became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, where he met his future wife Marie Laurent. Unfortunately, three of their children suffered from typhoid, which motivated Pasteur to find cures for these cruel diseases.

Before coming to Strasbourg, the young scientist was mainly occupied with tartaric acids, demonstrating chiral molecules for the first time and introducing himself into the scientific community through these results. Later on, Pasteur earned himself a great reputation through his germ theory of fermentation. He performed several experiments showing that fermentation results from growing micro-organisms and that growing bacteria results from biogenesis instead of spontaneous generation. Even though, Pasteur was not the first to publish these ideas, he was the one performing experiments showing the results more accurate and more correct, which convinced whole Europe very soon. Today, Pasteur counts as the father of germ theory along with the German physician Robert Koch. After this success, Pasteur continued his research in these fields and invented the process now widely known as pasteurization. When finding out that bacteria and mould were already present in various beverages like wine, milk or beer, Pasteur found out that these liquids had to be heated to kill those bacteria, responsible for the spoiling of beverages. After these findings, the curious scientist Pasteur found out that antiseptic methods in surgery could be used to prevent certain micro-organisms to enter the body and cause diseases. These ideas were later executed by Joseph Lister and meant a revolution in European medical studies.

While working on chicken cholera, Pasteur managed to produce vaccines for this disease and applied his results on rabies. After being tested on a handful of animals, the vaccine was injected to a nine year old boy, who was bitten by a dog. The message that Pasteur saved this boy's life spread rapidly and the chemist was treated like a hero. However, if the injection was really the cause for the boy's cure is to be questioned, but still his research achievements paved the way for further approaches in these fields and led to curing millions of people up to this day.

Louis Pasteur's contributions to medical microbiology are fundamental and were honored with the famous Leeuwenhoeck medal and several Institutes were named after Pasteur. Louis Pasteur passed away on September 28, 1895 near Paris.

At yovist, you may enjoy a video lecture at Yale University by J. Michael McBride talking about Models in 3D Space and Optical Isomers. In the lecture the professor of chemistry explains Louis Pasteur's artificial seperation of racemic acid.

References and Further Reading:


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Heinrich Schliemann and his Dream of Troy

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890)
On December 26, 1890, Heinrich Schliemann, German businessman and amateur archaeologist, and livelong advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of ancient Greek poet Homer passed away. His dreams came true when he succeeded in excavating Hissarlik, now presumed to be the site of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns. Without Schliemann, the world of ancient Greek history and the verses of Homer would have remained in the dark state of mythology and fiction. His efforts not only gave way for modern archeology but also have changed the way we are looking at our historical roots today.

Heinrich Schliemann was born in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin on January 6, 1822 to Ernst Schliemann, a poor Protestant minister and his wife Luise Therese Sophie. By all accounts Heinrich's early life was a hard one, especially when his mother died in 1831 when Heinrich was only nine years old, whereafter his father sent Heinrich to live with his uncle, Friedrich. When he was eleven years old, Heinrich enrolled in the Gymnasium (grammar school) at Neustrelitz. His later interest in history was initially encouraged by his father, who had schooled him in the tales of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Schliemann later claimed that at the age of 8, he had declared he would one day excavate the city of Troy.

Schliemann's time at the grammar school was curtailed, as his father could no longer afford to pay the school fees. In fact, his father was accused of embezzling church funds to pay for his son's education. Schliemann had to leave and continued at Realschule, a vocational school, where his scholarly studies took second place to work related studies. By 1836, at the age of 14, Schliemann again was forced to leave the school, when hiss father could not even afford the more modest fees of the Realschule. Heinrich became a grocer's apprentice at age fourteen, where he labored for five years, reading voraciously whenever he had a spare moment. In 1841, Schliemann fled to Hamburg and became a cabin boy on the Dorothea, a steamship bound for Venezuela. After twelve days at sea, the ship foundered in a gale, and the survivors washed up on the shores of the Netherlands.

In 1844,  Schliemann took a position an import/export firm that sent him as a General Agent to St. Petersburg in 1846. In time, Schliemann represented a number of companies. He learned Russian and Greek, employing a system that he used his entire life to learn languages. By the end of his life, he could converse in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish as well as German. In 1850, Heinrich learned of the death of his brother, Ludwig, who had become wealthy as a speculator in the California gold fields. Thus, he went to California in early 1851 and started a bank in Sacramento buying and reselling over a million dollars of gold dust in just six months. In 1852, he sold his business and returned to Russia, where he attempted to live the life of a gentleman and married Ekaterina Lyschin, the niece of one of his wealthy friends.  Schliemann made yet another quick fortune as a military contractor in the Crimean War, 1854-1856. He cornered the market in saltpeter, sulfur, and lead, constituents of ammunition, which he resold to the Russian government. By 1858, Schliemann gave up his Russian enterprises to devote his time and wealth to the pursuit of his childhood dream, the discovery of historical Troy and Homer's Greece. Finally after years of preparation, in 1868 he proceeded to Greece, where he visited various Homeric sites. From these experiences he published the book Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja, in which he advanced two theories that Hissarlik, not Bunarbashi, was the true site of Troy and that the Atreid graves at Mycenae were situated inside the walls of the citadel. This work earned him a doctorate from the University of Rostock.

In 1870 Schliemann's excavations at Troy began and he really discovered a great treasure of gold jewelry and other objects. But, he encountered difficulties from the Turkish government regarding permission to continue his excavations. He went to Mycenae, where he began to dig near the famous Lion Gate, eventually unearthing the famous Dome Tombs, the burial place of the Mycenaean kings. The finds of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and ivory objects were enormous, perhaps the greatest treasure trove ever discovered. Schliemann spent the rest of his life with further excavations at Troy, the citadel of Tiryns and at Orchomenos, with plans for work in Egypt and Crete and with actual excavation started on Cythera and in Pylos. On December 25, 1890, while his partner Dörpfeld was leading another dig at Troy, Schliemann died in Naples. He had had a life of great accomplishments, rushing impatiently and with insurmountable energy from project to project. His drive and enthusiasm subjected the world of Homer and the profession of archeology to a fresh breeze, which led to a new era of archeological scholarship.

At yovisto you can learn more about ancient Greek art in the OTIS College of Arts and Desing art lectures.

References and Further Reading:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Charlemagne and the Birth of Europe

Obverse of a Charlemagne denier
coined in Frankfurt from 812 to 814
On December 25, 800 AD, Charlemagne also known as Karl the Great was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III in Rome. Thereby, he was the very first emperor of western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Back in the 6th century, the West Germanic Franks had been christianised and Francia, ruled by the Merovingian dynasty, was the most powerful of the kingdoms that succeeded the Western Roman Empire. But the Merovingians already declined into a state of powerlessness, for which they have been dubbed the "rois fainéants", the lazy kings. Almost all government powers of any consequence were executed by their chief officers, the mayor of the palace.

Charlemagne was born around 742 as son of Bertrada of Laon and Pepin the Short, who became king of the Franks in 751. Although his parents married before his younger brother Carloman was born, they were not legally married at the time of Charlemagne's birth, and he was thus thought to be illegitimate. Charlemagne’s exact birthplace is unknown, although historians have suggested Liege in present-day Belgium and Aachen in modern-day Germany as possible locations. Only very little is known about Charlemagne's childhood and education, whereby as an adult, he displayed talents for foreign languages. He even could speak Latin and understand Greek among other languages. In 754, he participated in the ceremony where Pope Stephen II appointed Charlemagne's father Pepin king of the Franks. He also joined Pepin on many military campaigns. In the division of the realm after Pepin's death in 768, his brother Carloman received a larger and richer portion. Under these circumstances relations between the brothers turned out to be difficult, but Carloman died unexpectedly in 771, leaving Charlemagne the sole ruler of the entire kingdom.  The brothers had a strained relationship; however, with Carloman’s death in 771, Charlemagne became the sole ruler of the Franconians.

Charlemagne aimed to unite all the Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert all his subjects to Christianity. In order to carry out this mission, he spent the majority of his reign engaged in some military campaigns. In 772, it was resolved at the Diet at Worms to make war against the Saxons, for the security of the frontiers, which they continually threatened, and for the extension of the Christian religion. Charlemagne advanced as far as the Weser in 772, securing his conquests by castles and garrisons. Subsequently, Pope Adrian I. called him to his aid against Desiderius, King of the Lombards. Charlemagne crossed the Alps from Geneva with two armies by the Great St. Bernard and Mount Cenis in 773 and overthrew the Kingdom of the Lombards in 774, who acknowledged him as their King. Next, he hastened to interfere in the wars of the Arabs and Moors in Spain in 778, and added to his dominions the region between the Pyrenees and the Ebro. Subsequent insurrections and wars in Germany resulted in victories over the Bulgarians and Huns, and in the further consolidation and extension of his Empire at its eastern boundaries.

In his role as a zealous defender of Christianity, Charlemagne gave money and land to the Christian church and protected the popes. As a way to acknowledge Charlemagne’s power and reinforce his relationship with the church, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans on December 25, 800, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Amid the acclamations of the people, who saluted him as Carolus Augustus, Emperor of the Romans, Charlemagne tied up his rule to the Roman Empire, which greatly confirmed and increased the respect entertained for him. As emperor, Charlemagne proved to be a talented diplomat and able administrator of the vast empire he controlled. He strongly promoted education and encouraged the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of renewed emphasis on scholarship and culture. He instituted economic and religious reforms, and was a driving force behind the Carolingian miniscule, a standardized form of writing that later became a basis for modern European printed alphabets. During his reign, Charlemagne always was on the move and ruled from a number of cities and palaces, but spent significant time in Aachen. His palace there included a school, for which he recruited the best teachers in the land, a predecessor of later universities. In addition to learning, Charlemagne also was interested in athletic pursuits. Known to be highly energetic, he enjoyed hunting, horseback riding as well as swimming. Aachen held particular appeal for him due to its therapeutic warm springs. His fame spread to all parts of the world. Even the caliph of Baghdad Harun-al-Raschid sent ambassadors to salute him. Charlemagne enjoyed good health till shortly before his death, January 28th, 814. He was buried at Aix-la-Chapelle, in a church which he had built there. Interestingly to mention is that actor Sir Christopher Lee, who is an offspring of the Cardini noble family which can be laid back up to the Carolingians, is said to be Charlemagne's most famous descendent.

At yovisto you can learn more about Carolongian Art in the Otis Art lecture series.

References and Further Reading:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Vasco da Gama and the Route to India

Vasco da Gama
(1469 – 1524)
On December 24, 1524, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira, passed away. He was one of the most successful explorers in the Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India.

Vasco da Gama was born into a family of noblemen, his father belonged to the Order of Santiago and was occupied with several administrative tasks. When Vasco da Gama joined the Order as well, he was given many assignments concerning trade and Portugal's problems with pirates at the West-African coasts. Da Gama earned himself a great reputation during this year and was soon promoted and nominated to travel to India.

Da Gama and his crew left the port of Lissabon on July 8, 1497 with the 120t ship São Gabriel, and two other boats, the São Rafael, and Bérrio. The crew was highly experienced with the weather and sea conditions of the south Atlantic-Ocean and on November 4, they reached the westcoast of South Africa. They traveled to Mombasa in April of the next year, and to Malindi, where the travelers took a helping navigator on board. On May 20, 1498, the Portugese sailors finally reached India's Malabar Coast as the first European Ships of all times. There, da Gama was to trade important spices and resources, unfortunately only with moderate success. The crew's first ship reached Lissabon in the early Summer of 1499 while Vasco da Gama's ship stayed a few weeks longer at the Azores due to the serious illness of his brother who was the commander of the second ship of the fleet. But when he reached Portugal in September of the same year with many goods and spices, he was cordially received with a great procession.

The second journey to India by Vasco da Gama followed in 1502, but this time with heavily armored ships. When the fleet arrived India, attacking their trade monopoly, a state of war evolved instantly. The Portugese were able to succeed against the Indian fleet and was then able to built the first fort, strengthening Portugals position in India. Through suspicious trade agreements and Portugals permanent presence in the Indian Ocean they were able to develop a monopoly for foreign spices in Europe.

During his third and last journey to India, da Gama suffered from an infection and passed away on Christmas Eve in Kochi. Until this day, Vasco da Gama counts as one of the most important discoverers of all times and was honored around the globe for his achievements.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Dr. Jim Bennett about 'The Age of Discovery'.

References and Further Reading:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Giovanni Cassini and the Saturn Moon Rhea

Giovanni Domenico Cassini
(1625 - 1712)
On December 23, 1672, Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered Rhea, the 2nd largest of the 62 Saturn moons that are known by today.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini studied in Genoa as well as Bologna and was occupied with a professorship at the University of Bologna for studies in astronomy and mathematics. There he taught euclidean geometry and due to the church's restrictions, ptolemy astronomy. For a long time he favored the geo-heliocentric system by Tycho Brahe before switching to Copernicus' theory later on and also, just like Tycho, Cassini began observing the sky more accurate than many scientists before him. He published numerous charts on his observations and due to the fact that he used different kinds of telescopes, he was able to make some critical findings. He calculated Jupiter's and Venus' rotation and observed these planet's surfaces in detail.

Cassini's reputation grew fast, wherefore he was soon director of an observatory aiming to research on Earth's form as well as to measure the solar system. It was during these years, when Cassini discovered Saturn's Moons Iapetus in 1671 and one year later Rhea, named by Cassini to honor King Louis XIV. It was also him to discover the gap in Saturn's Rings, now called the 'Cassini Division'. Another important part of Cassini's research was the calculation of the Earth-Sun distance, today known as an Astronomical Unit. Through this unit, it was then possible to indicate all distances in the solar system standardized but this new kind measurement was not initially accepted by all astronomers, for instance Edmund Halley was ne of its opponents.

In general, Cassini was known to represent traditional theories instead of new discoveries of his young colleagues. When Jean Richer and Philippe de La Hire published their findings on the oblateness of the Earth at its poles, he rejected it as well as Ole Rømer's theories about the finiteness of the speed of light. But despite his attitudes to certain theories, Giovanni Domenico Cassini counts as one of the most influential astronomers in the 17th century. He passed away on September 14, 1712 in Paris.

At yovisto you may enjoy the video lecture by Caroline Crawford on 'Saturn, its Rings and Moons' at Gresham College.

More interesting yovisto blogposts about astronomy:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Birth of the Transistor

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain,
the inventors of the transistor, 1948
On December 22, 1947, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley at ATT's Bell Labs developed the first transistor, the key active component in practically all modern electronics.

The transistor is a three terminal, solid state electronic device. In a three terminal device one can control electric current or voltage between two of the terminals by applying an electric current or voltage to the third terminal. This three terminal character of the transistor is what allows us to make an amplifier for electrical signals, like the one in our radio. With the three-terminal transistor one can also make an electric switch that can be controlled by another electrical switch. By cascading these switches (switches that control switches that control switches, etc.) very complicated logic circuits can be designed. But, the transistor was not the first three terminal device that could be used for amplifying or switching circuits. The vacuum tube triode preceded the transistor by nearly 50 years. Joseph John Thomson developed a vacuum tube to carefully investigate the nature of cathode rays already at the end of the 19th century. He showed that the cathode rays were really made up of particles that were contained in all material. Thus, Thomson had discovered the electron, for which he received the Nobel Prize in physics 1906.

At the same time as physicists were trying to understand what cathode rays were, engineers were trying to apply them to make electronic devices. In 1906, Lee De Forest made the vacuum tube triode, or audion as he called it, a three terminal device that served as the basis of an amplifier for audio signals enabling AM radio. The vacuum tube triode also helped push the development of computers forward a great deal, but the limits of these tubes were soon reached. As the electric circuits became more complicated, one needed more and more triodes. The vacuum tubes tended to leak, and the metal that emitted electrons in the vacuum tubes burned out. The tubes also required so much power that big and complicated circuits were too large and took too much energy to run. These problems lead scientists and engineers to think of other ways to make three terminal devices. Instead of using electrons in vacuum, scientists began to consider how one might control electrons in solid materials, like metals and semiconductors.

In 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, working at Bell Telephone Laboratories, were trying to understand the nature of the electrons at the interface between a metal and a semiconductor. They observed that when two gold point contacts were applied to a crystal of germanium, a signal was produced with the output power greater than the input.Thus, they could make a three terminal device based on semiconductors -- the first transistor. First thing they tried with the new device was to take a few of these transistors and connected them with some other components to make an audio amplifier. This audio amplifier was shown to chief executives at Bell Telephone Company, who were very impressed that it didn't need time to "warm up" like the heaters in traditional vacuum tube circuits. They immediately realized the power of this new technology.

This invention was the spark that ignited a huge research effort in solid state electronics. Bardeen and Brattain received the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1956, together with William Shockley, who had developed a so-called junction transistor, which was built on thin slices of different types of semiconductor material pressed together. Today, the transistor has become the key active component in practically all modern electronics. Many consider it to be one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.

At yovisto you can watch an interview with Nobel laureate William Shockley from 1969, where he talks about the invention of the transistor.

References and Further Reading:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Leopold von Ranke and the Science of History

Leopold von Ranke
(1795 – 1886)
On December 21, 1795, German historian Leopold von Ranke, one of the founding fathers of modern history science was born.

As the son of an attorney, Leopold von Ranke was paved the way for a decent education. He attended the famous Pforta private school, the University of Leipzig and later on was occupied as a teacher in Greek, and Roman classics in Frankfurt Oder. It was during his time there, when Von Ranke seriously grew his interest in historical studies. While in Frankfurt, he published his first book on the 'History of Latin and Teutonic Nations' including a main chapter criticizing the common methods in the field of histography. Inspired by Barthold Niebuhr, a famous historian himself, Von Ranke began creating his own methods like motivating scientists to use better resources and to improve the presentations of historical knowledge.

Von Ranke's efforts did not stay unnoticed. He earned himself a professorship at the University of Berlin, an important milestone in Leopold von Ranke's career since his relationship with the university was long lasting and doubtless fruitful. He met Friedrich Carl von Savigny and followers of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who influenced Van Ranke critically. Also, he was allowed to access the Prussian Royal Library from then on, important for his historical studies. After publishing a further book, this time concerning the Spanish monarchy and the Ottomans, he was allowed to access archived material in Vienna and Italy.

Before publishing further works on the History of Europe, Leopold von Ranke spent some years writing historical-political texts for a magazine, which highly improved his ablilities as well as his reputation.

Leopold von Ranke, who was called "the greatest German historian", "the Father of the objective writing of history", and "the founder of the science of history" passed away in 1886

At yovisto, you may enjoy a discussion on Leopold von Ranke as well as his achievements by the historians Gareth Millward, Martin Moore, and Linda Briggs.

References and Further Reading:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ernest Rutherford Discovers the Nucleus

Ernest Rutherford
(1871 - 1937)
On December 20, 1910, New Zealand born physicist Ernest Rutherford made his seminal gold foil experiment which led to first insight about the nature of the inner structure of the atom and to the postulation of Rutherford's concept of the "nucleus", his greatest contribution to physics. Most interestingly, Rutherford made his greatest discovery after receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1908.

Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871, as the fourth child of 12 born to James Rutherford, a farmer, and his wife Martha Thompson, originally from Hornchurch, Essex, England, who had emigrated emigrated to New Zealand. His first name was mistakenly spelled 'Earnest' when his birth was registered. At age ten Ernest received his first science book. Amongst the many suggested experiments in it one, on using the speed of sound to determine the distance to a firing cannon, gave him the knowledge to surprise his family by estimating the distance to a lighting flash. Perhaps it was also this book which inspired him to make a minature cannon out of a hat peg, a marble and blasting powder. The cannon exploded, luckily without causing injury. Martha Rutherford ensured that all her children were well prepared for school and all received good educations. In 1887 Ernest won, on his second attempt, the Marlborough Education Board scholarship to Nelson College. In 1889 he was head boy, played in the rugby team and, again on his second attempt, won a scholarships at the University of New Zealand. He graduated M.A. in 1893 with a double major in Mathematics and Physical Science, and he continued with research work at the College for a short time, receiving his Bachelor of Science degree the following year.

The same year he was awarded a Scholarship, enabling him to go to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge as a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory under J.J. Thomson. There, he briefly held the world record for the distance over which wireless waves were detected. During the investigation of radioactivity, he coined the terms alpha, beta and gamma rays. In 1897, Rutherford was awarded his B.A. Research Degree at Trinity College. In 1898, Rutherford left for Canada to take up a professorship at McGill University in Montreal, which boasted one of the best-equipped laboratories in the Western Hemisphere. There, he did the work that gained him the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, demonstrating that radioactivity was the spontaneous disintegration of atoms. Rutherford noticed that in a sample of radioactive material, it invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay - its so-called "half-life" - and created a practical application for this phenomenon using this constant rate of decay as a clock. The half-life ranges from seconds to billions of years and is unique for each radioelement and thus an excellent identifying tag. This phenomenon could then be used to help determine the actual age of the Earth that turned out to be much older than most scientists at the time believed. This also led Rutherford to his famous ironic remark,
"In science there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting."
After 1905, Rutherford turned his attention to the nature of alpha radiation. The deflection of alpha rays by electrical and magnetic fields demonstrated that the rays must consist of some kind of particles. Alpha rays are actually a stream of alpha particles traveling at very high rates of speed. Rutherford showed that an alpha particle is identical to a helium atom without its electrons, that is, a helium nucleus. Starting in 1909 Rutherford started experimenting with a gold foil that was bombarded wit beam of alpha particles. This was performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden under the direction of Ernest Rutherford at the Physical Laboratories of the University of Manchester. However, the achieved results surprised Rutherford. Although many of the alpha particles did pass through the gold foil as expected, many others were deflected at small angles while others were reflected back to the alpha source. They observed that a very small percentage of particles were deflected through angles much larger than 90 degrees. This meant that the atom had a concentrated center of positive charge and of relatively large mass. The alpha particles had either hit the positive center directly or passed by it close enough to be affected by its positive charge. Since many other particles passed through the gold foil, the positive center would have to be a relatively small size compared to the rest of the atom - meaning that the atom is mostly open space. This led to a new interpretation of the nature of the atomic world. Rutherford's new description of the atom set the foundation for all future atomic models and the development of nuclear physics. Rutherford's model was later elaborated into the Bohr model by physicist Niels Bohr in 1913. The Bohr model, in turn, was soon replaced by the Schrodinger model of the atom, as the basic atomic model used today.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video by Dr. Brian Cox, discussing Ernest Rutherford and his seminal gold foil experiment.

References and further Reading:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Albert Abraham Michelson and the Famous Experiment that lead to Einstein's Special Relativity Theory

Albert Abraham Michelson
(1852 – 1931)
On December 19, 1859, US-american physicist Albert Abraham Michelson was born. Together with his colleague Edward Williams Morley he conducted an experiment that proved the by the time famous ether theory to be wrong and is considered to be one of the pilars of the theory of relativity.

Albert Abraham Michelson was born in Prussia but grew up in San Francisco, where he attended mainly public schools. After his High School graduation, Michelson was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy by President Ulysses S. Grant. He soon became an instructor in physics as well as chemistry, and a few years later continued his studies in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Paris. After leaving the Navy in 1883, Michelson began his academic career as a professor in physics at various universities across the United States.

Already in the mid 1870's, Michelson began his plans for an improved measurement of the speed of light with more precise instruments and larger distances. When Simon Newcomb found out about Michelson's results, he invited the young scientist to Washington D.C. and a long lasting scientific friendship evolved. In the 1920's, Michelson began his studies on new measurements at the Mount-Wilson-Observatory in California and improved his results along with Francis Pease in 1927, but unfortunately passed away before the complete results were published in 1935.

The famous Michelson-Morley-Experiment he became best known for was performed already in 1881 during his stay in Berlin and Potsdam and repeated six years later in Cleveland. In the experiment, Michelson and Morley were to calculate the Earth's movement in relation to the stationary ether. Physics theories of the late 19th century assumed that just as surface water waves must have an intervening substance, i.e. a "medium", to move across, and audible sound requires a medium to transmit its wave motions (such as air or water), so light must also require a medium, the "luminiferous aether", to transmit its wave motions. Because light can travel through a vacuum, it was assumed that even a vacuum must be filled with aether. To Michelson's surprise the results of his experiment showed that the Earth's movement could not me measured this way and therefore disproved the existence of the ether. This is to be seen as one of the foundations to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

At yovisto, you may enjoya video lecture on the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment and Special Relativity.

References and Further Reading:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Konrad Zuse - The Inventor of the Computer

Konrad Zuse
(1910 - 1995)
On December 18, 1995, German engineer and computer pioneer Konrad Zuse passed away. He is renowned to have constructed the very first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, which became operational in May 1941.

Konrad Zuse developed the ability to build various kinds of machines in his early high school years, and he began his engineering-career at Berlin's Technical University, where he earned his degree in 1935. Right after graduating, the inventor quit his promising engineering job at a company, responsible for transportmachines and aircrafts. When he told his parents, he needed their entire living room to construct a machine that was able to do the moronic work of calculating automatically, he earned much astonishment, but also their complete support.

So this is, where one of the greatest inventions of all times started - in an ordinary family's living room in Berlin-Kreuzberg, just a few years before World War II. Zuse was going to build a binary calculating machine based on mechanical bistable elements continuing the works of the congenial 19th century English mathematician Charles Babbage. Also, the entire machine was supposed to be based on propositional logic, which he developed the famous floating-point execution unit for. Zuse built a memory, as well as a control unit made of punched tape, which he received from the Babelsberg film studios and finished his first mechanical computer, the Z1 in 1938. [1] Because of the limited resources, Konrad Zuse was not quite satisfied with this new very loudly calculating "monstrosity" he had created at his parent's home. He made a few adjustments, like using telephone-relays and designed the Z2 right after. He refined further details and partly financially supported by the government, Konrad Zuse was able to finish his famous Z3, the first computer world wide that was freely programmable and based on the binary number system as well as a binary circuit technology in 1941.

The construction of the Z4 began in 1942, but due to World War II, Zuse could not finish it in Berlin, wherefore he moved it to Neukirchen in Hessen, Germany. You may imagine, that moving a whole computer system (as big as a whole shelf unit and as heavy as a small car) in Germany near the end of the war was definitely not a walk in the park. Because all other machines have been destroyed by the bombs, the Z4 was everything he had left and therefore the move was even more risky. But fortunately, Zuse and his team made it just on time and five years after the war, the machine was completely reconstructed and calculated from then on at the ETH Zurich as the only commercial computing system in Europe. After the Z3 and Z4, Zuse was still motivated to build and sell fully automatic calculating machines, wherefore he founded a company in Neukirchen. Zuse and his wife, who lead the business sold more than 250 computers across Europe.

Another problem, regarding the Z3 was Zuse's recognition as the inventor of the Computer. Howard Aiken presented the Mark 1 in 1944 in the USA, but Zuse's Z3 was destroyed during World War II and only some sketches remained. However, he could collect numerous evidences for his achievement and during a mathematical conference concerning the fact 'Who invented the Computer', a huge majority spoke for Konrad Zuse. Unfortunately, this was in 1998, three years after Zuse's passing, but after this, he received the Computer History Museum Fellow Award, to be seen as the USA's acknowledgement. Also, in 2010, the 'Zuse Year' was announced to honor his contributions and to emphasize the importance of his invention to the digital age. 

At yovisto you can learn more about computer pioneer Konrad Zuse in a talk given by his son, Prof. Horst Zuse, about his father and the invention of the computer (in German language).

References and Further Reading:
Further Articles concerning Computer History in the Blog


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Wright Brothers Invented the Aviation Age

The first flight of the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903
On December 17, 1903, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright wrote history with the first flight of their Flyer One, the very first successful powered aircraft in the sands south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S.

Although the brothers Montgolfier had ascended in their first hot air balloon already in the late 18th century, the problem of imitating or adapting the flight of birds for humans continued to be an unsolvable problem until the early 20th century. It was German engineer Otto Lilienthal who first succeeded in crafting a working gliding plane that was able to carry a human in 1892. Unfortunately, Lilienthal lost his life during his experiments with the glider in 1896, when his glider crashed because of its insufficient guidance system. But, besides other early pioneers of aviation, such as e.g., the Scotsman Percy S. Pilcher, the US-american Octave Chanute, his countryman Samuel Pierpoint Langley or German-born Gustav Weißkopf (Whitehead), the Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first that really succeeded to construct a working powered aircraft.

The brother Write run a bicycle repair and sales shop, capitalizing on the national bicycle craze, where in 1896 they began manufactoring their own brand. They used this endeavor to fund their growing interest in flight. In the early or mid-1890s they saw newspaper or magazine articles and probably photographs of the dramatic glides by Otto Lilienthal in Germany. In May 1896, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered model aircraft and in the summer, Chicago engineer and aviation authority Octave Chanute brought together several men who tested various types of gliders over the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. Despite Lilienthal's fate, the brothers favored his strategy: to practice gliding in order to master the art of control before attempting motor-driven flight. The death of British aeronaut Percy Pilcher in another hang gliding crash in 1899 only reinforced their opinion that a reliable method of pilot control was the key to successful and safe flight. Although agreeing with Lilienthal's idea of practice, the Wrights saw that his method of balance and control by shifting his body weight was fatally inadequate. They were determined to find something better.

As test area for their aviation experiments they chose the costal region of Kitty Hawk, North Caroline, with gentle dunes and constant winds. Their forst glider that could be controlled and guided on all three axes set the foundation for their "Flyer 1", which on December 17, 1903, started to a spectacular flight. Well, the first flight on that very day was merely a jump of about 40 meters length and 12 seconds duration. But, with the 4th try on that day, the plane stayed about a minute up in the air. For the Flyer 1, the Wright brothers had to construct their own engine, because there were no suitable engines available at that time. They turned to their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor, who built an engine in just six weeks in close consultation with the brothers. To keep the weight low enough, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice for the time. The propeller drive chains of the Flyer 1, resembling those of bicycles, were actually supplied by a manufacturer of heavy-duty automobile chain-drives. Overall the Flyer 1 cost less than a thousand dollars and had a wingspan 12.3 m, weighed 274 kg and was powered by a 12 horsepower (8.9 kW) 82 kg engine. After the men hauled the Flyer back from its fourth flight, a powerful gust of wind flipped it over several times, despite the crew's attempt to hold it down. Severely damaged, the airplane never flew again.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Wright Brothers and their efforts in aviation in the lecture of Charles Shields from Mary Washington University.

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