Saturday, August 31, 2013

Freedom within Limits - the Education Principles of Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori
(1870 – 1952)
On August 31, 1870, Italian physician and educator Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori was born. She is probably best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. Her educational method is in use today in public and private schools throughout the world.

Maria Montessori was pretty well educated herself and mostly supported by her mother to continue school. She entered a technical school at the age of 13, where she learned everything from mathematics over history to various languages. She excelled in her classes and decided to enroll at the University of Rome's medical school, which was very unlikely for women these days. During her time there she was harassed badly by fellow students as well as professors due to her gender and had to perform several practice examinations on the human body all by herself since seeing a naked person along with male students in the same room was inappropriate. Despite the problematic situation, she won an academic prize in her first year and became an expert in pediatric medicine.

Montessori received her doctorate in medicine and soon started a position in a hospital, working with mentally ill children and increasing her good reputation in the field. She started giving lectures and advocated women's rights as well as those for children with mental diseases. The work with disabled kids highly influenced and shaped Maria Montessori. She started going deeper and deeper in this field of research and began reading the works of Edouard Seguin and Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. They led her the way to establish new ideas on working with children who didn't have to be mentally disabled but indeed showed learning problems. Her reputation kept growing as her scientific publications were a huge success.Working with the disabled, she also learned how to interact with "regular" children and designed novel studying methods, which was an immediate success.

A theory, Montessori began practicing and observing was that children needed much more space and time to get creative and study more efficiently than permanently regulating them. She insisted on smaller furniture only for children in the classroom and saw the importance of the mixture of sports, intellectual studies and manual work during the day. Her methods began spreading and several schools, functioning after her suggestions were opened, which was not only noticed by parents, but also by journalists around the country. In the 1910s, Montessori's ideas were noticed across Europe and her work was published everywhere she wished to. In the United States, her methods were seen as controversial and many high positioned officials criticized them, which led to numerous debated throughout the country. However, most governments around the world supported her efforts. In the 1930s, Montessori came into conflict with the Italian government due to her peace advocating speeches and she left Italy.

Throughout the rest of her life, Maria Montessori continued teaching, lecturing and expanding her theories. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and honored numerous times by organizations around the globe.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture titled Lets get serious about teacher quality by Stephen Dinham.

References and Further Reading:
Articles to 'Women in Science and Technology' in the Blog:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Charles Walcott and the Cambrian Explosion

Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927)
On August 30, 1909, American paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered the Burgess Shale Formation, located in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia. With its Cambrian fossils the Burgess Shale is one of the world's most celebrated fossil fields. Walcott excavated repeatedly to collect more than 65,000 specimens from what is now known as the Walcott Quarry, named after him.

Today, most of us are aware of the fact that the human species has not been the first inhabitant of this planet earth. Most prominent example of previous species are the dinosaurs, as we have already covered the history of their exploration with articles on famous paleontologists such as Georges Cuvier or William Buckland. But, dinosaurs are only the tip of the iceberg. If you go back further in the ages of the earth, you will come to the Cambrian Period, about 500 million years from today. This is way before the dinosaurs, who lived in the Triassic-Jurassic period about 200 million years ago. The Cambrian Period marked a profound change in life on Earth; prior to the Cambrian, living organisms on the whole were small, unicellular and simple. Complex, multicellular organisms gradually became more common in the millions of years immediately preceding the Cambrian, but it was not until this period that mineralized – hence readily fossilized – organisms became common. This means that our understanding of the Cambrian biology surpasses that of some later periods.

The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, one of the founders of modern geology, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. The rapid diversification of lifeforms in the Cambrian, known as the Cambrian explosion, produced the first representatives of many modern phyla, representing the evolutionary stems of modern groups of species, such as the molluscs and arthropods. While diverse life forms prospered in the oceans, the land was comparatively empty – with nothing more complex than a microbial soil crust and a few molluscs that emerged to browse on the microbial biofilm. Most of the continents were probably dry and rocky due to a lack of vegetation. Shallow seas flanked the margins of several continents created during the breakup of the supercontinent Pannotia. The seas were relatively warm, and polar ice was absent for much of the period.

Marrella splendens from the
Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale
Because of the relatively rapid appearance of so many species, i.e. of most major animal phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record, one also speak of the Cambrian explosion. This was accompanied by major diversification of other organisms. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 or 80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude and the diversity of life began to resemble that of today. The Cambrian explosion has generated extensive scientific debate. In 1859 even Charles Darwin discussed it as one of the main objections that could be made against his theory of evolution by natural selection.

But lets take a look at Charles Walcott's life and his achievements concerning paleontology and the Cambrian Period. Charles Walcott was born in New York Mills, New York, on March 31, 1850, as the youngest of four children. His father passed away, when he was only two years old. He was interested in nature from an early age, collecting minerals and bird eggs and, eventually, fossils. He attended various schools in the Utica area but left at the age of eighteen without completing high school, the end of his formal education. His interest in fossils solidified as he became a commercial fossil collector, which led to his acquaintance with geologist Louis Agassiz of Harvard, who encouraged him to work in the field of paleontology. After working briefly as the assistant to the state palaeontologist, James Hall, he was recruited to the newly formed US Geological Survey as a geological assistant and rose to become its director in 1894. In 1907, Walcott became Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, a position he held until his own death in 1927.

In 1910, the year after his discovery of Cambrian fossils in the Burgess shale, Walcott returned to the area accompanied by his sons. Together they examined all the layers on the ridge above the point where the fossil-laden rock had been found, eventually finding the fossiliferous band. Between 1910 and 1924, Walcott returned repeatedly to collect more than 65,000 specimens from what is now known as the Walcott Quarry, named after him.

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

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Whitcomb L. Judson and the Invention that holds our life 'together'

Whitcomb L. Judson
(1846 – 1909)
On August 29, 1893, American machine salesman, mechanical engineer and inventor Whitcomb L. Judson receives the patent for a "Clasp Locker", today better known as the zipper, the mechanical little wonder that has kept so much in our lives 'together.' But first, the new invention showed only little commercial success. It took almost 80 years that the magazine and fashion industry made the novel zipper the popular item it is today.

Judson spent his most young life in Illinois, but later moved to Minnesota to become a traveling salesman. However, he has been inventing more or less usefull things from the mid 1880s on. First, he focussed on the 'pneumatic street railway' and his first patents were clearly going in that direction. Unfortunately, his inventions were quite impractical back then.
Whitcomb L. Judson
(1846 – 1909)

Throughout 16 years of inventing, Judson managed to file about 30 patents, one being the chain-lock fastener. It was the previour edition to our modern zipper and was developed in 1890. But Judson not only invented the zipper itself, but also a clasp locker system, automatically producting his fastener without high costs.

At first, he applied the zipper on shoes but already thought of gloved, corsets, and bags. His intention was originally to get rid of the boredom while fastening high button boots. his patent was filed in 1893 after long disputes with the examiner. Luckily the World's Fair was held in Chicago the same year and Judson attempted to distribute the zipper with only moderate success, which would not change during his lifetime. He built impoved versions but still, the textile industry and and clothing manufactors showed not a great interest.

Later on, more inventors became curious about the zipper and built own improvements. In the 1920s, the U.S. Navy used these for their flying suits and right after, every imaginable kind clothing was equipped with Judsons invention. It was also in the 1920s when the term 'zipper' was officially coined by the B. F. Goodrich company.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short discussion on 'Where Good Ideas com From' by Steven Johnson

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Hyperbolic World of Vladimir Shukhov

Vladimir Shukhov
(1853 – 1939)
On August 28, 1853, Russian engineer-polymath, scientist and architect Vladimir Grigoryevich Shukhov was born. He is renowned for his pioneering works on new methods of analysis for structural engineering that led to breakthroughs in industrial design. He was one of the most outstanding designers and constructors of the 19th and 20th century. Moreover, he is considered as one of Russia's most important engineers.

Vladimir Shukhov was always known to be mathematically talented and soon became recognized as the Russian Thomas Edison. In school, he solved complex problems, surprising his classmates as well as teachers. Unfortunately, he was still given a bad grande since he violated the rules from textbooks. Luckily, breaking conventions was what made him famous in later years with his extraordinary hyperbolic structures. Shukhov enrolled at a technical school in Moscow, where he graduated with a gold medal and was offered to start a position as a lecturer. However, Shukhov saw himself more in industrial projects and rejected the offer.
Hyperboloid Shukhov Tower

In order to getting to know the industrial world better, Shukhov moved to Philadelphia. There, it was his task to work on the Russian pavilion and he made contact with a Russian-American entrepreneur, who taught him a lot about the industry. When he came back to Russia, he tried out several jobs, for instance at the Vienna-Warsaw railroad or the military medical school, but was never satisfied. Bari, the engineer he met in Philadelphia then convinced him to become a chief engineer in a start up company that focussed on innovative engineering projects. Shukhov joined the company and worked together with Bari on projects like ship engineering, civil engineering and for the oil industry while inventing new shapes and creating completely new styles until the October Revolution. During this period, Shukhov also invented and patented the famous thermal cracking method that is used in the processing of crude oil.

His reputation grew and Shukhov received numerous job offers, but eventually decided to remain in Russia, shaping the Soviet cities and culture. He continued working on his other major interest, photography. Shukhov paved the way for new standards in fine art photography and influenced several genres like landscapes, portraits and cities. In engineering, he became known for the slogan We should work independently from politics and soon retired surprisingly without getting arrested or prosecuted for his open critisisms.
Shukhov Roof Design
Image: Donskoy

Shukhov was not only an amazing engineer in practice. He understood the importance of great theories in order to create innovative and thought out building and objects. He was able to design completely new oil tankers and complete oil pipelines. Shukhov and Bari together built new constructions as water supply systems which were used in numerous Soviet cities, saving numerous lives since infections were still on a high rate due to water system issues. Shukhov is not only compared with Edison many times, but also with Gustav Eiffel, being an expert with metallic constructions that gave many Russian cities a whole new look.

Depite the amazing design, Vladimir Shukhov is responsible for and his major influence on beautiful and creative buildings, others did not so well in the eyes of James Kunstler. You may enjoy his TED Talk on 'How bad architecture wrecked cities' at yovisto. 

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Giuseppe Peano and the Axiomatization of Mathematics

Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932)
On August 27, 1858, Italian mathematician and philosopher Giuseppe Peano was born. He is he author of over 200 books and papers, and is considered the founder of mathematical logic and set theory. The standard axiomatization of the natural numbers is named the Peano axioms in his honor. These axioms have been used nearly unchanged in a number of metamathematical investigations, including research into fundamental questions of consistency and completeness of number theory.
"Questions that pertain to the foundations of mathematics, although treated by many in recent times, still lack a satisfactory solution. Ambiguity of language is philosophy's main source of problems. That is why it is of the utmost importance to examine attentively the very words we use." (Giuseppe Peano, The Principles of Mathematics)
The need for formalism in arithmetic was not well appreciated until the work of German polymath and linguist Hermann Grassmann, who showed in the 1860s that many facts in arithmetic could be derived from more basic facts about the successor operation and induction. One should keep in mind that these days, the only axiomatic theory was Euclidean geometry, and the general notion of an abstract algebra had yet to be defined. In mathematics, an axiom is a premise or starting point of reasoning. As classically conceived, an axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. As used in modern logic, an axiom is simply a starting point for reasoning, a starting point for deducing and inferring other relative truths. The other way around, within the system they define, axioms (unless redundant) cannot be derived by principles of deduction, nor are they demonstrable by mathematical proofs, simply because they are starting points.

But, let's get back to Peano's axioms, before we take a look on Giuseppe Peano's life. The Peano axioms contain three types of statements. The first axiom asserts the existence of at least one member of the set "number" (i.e. 0 is a number). The next four are general statements about equality (e.g., for every natural number x, x = x ). The next three axioms are first-order statements about natural numbers expressing the fundamental properties of the successor operation (i.e. the successor operation S(n):= n+1; the number '0' is not the successor of any other natural number, etc.). The ninth, final axiom is a second order statement of the principle of mathematical induction over the natural numbers.
"1. 0 is a number. 2. The immediate successor of a number is also a number. 3. 0 is not the immediate successor of any number. 4. No two numbers have the same immediate successor. 5. Any property belonging to 0 and to the immediate successor of any number that also has that property belongs to all numbers." (simplified version of the Peano Axioms)
Giuseppe Peano was born and raised on a farm at Spinetta, in the north of Italy. He attended the village school in Spinetta then he moved up to the school in Cuneo, making the 5km journey there and back on foot every day. He enrolled at the University of Turin in 1876, graduating as doctor of mathematics in 1880 with high honours. Peano joined the staff at the University of Turin in 1880, being appointed as assistant first to Enrico D'Ovidio, and then Angelo Genocchi, the Chair of Infinitesimal calculus. He published his first mathematical paper in 1880 and a further three papers the following year. Due to Genocchi's poor health, Peano took over the teaching of the infinitesimal calculus course within 2 years.

Three iterations of a Peano curve construction, whose limit
is a space-filling curve.
In 1886, he began teaching concurrently at the Royal Military Academy, and was promoted to Professor First Class in 1889. The next year, the University of Turin also granted him his full professorship. Peano's famous space-filling curve appeared in 1890 as a counterexample. Hilbert, in 1891, described similar space-filling curves. It had been thought that such curves could not exist. Peano used his curve to show that a continuous curve cannot always be enclosed in an arbitrarily small region. This was an early example of what came to be known as a fractal. In 1889 Peano published his famous axioms, called Peano axioms, which defined the natural numbers in terms of sets. Peano had a great skill in seeing that theorems were incorrect by spotting exceptions. But, other mathematicians were not so happy to have these errors pointed out. In 1897, the first International Congress of Mathematicians was held in Zürich. Peano was a key participant, presenting a paper on mathematical logic. Paris was the venue for the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in 1900. The conference was preceded by the First International Conference of Philosophy where Peano was a member of the patronage committee. He presented a paper which posed the question of correctly formed definitions in mathematics, i.e. "how do you define a definition?". This became one of Peano's main philosophical interests for the rest of his life. At the conference Peano met Bertrand Russell, who was so struck by Peano's innovative logical symbols that he left the conference and returned home to study Peano's texts. Giuseppe Peano continued teaching at Turin University until the day before he died in 1932.

Peano's Axioms led to a sequence of important discoveries in mathematics. When the Peano axioms were first proposed, Bertrand Russell and others agreed that these axioms implicitly defined what we mean by a "natural number". Henri Poincaré was more cautious, saying they only defined natural numbers if they were consistent; if there is a proof that starts from just these axioms and derives a contradiction such as 0 = 1, then the axioms are inconsistent, and don't define anything. In 1900, David Hilbert posed the problem of proving their consistency using only finite methods as the second of his twenty-three problems. In 1931, Kurt Gödel proved his famous second incompleteness theorem, which shows that such a consistency proof cannot be formalized within Peano arithmetic itself.

At yovisto you can learn more about the fundamental principles of mathematics as proposed by Giuseppe Peano in Johannes Korbmachers talk about 'An Ontological Argument for the Existence of Numbers?'.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Allessandro Cagliostro - Imposter and Adventurer

Count Alessandro di Cagliostro
(1743 – 1795)
On August 26, 1795, Italian physician, occultist and adventurer Giuseppe Balsamo aka Count Alessandro di Cagliostro passed away. The history and stories around Cagliostro are shrouded in rumour, propaganda, and mysticism. Some effort was expended to ascertain his true identity when he was arrested because of possible participation in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

Despite the fact that Giuseppe Balsamo had to deal with a poor financial situation from early years on, he received a good education and became a novice at church later on. This duty influenced him critically. Balsamo learned chemistry in these years while getting to know many spiritual rites. Back then he was befriended with Vincenzo Marano, who was financially in a good position and asked by Balsamo to explore Mount Pellegrino for a hidden treasure. The two men agreed to follow the myth and Balsamo was supposed to use his occult knowledge in order to be safe in case of attacks by various creatures. During the journey, Balsamo attacked Marano just before they dug out the possible treasure and fled to the island of Malta. He became a pharmacist and helped the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in this period.

The restless chemist and alchemist was not yet tired of his adventures and traveled to Rome, becoming a secretary to a cardinal. From there, he started living a double life, selling magical amulets and fake paintings in his free time. He quickly learned how to forge important documents like diplomas or letters and continued his journey along with his young wife Lorenza. Starting from London, they traveled through Europe, increasing his reputation and fame. While staying at Paris, he was even recommended as a physician to Benjamin Franklin. His journey continued across Europe in 1776 and about a decade later, he left for Paris at the request of a cardinal.

During the Affair of the Diamond Necklace during the 1780s, Cagliostro was a suspect and held in prison for almost a year. Fortunately for him, no evidence against him could be found and he was again a free man, almost. He was departed to England afterwards where he was accused of being Giuseppe Balsamo. In an open letter he was able to convince the public that he wasn't. However, he left again for Rome, where he was imprisoned by the Inquisition and sentenced to death for Freemasonry. Even though his penalty was changed to life imprisonment, he passed away after trying to escape.

The myths around Allessandro Cagliostro are numerous. It is said, that a great part of the money he made from forging was spent for good causes like maternity hospitals and orphanages. His interest in alchemy is undeniable. When he got arrested in Rome, he brought an alchemistic manuscript with him and it is assumed that he was its author.

Alessandro di Cagliostro was one one the most controversial figures during the enlightenment period. Historians still discuss his 'achievements' during these days.  Cagliostro is often illustrated either as a hero or as nothing but a criminal. At yovisto, you may learn more about the Age of Enlightenment by Professor Justin Champion. 

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Exploration of Saturn

True color picture of Saturn,
assembled from Voyager 2 images obtained Aug. 4, 1981
On August 25, 1981, American space probe Voyager 2 passed Saturn and transmitted stunning pictures of the ring planet. The space probe had been launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually to push forward into interstellar space. Until today, operating for more than 30 years the spacecraft still receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network, a world-wide network of large antennas and communication facilities. Besides its passage of the Saturnian System, Voyager had already passed the Jovian system including Jupiter's moons, and continued its journey encountering also the Uranian system in 1986, and the Neptunian system in 1989, after which the primary mission of Voyager 2 ended December 31, 1989. We already have dedicated an article to Voyager's passage of Jupiter and the Jupiter moons. But, today's article will focus on Saturn, the most extraordinary planet of our solar system.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter, and is named after the Roman God of agriculture. Saturn is a gas giant with an average radius about nine times that of Earth. While only one-eighth the average density of Earth, with its larger volume Saturn is just over 95 times more massive than Earth.

Two weeks after the launch of Voyager 2, the twin Voyager 1 probe was launched on September 5, 1977. However, Voyager 1 would reach both Jupiter and Saturn sooner, as Voyager 2 had been launched into a longer, more circular trajectory through the Solar System. Saturn has a prominent ring system that consists of nine continuous main rings and three discontinuous arcs, composed mostly of ice particles with a smaller amount of rocky debris and dust. Known since prehistoric times, Saturn was the most distant of the five known planets in the solar system in ancient time. To discover Saturn's rings it requires at least a 15-mm-diameter telescope and thus they were not known to exist until Galileo Galilei first saw them in 1610, when he directed his new telescope to the ring planet. But, Galileo first thought of the Ring to be two moons on Saturn's sides. It was not until Christian Huygens used greater telescopic magnification that Saturn's presumed moons were identified as a ring. Huygens furthermore discovered Saturn's moon Titan. Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini later discovered four other moons: Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione. In 1675, Cassini discovered the gap now known as the Cassini Division.

Trajectory of Voyager 2 primary mission
The first human built spaceprobe that pushed forward to Saturn was the Pioneer 11 flyby in September 1979. Pioneer 11 passed within 20,000 km of the planet's cloud tops. Images were taken of the planet and a few of its moons, although their resolution was too low to recognize any surface detail. In November 1980, the Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system. It sent back the first high-resolution images of the planet, its rings and satellites. Voyager 1 also performed a close flyby of Titan, increasing knowledge of the atmosphere of the moon. Almost a year later, in August 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system. More close-up images of Saturn's moons were acquired, as well as evidence of changes in the atmosphere and the rings. Unfortunately, during the flyby, the probe's turnable camera platform stuck for a couple of days and some planned imaging was lost. Actually, this put plans to officially extend the mission to Uranus and Neptune in jeopardy, but fortunately the mission's engineers were able to fix the problem.

Voyager 2 found that at the uppermost pressure levels (seven kilopascals of pressure), Saturn's temperature was 70 kelvins (−203 °C), while at the deepest levels measured (120 kilopascals) the temperature increased to 143 K (−130 °C). The north pole was found to be 10 kelvins cooler, although this may be seasonal. Moreover, The Voyager discovered and confirmed several new satellites orbiting near or within the planet's rings, and also discovered the small Maxwell and Keeler gaps in the rings. Funally, Saturn's gravity was used to direct the spacecraft's trajectory towards Uranus.

The exploration of the Saturnian system did not end with Voyager 2. On July 1, 2004, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft performed the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver and entered into orbit around Saturn. Besides more in depth data about Saturn and its satellites, Huygens descended onto the surface of the Saturn moon Titan on January 14, 2005, sending a flood of data during the atmospheric descent and after the landing, while the Cassini part remained in orbit and gathered further data on Saturn, its rings and its satellites.

At yovisto you might learn more about the Voyager space program and the discovery of ouer outer solar system in a NASA special space science presentation on 'Voyager - Humanity's Farthest Journey'.
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Gutenberg Bible and the Printing Revolution

Gutenberg's famous Bible with 42 text lines per page (B42)
On August 24, 1456, the printing of the famous Gutenberg Bible was completed. The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed with movable type in the West, applying the newly developed technology by Johannes Gutenberg. Widely praised for its high aesthetic and artistic qualities, the book has an iconic status.

We know that Gutenberg did not really invent printing, but he developed a reliable process to reproduce printed documents and books in a great number based on moving letters. Moreover, he also developed the printing press based on the already existing wine press and he developed his own recipe for ink. Readers of this blog are well aware of that fact, because we already dedicated an article on Gutenberg - The Man of the Millenium. While starting only with moderate success, the project which should bring Gutenberg's technology the breakthrough, was his vision of a large format Latin Bible that should not only be comparable in quality with the existing handwritten and illuminated bibles, but that should even surpass them. Actually, he planned to produce almost 200 copies of his representative bible - an incredible number for the time - 150 copies in cheaper paper print and 35 printed on exquisite parchment. The project simply was gigantic: the bible comprised 1,282 pages of 42 text lines, overall about 3.5 million single letters. And despite his advanced new technology, he almost needed three years to finish his work. Four to six typesetters were constantly working in parallel to set the printed sheets, twelve printers together with a few assistants worked on the actual printing with six printing presses in parallel. The typesetters were working with 290 different types and per day each type setter finished the layout of a single 2 column page of the bible. Gutenberg's bible is also referred to as B42, denoting the 42 text lines on each page.

The production of this masterpiece required almost 100,000 printing types, 48,000 sheets of paper with 16 pages each, and for the parchment edition the skins of 3,200 animals. Overall 230,760 work cycles at the printing press had to be operated. At the best, this would require 330 days in total. But, because of the large number of church holidays in these days, the year had only 200 working days. Subsequently to the printing, the mechanically produced volumes had to be manually complemented with artworks from illuminators and rubricators, who carefully decorated the start of the sentences and paragraphs.

A manually compiled bible required approximately three years of work for a skillful writer. But, Gutenberg was able to produce 300 bibles in the very same time. Compared to traditional workers, Gutenberg's highly skilled and specially trained technicians were rather expensive and also the required raw material did cost a fortune. Gutenberg alone was not able to undergo such a high investment. The paper for the bible had to be imported from Italy, because there was not a sufficient number of paper mills in Germany at that time to produce the required amount. Gutenberg had to cover for the ordered paper more than 600 Gulden. For the parchment another 400 Gulden had to be invested. Thus, Gutenberg had to ask a well-funded investor to support his venture. Johannes Fust, a rich and respectable burgher of Mainz, invested in Gutenberg's project, but of course Gutenberg had to provide security for the investment - his printing presses and type cases.

Although the bible project was successfully finished in 1454 and despite he was able to sell his masterpiece bibles very well - actually the bibles could be offered with a 75% discount compared to manually crafted bibles - Gutenberg was incapable to pay back his debts, which came about 2,000 Gulden, the equivalent of four stately townhouses. In the following lawsuit, Johannes Fust took over Gutenberg's print shop. Gutenberg never was able to recover from this blow financially. In 1468, he passed away in his hometown Mainz. He was burried in the St. Francis Church in Mainz that was broken down in the 18th century. Today, his tomb is lost. But, from his originally almost 200 masterpiece bibles, there are still 49 left, distributed all over the world, some of them only in fragments. The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978. It fetched $2.2 million. The price of a complete copy today is estimated at $25−35 million. Individual leaves now sell for $20,000–$100,000, depending upon condition and the desirability of the page.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Gutenberg Bible in the video from I2S about the digitization of the Gutenberg Bible of the Vienna Library.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Georges Cuvier and the Fossils

Georges Cuvier
(1769 – 1832)
On August 23, 1769, French naturalist and zoologist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier aka Georges Cuvier was born. He was a major figure in natural sciences research in the early 19th century, and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils.

The young Georges Cuvier was well educated and received additional classes by his mother frequently. From early years, he was interested in the history of mankind, reading several scientific works before leaving school. In Stuttgart, he continued his studies and took a tutor position in Normandy after that. During this period, he first started comparing fossils with extant forms and took part in scientific meetings. Getting to know more and more people in the field, he managed to become the assistant of Jean-Claude Mertrud in Paris, where he arrived in 1795. When the Institute de France was opened, Cuvier was even elected a member.

Cuvier gained influence and was occupied with further teaching positions next to publishing his own work. His first paleontological paper was published in 1800 and contained an analysis of skeletal remains of Indian and African elephants and mammoth fossils. As Cuvier's reputation grew, his job offers got better and better, leading him to high positions in France and memberships in foreign scientific societies. He became Imperial Councillor under Napoleon, Minister of the Interior and further political positions, but never lost touch to natural science.

To one of Cuvier's first independent publications belonged the Tableau élémentaire de l'histoire naturelle des animaux and depicted the foundation of his natural classification of the animal kingdom. Further major work Cuvier's made a subject of molluscs, which he started researching on in the 1790s. Cuvier was often asked for advices considering scientific textbooks and at one point, the French Academy began preparing its first dictionary and defined "crab" as "A small red fish which walks backwards." When Cuvier was asked to consult them, he responded: "Your definition, gentlemen, would be perfect, only for three exceptions. The crab is not a fish, it is not red and it does not walk backwards." His research on fish started rather late, in the early 1800s. He managed to publish descriptions of over 5000 fish and this depicted a major work on the field for the next decades.

In paleontology, Cuvier published several works on the bones of extinct animals related to skeletons of living animals. He significantly changed not only the university's department of paleontology, but also the whole field's view on the subject. His research results were published in several works and dealt mostly with extinct mammals, as well as fossil species of hippopotamus, extinct species of elephants and many more. The Animal Kingdom, originally named Le Règne Animal appeared first in 1817. Further volumes followed in the 1820s and early 1830s. The Animal Kingdom depicts a classical work a relates to complete research results, Cuvier accomplished during his lifetime.

Georges Cuvier's work is considered as the foundation of vertebrate paleontology. He developed new and improved old taxonomies, seeing function- not hypothetical relationships, that should form the basis of classification systems.

At yovisto, you may learn more about fossils and what they can teach us in a talk by Dr Paul Sereno. The paleontologist discusses his surprising encounters with prehistory.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Johann Ludwig Burckhardt and the discovery of Petra

Facade of Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan
Image: Bernard Gagnon
On August 22, 1812, Swiss traveller and orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, in the disguise of an arab traveller discovered the ruins of the ancient city of Petra, one of the most compelling archaeological sites in existence, in today's Jordan.

Petra is located east of the Arabah, half way between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea. Its location caused several religious rumors, fact is only that many caravans came to Petra in order to exchange luxury goods and medicine. Its history is highly connected with the Empire of the Nabateans, the first Arabic Empire in history. From 9000 BC, the city is known to be permanently settled and during the 4th century BC, the Nabateans have become so wealthy through trades that they managed to avoid several conquest attempts. Stable housing followed in the century after along with the most flourishing period of the city. Rabell II was the last King of the Nabateans and was defeated by Tajan in 106. Petra's influence rapidly decreased and during the 12th century, two castles were built in the city. They were supposed to be defended against Saladin, but it was hopeless.

Since the period of the crusades, no European set foot on Petra again and it was forgotten. In 1812, the Swiss scientist Jean Louis Burckhardt rediscovered the interest for the legendary city. He discovered Petra in the same year while originally looking for the source of the Niger River. To prepare his travels, Burckhardt even studied Arabic so he would act like a Muslim. When he heard of a Dr Seetzen who intended to find the city, but was murdered, Burckhardt's interest grew and he made his way through Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine. Eventually, he found the city but traveled there secretely, "intending" to sacrifice a goat. Therefore he could not unmask himself and left again in search of the Niger, which he never found.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

Further scientists then came to the city, describing it in detail and after 1900, scientific research began. Afred von Domaszewski for instance managed to draw the first map of Petra and it was found that the city's magnitude was a lot greater than previously assumed. The first serious archeological excavations took place in 1929 and in the 1950's the British School of Archaeology started excavating the city center.

Today, Petra belongs to the most impressive and most visited tourist attractions in the Near East. Hotels were built next to and even directly in the city at first. Starting in the 1960's Beduins were forced to resettle so the government was able to make a better profit out of the city. More tourists came after Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

To the most famous excavated buildings belongs Al Khazneh, a temple carved out of a sandstone rock face that was originally built as a mausoleum. It holds a lengend in which pirates would hide their good there, wherefore its also called the House of Treasury. The Roman Theater right in the near of Al Khazneh had room for over 10000 visitors and it even contained a back then enormously modern drainage system.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a Yale video lecture by Professor Diana Kleiner on Baroque Extravaganzas: Rock Tombs, Fountains, and Sanctuaries in Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Augustin-Louis Cauchy and the Rigor of Analysis

Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789-1857)
On August 21, 1789, French mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy was born. He is considered one of the greatest mathematicians during the nineteenth century. There are 16 concepts and theorems named for Cauchy, more than for any other mathematician. Cauchy was one of the most prolific mathematicians of all times. Cauchy wrote 789 papers, a quantity exceeded only by Euler and Cayley, which brought precision and rigor to mathematics.

Actually, Cauchy was one of the heroes of my first math tutor at university, when I started to study computer science. In the mathematical analysis lecture (we had to enroll for 3 semesters of mathematical analysis), 'Cauchy' was the name that appeared most during the lectures. This definitely is due to his significant contributions to infinitesimal calculus as well because of his theorems on complex analysis. More concepts and theorems have been named for Cauchy than for any other mathematician - although you might never have heard of him, if you are not a mathematician.

Augustin-Louis Cauchy was born in Paris, France, to his father, Luois-Francois, a high official in the Parisian Police of the New Régime, and his mother, Marie-Madeleine Desestre, who provided him and his siblings a comfortable life. Already as an early child, Cauchy had the fortunate possibility to know and to learn from famous contemporary scientists. The Cauchy family once had the mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon de Laplace and famous chemist and physician Claude-Louis Berthollet as neighbors, and his father even knew mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange. In fact, Lagrange had foreseen Augustin's scientific greatness when he was a child by warning his father to not show him any mathematical text before he was seventeen years old. Born in the turmoil of the French revolution, the Cauchy family had to escape from the following Reign of Terror (1794) to Arcueil, where Cauchy received his first education, from his father. In 1802, on Lagrange's advice, Augustin-Louis Cauchy was enrolled in the École Centrale du Panthéon, the best secondary school of Paris at that time. In 1805 he placed second out of 293 applicants on this exam for the École Polytechnique and furtheron pursued a career in engineering.
"I get up at four o'clock each morning and I am busy from then on. ... I do not get tired of working, on the contrary, it invigorates me and I am in perfect health..." (Augustin-Louis Cauchy, in a letter to his mother, 1810)
After finishing school in 1810, Cauchy accepted a job as a junior engineer in Cherbourg, where Napoleon intended to build a naval base. Despite he had an extremely busy managerial job, Cauchy still found time to prepare mathematical manuscripts for the Institut de France, of which two were accepted. More and more attracted to abstract beauty of mathematics, he quit his sngineering job and went back to Paris. Although he formally kept his engineering position, he was mainly on unpaid sick leave and spent his time quite fruitfully, working on mathematics. Over a period of fifteen years, 1815-1830, Cauchy's name grew with distinction as he was appointed adjoint professor and full professor at École Polytechnique, and chairs at the Faculté des Sciences and the Collège de France.

Cauchy was the first to make a rigorous study of the conditions for convergence of infinite series in addition to his rigorous definition of an integral. He clarified the principles of calculus and put them on a satisfactory basis by developing them with the aid of limits and continuity, concepts now considered vital to analysis. Cauchy did not have particularly good relations with other scientists. His stern Catholic views interfered with his scientific work as, e.g. he did on giving a report on the theory of light in 1824 when he attacked the author for his view that Newton had not believed that people had souls. The conservative political climate that lasted until 1830 suited Cauchy perfectly. During these years Cauchy was highly productive, and published one important mathematical treatise after another. In July 1830 France underwent another revolution and Cauchy escaped to Fribourg in Switzerland, leaving his family behind, where he had to decide whether he would swear a required oath of allegiance to the new republican government. He refused and consequently lost all his positions in Paris, except his membership of the Academy, for which an oath was not required.
"As for methods I have sought to give them all the rigour that one requires in geometry, so as never to have recourse to the reasons drawn from the generality of algebra." (Augustin-Louis Cauchy)
In August 1833 Cauchy left for Prague, to become the science tutor of the 13-year-old Duke of Bordeaux Henri d'Artois, the exiled French Crown Prince. As a professor of the École Polytechnique, Cauchy had been a notoriously bad lecturer and the young Duke had neither taste nor talent for either mathematics or science. Therefore, student and teacher were a perfect mismatch. Cauchy's role as tutor lasted until the Duke became 18 years old in 1838. While Cauchy was not able to do any research during, the Duke acquired a lifelong dislike of mathematics. The same year, Cauchy returned to Paris and his position at the Academy of Sciences. In 1848, revolution broke out all over Europe in numerous countries, beginning in France. France again became a republic and the oath of allegiance was abolished. Thus, the road to an academic appointment was finally clear for Cauchy and he was reinstated at the Faculté de Sciences, as a professor of mathematical astronomy.
".. very often the laws derived by physicists from a large number of observations are not rigorous, but approximate." (Augustin-Louis Cauchy)
Numerous terms in mathematics bear Cauchy's name: the Cauchy integral theorem, in the theory of complex functions, the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya existence theorem for the solution of partial differential equations, the Cauchy-Riemann equations and Cauchy sequences. Augustin-Louis Cauchy's collected works, including his 789 scientific papers, were published in 27 volumes. Cauchy's last words to the Academy in 1857 were, "C'est ce que j'expliquerai plus au long dans un prochain memoire." (I will explain it in greater detail in my next memoire). We assume that he was referring to a new proof or idea that was not yet thoroughly thought out. Two weeks later, Cauchy died at the age of 68. Who knows what mathematical discovery he has taken to his grave...

At yovisto you can learn more about the prolific mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy, who formalized the concept of a limit and created the specialism now called analysis in the lecture of Gresham College Professor Raymond Flood on 'Calculus and its Limits'.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Courage and Folly - The Burke and Wills Expedition Crossing Australia

Burke and Wills on the Way to Mount Hopeless
Image: George Washington Lambert
On August 20, 1860, Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills led an expedition of 19 men with the intention of crossing Australia from South to North and back again. But, due to poor leadership and bad luck, both of the expedition's leaders died on the return journey and only one man, John King, crossed the continent with the expedition and returned alive to Melbourne.

In the early 1850's, gold was found in Victoria, Australia and led to a real gold rush. Europeans followed the boom and quickly came to Australia, causing a quick growth of the cities and infrastructure. A university was founded in Melbourne in 1855 as well as several further scientific institutes, like the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, which later became the Royal Society of Victoria. Two years later, a committee was founded in order to organize an expedition. The search for expedition leaders was difficult and in the end, it is questionable, why Robert Burke was chosen since he had no exploring experience. William Willis was recommended to the committee as a navigator and had a least some experience of living in the wilderness.

Map of the Expedition
Image: Rocketfrog
The preparations for the journey started almost immediately. While it was known that camels were helpful animals at desert explorations, only 7 were imported to Australia back then, wherefore about another 20 had to be purchased in India. The group left Royal Park on August 20, 1860 and was celebrated by thousands of visitors. Next to the camels, the 19 men brought several horses and wagons with them, since their food had to last at least for two years. A member of the committee suggested a transportation of most items by ship, which Burke refused. By the first weeks, some wagons already broke down, one even before they left Royal Park. The first weeks were difficult due to bad rains and the great amount of time they spent repairing their wagons.

The difficulties continued when the crew noticed their bad progress. In early September, they began leaving heavy items behind and to lessen the burdon on horses and men. However, many were disappointed in Burke's leadership wherefore a few resigned and others were fired from the expedition. In order to keep going, eight further men were hired but the expedition only managed a distance in 2 months that a normal mail coach reached in a week. The slow efforts bothered Burke, since the South Australian government offered a great reward to those, able to cross the continent south-north and Burke feared to arrive only in "second place". The impatient leader then split the group, which was supposed to meet again at Copper Creek, the farthest place Europeans had explored before.

It was planned that Burke and his crew would wait until March, 1861 so they would not have to travel in the hot Australian summer. But his impatience made him continue already in December, splitting the expedition again. They now headed for the Gulf of Carpentaria while facing daily temperatures of almost 50°C. However, the Aborigines they encountered on the way were friendly and often even helpful. The crew was now short on food and started eating their camels and snakes they caught on the way. The returned to Copper Creek in April, but the camp had been abandoned by the other team earlier. Burke now overruled his by now small team and left for Mount Hopeless in south Australia. Unfortunately, the three men, King, Burke and Wills only managed to travel 8km per day. Their supplies ran low and they were exhausted wherefore they were not able to leave the creek. Burke and Wills passed away during summer of 1861 and with the help of Aborigines, King was the only one able to continue and survive the expedition. A total of six rescue exhibitions were sent and the bodies of the two leaders were found a few months after they went missing.

At yovisto, you may join Shane Carmody, Director, Collections and Access, State Library of Victoria, in conversation with leading historians and researchers Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Robyn Annear and David Phoenix to find out what the rich collection of records and artefacts tells us about the Victorian Exploring Expedition.

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