Friday, January 31, 2014

Irving Langmuir and his scientific achievements

Langmuir (center) in 1922 in his lab, showing radio pioneer
Guglielmo Marconi a new 20 kW triode tube
On January 31, 1881, American chemist and physicist Irving Langmuir was born. Langmuir advanced several basic fields of physics and chemistry, invented the gas-filled incandescent lamp, the hydrogen welding technique, and was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in surface chemistry.

Irving Langmuir was highly influenced by his older brother Arthur, who was a research chemist and helped his little brother set up a chemistry lab in his childhood bedroom. However, the young Irving Langmuir was not only interested in science, but also enjoyed many outdoor activities, such as skiing, hiking, or piloting his own plane. He was well educated and supported by his family, who also taught him to question the environment and nature around him. Langmuir attended schools in the United States and Paris, and attended several private schools. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 1906 with a doctoral thesis 'On the Partial Recombination of Dissolved Gases During Cooling'.

During his postgraduate period, Langmuir mainly devoted his research to chemistry and taught at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. To one of his first major contributions to science belongs the improvement of the diffusion pump, which led to the invention of the high-vacuum rectifier and amplifier tubes. Also, he discovered along with the American quantum physicist Lewi Tonks that the lifetime of a tungsten filament could be greatly lengthened by filling the bulb with an inert gas, like argon. Furtherly, the scientist made significant contributions to the development of the incandescent light bulb.

Langmuir's work on surface chemistry started with his finding, that molecular hydrogen introduced into a tungsten-filament bulb dissociated into atomic hydrogen and formed a layer one atom thick on the surface of the bulb. The curious scientist continued studying filament in various gas areas and vacuum. Langmuir began studying thermionic emission, the emission of charged particles from hot filaments and he became one of the very first scientists to work with plasmas. Along with his befriended physicist Tonks, he discovered what is know widely known as Langmuir waves. Langmuir waves are understood as rapid oscillations of the electron density in plasmas or metals.

The basis for his Nobel Prize nomination in the field of chemistry was laid in 1917 with Langmuir's publication of a paper on the chemistry of oil films. In it, he theorized that oils consisting of an aliphatic chain with a hydrophilic end group were oriented as a film one molecule thick upon the surface of water, with the hydrophilic group down in the water and the hydrophobic chains clumped together on the surface. Furtherly, the thickness of the film could be easily determined from the known volume and area of the oil. This made a further investigation of the molecular configuration possible, before spectroscopic techniques were even available. In 1924, Langmuir scientifically introduced the idea of electron temperature and invented the Langmuir probe. It is a diagnostic method for measuring density as well as the temperature and is on this day mostly used in plasma physics.

In his later years of research, Langmuir's interests headed toward atmospheric sciences and discovered a wind-driven circulation in the sea, which is today mostly known as the Langmuir circulation.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a detailed explanation on 'Adsorption - Langmiur's Isotherm Derivation'.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Phantastic Travels of Adalbert von Chamisso

Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1831)
On January 30, 1781, German poet and naturalist of French Origin Adelbert of Chamisso was born. Some of his lyrics, ballads, and romances rank among the finest in German literature. He took part in Captain Kotzebue's Russian polar expedition (1815-18) and his 1835 published account of it ranges among the classics of travel. In the same way as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of Germany's best known poets, Adelbert von Chamisso was as well a scientist as an author and artist. Today unfortunately, almost all Germans might have heart of Goethe, but only a few are familiar with Chamisso. On the other hand, Chamisso has his own island: Chamisso Island, a small island in Kotzebue Sound, Alaska. While Goethe's travels only led him to Italy once in a lifetime or to some Bohemian spas for health treatments, Chamisso as a botanist, travelled to the other side of the world collecting specimens. And as far as I know, Goethe has never written a science fiction story like Chamisso's 'Peter Schlemihl's Miraculous Story'.

Adelbert von Chamisso was born as Louis Charles Adélaïde de Chamissot at Ante, in Champagne, France. Driven out by the French Revolution, his parents settled in Berlin, where in 1796 young Chamisso obtained the post of page-in-waiting to the Prussian queen, and in 1798 entered a Prussian infantry regiment as ensign. He had little education, and while in the Prussian military service in Berlin assiduously studied natural science for three years. In 1803, incollaboration with Varnhagen von Ense, he founded the Berliner Musenalmanach, in which his first verses appeared. Unfortunately, this enterprise was a failure, and, interrupted by the war, it came to an end in 1806. However, it brought him to the notice of many of the literary celebrities of the day and established his reputation as a rising poet. Shortly thereafter, upon the Peace of Tilsit in 1807 signed by Napoleon Bonaparte and Russian Tsar Alexander I, Chamisso's family was permitted to return to France. Nevertheless, young Chamisso remained in Germany and continued his military career.

He had become lieutenant in 1801, and in 1805 accompanied his regiment to Hameln, where he shared in the humiliation of its treasonable capitulation in the following year. Placed on parole, he went to France, but both his parents were dead. In 1808 returning to Berlin he obtained his release from the service. Homeless and without a profession, he lived in Berlin until 1810, when, by intermediation of an old friend of the family, Chamisso was offered a professorship at the lycée at Napoléonville in the Vendée. On his way to France, he joined the intellectual circle of Madame de Staël, one of Napoleon's principal opponents, and followed her in her exile in Switzerland, where he devoted himself to botanical research.

Illustration of Peter Schlemihl,
who sold his shadow to the Devil
After his return to Berlin, he published his famous narrative 'Peter Schlemihl's Miraculous Story', about a man who sold his shadow to the devil for a bottomless wallet, which has been translated into most European languages. The story, intended for children, was widely read and the character became a common cultural reference in many countries. People generally remembered the element of the shadow better than how the story ended, simplifying Chamisso's lesson to the idiom "don't sell your shadow to the Devil." In 1815, Chamisso was appointed botanist to the Russian ship Rurik, which Otto von Kotzebue commanded on a scientific voyage round the world. His diary of the expedition (Tagebuch, 1821) is a fascinating account of the expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. During this trip Chamisso described a number of new species found in what is now the San Francisco Bay Area. Several of these, including the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, were named after his friend Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, the Rurik's entomologist. In return, Eschscholtz named a variety of plants, including the genus Camissonia, after Chamisso.

On his return in 1818 he was made custodian of the botanical gardens in Berlin, and was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences. In 1827, he published Views and Remarks on a Voyage of Discovery, and Description of a Voyage Round the World. Chamisso's travels and scientific researches restrained for a while the full development of his poetical talent, and it was not until 1829 that he turned back to literature. In collaboration with Gustav Schwab, and Franz von Gaudy, he brought out the Deutscher Musenalmanach, in which his later poems were mainly published. As a poet Chamisso's reputation stands high. Frauenliebe und -leben (1830), a cycle of lyrical poems set to music by Robert Schumann, by Carl Loewe, and by Franz Paul Lachner, is particularly famous. He died in Berlin at the age of 57.

At yovisto you can learn more about Adelbert von Chamisso, who took part in a Russian expedition around the world on board the sailing ship Rurik from 1815 to 1818, in the video from the Natural History Museum Berlin.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quoth the Raven "Nevermore"

'The Raven (Corvus Corax)' -
from 'The Natural History of Selborne',
published in London, 1879
On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe's famous narrative poem 'The Raven' was first published in the New York Evening Mirror. It has become one of the best known English poems of all time. The Raven makes use of a number of folk and classical references and is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere.

We already had an article of Edgar Allan Poe's mysterious death. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious laying in the gutter, He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe was the very first US-American writer, who was able to make a living from his profession. His legacy of dark romantic novels, stories, and poems has become part of our common cultural heritage and are still popular today. I learned about Poe's 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' already back in school, where I was really fascinated about all the chasms lurking in the human soul that he opened up in his writings.

Edgar Allan Poe's most prominent poem for sure is 'The Raven'.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore -While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door - Only this and nothing more..."
Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes [1]. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the Charles Dickens novel 'Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty' [2]. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship", and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout. The publication of "The Raven" made Poe widely popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. Soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated, critical opinion is divided as to the poem's status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrowFrom my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.
The main theme of the poem is one of undying devotion. In the poem, the narrator experiences a perverse conflict between desire to forget and desire to remember. He seems to get some pleasure from focusing on his loss. The narrator assumes that the infamous word "Nevermore" is the raven's "only stock and store". Nevertheless he continues to ask it questions, knowing that the answer always will be the very same. His questions, then, are purposely self-deprecating and further incite his feelings of loss.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtainThrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating"'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door - Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door; - This it is and nothing more."
Poe first brought "The Raven" to his friend and former employer George Rex Graham of Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia, who declined the poem, though he gave Poe $15 as charity. Poe then sold the poem to The American Review, which paid him $9 for it, and printed "The Raven" in its February 1845 issue under pseudonym, although the poem's first publication with Poe's name was in the Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. The immediate success of "The Raven" prompted the Wiley and Putnam to publish a collection of Poe's prose called Tales in June 1845. It was Poe's first book in five years - and the first poems in fourteen years.
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,That I scarce was sure I heard you" - here I opened wide the door; -Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" - Merely this and nothing more. [click to continue]
Readers began to identify poem with poet, earning Poe the nickname "The Raven". The poem was praised by fellow writers William Gilmore Simms and Margaret Fuller, though it was denounced by William Butler Yeats, who called it "insincere and vulgar" as well as by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "The Raven" has influenced many modern works, including Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Ray Bradbury's "The Parrot Who Knew Papa" in 1976, as well as Charles Baudelaire and even composer Maurice Ravel. Until today throughout popular culture the poem is referenced in films, television, music, and video games.

At yovisto you can learn more about Edgar Allan Poe in the lecture delivered by Puget Sound President Ronald Thomas, where among other things, Poe’s foundational detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is discussed.

References and further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto blog:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ernst Lubitsch and the 'Lubitsch Touch'

Ernst Lubitsch
(1892 – 1947)
On January 28, 1892, German American actor, screenwriter, producer and film director Ernst Lubitsch was born. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood's most elegant and sophisticated director.

Ernst Lubitsch was born in Berlin and was apprenticed as a merchant. However, the son of a fashion designer and tailor quickly became the student of Max Reinhardt. Reinhardt was back then an important an influential person and the artistic director of the German Theater in Berlin. Lubitsch started out with small plays and cabaret shows before becoming an actor at bigger theater stages in Berlin. After acting in several movie productions, Lubitsch started directing his own films and made his mark as a serious director in 1918 with 'The Eyes of the Mummy'. In this period, Lubitsch began filming historical dramas, comedies as well as short films, earning a great reputation internationally. In 1921, Lubitsch's films were selected in the list of the 15 most important movies by the New York Times. In the same year, Lubitsch sailed to the United States in order to explore the American film industry. Even though he was not received very gladly, Lubitsch decided to leave Germany for Hollywood one year after.

His first productions were a critical and a commercial success and Lubitsch was able to sign a three-year, six-picture contract with Warner Brothers that guaranteed the director his choice of both cast and crew, and full editing control over the final cut. However, the financial success for the film company decreased and Lubitsch's contract was dissolved early. In the following years, the German director started working together with MGM Paramount and was very successful with his movie 'The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg' from 1927, but unfortunately the expected financial success failed to set in again. Still, Lubitsch was appointed Paramount's production manager in 1935 and ran the largest Hollywood studios at the time.

Lubitsch not only directed his own films, but increasingly supervised other directors as well. This time, the German film maker had troubles overseeing all of the sixty different films and got fired. Lubitsch decided to devote his life completely to full-time movie making and became a citizen of the United States in 1936. In 1940, he released one of his most famous movies, 'The Shop Around the Corner'. The movie starred James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan as well as Frank Morgan and ranked #28 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions, and is listed in Time's All-Time 100 Movies. During his last active years as a director, Lubitsch worked at 20th Century Fox and it has been claimed that the last picture made by the director with his distinctive "touch" was 'Heaven Can Wait', released in 1943.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the movie 'That Uncertain Feeling' by Ernst Lubitsch from 1941. In it, the happily married Jill baker is persuaded to see a psychoanalyst about her psychosomatic hiccups. 

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Monday, January 27, 2014

The National Geographic Society

Cover of January 1915 National Geographic
On January 27, 1888, the National Geographic Society, one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world, is founded in the Cosmos Club, a private club then located on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. You might not be aware of it, but several of our past articles already are related to the National Geographic Society, as the society always has supported and funded research projects as well as prominent exploration projects.

Actually, the National Geographic Society began as a club for an elite group of academics and wealthy patrons interested in travel. On January 13, 1888, 33 explorers and scientists gathered at the Cosmos Club, a private club then located on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., to organize "a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." After preparing a constitution and a plan of organization, the National Geographic Society was incorporated two weeks later. Gardiner Greene Hubbard became its first president and his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, eventually succeeded him in 1897 following his death. In 1899 Bell's son-in-law Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor was named the first full-time editor of National Geographic Magazine and served the organization for fifty-five years (1954), and members of the Grosvenor family have played important roles in the organization since.

Bell and his son-in-law, Grosvenor, devised the successful marketing notion of Society membership and the first major use of photographs to tell stories in magazines. The National Geographic Magazine, later shortened to National Geographic, published its first issue in October 1888, nine months after the Society was founded as the Society's official journal, a benefit for joining the tax exempt National Geographic Society. While the first issue was distributed to 200 charter members only, by today, the magazine reaches around 60 million readers worldwide each month. The National Geographic Magazine is famous for its photographies. This started already in January 1905, when Grosvenor filled 11 pages of the magazine with photos of Lhasa in Tibet. Expecting to be fired, he was instead congratulated by Society members.

Today, the National Geographic Society claims that it is its mission to inspire people to care about the planet. Throughout its history, it has encouraged conservation of natural resources and raised public awareness of the importance of natural places, the plants and wildlife that inhabit them and the environmental problems that threaten them. It is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations, has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects around the globe. The very first expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society in 1890 mapped the Mount St. Elias region in Alaska and discovered Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak. Past and current grantees include polar explorer Robert Peary, who was the first to reach the North Pole in 1909. 1912-1915 the Society supported Hiram Bingham, who excavated the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes. In September 1960, National Geographic reported the discovery by anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey of manlike Zinjanthropus, more than 1.75 million years old. In 1961, Jane Goodall begins study of chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe Stream Park using National Geographic Society funds. In 1967, Dian Fossey begins long-term National Geographic Society-funded study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. In 1985, in one of the most dramatic shipwreck discoveries of modern times, Robert Ballard discovers the Titanic using imaging technologies designed by the National Geographic Society. This leads off a series of stunning followups, the Society assisting Ballard in finding the remains of the battleship Bismarck and the liner Lusitania.

The National Geographic Society awards the Hubbard Medal, named after the Society's first president, for distinction in exploration, discovery, and research. Since 1906, the Hubbard Medal has been awarded 36 times, the most recent in 2012 to oceanographer Jacques Piccard for his first Mariana Trench expedition.

At yovisto you can watch a Google hangout session for National Geographic 125th Birthday.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory

The dome of the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory
Image: Coneslayer
On January 26, 1949, the Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory sees first light under the direction of Edwin Hubble, becoming the largest aperture optical telescope (until BTA-6 is built in 1976).

George Ellery Hale was a solar astronomer, who was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at MIT, Harvard and in Berlin. He is mostly known for his invention of the spectrohelioscope during his time at MIT. With his newly built instrument, Hale made his discovery of solar vortices and in 1908, he used the Zeeman effect with a modified spectrohelioscope to establish that sunspots were magnetic. Hale was appointed director of the Kenwood Astrophysical Observatory, became professor of Astrophysics at Beloit College, and professor at the University of Chicago. In his later years, Hale became editor of several scientific journals and always worked to found several significant astronomical observatories, including Yerkes Observatory, Mount Wilson Observatory, Palomar Observatory, and the Hale Solar Laboratory. He supported and influenced Edwin Hubble critically and encouraged him to some of the most significant discoveries of the time. George Hale supervised the building of the telescopes at the Mount Wilson Observatory in the 1910s, which resulted in a great success considering the scientific achievements made with the help of these telescopes. During the design of the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar, Hale's chief optical designer suggested to try out a completely new design providing sharper images over a larger usable field of view, which Hale refused due to financial difficulties. However, the Hale Telescope turned out to be the last world-leading telescope to have a parabolic primary mirror.
Mt.Palomar's 200-inch Telescope, pointing to the zenith

Actual construction work on the telescope began in 1936. The raw mirrors were made of pyrex-glas and it took over eight months to cool down the material after molding it. The telescope weighs more than 400t and was built into a 1000t dome with a diameter of 42m. Unfortunately, World War II interrupted the work on the telescope for several years and it was not completed until 1948. Until 1949, several corrections had to be made and the 20t heavy mirror had to be transported from Pasadena to Palomar, which was only accomplished because new roads and a specific transportation vehicle were constructed. Under the direction of the famous American astronomer Edwin Hubble, the Hale Telescope saw first light on January 26, 1949 targeting Hubble's Variable Nebula. In October, the telescope is made available full-time to the astronomers from Caltech and the Carnegie Institution, twenty-one years after the Rockefeller grant. On this day, the 5m telescope is still a workhorse of modern astronomy. It is used nightly for a wide range of astronomical studies. On average the weather allows for at least some data collection about 290 nights a year.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a Gresham College Lecture on the Heritage of Edwin Hubble.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Virginia Woolf and the Birth of Modern Literature

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
On January 25, 1882, English writer Virginia Woolf was born. She is considered one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928).

Have you ever read Virginia Woolf? If so, for sure you will remember, because her writing differs from many others. Virginia Woolf is an author of modernism and she uses modernistic techniques in her writings. In difference to classical novels, you are able to follow the protagonists 'stream of conscious', i.e. you follow the flow of his or her thoughts. And this some times is more strenuous than you might think, because you soon will loose any sense of time and it might get difficult to follow the course of action in the 'real world' of the novel anymore. But, let's take a look on Virginia Woolf's life and her work.

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen into a privileged household to Sir Leslie Stephen, a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer, and Julia Prinsep Duckworth (née Jackson). Leslie Stephen was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work which would influence Woolf's later experimental biographies. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Woolf had three full siblings and four half-siblings.

Two of Woolf’s brothers had been educated at Cambridge, but all the girls were taught at home. Moreover, Woolf’s parents were extremely well connected, both socially and artistically. Her father was a friend to William Thackeray and George Henry Lewes, as well as many other noted thinkers. Her mother’s aunt was the famous 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. For these reasons and more, Virginia Woolf was ideally situated to appreciate and experiment with the art of writing. As a young girl, Virginia was light-hearted and playful. She started a family newspaper, the Hyde Park Gate News, to document her family’s humorous anecdotes. However, she had been traumatized at the age of six when her half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth sexually abused her. When her mother suddenly died, Virginia Woolf at age only 13 spun into a nervous breakdown, only made worse when two years later, her half-sister Stella also died.

Virginia Woolf was to have many other breakdowns throughout the course of her life. She nevertheless managed to study at the Ladies Department of the King's College London. Her four years of study introduced her to a handful of radical feminists at the helm of educational reforms. Virginia Woolf became acquainted with the intellectual circle of artists and writers that formed the Bloomsbury Group, a group that became known in 1910 with Dreadnought Hoax, a work that Woolf participated in using a male pen name. In the Bloomsbury group she met Leonard Woolf and they married in 1912, despite his poverty. The Bloomsbury Group had a liberal approach to sexuality and Virginia Woolf started a relationship with Vita Sackville-West, the wife of writer Harold Nicolson. They remained good friend till Woolf's death and for her she wrote Orlando, a literary love letter.

Her professional literary career began in 1910 working for the Times Literary Supplement releasing her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. In 1925 she released Mrs Dalloway, the story of Clarissa Dalloway, a society woman preparing a party that she will host. The story is set in England, just after World War I. The narrative travels back and forth in time as well as in and out of each character's minds, constructing a unique perspective on post-war English society. The style has at times been compared to James Joyce's Ulysses, even if Virginia Woolf denied a direct connection. After Orlando (1928) in 1929 Woolf published her best known non-fiction work A Room of One's Own where she famously wrote "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." The book came out of a series of lectures Woolf gave in different colleges and Universities throughout the year of 1928. The work develops around the themes of women's access to education, a history of female writers and female novel characters, and lesbianism. After completing her last novel Between the Acts (1941), and enhanced by the ongoing war, Virginia Woolf fell into deep depression which ended with her suicide on the 28th of March, 1941. The body was found 20 days later.

At yovisto you can learn more about Virginia Woolf in the lecture on feminist criticism by Professor Paul Fry from Yale University, who uses Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as a lens to and commentary on the flourishing of feminist criticism in the twentieth century.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ètienne Lenoir and the Internal Combustion Engine

Lenoir's engine at Musée des arts et métiers in Paris
On January 1860, Belgian engineer Étienne Lenoir was granted a patent on his newly developed internal combustion engine. Lenoir's engine design was the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.

It is said, that Étienne Lenoir grew up in a very small town near Virton. Apparently, he decided to become an engineer in very early years, but left the city due to the fact that his family could afford not the education he needed around 1838. It has been delivered, that Lenoir walked his way to Paris, making his living from waiter jobs for a while.

In this period, Lenoir already started experimenting and even filed his first patent for producing white enamel through oxidation. Further experiments dealt with electrolysis and later on he developed an electromagnetic motor. Several patents followed but with only modest success. One of his major influences of the time was the French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. He was known to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle and may have been the first to build a steam-powered vehicle, which is highly disputed at this time. However, one of his inventions was exhibited at the École Centrale Paris and Lenoir started thinking of improving the construction. He noticed that this machine had numerous weaknesses including its weight, its brakes, and its furnace.

Quickly, Lenoir noticed that the steam engine's days were counted due to its inefficiency and enormous weight. He began building another engine and was helped by Hippolyte Auguste Marinoni, who became pretty wealthy with his rotary printing press just previously. The first successful results evolved in 1858 and 1859 when Lenoir upgraded his newly built single-cylinder engine to a functional gas engine. The machine's advantage was its quietness, but it was still not working efficiently enough. 

Of course, Lenoir was influenced by several brilliant engineer previously in order to improve his machine. For instance, he built on the work of Robert Street, and Philippe Lebon, who made significant contributions to the development of the gas engine. In November 1859, Lenoir filed his patent for the internal combustion engine, which he was able to sign in January 1860. Still, Lenoir's invention had a few significant weaknesses. It used too much fuel and became way too hot when running. Too much effort was needed to develop a decent watercooling system.

However, his combustion engine was a great success and was even demonstrated at the 1862 International Exhibition in London.  Several contracts followed and Lenoir even built his engines in boats and invented his own automobile, the hippomobile which carried its own internal combustion engine. 

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short historical video on the development of Diesel Engines from the 1970s. 

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thomas Gresham and the London Royal Exchange

Royal Exchange, London
On January 23, 1571, the Royal Exchange in London was founded by the merchant Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the City of London.

On the afternoon of January 23rd, 1571, Queen Elizabeth went from her Palace of Somerset House to dine with Sir Thomas Gresham at his fine mansion in Austin Friars. She went in state with her Trumpeters and Halberdiers, with Sir Thomas Gresham upon her right hand, and upon her left the French Ambassador, Monsieur La Motte Fenelon. Sir Thomas was a person of much importance in the Realm. He was a member of the Mercers' Company which was established as long ago as 1172.  He was the Royal Agent in the Low Countries, and by other important services had Her Majesty in his debt. We have no record, worse luck, of what passed between her and Sir Thomas Gresham. But no doubt she whispered to him her intention to dignify his Exchange with the epithet of "Royal".[1] After dinner her majesty was pleased to proceed to the Royal Exchange and visited every part of it.

Thus, the Royal Exchange was also officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I who awarded the building its royal title as well as the license to sell alcohol. The incentive for Sir Thomas Gresham to build the Royal Exchange was initiated by his foreign correspondent and agent, Richard Clough, who had originally been his servant, and was afterwards knighted, having reproached the English merchants with transacting their business more like pedlars than men of their commercial consequence, and that no foreign trading city was without a commodious place for the public transaction of business. Stimulated by this sarcasm, Thomas Gresham proposed to the corporation of London to erect, at his own expence, a convenient building for merchants to meet in, provided they would procure him a convenient spot for that purpose. Sir Thomas accordingly laid the first stone on the 7th of June, 1566; and in the month of November in the following year, it was completed, under the name of The Bourse.[2]

During the 17th century, stockbrokers were not allowed in the Royal Exchange because of their rude manners, hence they had to operate from other establishments in the vicinity, such as Jonathan's Coffee-House. Gresham's original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous diary on Sep. 5, 1666:
"The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture (statue) in the corner . . . I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney, joining to the wall of the Exchange, with hair all off the body, and yet still alive.”
A second complex was built on the site, designed by Edward Jarman, and opened in 1669, but was also destroyed by fire on 10 January 1838. It had been used by the Lloyd's of London insurance market, which was forced to move temporarily to South Sea House following the 1838 fire. The third Royal Exchange building, which still stands today, was designed by William Tite and adheres to the original layout – consisting of a four-sided structure surrounding a central courtyard where merchants and tradesmen could do business. It was opened by Queen Victoria on 28 October 1844, though trading did not commence until 1 January 1845. In June 1844, just before the reopening of the Royal Exchange, a statue of Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington, was inaugurated outside the building. It was sculpted from enemy cannon captured during Wellington's victorious battles. Paul Julius Reuter established the Reuters news agency at No. 1, Royal Exchange Buildings (opposite and to the east of the Royal Exchange) in 1851.  With the outbreak of the Second World War, trading at the Royal Exchange virtually ended. At the War's end, the building had survived the Blitz, albeit with some near misses.

At yovisto you can learn more about the era of Restoration in England, in which the first building of the Royal Exchange was destroyed during the Great Fire of London, in the lecture of Prof. Wrightson from Yale University.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sir Francis Bacon and the Scientific Method

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
On January 22, 1561, English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, essayist, and author Sir Francis Bacon was born. Bacon has been called the creator of empiricism. His works established and popularized inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry.

How did science work before Francis Bacon? Today, the scientific method of empiricism has become a common knowledge. We observe nature and based on our observation, we try to find out about underlying principles, laws, or systems. Vice versa, via logical conclusions we derive a theoretical system, which we try to validate via observations. Fair enough, but science did not work that way all the time throughout history. Just think about the middle ages. In the middle ages, science was dominated by the method of scholasticism. Scholasticism means that you always try to refer to authoritative sources, whenever you are in question. In the Christian middle ages of course 'authoritative sources' referred to the writings of Aristotle, the Fathers of the Church and finally the Holy Bible. Whenever you made a hypothesis, you tried to find a logical chain of consequences and inferences leading to one of the canonical sources. On the other hand, you can find contradictions in the same way. As an obvious fact, scholasticism means that the world as well as the view of the world is fixed by its canonical interpretations and cannot be changed. In consequence, this might easily become an obstacle for scientific progress.

Francis Bacon was born on 22 January 1561 at York House near the Strand in London, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon by his second wife, Anne. Owing to his poor health, which would plague him throughout his life, Bacon was first educated at home. In 1573, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he followed the then usual medieval curriculum. Bacon's studies brought him to the belief that the methods and results of science as practized following the principle of scholasticism were erroneous. His reverence for Aristotle conflicted with his loathing of Aristotelian philosophy, which seemed to him barren, disputatious, and wrong in its objectives.

During his following travels in France, Italy, and Spain as a part of the English ambassador's suite, Bacon studied language, statecraft, and civil law while performing routine diplomatic tasks. In 1582, Bacon was entitled a barrister, but although his career at court was successful, he had other political and philosophical ambitions. In 1591 Bacon befriended the Earl of Essex to whom Bacon offered the friendly advice. Essex in turn recommended Bacon for several high offices without, however, attaining any position. The relationship ended tragically in a failure of an expedition by Essex and his later attempted coup d'etat, which cost the head of Bacon's protector, Essex, in 1604. However, Bacon was then steadily promoted to a series of offices, including Solicitor General (1607), Attorney General (1613), and eventually Lord Chancellor (1618).

But, Bacon's real interests lay in science. Scholasticism was based on the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. While many Aristotelian ideas, such as the position of the earth at the centre of the universe, had been overturned, his methodology was still being used. This held that scientific truth could be reached by way of authoritative argument: if sufficiently clever men discussed a subject long enough, the truth would eventually be discovered. Bacon challenged this, arguing that truth required evidence from the real world. He published his ideas, initially in 'Novum Organum' (1620), an account of the correct method of acquiring natural knowledge.

While serving as Chancellor, Bacon was indicted on charges of bribery and forced to leave public office. After pleading guilty, he was heavily fined and sentenced to a prison term in the Tower of London. He was a disgraced and fallen manHe then retired to his estate where he devoted himself full time to his continuing literary, scientific, and philosophical work. He died in 1626 of pneumonia contracted whilst testing his theory of the preservative and insulating properties of snow. The cultural legacy left behind by Francis Bacon includes most of the foundation for the modern world as we currently know it. To the mysteries surrounding Francis Bacon counts that he is also a noted contender in the William Shakespeare Identity debate. According to some scholars Bacon is believed to be the author of the plays accredited to William Shakespeare.

At yovisto you can learn more about the scientific method and the importance of proof in the lecture 'The Importance of Proving Things' by Professor Mark Ronan from Gresham College.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Umberto Nobile and his Airships

Umberto Nobile during the Norge expedition
On January 21, 1885, Italian aeronautical engineer and Arctic explorer Umberto Nobile was born. He was a developer and promoter of semi-rigid airships during the Golden Age of Aviation. Nobile is primarily remembered for designing and piloting the airship Norge, which may have been the first aircraft to reach the North Pole.

Umberto Nobile graduated from the University of Naples with a degree in engineering and began working on the electrification of the rail system shortly after. However, the engineer soon increased his interest in aeronautics and took classes offered by the Italian Army. Nobile was inspired by Ferdinand von Zeppelin. He started designing aircraft for the Italian Army, which was known to be quite ahead of many others and already used airships during the Italo-Turkish War for bombing and reconnaissance. In the following years, Umberto Nobile co-founded a company called the Aeronautical Construction Factory. Their first project was the construction of an aircraft designed for trans-Atlantic crossings. The airship was then sold to the Italian military.

The famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen planned his expedition to the North Pole in 1925, which he already attempted previously. Unfortunately, the planes they used were forced to land and put the crew on high dangers. This time, Amundsen turned to Nobile, who made the N-1 aircraft available for the expedition in spring of 1926. Nobile himself was supposed to be its pilot and Amundsen named the plane Norge. On April 14, the crew left and managed to fly over the Pole in May. They landed in Alaska thinking that their competitor Richard Byrd reached the Pole first. However, later on it was found that Byrd's flight diary which showed that navigational data in his official report was fraudulent.
Airship Italia
Image by German Federal Archives

After the successful mission, Umberto Nobile started planning another expedition under Italian control. Meanwhile, the competition increased rapidly and Nobile's staff was often subjected to intimidation. When his new expedition plans were announced, Italo Balbo is said to have commented: "Let him go, for he cannot possibly come back to bother us anymore". The airship Italia was flown by Umberto Nobile himself, who was also the expedition's leader. Unfortunately, the ship ran into a storm after reaching the North Pole and crashed into pack ice on May 25, 1928. Ten of the 16 crew members were throuwn out of the plane. Nobile himself suffered from several broken bones, others managed to salvage some equipment including s radio transceiver and food. A polar air and sea rescue effort was launched, in which Roald Amundsen also participated and disappeared during the mission.

Lieutenant Einar Lundborg was the first to reach the crash site with his plane but refused to take anyone but Umberto Nobile with him. After the explorer and engineer was rescued, Lundborg returned to pick up more survivors. Unfortunately, his plane crashed during the landing as well and Lundborg was trapped with the other five crew members. After his rescue, Nobile offered his help in order to find his crew but instead he was arrested and it was wrongly reported in Fascist Italian newspapers that his own evacuation was an obvious sign of cowardice. The last five men of his crew were rescued by the Soviet icebreaker Krasin after almost 50 days on the ice. In later years, Umberto Nobile worked in the Soviet Union, as well as in the United States and Spain. In the 1940s, he returned to Rome and was reinstalled in his former rank as major general, but promoted him to lieutenant general. Umberto Nobile passed away on July 30, 1978 in Rome.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the video lecture 'Scott, Amundsen and Science' by science historian Edward Larson. He reexamines Roald Amundsen's and Robert Scott's so-called Race to the Pole in light of their objectives. Larson will retell the story of these expeditions in context and contrast it with the conventional wisdom about them.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles in the Blog:

Monday, January 20, 2014

The World according to Sebastian Münster

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552)
On January 20, 1488, German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Christian Hebraist scholar Sebastian Münster was born. His work, the Cosmographia from 1544, was the earliest German description of the world. In (Western) Germany, he is best known for his portrait on the former German 100 DM banknote - of course only to people who are old enough to remember the old banknotes (valid from 1962-1991).

Sebastian Münster was born in Ingelheim, near Mainz, as the son of Andreas Munster, the offspring of farmers. In 1505, he entered the Franciscan order. Four years later, he entered the monastery of St. Katherina in Rouffach, in the upper Alsace, where he became a student of Konrad Pelikan, a reknown German Protestant theologian, humanist, and Christian Hebraist who taught Hebrew, Greek, mathematics and cosmography. In 1512, Münster obtained priesthood in Pforzheim, and continued his study of the semitic languages together with Pelikan and focussed on Aramaaic and Ethiopian. After five years, Münster started to complete his studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, where he graduated in 1518 under the guidance of Johannes Stöffler, a famous German mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, priest, as well as maker of astronomical instruments, who often was referred to as 'Father of Sciences' by his contemporaries.

In 1529, Münster left the Franciscans for the Lutheran Church in order to accept an appointment as a professor of Hebrew at the Reformed Church-dominated University of Basel in 1529. He had long harbored an interest in the Lutherans, and during the German Peasants' War, as a monk, he had been repeatedly attacked. In Basel he was the first German to edit a Hebrew version of the Bible in collaboration with Elias Levita, a Hebrew grammarian, scholar and poet, which was accompanied by a Latin translation and a large number of annotations. Besides, he also published several Hebrew grammars and also a trilingual dictionary in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in 1530.

The Siege of Belgrad, from Sebastian Münster's Cosmografia (1542)
Münster released a Mappa Europae (map of Europe) in 1536, followed by a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia with illustrations. This work should lead to the compilation of Münster's Cosmographia in 1544. Münster's Cosmographia was the earliest German description of the world. It had numerous editions in different languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and even Czech. To collect and compile the content of the Cosmographia, Münster travelled through France, Switzerland, Bavaria and Swabia. Overall, he was able to make contracts with more than 100 authors to collect travel accounts and to compose images of contemporary landscapes and cityscapes. The Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular books throughout the 16th century. It passed through 24 editions in 100 years. This success was due to the fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger). It was most important in reviving geography in 16th century Europe. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after Münster's death.

In 1547, Münster was nominated principal of the University of Basel with his motto 'the respect of God is the beginning of knowledge'. Sebastian Münster died at Basel of the plague in 1552.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Renaissance art of illustration in the lecture 'Dürer and Beyond: Central European Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1400-1700'.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who remembers Apple's Lisa?

The Apple Lisa (2)
On January 19, 1983, the Apple Lisa was introduced, the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface in an inexpensive machine aimed at individual business users. Although a commercial failure, the Lisa paved the way for the famous Apple MacIntosh released in 1984. I don't know if you are old enough to remember the early 1980s. But the era of personal computers had just began, which means there were small computers with a textline based operating system. Graphical user interfaces were completely out of reach, left out the famous Xerox Alto computer from the mid 1970s, which really was ahead of its time with its windows based operating system and its mouse input device. 

Actually, in December 1979, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC, where he was shown the Smalltalk-80 object-oriented programming environment, networking, and most importantly the WYSIWYG, mouse-driven graphical user interface provided by the Alto. He reportedly was not impressed by the first two, but was excited by the last one, and promptly came up with the plan to integrate this into the computers of his own company. I saw the Lisa for the first time in the late 1980s, when a fellow student - an early MacIntosh afficionado - bought it on a flea market for used computers. Unfortunately he didn't succeed to bring it back to life, but it was the very first time that I learned about a computer that preceeded the Apple MacIntosh, but already included most of its outstanding features.

Apple's Lisa project already began in 1978 as an effort to create a more modern version of the then-conventional design of the Apple II personal computer. Under the direction of John Couch the project evolved to the 'windows & mouse-driven' form that was finally released. By late 1979, Jobs successfully negotiated with Xerox for his Lisa team to receive two demonstrations of ongoing research projects at Xerox PARC. When the Apple team saw the demonstration of the Alto computer they were able to see in action the basic elements of what constituted a workable GUI. A great deal of work was put into making the graphical interface into a mainstream commercial product by the Lisa team. The Lisa was a major project at Apple, which reportedly spent more than $50 million on its development. After a six-month period in which the user interface was designed, the hardware, operating system, and applications were all created in parallel.

The Lisa was first introduced on January 19, 1983 and cost US$9,995, being the second personal computer system with a graphical user interface (GUI) to be sold commercially. It's hardware was based on a Motorola 68000 CPU clocked at 5 MHz with a main memory of 1 MB RAM and two 5.25-inch double-sided floppy disk drives. An optional external 5 MB or, later, a 10 MB Apple ProFile hard drive also was available for the Lisa. According to the BYTE magazin, the Lisa was "the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outpacing [the IBM PC]".

Unfortunately, the Apple Lisa was a commercial failure for Apple. The intended business customers were reluctant to purchase the machine because of its high price. Therefore, the Lisa was not able to compete with the less expensive IBM PC, which already started to dominate business desktop computing. Soonafter, the Lisa 2 was released in January 1984 and was priced between $3,495 and $5,495 US. The release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, which was faster and much less expensive, was the most significant factor in the Lisa's demise. In January 1985, following the Macintosh, the Lisa 2/10 was re-branded the Macintosh XL and with new software, positioned as Apple's high-end Macintosh. Another important innovation introduced with the Apple Lisa was its early approach of document-centric computing instead of application-centric computing, while working with a Macintosh, Windows, or Linux system, a user typically first had to run a program and then to open a document.

At yovisto you can learn more about the history of personal computers in the lecture of Prof. Alan Kay where he presents a historical overview of computing and technological developments that led to personal computing.

References and Further Reading:
Related Articles at yovisto Blog: