Wednesday, April 30, 2014

J. J. Thompson and the Electron

J. J. Thomson
(1856 – 1940)
On April 30, 1897, English physicist Joseph John Thomson gives the first experimental proof of the electron, which had been already theoretically predicted by Johnstone Stoney. Thomson was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the electron and for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.

Joseph John Thompson was born in 1856 in Manchester, England and was taught mainly in private schools at the beginning. In 1876, he enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degree. When Thompson became Cavendish Professor of Physics, Ernest Rutherford was among his students and later on, he succeeded Thompson in the post. Thompson was known to be an excellent teacher. Seven of his research assistants and his son were able to win the Nobel Prizes in physics. Thompson himself was awarded the famous prize in 1906 "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases." Two years later, he was knighted. In 1918, Thompson became Master of the Trinity College in Cambridge.

The fact that atoms were built up from a more fundamental unit was already suggested by scientists like William Prout or Norman Lockyer. However, J. J. Thompson was the first known scientist to suggest that the fundamental unit was over 1000 times smaller than an atom. Today, the subatomic particle is known as the electron. To achieve this discovery, Thompson used his explorations on the properties of cathode rays. He published his suggestion on 30 April 1897 following his discovery that Lenard rays could travel much further through air than expected for an atom-sized particle. At first, he estimated the mass of cathode rays through the heat that was generated when the rays hit a thermal junction. Then Thompson compared his result with the magnetic deflection of the rays. As a result, Thompson could suggest that cathode rays were more than 100 times lighter than the hydrogen atom and also, he concluded that their mass was the same in whichever type of atom they came from. He then concluded that the rays were composed of light and negatively charged particles, a universal building block of atoms. Thompson named the particles "corpuscles", but scientists preferred the name electron which had been suggested by George Johnstone Stoney prior to Thompson's discovery. One month after Thompson's important announcement of the corpuscle he found that he could reliably deflect the rays by an electric field if he evacuated the discharge tube to a very low pressure. By comparing the deflection of a beam of cathode rays by electric and magnetic fields he obtained more robust measurements of the mass to charge ratio that confirmed his previous estimates. This became the classic means of measuring the charge and mass of the electron. Thomson believed that the corpuscles emerged from the atoms of the trace gas inside his cathode ray tubes. He  concluded that atoms were divisible, and that the corpuscles were their building blocks. To explain the overall neutral charge of the atom, he proposed that the corpuscles were distributed in a uniform sea of positive charge. His model became widely known as the "plum pudding" model of atoms. Ernest Rutherford disproved this model later on with his famous gold foil experiment, which led to the discovery of the nucleus.
J. J. Thomson's cathode ray tube with electromagnetic deflection coils
Next to this famous discovery, Thompson and his research assistant F. W. Aston channeled a stream of neon ions through a magnetic and an electric field. They measured its deflection and observed two patches of light on the photographic plate, which was placed in the path. They concluded, that neon is composed of atoms of two different atomic masses (isotopes), which was the first evidence for isotopes of a stable element. Also, Thompson's separation of neon isotopes by their mass was the first example of mass spectrometry. In 1905, Thomson discovered the natural radioactivity of potassium and one year later he managed to demonstrate that hydrogen had only a single electron per atom.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a very easily to understand lecture on the Discovery of the Electron by Tyler DeWitt.



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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Henri Poincaré - the Last Universalist of Mathematics

Henri Poincaré
(1854 – 1912)
On April 29, 1854, French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science Henri Poincaré was born. He is often described as a polymath, and in mathematics as The Last Universalist since he excelled in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

Jules Henri Poincaré was born near France and excelled in every class from the very beginning. It is assumed that his mother had a conversation with his teacher, when he was about 13 years old. The teacher told her that "Henri will become a mathematician … I would say a great mathematician". However, when Poincare graduated in 1871 and only received the grade 'fair' in science. In mathematics, Poincare received zero points, it is assumed that he answered the wrong questions. Two years later, Poincare enrolled at the École Polytechnique and again, he excelled in every subject, but graduated only as the second in class due to his inability to draw. Poincare submitted a dissertation on partial differential equations and he was then put in charge of the course on differential and integral calculus at the University of Caen.

In 1880, the mathematician made use of non-Euclidean geometry for the first time and resolved a problem in the theory of differential equations to the competition for the grand prize in mathematics of the Academy of Sciences in Paris. He was put on the faculty of sciences at the University of Paris and later on, he succeeded G. Lippmann in the chair of mathematical physics and probability. Poincare switched institutes and universities a lot in the next years, and in 1904, he became professor of general astronomy at the École Polytechnique.

Poincare managed to make significant contributions to classical mechanics and even more important, he was able to publish a founding document in chaos theory. Poincare showed that general, the stability of n-body systems (like the solar system) cannot be demonstrated. In this context, he also proved his recurrence theorem. When working on the foundations of topology, Poincare became increasingly interested in what topological properties characterized a sphere. In 1900, he claimed that homology was sufficient to tell if a 3-manifold was a 3-sphere and four years later, he described a counterexample to this claim, a space now called the Poincaré homology sphere. The Poincaré sphere was the first example of a homology sphere Poincare now had to establish that the Poincaré sphere was different from the 3-sphere and he introduced a new topological invariant, the fundamental group. He was able to show, that the Poincaré sphere had a fundamental group of order 120, while the 3-sphere had a trivial fundamental group. In this way he was able to conclude that these two spaces were, indeed, different. Pointcare also wondered whether a 3-manifold with the homology of a 3-sphere and also trivial fundamental group had to be a 3-sphere. In November 2002, Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman published his outline of a solution of the Poincaré conjecture and four years later Perelman was awarded, but declined, the Fields Medal for his proof. In 2010, the Clay Mathematics Institute awarded Perelman the $1 million Millennium Prize in recognition of his proof, which he rejected as well.

Poincaré became the president of the French Academy in 1906 and was elected to the Académie Française in 1908. During his lifetime, Henri Poincaré published over five hundred scientific papers and over thirty books. He passed away on July 17, 1912 in Paris.

At yovisto, you may be interested in an entertaining video explaining the Poincare Conjecture and its importance for science.



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Monday, April 28, 2014

Dennis Tito, Space Tourist

Crew of Soyuz TM-32. (from left: Dennis Tito, Talgat Musabayev, and Yuri Baturin)
On April 28, 2001, American engineer and multimillionaire Dennis Tito joined the Soyuz TM-32 mission to the International Space Station ISS, spending 7 days, 22 hours, 4 minutes in space and orbiting Earth 128 times. He paid $20 Mio for his trip, which made him the very first space tourist in history.

Who ever thought that space tourism would become possible? To travel in space simply for recreational, leisure or business purposes. Of course, up to now, traveling to space is only reserved for the very rich people, who are able to afford this luxury - flights brokered by Space Adventures to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been US $20–40 million. But, with Space Ship One traveling to the border of outer space and experiencing zero gravity has become affordable for a few more but only the very richest. Will traveling to space ever become a mass phenomenon? Who knows. But, today, we will tell you the story of the very first space tourist Dennis Tito.

The end of the Space Race, culminating in the Moon landings, decreased the emphasis placed on space exploration by national governments and therefore led to decreased demands for public funding of manned space flights. The Soviet space program was aggressive in broadening the pool of its cosmonauts by including cosmonauts selected from Warsaw Pact members. Also the U.S. space shuttle program included payload specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission, who did not receive the same training as professional NASA astronauts. In 1984, Charles D. Walker became the first non-government astronaut to fly, with his employer McDonnell Douglas paying $40,000 for his flight. After Perestroika in Russia, its space industry was especially starved for cash. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. For $28 million, Toyohiro Akiyama was flown in 1990 to space station Mir.

At the end of the 1990s, MirCorp, a private venture that was by then in charge of the space station, began seeking potential space tourists to visit Mir in order to offset some of its maintenance costs. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist, became their first candidate. When the decision to de-orbit Mir was made, Tito managed to switch his trip to the International Space Station (ISS). In 1972, Dennis Tito had founded Wilshire Associates, a leading provider of investment management, consulting and technology services in Santa Monica, California, serving an international clientele representing assets of $71 billion. Wilshire relies on the field of quantitative analytics, which uses mathematical tools to analyze market risks. Despite a career change from aerospace engineering to investment management, Tito remained interested in space. Tito was accepted by the Russian Federal Space Agency as a candidate for a commercial spaceflight. Although, he met criticism from NASA before the launch, because NASA considered it inappropriate for a tourist to take a ride into space. When Tito arrived at the Johnson Space Center for additional training on the American portion of the ISS, NASA refused to provide training for Dennis Tito. Thus, later through an arrangement with space tourism company Space Adventures, Ltd., Tito joined the Soyuz TM-32 mission on April 28, 2001, spending 7 days in space, while he performed several scientific experiments in orbit useful for his company. Tito paid a reported $20 million for his trip.

Dennis Tito should not be the last space tourist. Only about a year later South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth followed him on board a Soyuz mission to the ISS. And the list of space tourists continues, although the costs have risen to almost $40 million for the trip.

At yovisto, you can learn more about tourists in space in the lecture by Prof. Charles Simonyi at Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies on 'Space Tourism'.



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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Edward Whymper and the Matterhorn

Matterhorn
Image: Juan Rubiano
On April 27, 1840, English mountaineer, explorer, illustrator, and author Edward Whymper was born. He is best known for the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865; four members of his party were killed during the descent.

Edward Whymper was born in London, England as the second of eleven children. He learned and practiced wood-engraving starting at very young age. In order to draw scenery pictures for a London publisher in the central and western Alps, Whymper began exploring the scenery quite often. His works included an unsuccessful an illustration of an attempt to ascend Mont Pelvoux. Only one year later, Whymper eventually managed the mountain as one of the first of numerous expeditions which threw much light on the topography of an area at that time very imperfectly mapped. While standing on top of Mont Pelvoux, Whymper noticed that it was overtopped by a neighbouring peak, the Barre des Écrins, which was climbed by Whymper along with Horace Walker, A. W. Moore and guides Christian Almer senior and junior in 1864. In the following years, Whymper successfully finished expeditions in the Mont Blanc massif and the Pennine Alps.

Matterhorn desaster
drawn by Gustave Doré
When Whymper decided to climb the Matterhorn, he already had a huge rival. Jean-Antoine Carrel, an Italian guide previously attempted to reach its summit but failed several times. He is supposed to have said that a native Italian should be the first to achieve this goal and not an English man like Whymper. By 1863, the Matterhorn remained as the last unconquered great alpine summit and an Alpine Society was planned in order to support the local climbers. However, Whymper's party of eight team members started from Zermatt towards the ridge where they reached the base of the peak and continued up to 3380 meters where they managed to set the bivouac. After a longer rest, the group continued without ropes and reached the foot of the much steeper upper peak that lies above the shoulder. When the summit was close, Whymper and Michel Croz detached themselves and "ran a neck-and-neck race, which ended in a dead heat. At 1.40 p.m. the world was at our feet, and the Matterhorn was conquered. Hurrah! Not a footstep could be seen". Standing at the top, Whymper saw his rival Carrel and his team about 200 metres below, still dealing with the most difficult parts of the ridge. Whymper and Croz yelled and poured stones down the cliffs to attract their attention. When seeing his rival on the summit, Carrel and party gave up on their attempt and went back to Breuil.

However, a difficult part was still in front of Whymper and his team: the descent. Even though the men climbed down with great care, only one man moving at a time, one of them slipped and fell on Croz, who was in front of him. Croz, who was unprepared, was unable to withstand the shock. Both fell and pulled down the others. On hearing Croz' shout Whymper and his team member Taugwalder stood very firm but the rope broke. Whymper could only watch them slide down the slope, falling from rock to rock and finally disappearing over the edge of the precipice. After the catastrophe, the remaining men were able to secure themselves and continue the descent until reaching a safer place. They searched for traces that might lead to their companions, but stayed unsuccessful. On 15 July, 1865 they reached Zermatt. One day later, a rescue team left in order to recover the men's bodies, but only three were found.

After the accident, Edward Whymper had to answer numerous questions and was accused of having betrayed his companions and the guide Peter Taugwalder was accused, tried, and acquitted. Many accused him to have cut the rope between him and Lord Francis Douglas to save his life. As the catastrophe was very present in the world's media, Queen Victoria even considered banning climbing to all British citizens but decided, after consultation, not to forbid mountaineering.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled 'Life at Top' by Kenton Cool at the University of Leeds.



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Saturday, April 26, 2014

John James Audubon's Birds of America

Carolina Parakeet amidst a leafy branch
by John James Audubon
On April 26, 1785, French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon was born. He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed.

OK, who the heck is john James Audubon and why should I care? This is what you may possibly think, if you haven't heart of him. Now, this is going to change. On December 6, 2010, a copy of The Birds of America was sold at a Sotheby's auction for $11.5 million, the second highest price for a single printed book. This should give you some hint, that James Audubon's work must have been considered something special. Therefore, let's take a look at the life of this famous ornithologist and painter, especially on his best known major work of art, "The Birds of America".

Jean-Jacques Audubon was born in 1785 in Les Cayes in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) as illegitimate son on his father's sugar plantation, Lieutenant Jean Audubon, a French naval officer from the south of Brittany. His mother died when the boy was a few months old. During the American Revolution, Lieutenant Jean Audubon had been imprisoned by the British Empire and after his release helped the American cause. Rising unrest in Saint-Domingue from African slaves, who greatly outnumbered French colonists, convinced Jean Audubon to return to France, where he succeeded to regularize the legal status of his children. In France during the chaotic years of the French Revolution and its aftermath, the younger Audubon grew up to be a handsome man. Raised by his stepmother, Mrs. Audubon, in Nantes, France, Jean-Jacques took a lively interest in birds, nature, drawing, and music.

From his earliest days, Audubon had an affinity for birds and was encouraged by his father on his interest in nature. He loved roaming in the woods, often returning with natural curiosities, including birds' eggs and nests, of which he made crude drawings.At age 12, Audubon went to military school and became a cabin boy. He quickly found out that he was susceptible to seasickness and not fond of mathematics or navigation, and soon ended his naval career. At age 18, Jean-Jacques Audubon boarded ship for immigration to the United States in 1803 to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars.

Adopting the Americanized name John James, Audubon adapted to America and lived as a country gentleman, on the family-owned estate at Mill Grove, near Philadelphia, hunting, fishing, and indulging in his passion for observing and drawing birds. While there, he met his wife, Lucy Bakewell and conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America, tying strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes; he learned that the birds returned to the very same nesting sites each year. Audubon tried his luck at various endeavors in Ohio and Kentucky, and discovered that he was not suited for a life of business. Audubon set off on his epic quest to depict America's birdlife, with nothing but his gun, artist's materials, and a young assistant. Floating down the Mississippi towards New Orleans, he lived a rugged hand-to-mouth existence in the South while Lucy earned money as a tutor to wealthy plantation families. Thus, Audubon was able to devote himself to what he saw as his true calling, the painting of birds, while his wife managed to support the family.

After failing to interest any American publishers in his ambitious plan to publish a book of paintings of American birds in 1826, Audubon sailed with his partly finished collection to England and became literally an overnight success. Highly regarded in British society as a natural unschooled genius. With his long hair and rough American clothes, he became something of a celebrity. His life-size, highly dramatic bird portraits, along with his embellished descriptions of wilderness life, hit just the right note at the height of the Continent's Romantic era. Audubon found a printer for the Birds of America, first in Edinburgh, then London. To produce the book, Audubon's images were etched on copper plates, and the resulting printed sheets were colored by artists to match Audubon's original paintings. Eventually the book was sold to 161 subscribers, who paid the immense sum of $1,000 for what became four volumes. In total, Birds of America contained 435 pages featuring more than 1,000 individual paintings of birds.

With the success of Birds of America, Audubon purchased a 14-acre estate along the Hudson River north of New York City. In 1843 Audubon set off on his last great expedition, visiting the western territories of the United States so he could paint American mammals. He traveled from St. Louis to the Dakota territory in the company of buffalo hunters, and wrote a book which became known as the Missouri Journal. John James Audubon was not the first person to attempt to paint and describe all the birds of America, but for half a century he was the young country's dominant wildlife artist. His seminal Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, has become a standard in ornithology. Today, the name Audubon remains synonymous with birds and bird conservation the world over.

At yovisto, you can take a short look at an original exemplar of John James Audubon's Birds of America in a video presentation of the 1888 edition by Jacob Studer.

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If you like the daily blog posts of yovisto about the history of science, please support us by clicking on the amazon links and making your next amazon purchase via our offered links. Nevertheless, please do also support your local (real world) bookstore at the corner of the street.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle and the Marseillaise

Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle singing La Marseillaise
On April 25, 1792, French army officier Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French Revolution composes the 'Chant de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin' for the declaration of war against Austria. Under the name 'La Marseillaise' his song later becomes the national anthem of France.

I'm pretty sure that almost everybody knows the French national anthem, the so-called Marseillaise, simply because of its numerous references throughout music history as well as from movies. Above all, of course 'All you need is Love' from The Beatles. But, there are not so many who know about the history of that unique song. Sure, some might know that it has something to do with the French Revolution. But, why is it called 'La Marseillaise'? Let's take a look at the history of the French National Anthem.

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

On 25 April 1792, the mayor of Strasbourg requested his guest Rouget de Lisle compose a song "that will rally our soldiers from all over to defend their homeland that is under threat". That very evening, war was declared to Austria and Rouget de Lisle wrote Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin (English: "War Song for the Army of the Rhine"), and dedicated the song to Marshal Nicolas Luckner, a Bavarian in French service, who was Commander-in-Chief of Straßburg. Luckner was born in the small German village of Cham, where you can hear La Marseillaise played every day at noon by a carillon on the market place to this day.

But why is it called La Marseillaise? The melody soon became the rallying call to the French Revolution and was adopted as La Marseillaise after the melody was first sung on the streets by volunteers (fédérés in French) from Marseille by the end of May. These fédérés were making their entrance into the city of Paris on 30 July 1792 after a young volunteer from Montpellier called François Mireur had sung it at a patriotic gathering in Marseille, and the troops adopted it as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille. A newly graduated medical doctor, Mireur later became a general under Napoléon Bonaparte and died in Egypt during Napoleon's Egyptian campaign at age 28.

The song's lyrics reflect the invasion of France by foreign armies (from Prussia and Austria) that were underway when it was written. Strasbourg itself was attacked just a few days later. The invading forces were repulsed from France following their defeat in the Battle of Valmy. As the vast majority of Alsatians did not speak French, a German version (Auf, Brüder, auf dem Tag entgegen) was published in October 1792 in Colmar. The Convention accepted it as the French national anthem in a decree passed on 14 July 1795, making it France's first anthem.

Later under Napoleon Bonaparte it lost this status and the song was banned outright in the following French restauration by Louis XVIII and Charles X, only being re-instated briefly after the French July Revolution of 1830. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, "La Marseillaise" was commonly recognized as the anthem of the international revolutionary movement. As such, it was also adopted by the Paris Commune in 1871. Eight years later, in 1879, it was finally restored as France's national anthem, and has remained so ever since.

As mentioned above, The Beatles were not the first to quote the Marseillaise in their music. In classical music, maybe Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's reference in his famous 1812 Overture (written in 1882) might be the most famous. Tchaikovsky quoted "La Marseillaise" to represent the invading French army, followed by quoting the Russian national anthem to represent the Russian army. However, neither of these anthems was actually in use in 1812.

At yovisto you can learn more about the times of the French Revolution in the lecture of Yale Prof. John Merrimen on 'Maximilian Robespierre and the French Revolution'.

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If you like the daily blog posts of yovisto about the history of science, please support us by clicking on the amazon links and making your next amazon purchase via our offered links. Nevertheless, please do also support your local (real world) bookstore at the corner of the street.

Revovering the Lost Lunar Photographs

Restored Image from the NASA Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (photo: LOIRP)
Maybe you remember that we had an article on the very first image of the Earth taken from abroad? It was an image taken in 1966 by one of the Lunar Orbiter space probes, which had the task of taking closeup pictures of the lunar surface to find a well suited landing spot for the upcoming Apollo Moon missions. Well, you might wonder, how these photographs came back to Earth. Well, the Lunar Orbiter space probes were equipped with high resolution photographic cameras. The images were developed on 70mm film on board of the space probe, scanned into strips called framelets using something akin to an old fax machine reader and sent back via analog modulated radio transmission to Earth. What was missing was the proper equipment to print out these photographs with the proper dynamic range and the resolution that 70mm film is able to offer.
"The photos were stored with remarkably high fidelity on the tapes, but at the time had to be copied from projection screens onto paper, sometimes at sizes so large that warehouses and even old churches were rented out to hang them up. The results were pretty grainy, but clear enough to identify landing sites and potential hazards. After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten." (from Wired article) 
Well, some gifted Hackers started the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery project a while ago to recover these old photographs from tape and to make it available in the best available digital quality (as you can see for yourself in the image above). You can read the whole story in Wired "The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos" and you can read more about the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Laurens Hammond and the Hammond Organ

Hammond Organ model L-112
Image: Jake
On April 24, 1934, American engineer and inventor Laurens Hammond filed US Patent 1,956,350 for an "electrical musical instrument", his famous eponymous electric organ with the unique 'Hammond sound'.

Laurens was born in Illinois, USA, but moved to France after his father took his life. In Europe, Hammond began to design some of his earliest inventions. By the age of 14, the boy had already designed systems for automatic car transitions. Unfortunately, when he sent his idea to Renault, it was rejected. At Cornell University, he studied mechanical engineering and became the Chief engineer of a company, manufacturing of marine engines. However, the engineer continued developing ideas for further inventions. In 1919, Hammond managed to invent a silent spring-driven clock, which allowed him to leave the company and make his living in New York. Hammond founded the Hammond Clock Company, which faced financial difficulties in the 1930s. In order to save his company, the engineer had to think of other inventions and products. Thus, an electric bridge table was developed and his famous organ followed shortly after.

It is assumed that everything started out with a used piano the engineer purchased. He is supposed to have used it as a controller, making lots of noises. He was assisted by the company's treasurer, who played the organ at a local church. The tonewheel generator went into production pretty soon and the patent was filed in 1934. The Hammond organ was built with only 25 instead of the standard 32 notes and it was revealed to the public in 1935. The first model to be purchased (Model A) was made available in the summer of the same year. The first customers were mainly churches, which is probably due to the fact that Hammond organs were much cheaper than the original wind-driven pipe organ. It is estimated that in the first three years, about 1700 churches purchased the model. Despite the initial success, Hammond did not believe that he could make enough money to support the company with the product and it was not targeted at the market. However, Hammond's company started very active advertising soon. The Hammond Times, a newsletter that was even mailed out to subscribers. Often, it was demonstrated how families gathered around the instrument, suggesting that a Hammond organ could function as a central aspect of a family's daily life.

As the development of the organs continued, two main groups of instruments were established, console organs with two octaves and spinet organs with only one. Further models were built to fit the customer's wishes. Even though, Hammond organs were originally intended for churches, the company came to realize more and more that the amateur home market was a far more lucrative business and they started manufacturing spinet organs in the late 1940s. The production of transistor organs began about two decades later and the Concorde, the company's first integrated circuit model followed shortly after.

By this time, Laurens Hammond was not the company's president anymore. He left the position in 1955 and devoted his life more to researching and developing new ideas. Hammond retired in 1960 while holding 90 patents. The engineer passed away in 1973 and the company stayed in business until 1985. The Hammond name was purchased by the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation, which proceeded to manufacture digital simulations of the most popular tonewheel organs. This culminated in the production of the "New B-3" in 2002, which provided an accurate recreation of the original B-3 organ using modern digital technology. Companies like Korg, Roland and Clavia also became successful in providing emulations of the original tonewheel organs. The sound of a tonewheel Hammond can also be emulated using modern software such as Native Instruments B4.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video about the building process of Hammond Organs.



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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The German Reinheitsgebot

A crown cap, reading "500 Years of Reinheitsgebot in Munich
On April 23, 1516, in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria, Duke Wilhelm IV. and Duke Ludwig X. of Bavaria publish a new law that contains regulations about the price and the ingredients of beer. These Regulations later are called the 'Reinheitsgebot' (German Beer Purity Law), which states that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer are water, barley and hops.

The law was introduced at a meeting of an assembly of the Estates of Bavaria, at Ingolstadt, about 60 miles north of Munich. Next to the listed ingredients, the original law set the price of beer at one Pfennig per Maß. On this day however, the law is not longer active and was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, introduced in 1993. With the new law, some changes, which allowed the ingredients yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar were introduced. Back in the Medieval era, many brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including soot and fly agaric mushrooms. When the Reinheitsgebot came into effect, several penalties for not following the law were set, for instance, the confiscation of all questionable barrels is assumed to have occurred quite often. It is also believed that the Reinheitsgebot was introduced for economic reasons. The prevention of price competition with bakers for wheat and rye was intended in order to guarantee affordable bread.

The Reinheitsgebot started to spread very slowly across Bavaria and later Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871, to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. Many brewers opposed the new law and they claimed that the Reinheitsgebot would lead to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, for instance the North German spiced beer and cherry beer were affected. In 1988 the law changed again and from then on, any ingredient that was allowed in other foods was not allowed in beer as well. However, these changes only applied to imported beers and beer brewed in Germany still has to abide to the law. On this day, many German breweries claim to follow the original Reinheitsgebot, even though this is often false.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled 'The Bitter, Twisted Truth of Hop'



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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Encore un Moment - The Life of Madame Du Barry

Madame Du Barry
(1743 – 1793)
On April 22, 1769, Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry, better known as Madame du Barry, was introduced at the French court. Originally being only a seamstress, Madame du Barry should become Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV of France and the most powerful woman in France.

Madame du Barry was born in Lorraine, France and had to support herself financially at the age of 15 or 16. It is assumed that she had started selling rather cheap jewelry on the streets of Paris and continued her career as a companion to an elderly widow, Madame de la Garde. Madame du Barry, back then still known as Jeanne Bécu, was considered highly attractive and her beauty also drew attention to Jean-Baptiste du Barry around 1763. He owned a casino and made Jeanne his mistress. He supported her career as a courtesan in Paris and made it possible for her to take several aristocratic men as brief lovers or clients. Jeanne became widely known across Paris as Mademoiselle Lange. To her clients belonged numerous aristocratic men and Jean du Barry started to see a huge potential of influencing the politics of Louis XV. In order to become a maîtresse-en-titre, Jeanne had to get married to Comte Guillaume du Barry.

Jeanne moved in the King's quarters and had a hard time fitting in. Many of the nobility would not accept the fact that a woman of the street had the audacity to interact with those above her station. Still, it is assumed that her husband often reminded her to speak of presentation with the king. After Jeanne had finally been presented to the Court at Versailles, she started to make friends and quickly accustomed herself to living in luxury. Madame du Barry became known as a very extravagant woman, who wore diamonds covering her neck and ears combined with extremely costly dresses. She became the king's maîtresse déclarée and historians assume that she made as many friends as enemies at Court.

Duchesse de Grammont should become her most bitter rival, who did not hesitate to develop several plans to remove Jeanne with her brother. Still, Jeanne's power in Court grew stronger as Choiseul sided with the Spanish against the British for possession of the Falkland Islands. When Jeanne found out about it, she exposed the news to the king, which resulted in the removal of Choiseul and his sister. This period is regarded as Jeanne's golden age and her family received great benefits from her position. She became well known as a supporter of artists and the king often praised her in front of his acquaintances. Unfortunately for her, she grew increasingly unpopular because of the king's financial extravagance towards her. For instance, Louis XV requested that Parisian jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge create an elaborate and spectacular jeweled necklace for du Barry in 1772. The necklace was neither completed nor paid for when the king passed away, which triggered a huge scandal. Queen Marie Antoinette was wrongly accused of bribing the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg in the Alsace, to purchase it for her. These accusations would figure prominently in the onset of the French Revolution. This incident became well known as the famous Diamond Necklace.

After the death of Louis XV, Jeanne was quickly exiled to the Abbey du Pont-aux-Dames near Meaux-en-Brie. After about one year, she was allowed to visit the surrounding countryside on condition, she returned and slept behind the abbey’s walls at sundown. Jeanne started to slowly recover and even managed to purchase some property. Later on, she fell in love with Henry Seymour while having a liaison with Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, Duke of Brissac. Brissac was captured while visiting Paris, and was slaughtered by a mob during the French Revolution and an angry crowd threw his head through her open window. Madame du Barry herself was arrested in 1793 for treason and beheaded by means of the guillotine on 8 December in the same year. Her last words to the executioner were Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau (One more moment, Mr. Executioner).

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on the French Revolution.



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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Passionate Life of Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1854)
by George Richmond, 1850
On April 21, 1816, English novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters was born, whose novels are English literature standards. Most notably she wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.

Following the usual stereotype, computer scientists are nerds and the only literature they read - if they read any literature at all - are science fiction stories or fantasy novels. Of course I like science fiction stories - at least it was the kind of genre I've read first. It was also the kind of genre which started my love for literature at all. It took a while until I also read the classical and romantic English novelists, but it was worth while. I really love the novels of Jane Austen, who understood to sketch the very pinpoint characteristics of English society in the early 19th century - always with a twinkle in the eye. And there are also the Brontë sisters. While Emily Brontë wrote "Wuthering Heights" - for sure you will know the heartache epic of Heathcliff, Cathy, and the moors (that's even too much for me :) ... not to forget the famous Kate Bush song - Charlotte, her eldest sister, has left us 'Jane Eyre', a gothic like novel containing elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, but nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time exploring also sexuality, religion, as well as feminism.

Charlotte was born in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria and Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820 the family moved a few miles to the village of Haworth, when Charlotte's mother died of cancer in 1821, leaving five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and a son Branwell to be taken care of by her sister, Elizabeth Branwell. After the deaths of her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth of tuberculosis in 1825, Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and her surviving siblings - Branwell, Emily, and Anne - created their own literary fictional worlds and began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Between 1831 and 1832 Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head in Mirfield, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. In 1833 she wrote a novella, The Green Dwarf, under the pen name Wellesley. She returned to Roe Head as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839 she took up the first of many positions as governess to families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841.

In 1842 Charlotte and Emily travelled to Brussels to enrole at a boarding school. In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. After the death of her aunt Elizabeth Branwell, who had taken care of the children after their mother's death, Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the school. But, her second stay was not happy and she returned already to Haworth in 1844. In May 1846 Charlotte, Emily and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poetry under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The pseudonyms veiled the sisters' gender whilst preserving their initials, thus Charlotte was "Currer Bell".

Charlotte's first manuscript, The Professor, did not secure a publisher, although she was heartened by an encouraging response. Thus, in September 1847, she published her best known novel Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. It tells the story of Jane, a plain governess who, after early life difficulties, falls in love with her Byronic employer, Edward Rochester, the lord of Thornfield Hall. (Please skip the rest of the paragraph, if you don't want to spoil your reading experience...) They marry, but only after Rochester's insane first wife of whom Jane initially had no knowledge dies in a dramatic fire.

In Jane Eyre Charlotte transformed her very own experiences into a novel with universal appeal. Commercially it was an instant success, and initially received favourable reviews. The book's style was innovative, combining naturalism with gothic melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely first-person female perspective. Speculation about the identity of Currer Bell and whether the author was male or female heightened with the publication of Emily's Wuthering Heights by "Ellis Bell" and Anne's Agnes Grey by "Acton Bell". Following the success of Jane Eyre, in 1848 Charlotte began work on the manuscript of her second novel, Shirley, when the Brontë household suffered a tragic series of events. In September 1848 Branwell died, when Emily became seriously ill and died of pulmonary tuberculosis. One year later in 1849, Anne died of the same disease. Nevertheless, Charlotte resumed writing as a way of dealing with her grief and finished Shirley which deals with themes of industrial unrest and the role of women in society was published in October 1849. Before the publication of Charlotte's third novel Villette, she received a marriage proposal from Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate who had long been in love with her. After initially turning down this proposal, she accepted in 1854 and got married. Charlotte became pregnant soon after the marriage but her health declined rapidly. She died with her unborn child on 31 March 1855, aged 38.

At yovisto you can learn more about Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel 'Jane Eyre' in a lecture at DLD college, London.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Royal Botanist Charles Plumier

Franipani (Plumeria) flowers in Perth, Western Australia
Author: Renesis
On April 20, 1646, French botanist Charles Plumier was born. He is considered one of the most important of the botanical explorers of his time. He made three botanizing expeditions to the West Indies, which resulted in a massive work Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera (1703–04) and was appointed botanist to king Louis XIV of France.

Charles Plumier
(1646 – 1704)
Charles Plumier was born in Marseille and entered the order of the Minims, when he was 16 years old. They were members of a Roman Catholic religious order of friars founded by Saint Francis of Paola in fifteenth-century Italy. The Order soon spread to France, Germany and Spain, and continues to exist today. However, Charles Plumier developed a great interest in mathematics and physics. He started building his own physical instruments and also devoted much of his time to paining and turning. Plumier was sent to the French monastery of Trinità dei Monti at Rome and there, he began his studies in botany. He was supported and taught by two members of the order. It is also assumed that he studied under the famous Italian botanist Paolo Boccone. Another important influence to Plumier was Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. The botanist became known for creating the first clear definition of the concept of genus for plants. Also Plumier was able to follow Tournefort on several voyages.

Charles Plumier's first big journey started in 1689. By order of the government, Plumier accompanied the collector Joseph Donat Surian to the French Antilles, as Surian's illustrator and writer. The journey lasted for about one year and a half and resulted in Plumier's first masterpiece, the Description des Plantes d'Amérique, published in 1693. This work was very successful and Plumier was appointed royal botanist shortly after.

The second voyage took of in 1693 by command of Louis XIV of France and another expedition followed two years later. In the West Indies, he was assisted by the Dominican botanist Jean-Baptiste Labat. The material they gathered during these trips formed an incredible foundation for Plumier's later works, Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera, Plumier's Filicetum Americanum, and several shorter pieces for the Journal des Savants and the Memoires de Trévoux.

Charles Plumier passed away on 20 November 1704. He left numerous manuscript volumes containing notes and descriptions, and about 6,000 drawings, 4,000 of which were of plants, while the remainder reproduced American animals of nearly all classes, especially birds and fishes. The Plumeria, a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, was named after Charles Plumier by Tournefort and Linnaeus.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on 'Human Livelihoods Depend on Wild Flowers: Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank explained'.



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Saturday, April 19, 2014

August Wilhelm Iffland and the Iffland Ring

August Wilhelm Iffland (1759-1814)
On April 19, 1759, German actor and dramatic author August Wilhelm Iffland was born. He was the most important actor of his age and is best remembered for playing the main part of Franz Moor in Friedrich Schiller's 'The Robbers'. And there is this ring, the Iffland-Ring, which bears Iffland's likeness, and is borne by the most important German-speaking actor, as decided by his predecessor. When I first heard the story of the Iffland-Ring, to me it sounded a little bit like a 'Lord of the Ring' like story. There is a ring, passed over from generation to generation, and only its bearer decides who is worthy to bear it next...

OK, so who was this August Wilhelm Iffland? Born in Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony, in northwestern Germany, is father originally intended him to be a clergyman, but Iffland preferred the stage, and in 1777, at age eighteen ran away to the city of Gotha in central Germany, in order to prepare himself for a theatrical career. When Iffland first started his career in theater, it was the German actor Konrad Ekhof who taught Iffland both the art and indeed business of acting. Iffland made fast progress. In 1779, Iffland joined the cast of the National Theatre of Mannheim at the request of Prince Charles Theodore of Bavaria, where Iffland made​ a name for himself by developing and performing acts that became famous for their psychological and realistic touch.

In 1782, Iffland who performed on every single one of the main stages in Germany, triumphed in the role of Franz Moor in The Robbers, written by the German poet, philosopher and playwright Friedrich von Schiller. Schiller enjoyed Iffland’s acting so much that a fruitful collaboration developed between the two men. Iffland also gained an important reputation in the country by performing on every single one of the main stages of Germany. In April 1796, Iffland travelled to Weimar, responding to the invitation of the famous German poet, philosopher and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had extended to him. In the same year he settled in Berlin, where Iffland became director of the national theater of Prussia, and in 1811 he was made general director of all presentations before royalty.

Iffland produced all the classical works of Goethe and Schiller with conscientious care, but he had little understanding for the drama of the romantic writers. As an actor, he was conspicuous for his comedy parts: fine gentlemen, polished men of the world, and distinguished princes. On the other hand, Iffland also had success as an author himself. His most famous plays are The Hunters (“Die Jäger”, 1785), Dienstpflicht (“Compulsory Service”), and Die Hagstolzen (“The Old Boys”). The form of play in which Iffland was most at home, both as an actor and playwright, was the domestic drama, the sentimental play of everyday life. His works show little imagination, but they display a thorough mastery of the technical necessities of the stage, and a remarkable power of devising effective situations. Moreover, he was also an important drama critic. In fact, German actors used to take with great importance the remarks that Iffland could make on their works in his Almanach für Theater und Theaterfreunde.

What is today famous as the “Iffland-Ring”, which is engraved with the portrait of Iffland, is since Ludwig Devrient worn by a German actor chosen by his predecessor as one of the main representatives of the profession. Iffland was inspired by the Romanticism. Thus, he might be have been inspired to commission the ring the play Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing telling the famous "Ringparabel". The circumstances of where and when Iffland passed on the ring to its first bearer Ludwig Devrient are uncertain. But there is the story that Iffland handed the ring to Devrient in 1814, after his last performance in Breslau. Shortly after, in September 1814, Iffland died in Berlin. The current holder of the Iffland-Ring is Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who is well known for his performance as Adolf Hitler in "The Downfall".

At yovisto you can learn more about classical theatre in the lecture of Sam Walters, the Artistic Director of Orange Tree Theatre, at Gresham College on 'Is Theatre History?'


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Friday, April 18, 2014

The Natural History Museum in London

The Natural History Museum
image: Wikimedia user Diliff
On April 18, 1881, the Natural History Museum in London was opened for the public. It is one of the largest natural history museum's of the world.

Sir Hans Sloane was an Irish physician, but also a collector who provided the foundation for the museum. He allowed his collections to be purchased by the British government below their actual value on the free market. The collections included dried plants, and animal and human skeletons, which were initially housed in Bloomsbury at Montagu House. Unfortunately, the majority of the collection had disappeared by the early decades of the nineteenth century. In 1833 the Annual Report stated that, of the 5,500 insects listed in the Sloane catalogue, none remained. It is assumed that in the first years, the staff of the natural history departments did not have much knowledge about conserving the specimens.

Richard Owen was then appointed Superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum in 1856. He saw that the natural history departments needed more space, and that implied a separate building as the British Museum site was limited. More land was purchased, and in 1864 a competition was held to design the new museum. Francis Fowke won the design contest. He was a civil engineer Captain and passed away shortly after. The scheme was then taken over by Alfred Waterhouse who substantially revised the agreed plans, and designed the facades in his own idiosyncratic Romanesque style. The original plans included wings on either side of the main building, but these plans were soon abandoned for budgetary reasons. The space these would have occupied are now taken by the Earth Galleries and Darwin Centre. Construction work began in 1873 and was completed in 1880. The museum officially opened in 1881, but the move from the old museum was not completed until two years later. After the opening, the Natural History Museum remained a department of the British Museum. With the passing of the British Museum Act 1963, the British Museum became an independent museum with its own Board of Trustees, although the former name was retained. Only with the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 did the Museum's formal title finally change to the Natural History Museum.

In 1986, the museum absorbed the adjacent Geological Museum of the British Geological Survey. The Geological Museum became world famous for exhibitions including an active volcano model and an earthquake machine, and it housed the world's first computer-enhanced exhibition. The newly developed Darwin Centre is designed as a new home for the museum's collection of millions of preserved specimens, as well as new work spaces for the museum's scientific staff, and new educational visitor experiences. Arguably the most famous creature in the centre is the 8.62-metre-long giant squid, affectionately named Archie. As part of the museum's remit to communicate science education and conservation work, a new multimedia studio will form an important part of Darwin Centre. In collaboration with the BBC's Natural History Unit, the Attenborough Studio provides a multimedia environment for educational events. The studio plans to continue the daily lectures and demonstrations. The museum runs a series of educational and public engagement programs, including a "How Science Works" hands on workshop for school students demonstrating the use of microfossils in geological research. The museum also played a major role in securing designation of the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset as a UNESCO World Heritage site and has subsequently been a lead partner in the Lyme Regis Fossil Festivals.

At yovisto, you may be interested in taking a virtual tour of the Natural History Museum in London.



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