14 April 2010

Robot (household)

The invention:

The first available personal robot, Hero 1 could
speak; carry small objects in a gripping arm, and sense light, motion,
sound, and time.

The people behind the invention:

Karel Capek (1890-1938), a Czech playwright
The Health Company, an American electronics manufacturer

31 March 2010

Richter scale

The invention:

A scale for measuring the strength of earthquakes
based on their seismograph recordings.

The people behind the invention:

Charles F. Richter (1900-1985), an American seismologist
Beno Gutenberg (1889-1960), a German American seismologist
Kiyoo Wadati (1902- ), a pioneering Japanese seismologist
Giuseppe Mercalli (1850-1914), an Italian physicist,volcanologist, and meteorologist

23 March 2010

Rice and wheat strains

The invention:

Artificially created high-yielding wheat and rice
varieties that are helping food producers in developing countries
keep pace with population growth
The people behind the invention:

Orville A. Vogel (1907-1991), an agronomist who developed
high-yielding semidwarf winter wheats and equipment for
wheat research
Norman E. Borlaug (1914- ), a distinguished agricultural
Robert F. Chandler, Jr. (1907-1999), an international agricultural
consultant and director of the International Rice Research
Institute, 1959-1972
William S. Gaud (1907-1977), a lawyer and the administrator of
the U.S. Agency for International Development, 1966-1969

The Problem of Hunger

In the 1960’s, agricultural scientists created new, high-yielding
strains of rice and wheat designed to fight hunger in developing
countries. Although the introduction of these new grains raised levels
of food production in poor countries, population growth and
other factors limited the success of the so-called “Green Revolution.”
Before World War II, many countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin
America exported grain toWestern Europe. After the war, however,
these countries began importing food, especially from the United
States. By 1960, they were importing about nineteen million tons of
grain a year; that level nearly doubled to thirty-six million tons in
1966. Rapidly growing populations forced the largest developing
countries—China, India, and Brazil in particular—to import huge
amounts of grain. Famine was averted on the Indian subcontinent
in 1966 and 1967 only by the United States shipping wheat to the region.
The United States then changed its food policy. Instead of contributing
food aid directly to hungry countries, the U.S. began working to help such countries feed themselves.
The new rice and wheat strains were introduced just as countries
in Africa and Asia were gaining their independence from the European
nations that had colonized them. The ColdWar was still going
strong, and Washington and other Western capitals feared that the
Soviet Union was gaining influence in the emerging countries. To
help counter this threat, the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) was active in the ThirdWorld in the 1960’s, directing
or contributing to dozens of agricultural projects, including building
rural infrastructure (farm-to-market roads, irrigation projects,
and rural electric systems), introducing modern agricultural techniques,
and importing fertilizer or constructing fertilizer factories in
other countries. By raising the standard of living of impoverished
people in developing countries through applying technology to agriculture,
policymakers hoped to eliminate the socioeconomic conditions
that would support communism.


The invention: A drug with unique hypertension-decreasing effects
that provides clinical medicine with a versatile and effective
The people behind the invention:
Robert Wallace Wilkins (1906- ), an American physician and
clinical researcher
Walter E. Judson (1916- ) , an American clinical researcher
Treating Hypertension
Excessively elevated blood pressure, clinically known as “hypertension,”
has long been recognized as a pervasive and serious human
malady. In a few cases, hypertension is recognized as an effect
brought about by particular pathologies (diseases or disorders). Often,
however, hypertension occurs as the result of unknown causes.
Despite the uncertainty about its origins, unattended hypertension
leads to potentially dramatic health problems, including increased
risk of kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.
Recognizing the need to treat hypertension in a relatively straightforward
and effective way, Robert Wallace Wilkins, a clinical researcher
at Boston University’s School of Medicine and the head of
Massachusetts Memorial Hospital’s Hypertension Clinic, began to
experiment with reserpine in the early 1950’s. Initially, the samples
that were made available to Wilkins were crude and unpurified.
Eventually, however, a purified version was used.
Reserpine has a long and fascinating history of use—both clinically
and in folk medicine—in India. The source of reserpine is the
root of the shrub Rauwolfia serpentina, first mentioned in Western
medical literature in the 1500’s but virtually unknown, or at least
unaccepted, outside India until the mid-twentieth century. Crude
preparations of the shrub had been used for a variety of ailments in
India for centuries prior to its use in the West.
Wilkins’s work with the drug did not begin on an encouraging
note, because reserpine does not act rapidly—a fact that had been
noted in Indian medical literature. The standard observation in
Western pharmacotherapy, however, was that most drugs work
rapidly; if a week has elapsed without positive effects being shown
by a drug, the conventional Western wisdom is that it is unlikely
to work at all. Additionally, physicians and patients alike tend to
look for rapid improvement or at least positive indications. Reserpine
is deceptive in this temporal context, andWilkins and his
coworkers were nearly deceived. In working with crude preparations
of Rauwolfia serpentina, they were becoming very pessimistic,
when a patient who had been treated for many consecutive
days began to show symptomatic relief. Nevertheless, only after
months of treatment did Wilkins become a believer in the drug’s
beneficial effects.

11 March 2010

Refrigerant gas

The invention: A safe refrigerant gas for domestic refrigerators,
dichlorodifluoromethane helped promote a rapid growth in the
acceptance of electrical refrigerators in homes.
The people behind the invention:
Thomas Midgley, Jr. (1889-1944), an American engineer and
Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958), an American engineer and
inventor who was the head of research for General Motors
Albert Henne (1901-1967), an American chemist who was
Midgley’s chief assistant
Frédéric Swarts (1866-1940), a Belgian chemist
Toxic Gases
Refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners have had a major impact
on the way people live and work in the twentieth century.With
them, people can live more comfortably in hot and humid areas,
and a great variety of perishable foods can be transported and
stored for extended periods. As recently as the early nineteenth century,
the foods most regularly available to Americans were bread
and salted meats. Items now considered essential to a balanced diet,
such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy products, were produced and
consumed only in small amounts.

Radio interferometer

The invention: An astronomical instrument that combines multiple
radio telescopes into a single system that makes possible the
exploration of distant space.
The people behind the invention:
Sir Martin Ryle (1918-1984), an English astronomer
Karl Jansky (1905-1950), an American radio engineer
Hendrik Christoffel van de Hulst (1918- ), a Dutch radio
Harold Irving Ewan (1922- ), an American astrophysicist
Edward Mills Purcell (1912-1997), an American physicist
Seeing with Radio
Since the early 1600’s, astronomers have relied on optical telescopes
for viewing stellar objects. Optical telescopes detect the
visible light from stars, galaxies, quasars, and other astronomical
objects. Throughout the late twentieth century, astronomers developed
more powerful optical telescopes for peering deeper into the
cosmos and viewing objects located hundreds of millions of lightyears
away from the earth.

Radio crystal sets

The invention: The first primitive radio receivers, crystal sets led
to the development of the modern radio.
The people behind the invention:
H. H. Dunwoody (1842-1933), an American inventor
Sir John A. Fleming (1849-1945), a British scientist-inventor
Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894), a German physicist
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), an Italian engineer-inventor
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), a Scottish physicist
Greenleaf W. Pickard (1877-1956), an American inventor
From Morse Code to Music
In the 1860’s, James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that electricity
and light had electromagnetic and wave properties. The conceptualization
of electromagnetic waves led Maxwell to propose that
such waves, made by an electrical discharge, would eventually be
sent long distances through space and used for communication
purposes. Then, near the end of the nineteenth century, the technology
that produced and transmitted the needed Hertzian (or radio)
waves was devised by Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi
(inventor of the wireless telegraph), and many others. The resultant
radio broadcasts, however, were limited to the dots and
dashes of the Morse code.

28 January 2010


The invention: The first radio transmissions of music and voice
laid the basis for the modern radio and television industries.
The people behind the invention:
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), an Italian physicist and
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932), an American radio
True Radio
The first major experimenter in the United States to work with
wireless radio was Reginald Aubrey Fessenden. This transplanted
Canadian was a skilled, self-made scientist, but unlike American inventor
Thomas Alva Edison, he lacked the business skills to gain the
full credit and wealth that such pathbreaking work might have merited.
Guglielmo Marconi, in contrast, is most often remembered as
the person who invented wireless (as opposed to telegraphic) radio.
There was a great difference between the contributions of Marconi
and Fessenden. Marconi limited himself to experiments with
radio telegraphy; that is, he sought to send through the air messages
that were currently being sent by wire—signals consisting of dots
and dashes. Fessenden sought to perfect radio telephony, or voice
communication by wireless transmission. Fessenden thus pioneered
the essential precursor of modern radio broadcasting.