July 12: Julius Caesar, Alexander Hamilton, Buckminster Fuller, wireless Down Under, Favaloro, Picard

Birth of Julius Caesar

This individual’s CV is quite extensive, so this will have to do: author, public speaker, lawyer, soldier, priest, magistrate, politician, general, statesman and dictator of Rome. Gaius Julius Caesar was born on 12 July, 100 BC.

Bust of julius caesar in the musei vaticani
Bust of Julius Caesar in the Musei Vaticani


Caesar’s best-known contribution to the world of science was his decree in 46 BC that the length of a calendar year should reflect astronomical observations of the length of a solar year. His “Julian reform” made the official length of a year 365.25 days and stipulated that an extra day be added to February every fourth year to keep the calendar in sync, which we will next do in 2024 (a “leap year“). This month of July is named after him.


First demo of wireless telegraphy in the Southern Hemisphere

On 12 July 1906, representatives of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company conducted a demonstration of the new medium of wireless telegraphy across Bass Strait, between Point Lonsdale in Victoria and Devonport in Tasmania. A morse code message from then Governor Gerald Strickland of Tasmania, was sent to Governor-General Northcote of Victoria. It was the first long-distance wireless telegraphy message received across water in the Southern Hemisphere. There were celebrations at Point Lonsdale and businesses closed for the afternoon. A band played for the crowd of 2000 people at the event, including the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and most of the Cabinet who had travelled from Melbourne on a special train.

Despite the test’s success, the Government postponed approval for the service and after three months the stations were dismantled. By 1912, decisions were made and wireless equipment was required for ships in Australian waters.


René Favaloro

Argentinian surgeon, educator and author René Favaloro, born 12 July 1923, is best known for developing a coronary artery bypass surgery technique using the great saphenous vein (a vein in the leg which is the longest in the body)

Dr rené favaloro
Dr René Favaloro (Unknown photographer, public domain)


In 2007, the TV show El Gen Argentino (The Argentine Gene) named Favaloro the second greatest Argentinian of all time. He died by suicide, overwhelmed by corruption in Argentina’s health system.


Jean Picard

We commemorate the 12 July 1682 death of French astronomer and priest Jean Picard.

He was the first to accurately measure the length of a degree of a meridian (longitudinal line) and from that, calculated the size of Earth.

Using a quadrant which had a telescope with crosswires attached (he was the first to do this), he calculated a distance of 110.46km for one degree of latitude, which then allowed him to determine the polar radius at 6328.9km – a measurement Sir Isaac Newton used in his theory of universal gravitation. Subsequently, the polar radius has been measured at just under 6357km, differing from Picard’s figure by only 0.44%.


Richard Buckminster Fuller

American author, designer and futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller was born on 12 July 1895. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fuller was the developer of the geodesic dome, a structure with no upper limit on the size to which it can be built and retain structural strength. In virtue of its shape and stability, the 60-atom carbon nanomaterial Buckminsterfullerene (“buckyballs”) is named after him.

Buckminster fuller
Buckminster Fuller (Credit: PBS, public domain)


Fuller also popularised the term “Spaceship Earth” in his 1968 book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, describing our consumption of fossil fuels in the following terms:

… we can make all of humanity successful through science’s world-engulfing industrial evolution, provided that we are not so foolish as to continue to exhaust in a split second of astronomical history the orderly energy savings of billions of years’ energy conservation aboard our Spaceship Earth. These energy savings have been put into our Spaceship’s life-regeneration-guaranteeing bank account for use only in self-starter functions.


Alexander Hamilton

12 July is the (in)famous anniversary of the death of another fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, former US Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, in 1804.

Alexander hamilton portrait by john trumbull
Alexander Hamilton (Artist: John Trumbull, 1806)


Hamilton died of a gunshot wound received during a pistol duel with former US Vice President Aaron Burr the previous day. Raise a glass.

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