Charles Townes shines a light

In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, based on the book of that name by acclaimed British writer Ian Fleming, the avaricious Auric Goldfinger captures Secret Service agent James Bond, straps him to a thick metal table and sets a laser beam to begin burning through the table and perhaps eventually slicing through the British super spy. … Continue reading Charles Townes shines a light

Polly Porter rolls the stones

Polly Porter. The name sounds more like a character in a young-adult adventure story from the early 20th century than a serious scientist. The many books and papers she published – such as “Crystallographic descriptions of some pyridine and picoline derivatives”, in 1921, were under her birth name, Mary Winearls Porter, but to her family … Continue reading Polly Porter rolls the stones

George Boole executes a search

George Boole was born on 2 November 1815 in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. He spent his career as professor of mathematics at Queen’s University in Cork, Ireland. Boole married Mary Everest, niece of Sir George Everest, the Welsh geographer who served as Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. Renowned … Continue reading George Boole executes a search

The Kessler syndrome

In Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel Seveneves, he imagines that the Earth’s moon breaking into seven pieces. This being a work of science fiction, the event of course has dire consequences for everyone on the planet. But if the idea of a cloud of space debris left over from the shattering of the Moon seems fanciful, … Continue reading The Kessler syndrome

Bernardino Ramazzini is on the job

Looking for a career in healthcare? Occupational medicine, with its focus on treating work-related injuries and illnesses, is “the medical specialty ranked among the highest in satisfaction and lowest in professional burnout”, claims the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It might come as a surprise to learn that the “scientific foundation to modern … Continue reading Bernardino Ramazzini is on the job

Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David – knight in the old brown hat

In 1920, Tannatt William Edgeworth David was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.  This gave biographer David Branagan one element for the title of his 2005 book, T.W. Edgeworth David: a Life: Geologist, Adventurer, Soldier and Knight in the Old Brown Hat. As for “the old brown hat”, Branagan explains … Continue reading Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David – knight in the old brown hat

John Maynard Keynes figures the odds

In his 1979 book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams introduced the concept of the Infinite Improbability Drive, “a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace”. Adams described the drive in operation: They plunged through heavy walls … Continue reading John Maynard Keynes figures the odds

John Cade takes a chill pill

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 10 October to be World Mental Health Day, with an aim “to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health”. “There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations,” the WHO says. “They are generally characterised by a … Continue reading John Cade takes a chill pill

Frank Fenner – Australian original

Each year the Australian Government recognises the nation’s scientists and science educators by awarding the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. Along with providing recognition for achievements, recipients share up to $A750,000 in prize money. One of the most important accolades on offer is the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Yet few … Continue reading Frank Fenner – Australian original

Otto Rohwedder and the greatest thing

How does one describe greatness and its many orders of magnitude? We can say something is simply great, or add a definitive-article time factor and say it is the greatest. Or we can include a comparison such as, American Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast since Romania’s Nadia Comaneci. If we want to be less … Continue reading Otto Rohwedder and the greatest thing

Nobel Prize–winning physicist dies

Steven Weinberg, named by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, as “one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time”, died on 23 July 2021 in Austin, Texas. He was 88. The winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, which he shared with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam, Weinberg “revolutionised particle physics, quantum … Continue reading Nobel Prize–winning physicist dies