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Today in History :: Sunday, 17 December 2017


Birthdays:
1706Émilie du Châtelet, mathematician, physicist. The Marquise du Châtelet was a mistress of the French writer and philosopher Voltaire. He is best known for her translation of Sir Isaac Newton's "Principia", begun in 1745 with the preface written by Voltaire. The complete work appeared in 1759 and was for many years the only translation of the Principia into French. Born Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil in Paris, France.
1772François-Joseph-Victor Broussais, physician. Known for his advocacy of leech treatments which dominated Parisian medical practice in the early 19th century. The theory was that the depleting effect of bloodletting was "cooling", relieving the congestion of inflamed capillaries, and he saw leeches as a panacea. Born in Saint-Mâlo, France.
1778Sir Humphrey Davy, chemist. Discovered that chemical compounds could be decomposed into their elements using electricity. He used this process to discover several chemical elements and compounds including alkali metals potassium and sodium, as well as alkaline earth metals calcium, strontium, barium, and magnesium. He also invented the miner's safety lamp for use in coal mines, allowing deep coal seams to be mined despite the presence of highly flammable methane gas. He was knighted in 1812. Born in Penzance, Cornwall, England.
1797Joseph Henry, physicist. Pioneer of electromagnetism who followed in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin. He aided Samuel Morse in the development of the telegraph and discovered several important principles of electricity, including self-induction. He was also the first Secretary (director) of the Smithsonian Institute (1846 - 78) where he established the foundation of a US national weather service. The unit of inductance (henry) is named after him. Born in Albany, New York, USA.
1842Sophus Lie, mathematician. Made significant contributions to the theories of algebraic invariants, continuous groups of transformations and differential equations. Born in Nordfjordeide, Norway.
1861Arthur Edwin Kennelly, electrical engineer. Worked for Thomas Edison at West Orange Laboratory for 6 years before going into business himself. He was a prominent contributor to the science of electrical engineering, being co-discoverer of the radio reflecting properties of the ionosphere in the upper atmosphere. At the time the stratum was called the Kennelly-Heaviside layer. He also made innovations in analytic methods in electronics, particularly the definitive application of complex-number theory to alternating-current (ac) circuits. Born in Colaba, India (of English parents).
1892Edwin Joseph Cohn, biochemist. Helped develop the methods of cold ethanol blood fractionation, the separation of plasma proteins into fractions. His work resulted in the use of gamma globulin for short-term protection against such diseases as measles and hepatitis, and the use of antihaemophilic globulin for the treatment of haemophilia. Born in New York City, USA.
1894Hendrik Anthony Kramers, physicist. Derived, with Ralph de Laer Kronig, important equations relating the absorption to the dispersion of light. He also predicted in 1924, the existence of the Raman effect, an inelastic scattering of light. He conducted work on the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, paramagnetism, magneto-optical rotation, ferro-magnetism, kinetic theory of gases, relativistic formalisms in particle theory, and on the theory of radiation. Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
1903Erskine Caldwell, author. Known for his novels and short stories about the family relations of Georgian (USA) poor whites and blacks combining social realism with sex and violence. His attacks on poverty, ignorance, racism, and the tenant farming system deeply influenced public opinion at the time. He struggled with censorship more than other writers of his time, having his first novels "Tobacco Road" and "God's Little Acre" widely banned for obscenity, however his work encouraged others to write more frankly about the southern USA they knew. Born in White Oak, Georgia, USA.
1908Willard Frank Libby, chemist. Regarded as a specialist in radiochemistry, particularly hot atom chemistry, tracer techniques, and isotope tracer work. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for his development of the technique of carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) dating, providing an extremely valuable tool for archaeologists, anthropologists, and earth scientists. Born in Grand Valley, Colorado, USA.
1929William Safire, political columnist (New York Times). Former public relations executive and speech writer for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, he later became a weekly columnist in the New York Times Magazine. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for distinguished commentary. Born in New York City, USA.
1930Bob Guccione, magazine publisher (Penthouse, Omni), writer and producer (Caligula). A former artist, he moved to England and managed the fledgling porn magazine "Penthouse" based in London, beginning in 1965. He moved back to the USA in 1969 and founded General Media International, based in New York City. Born in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
1938Peter Snell, track athlete. A successful middle distance runner, he won Olympic gold medals in 1960 (800 m) and 1964 (800 m, 1500 m). He also set world records in 800 m and 1 mile (twice). He was made an MBE (Member of The British Empire) in 1962. Born in Opunake, New Zealand.
Deaths:
1857Sir Francis Beaufort, British Navy Admiral. Devised the of wind force in 1805, using numbers 0 to 12, to designate calm, light air, light breeze, ... , storm, hurricane. He also devised a tabulated system of weather registration. He was appointed hydrographer to the British Navy (1829 - 55) and promoted to rear-admiral in 1846. Died in London, England, aged 83.
1907Lord Kelvin (b. William Thomson), Irish mathematician, physicist. An infant prodigy in mathematics, he later became professor at Glasgow University, Scotland, a position he held for over half a century. He defined the absolute temperature scale in 1847, which was subsequently named after him. He is also known for his work in devising the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable and introduced the term "kinetic energy". He was knighted in 1866. Died in Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland, aged 83.
1909Leopold II, King of Belgium (1865 - 1909). Succeeded his father Leopold I of Belgium in 1865, and was most famous for having his own colony, the Congo Free State, which he virtually made his private property in 1884. In 1908 the colony was annexed by the Belgian state and renamed the Belgian Congo. His reign is remembered for great industrial and colonial expansion for Belgium, but at the expense of working conditions for his citizens. He led a scandalous and dissolute private life, fathering two sons out of wedlock with Caroline Lacroix, a prostitute who married him in a religious ceremony with no validity under Belgian law, five days before his death. Died in Brussels, Belgium, aged 74.
1917Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, English physician. Remembered for her pioneering work in opening up the medical profession to women, becoming the first woman to qualify as a medical practitioner in Great Britain in 1865. Died in London, England, aged 81.
1938Gustav Tammann, Russian chemist. Helped to found the science of metallurgy and pioneered in the study of the internal structure and physical properties of metals and their alloys. Died in Göttingen, Germany, aged 77.
1962Thomas Mitchell, actor (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Gone With The Wind, It's A Wonderful Life). Died of cancer in Beverly Hills, California, USA, aged 70.
1964Victor Francis Hess, Austrian physicist. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1936 for the discovery of cosmic rays, high-energy radiation originating from outer space. Died in Mount Vernon, New York, USA, aged 81.
1973C. G. Abbot (b. Charles Greenley Abbot), American astrophysicist. Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Washington DC for almost four decades. He is remembered for his career-long campaign to demonstrate that the Sun's energy output varies and has a measurable effect on the Earth's weather. Died in Riverdale, Maryland, USA, aged 101.
1998Alfred Wolf, American chemist. Worked on the following WW II. He made discoveries which were instrumental to the development of positron emission tomography, or PET scan, a tool now used worldwide to diagnose disease and to study the brain's inner workings. Died in Port Jefferson, New York, USA, aged 75.
2010Don Van Vliet, American musician (Captain Beefheart). Died of from complications from multiple sclerosis in California, USA, aged 69.
2011Kim Jong-il (b. Yuri Irsenovich Kim), supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Assumed power after the death of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. He devoted much of the country's resources to the armed forces, and this, combined with a cycle of droughts and catastrophic floods, caused widespread famine throughout the 1990s. Throughout his reign he faced international pressure over human rights abuses and in 2004 a Human Rights Watch report stated that the North Korean government under Kim was "among the world's most repressive governments" and "virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government". His insistence on maintaining the country's nuclear weapons program in the face of international criticism, and the development and testing of long-range missiles kept his country in isolation. He is thought to have suffered a stroke in 2008, although this was officially denied by North Korean authorities. Died of a myocardial infarction and heart attack while travelling on a train near Pyongyang, North Korea, aged 69.
Events on this day:
1538Pope Paul III excommunicates King Henry VIII of England.
1819The Congress of Angostura establishes Columbia's independence from Spain.
1880The Edison Electric Illuminating Company is incorporated for the purpose of providing electric light to New York City, USA.
1903The Wright brothers achieve the first recognised, sustained powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine, at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA. The aircraft covered approximately 36.5 metres, staying aloft for 12 seconds.
1919Seismographer and meteorologist Albert Porta predicts that the alignment of six planets on this date would cause a magnetic current which would pierce the sun and thereby engulf the earth in flames.
1939The German battleship 'Graf Spee' is scuttled after being trapped by the Royal Navy off Montevideo.
1946A US V-2 rocket reaches an altitude of 183 km at the White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, USA.
1961India seizes Goa from Portugal.
1967Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt vanishes in mysterious circumstances while swimming near Melbourne.
1973ABBA records "Waterloo".
1973The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
1975Lynette "Squeeky" Fromme is sentenced to life in prison for the attempted assassination of US President Gerald Ford.
1979The Budweiser rocket car reaches 1190 kmh-1, a record for a wheeled vehicle.
1989Brazil holds its first free election in 25 years.
1989The first half-hour length episode of The Simpsons debuts with their Christmas special, "Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire".
2002A peace accord is signed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaïre, ending a five year Civil War triggered by a massive inflow of refugees from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi.
Quote of the day:
A new randomly-selected quote each day.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
~ George Santayana

Daily Trivia
A new (mostly science-related) question each day.
Q. At what speed is the NASA space shuttle travelling when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere?
show answer

Site of the Day:
A random site to visit each day, some of which I've found interesting, useful, humourous, provocative, etc...
The Skeptic Reading Room
A comprehensive, free resource of articles relating to science and skepticism containing an ever-growing index of articles, reviews and opinion pieces culled from the extensive archives of Skeptic Magazine.
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Marking 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy. Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

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