Some Profound Events In Science: 1900 To Date

Here are some reasonably profound events in science from 1900 to date that I feel are important in the broader historical, social and cultural context.

1) Sputnik (1957): Unless you lived through it, it’s hard to imagine the impact that the launch of the Soviet artificial satellite Sputnik had all of a sudden on the public awareness of outer space as an actual place where things could happen. The shock-horror to the American psyche was profound, resulting in a massive boost to American science and technological education, acerbating the Cold War, and of course resulting in the Space Race which culminated with the first landing on the Moon (1969). Without Sputnik, there still might not have been any human involvement in space and space exploration in general, and where would we be without artificial satellites in orbit today.

2) Humans in Orbit (1961 to date): It may be ho-hum now, but back in the era of Project Mercury people were glued to their TV screens for the coverage of ‘man into space’. Ditto of course the first voyage to the Moon (Apollo 8) and the first landing on the Moon (Apollo 11). When the two Space Shuttle disasters happened, both re-awakened interest in no uncertain terms. Equally, the Russians were rapped in the many early successes of their space program while America suffered early humiliation after humiliation. But in an era of the Vietnam conflict, civil rights riots in the streets, the Cold War, and of course terrorism, manned space flight gave people something positive to cheer about. Further, there have been massive technological spin-offs as well that have filtered down to the general public.

3) Modern Communications (1900 to date): It’s hard to believe that not all that long ago, a mere six or seven generations back, it took months to correspond between say Europe and America, or across America, or from America to Australia. However did those poor tweens, teens and young adults cope without instant communication feedback via their Facebook, Twitter or emails way back in those dark ages (how sad: sob; sob; sob). But then along comes wired technologies like the telegraph and telephone cabling and wireless technologies like ham radio and telecommunication satellites, the airplane sped things up too and then finally comes along the Internet and everything that’s i-this-gadget or i-that-doohickie, or i-the-next-damned-gizmo that’s under the proverbial sun (that you have to upgrade every six months). Whether ultimately this entire instant “I just gotta be in touch with everybody everywhere 24/7” will prove its worth or not remains to be seen. Back six or seven generations ago, if you had something to say and it took months to reach the person intended, it probably was important. Can one conclude the same today? Recall how the automobile revolutionized everything and not necessarily for the better.

4) Quantum Physics (1920’s): Though the first inklings of what would become quantum mechanics surfaced at the very turn of the century, the subject bloomed into a scientific revolution in the 1920’s. It wasn’t very long before applications were found, and today quantum physics is ultimately responsible for contributions to over one-third of the global economy in various gizmos and gadgets and their applications, many of which are in the possession of you readers.

5) First Nuclear Chain Reaction (1942) & Trinity A-Bomb Test (1945): Collectively these two experimental events gave rise to all of the nuclear issues part and parcel of our world today. That first chain reaction demonstrated that nuclear fission was more than just a theoretical idea and that controlled fission would lead to a nearly unlimited energy supply; uncontrolled fission, as demonstrated at Trinity, goes ka-boom, as in the A-Bomb. When controlled, radioactivity has many applications today, nuclear power (which doesn’t give off greenhouse gas emissions but has other issues) being of course one; nuclear medicine another; and radioactive traces are employed in all sorts of environmental work. Nuclear weapons, nuclear arms control, nuclear terrorism, radioactive waste, and related issues are of course on the opposite side of the nuclear coin. For more details, please visit these sites:-

6) Radar (1940’s): RAdio Detection And Ranging (RADAR) was developed in secret just before and during World War Two. Quite apart from all those obvious military applications, radar is central to modern airline operations and safe flying; the same applies to maritime safety; it’s a common tool for police in keeping those with a tendency to put the pedal to the metal under control; its use is obvious in weather forecasting and warning systems; radar helps keep track of all those bits and pieces we’ve put into orbit, and it has applications in geology (ground penetrating radar) to map subsurface terrain, even in astronomy bouncing radio and microwaves off the surface of nearly moons and planets be it from the ground or from space probes. Unless you’ve been caught speeding, you’re probably quite appreciative of all that radar does for you.

7) First SETI Experiment (Project Ozma – 1960): Let’s for once try to answer that age old question “are we alone in the cosmos”. Make it so, and so it came to pass where experimental time and money was put where only just before the theoretical mouth was. As we are all too aware, that first experiment, conducted by Dr. Frank Drake, failed to detect ET. In fact every SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) experimental effort to date has failed, but there has to be a first time for everything, and Project Ozma was the first SETI effort, and the significance lies in the fact that for the first time ever, and it’s our generation that’s making it so, exobiology (or astrobiology) has become an experimental instead of just a theoretical science, albeit on still in search of its subject.

8) Flying Saucers (1947 to date): More books, articles, websites, and documentaries have been done about the subject of UFOs than any other aspect of science. Yes science, since there is a case to be answered even if it is a social one, but even the possible connection with extraterrestrial life makes the study a profound and of course interesting one. Alas, if 65 is considered normal retirement then UFOs should already be pensioned off. Despite that, they do keep on keeping on despite all the best debunking efforts by those self-appointed to act as ‘professional’ sceptics.

9) Chariots of the Gods (1950’s to date): It has been pointed out that it would be extraordinary in terms of probability that ET via those pesky UFOs would pick the last generation or two to show up. This is true. However, negating that little objection, there’s the concept of the ‘ancient astronaut’ – ET has been around for over 100 generations (minimum) with suggestive evidence (not proof) cobbled together from anthropology, archaeology, literature, religions and mythology. While author Erich Von Daniken has been the most visible of the ‘ancient astronaut’ proponents, he wasn’t the first to advocate the idea that ET played a role in the development of mankind. The central issue of profoundness is that any study that suggests that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, and even more to the point, has had a cultural impact on human society, can’t be easily shrugged off.

10) King Tutankhamen’s Tomb (1922): Ever since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, Egyptology has been big business for publishers, private collectors, museums, Egyptian tourism, etc. However, Egyptology really took off in the mainstream consciousness following the discovery of the Pharaoh known as Tutankhamen, or the Boy King’s tomb, by archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter. The impact on archaeology in general and Egyptology in particular has been and remains profound. There’s hardly anyone who hasn’t heard about Pharaoh Tutankhamen, and worldwide exhibition tours of artefacts found in his tomb attract huge crowds.

11) Discovery of Penicillin (1928): We all know about that wonder drug penicillin, discovered rather accidentally by Alexander Fleming, which has been responsible for saving more lives than you can shake a stick at. That gave rise to a whole potpourri of antibiotics, but it also gave rise to the Pandora’s Box of antibiotic resistance and the rise of the super-bug, an issue that is both current, ongoing, and of concern to anyone and everyone ever likely be suffer from an infection.


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