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April 12 Science History

Science History for April 12

By Todd Helmenstine

Learn about the history of science by reading about the significant scientific events that took place on this day in history.

1997 - George Wald died.

Wald was an American biochemist who was awarded one third of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering vitamin A is essential for vision and for research into the effectiveness of retina cells to absorb light. He also extracted the pigments from the retina and measured the light absorbance of each pigment. This allowed him to determine the range of color vision possible from rod and cone cells of the eye.

1981 - NASA launched the first Space Shuttle.

STS-1 Columbia liftoff
NASA's Space Shuttle program began with the launch of the shuttle Columbia. This flight was the first manned spaceflight since 1975 and a test flight of the shuttle design. Columbia orbited the Earth for nearly 55 hours and landed successfully. NASA would follow up with four more shuttles to perform many scientific and engineering missions in space.

The Space Shuttle program is scheduled for retirement in 2010.

1971 - Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm died.

Advanced Test Reactor and Cherenkov Radiation
Idaho National Labs/DOE
Tamm was a Soviet physicist who shares the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physics with Pavel Cherenkov and Il'ja Frank for their research into the Cherenkov effect. The Cherenkov effect occurs when a charged particle moves through an insulator faster than the speed of light in that medium. The distinctive blue glow of Cherenkov radiation is visible in many nuclear reactor photographs.

1961 - Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

The Soviet Union launched the Vostok 1 rocket taking Yuri Gagarin along for the ride. This was the first time a man entered space and the first to orbit the Earth. The flight lasted 108 minutes and orbited once before re-entering the atmosphere. Gagarin jumped out of the capsule at 23,000 feet and parachuted to safety.

1888 - Alfred Nobel premature obituary appeared in print.

Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and gelignite. A French newspaper reported "The merchant of death is dead" and Nobel had grown rich by finding ways for people to kill each other faster than ever before. Nobel's brother was actually the person who died, but Alfred did not appreciate the paper's description of his legacy. He modified his will to establish the Nobel Foundation and created the Nobel Prizes.

1884 - Otto Meyerhof was born.

Meyerhof was a German biochemist who was awarded half the 1922 Nobel Prize in Medicine for describing the way muscle tissue absorbs oxygen and converts it to lactic acid. He discovered glycogen is converted into lactic acid when the muscle contracts. His research led the way to a more detailed explanation of the path from glycogen to lactic acid known as the Embden-Meyerhof pathway.

1872 - Georges Urbain was born.

Urbain was a French chemist who discovered the element lutetium. He named the element after the Roman name of his hometown of Paris. He also produced the first pure samples of ytterbium.

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