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This is a series of articles that has grown out of the daily listings of what happened "On This Day". Many of the events, particularly those related to science, seemed to us to need some more information than is possible in the daily listing format. Still others had amusing or informative anecdotes associated with them that we felt were worth sharing with our Visitors. The series is designed for browsing and dipping into and we have therefore set up a comprehensive system of links to make this as easy and as enjoyable as possible.
This series of articles will present occasional anecdotal, amusing and factual notes behind the people and events in history digests. People are indexed according to their family or surnames whereas kings, popes, emperors etc. are listed according to their regnal names- e.g. Charles Boycott would be found under B, Pope Gregory under G and Queen Mary Tudor under M. Other items are indexed by the most significant word in the title, for example Artificial Ice will be found under I but Sad Iron will be found under S.
Within the series there are two sets of links. At the top of each page there will be a table of links to the other indexing letters to allow browsing by individual pages. That also appears on this page. At the bottom of each page you will also find a set of links which will allow you to scroll backward (Previous) and forward (next) through the pages. The pages are looped so the "Previous" link from A will be to Z and the "Next" link from Z will be to A. There will also be a central link back to the introduction page whose main content is an alphabetic list of the complete set of entries. From here, you will be able to browse the titles of the individual entries and jump directly to those that interest you.
In 1800, electric eels were first captured for scientific study by Alexander von Humboldt with Aimé Bonpland from a river in the jungles of South America. Electrophorus Electricus is a large eel-like fish and one of several species which are capable of generating electricity by contraction of their muscles. They use this for navigation, as defence mechanism and as a means of killing prey. The eel can deliver a shock of up to 500 volts. During their scientific investigation of the behaviour of the eels, the scientists received massive electric shocks.
In 1897, at the Royal Institution Friday Evening Discourse, Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940) first announced the existence of electrons (as they are now named). Thomson announced to the assembled Academy that earlier in the year, he had made a surprising discovery. He had found a particle of matter a thousand times smaller than the atom. He called it a corpuscle, meaning "small body." Although Thomson was director of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and one of the most respected scientists in Great Britain, the scientists present found the news hard to believe. The received opinion at the time was that the atom was the smallest and indivisible part of matter that could exist. Thompson however, had demonstrated that
atoms are not indivisible for negatively electrified particles can be torn from them by the action of electrical forces. His experimental apparatus was called the cathode ray tube which is now ubiquitous in television sets across the planet. The electron was the first elementary particle to be discovered.
Robert Mayer was a German physicist. While serving as ship's doctor on a trip to Java, he considered the physics of animal heat. In 1842, he calculated the mechanical equivalent of heat, from an experiment which compared the work done by a horse powering a mechanism which stirred paper pulp in a cauldron with the rise in the temperature of the pulp. He also argued that solar energy was the ultimate source of all energy on earth, both living and nonliving. More than that, Mayer developed the idea of the conservation of energy before either Joule or Helmholtz published their papers on the subject. The prominence of the latter two however, ensured that Mayer never received proper recognition for his insights.
Evintrude (1877-1934) was a Norwegian inventor and manufacturer of the outboard marine engine. He was rowing his small boat one day intending to have a picnic on a small island some distance offshore. By the time he reached his picnic spot he had concluded that rowing was more difficult than it needed to be for his simple purpose. He resolved then and there to invent a means of moving small boats quickly and easily through the water. He went ahead and by 1909 he had invented the first practical outboard motor. He patented it in 1910 and it very quickly replaced steam and foot-driven motors on small boats. He went on to develop a new industry and eventually came up with the standard Evinrude Outboard Motor that remains popular to this day.
In 1925, Wolfgang Pauli published his "exclusion principle." At the age of 24 he introduced the idea that two nearby electrons cannot be in exactly the same quantum state at the same time. For this, now fundamental, contribution to quantum mechanics, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1945.
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