November 20 in Science History

Learn about the history of science by reading about the significant scientific events that took place on November 20 in science history.

1998 – First module of the International Space Station is launched.

Zarya – First module of the International Space Station was launched on November 20. NASA

Zarya – First module of the International Space Station was launched on November 20. NASA

The first module of what would become the International Space Station (ISS) was launched aboard a Russian Proton rocket. The module is known as Zarya (Russian for dawn) and would provide initial electrical power, propulsion, and storage for the ISS. The ISS is a joint project between NASA, Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency.

1976 – Trofim Denisovich Lysenko died.

Trofim Lysenko (1898 – 1976) Wikimedia Commons

Trofim Lysenko (1898 – 1976) Wikimedia Commons

Lysenko was a Russian biologist who led Soviet agriculture and biology under Josef Stalin. He rejected the principles of Mendelian genetics in favor of his theories that closely follow Lemark’s evolutionary theories where environment dictates inheritance. He rose to his position by promising higher grain yields through the group efforts of collective farming and his guidance. He managed to have criticism of his policies and the teaching of Mendel’s theories outlawed. Dissenting scientists were either executed or exiled. His power diminished after the death of Stalin, but the policies were not overturned until 1964. His leadership set Russian biology back twenty years.

1967 – Casimir Funk died.

Funk was a Polish biochemist who coined the term ‘vitamine’. He believed there were compounds that were vital to health and were centered around an amine group – vital amines or vitamine. He postulated the existence of vitamins B1, B2, C and D and eventually discovered vitamin B3. Later it was shown that not all vital amines were associated with amines so the final ‘e’ was dropped to just vitamin.

1945 – Francis William Aston died.

Francis William Aston (1877 – 1945)

Francis William Aston (1877 – 1945)

Aston was a British chemist and physicist who was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his invention of the mass spectrometer and the discovery of isotopes of non-radioactive elements. Mass spectrometers separate ions by mass by accelerating them through a magnetic field. The charged particles will curve through the magnetic field and the more massive the charged particle, the less its path will bend.

Aston used his device to identify 212 natural isotopes and formulated a Whole Number Rule. The rule states the mass of oxygen isotope is defined at 16, all other isotopes will have masses equal to whole numbers.

1889 – Edwin Hubble was born.

Hubble was an American astronomer who demonstrated the existence of galaxies outside our own Milky Way galaxy. He also showed how the redshift of light from a galaxy or its relative velocity increases proportionally to its distance from the Milky Way. This relationship is known as Hubble’s law and one of the main pieces of evidence for the Big Bang theory. The Hubble Space Telescope is named in his honor.

1886 – Karl von Frisch was born.

Frisch was an Austrian biologist who was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz for their research and discoveries into individual and social behavior patterns. Frisch studied the behavior and senses of bees. He found bees see in the ultraviolet spectrum of light and are sensitive to polarized light. He also determined the meaning of the ‘wiggle dance’ to inform other bees of the location of nectar or pollen. Another part of his research was into the pheromones of the queen bee to attract a mate.

1873 – William Coblentz was born.

On November 20 in science history, William Coblentz was born. Coblentz was an American physicist who contributed greatly to the studies of infrared spectroscopy and radiometry. He was the first to experimentally verify Planck’s law relating radiance frequency and temperature of a blackbody. He also discovered many chemical functional groups absorbed infrared wavelengths. His infrared studies of the planet Mars discovered a large day/night temperature difference which implied a thin atmosphere.

1604 – Otto von Guericke was born.

Guericke was a German natural philosopher who invented the first piston air pump to create a vacuum in a container. He also showed that light travels through vacuum, but sound does not. He is known for a demonstration of the strength of a vacuum. He constructed two hemispheres of copper that he joined together and removed all the air inside. He then showed teams of horses could not pull the sphere apart. He was also the inventor of the first electrostatic generator that could produce static electricity by rubbing against a ball of rotating sulfur.

November 20 in Science History
Last modified: November 19th, 2015 by Anne Helmenstine