Today in Science History – April 8 – Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher in the Lab

Margaret Thatcher in the Lab

April 8 marks the passing of Margaret Thatcher. 

Thatcher is best known for her career in politics. She served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for 11 years from 1979 to 1990. While most people think of her in the political sense, she began her professional life as a scientist.

Margaret Roberts entered Somerville College in Oxford as a chemistry student. She worked under Dorothy Crawfoot Hodgkin (who would win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964) as an x-ray crystallographer. During this time, she joined the Oxford University Conservative Association and began her involvement in politics.

Upon graduating, she obtained a position as a research chemist for BX Plastics. Her last scientific position was with J. Lyons and Company where she worked on the team that developed ice cream emulsifiers. This team was responsible for the invention of soft serve ice cream. Soft serve ice cream has more air than conventional ice cream, giving it a lighter texture along with using fewer ingredients and lowering the cost.

The next time you get a soft serve ice cream cone, you can partially thank the Iron Lady.

Notable Science History Events for April 8

2013 – Margaret Thatcher Died.

1992 – Daniel Bovet died.

Daniel Bovet

Daniel Bovet (1907 – 1992)
Nobel Foundation

Blovet was an Italian biologist who was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the invention of drugs that block the actions of specific neurotransmitters. He discovered antihistamine drugs that block the histamine neurotransmitter used widely as allergy medications.

1984 – Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa died.

Pyotr Kapitsa

Pyotr Kapitsa (1894 – 1954)

Kapitsa was a Soviet physicist who researched strong magnetic fields, low temperatures, and cryogenics. He discovered the superfluidity of helium and developed new methods to liquefy gases on an industrial scale. These discoveries would earn him half the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Kapitsa studied in Britain with Ernest Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He researched ultra-high magnetic fields discovered a way to generate strong magnetic fields using pulses of high current in magnetic materials. 

He was visiting his parents in Russia in 1934 when the Soviet government prohibited him returning to Britain. With his equipment back at Cambridge, he switched his research to low-temperature physics. This is where he discovered the superfluidity of liquid helium.

1936 – Robert Barany died.

Robert Barany

Robert Barany (1876 – 1936)

Barany was a Hungarian physician who was awarded the 1914 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear. The vestibular apparatus aids us with our balance and sense of spatial orientation by sending the brain information to aid eye-hand coordination and keeping us standing upright.

1911 – Melvin Calvin was born.

Melvin Calvin

Melvin Calvin (1911 – 1997)

Calvin was an American biochemist who discovered what would become referred to as the “Calvin cycle” or carbon fixation in photosynthesis.

The Calvin cycle deals with the part of photosynthesis that is called dark reactions. A more accurate description would be light-independent reactions. These reactions don’t require light to progress like most photosynthesis reactions and can occur either day or night. They take place in the stroma of the chloroplast and convert carbon dioxide into sugar using ATP and NADPH.

There are four main steps to the Calvin cycle.

Step 1 is the Grab step. A five-carbon molecule ‘grabs’ a molecule of carbon dioxide to form a six-carbon molecule.

Step 2 is the Split step. Using the energy of ATP and NADPH, the enzyme RuBisCO splits the six-carbon molecule into two equal parts.

Step 3 is the Leave step. One set of three carbons leave the cycle to become sugar. The other three proceed to the next step.

Step 4 is the Switch step. ATP and NADPH switch the three carbon molecule into a five-carbon molecule. This five-carbon molecule starts the entire process over again to Step 1.

Calvin used radioactive carbon-14 to follow the path of carbon atoms during each step of this cycle. Prior to this, the general consensus was sunlight acted on the carbon dioxide directly to supply the energy necessary to fuel photosynthesis. Calvin discovered it was the action of sunlight on the chlorophyll molecules that drove the reactions. His work mapping the path of carbon through all the reactions involved in photosynthesis earned him the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

1869 – Harvey Cushing was born.

Harvey Williams Cushing

Harvey Williams Cushing (1869 – 1939)
Wellcome Trust

Cushing was a pioneer in modern brain surgery techniques. He was one of those people that seemed to excel at anything they try. He incorporated new science discoveries into his own research: x-rays to detect tumors and new electrical cauterizers. He made discoveries into human sensory cortex and pituitary gland diseases. He even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for a biography of William Osler, the doctor considered to be the father of modern medicine.

1839 – Pierre Prévost died.

Pierre Prévost

Pierre Prévost (1751 – 1839)

Prévost was a Swiss physicist who helped understand heat flow. The general theory of heat of his time involved two fluids that flowed from one object to another. Caloric was the fluid that moved from hot to cold bodies and frigoric fluid moved from cold to hot objects. Prévost believed only one fluid was involved and all bodies absorb and release caloric. Hot objects release more caloric than absorb it and cold objects absorb more than emitting. He also introduced the idea that objects will reach an equilibrium over time when caloric flow stops.

1818 – August Wilhelm von Hofmann was born.

August Wilhelm von Hofmann

August Wilhelm von Hofmann (1818 – 1892)

Wilhelm von Hofmann was a German chemist whose research developed the aniline dye industry. He also discovered formaldehyde and allyl alcohol. He developed a method to extract benzene and toluene from coal tar and converted them to nitro compounds and amines.
He co-founded the German Chemical Society and served as its president for 14 terms.

1817 – Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was born.

Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard

Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817 – 1894)

Brown-Sequard gained fame for describing the condition where the spinal cord is damaged half-way through where paralysis or loss of perception is observed on the side of the body containing the cord damage. This condition is still known today as Brown-Sequard syndrome.

He was an extensive traveler, crossing the Atlantic on sixty different occasions. He resided in five different countries on three different continents. His extensive experimentation generated over 500 papers and credit for being the father of modern endocrinology. It was his study of hormones that cumulated in a lecture at the Societie de Biologie in Paris at age 72. At this lecture, he reported the results of his self-injected serum prepared from the testicles of guinea pigs and dogs. He claimed the serum rejuvenated him and was extending his longevity.

Once this lecture became common knowledge, other scientists called his serum the Brown-Sequard elixir. It was mentioned in a Vienna medical journal as an example of “necessity of retiring professors who have attained their threescore and ten years.”

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