Today in Science History – March 16 – Heinrich Kayser

Heinrich Kayser
Heinrich Kayser (1853 – 1940)

March 16 is Heinrich Kayser’s birthday.

Kayser was a German chemist who worked with German mathematician Carl Runge on identifying the spectra of the elements. Kayser noticed that the intensity of the spectral lines of many elements tended to group together in mathematical series. Both men worked together to develop a formula to predict the spacing of these lines.

Similar work was being done by Swedish physicist Johannes Rydberg. Rydberg’s formula was much simpler, but only really fit the hydrogen spectrum. Kayser and Runge’s formula was actually several formulas, depending on the element, and generally more accurate, but they never discovered an all-inclusive formula to predict spectral lines.

One of the discoveries to come out of Kayser’s work was the discovery of atmospheric helium. Helium had only been identified from the Sun’s spectrum until it was found in the presence of uranium and the mineral cleveite. Kayser demonstrated Earth’s atmosphere contained slight amounts of helium.

Kayser made many contributions to the study of spectroscopy, but much of his work searching for a mathematical formula to predict spectral lines would be set aside as the new study of quantum mechanics would enter the scientific arena. For his contributions, the CGS unit of wavenumber (wavelengths/unit distance) was named a kayser.

Notable Science History Events for March 16

1998 – Derek H. R. Barton died.

Barton was a British organic chemist who shares the 1969 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Odd Hassel for their development of conformational analysis. Conformational analysis is the study of the three-dimensional structure of a molecule. Barton showed molecules could be assigned a preferred conformation and this information could be used to derive the geometry of other similar molecules.

1966 – NASA docks two vehicles in orbit.

Gemini 8 docking
Gemini VIII closing in on the Agena Target Vehicle

NASA conducted the first docking of two space vehicles. Gemini VIII docked with the target vehicle Agena.

The success was short-lived as a stuck docking thruster caused the two craft to tumble in space. After undocking, the Gemini module began tumbling faster. The re-entry thrusters had to be used to stop the spin and used up nearly 75% of the fuel needed for re-entry. The mission had to be cut short and the capsule ended up splashing down in the Pacific Ocean east of Okinawa, Japan.

The original plan was to recover the astronauts in the Atlantic Ocean. The Navy ships were half a world away from the unplanned landing. The Air Force sent Search and Rescue planes from Japan and three airmen jumped from C-54 aircraft to attach flotation devices to the capsule. The five men sat with the capsule for another five hours before a ship with quarantine equipment arrived.

The commander of Gemini VIII was Neil Armstrong. His flying skill was praised as the primary reason both he and David Scott were able to return alive.

1935 – John James Richard Macleod died.

J.J.R. Macleod
John James Rickard Macleod (1876-1935) Co-Discoverer of Insulin

Macleod was a Scottish physician who shares the 1923 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Frederick Banting for the discovery of insulin. Macleod assigned the work to one of his research assistants, Charles Best to attempt to extract the pancreatic hormone that controls the sugar level in blood. They were successful isolating insulin in dogs and another of Macleod’s assistants, James Collip was tasked to isolate insulin in humans. When Banting and Macleod were awarded their prize, they shared their prize money with the two assistants who were not recognized.

Read more about Macleod on September 6 in Science History.

1926 – Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fuel rocket.

Goddard and Rocket
Robert Goddard and his liquid-fuelled rocket.

Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fuelled rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket rose to an altitude of 41 feet (12.5 m) and reached a top speed of 60 mph (100 km/hr). The 10-foot tall rocket (3 m) was fuelled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and gasoline.

1925 – Luis Ernesto Miramontes was born.

Luis Ernesto Miramontes
Luis Ernesto Miramontes (1925 – 2004)

Miramontes was a Mexican chemist who first synthesized the compound norethindrone. Norethindrone would be the basis for progestin, the first oral contraceptive. It can also be used to treat premenstrual and menopausal syndromes. 

He also published papers and held patents for a wide range of studies including organic chemistry, petrochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, and pharmaceutical chemistry.

1918 – Frederick Reines was born.

Reines was an American physicist who was awarded half the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics for his and Clyde Cowan’s detection of the neutrino. A neutrino is a chargeless and nearly massless elementary particle that travels close to the speed of light. They were postulated to exist in 1934 to account for the slight difference in mass during some radioactive decays and nuclear reactions. The actual detection of a neutrino wasn’t announced until 1956.

1859 – Alexander Stepanovich Popov was born.

Alexander Stepanovich Popov
Alexander Stepanovich Popov (1859 – 1905)

Popov was a Russian physicist who was the first to use an antenna to transmit and receive radio waves. Russians consider him the inventor of radio. Popov was more interested in atmospheric phenomenon and designed his device to detect the radio noise given off by lightning strikes.

1853 – Heinrich Kayser was born.

1851 – Martinus Willem Beijerinck was born.

Martinus Willem Beijerinck
Martinus Willem Beijerinck (1851-1931)

Beijerinck was a Dutch biologist who coined the word virus to describe the cause of the tobacco mosaic disease. He identified the disease was caused by an agent that was much smaller than a bacterium. He also discovered the process of nitrogen fixation and bacterial sulfate reduction where bacteria use sulfates instead of oxygen.

1789 – Georg Simon Ohm was born.

Georg Simon Ohm
Georg Simon Ohm (1789 – 1854)

Ohm was a German physicist who is best known for his resistor law relating the voltage drop across a resistor is proportional to the electric current through the resistor.

Ohm’s law is simply stated by the formula

V = IR
V = voltage
I = current
R = resistance

The SI unit of resistance is named in his honor.

1750 – Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born.

Caroline Lucretia Herschel
Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750 – 1848)

Herschel was a German-Anglo astronomer and the sister of astronomer William Herschel. She assisted her brother with observations and discovered three nebulae and several comets.

She was the first professional female astronomer. She was paid by the crown to assist her brother a sum of £50 per year at a time when very few people were paid anything for scientific work.