Today In Science History – December 10 – Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel (1833 - 1896)
Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896)

December 10 marks the passing of Alfred Nobel. Nobel was a Swedish chemist and entrepreneur who invented the explosive known as dynamite. He was attempting to create a method to make nitroglycerin safer to use and handle. The success of dynamite and his patents made him a wealthy man.

On April 12, 1888, A French newspaper erroneously reported Nobel’s death. The article referred to him as someone who grew rich by finding better ways to people to kill each other and named him ‘The Merchant of Death’. He was understandably upset by what his legacy would be. He set out to change his will to include a $9 million trust that established the Nobel Foundation. This Foundation would award yearly Prizes in different branches of science and peace to recognize individuals and achievements in these fields. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901 on the anniversary of his death.

Notable Science History Events for December 10

2010 – John Bennett Fenn died.

Fenn is an American chemist who shares half the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Koichi Tanaka for their development of a mass spectrometry technique to analyze biological macromolecules. He developed the electrospray ionization technique to ionize macromolecules without fracturing the molecule.

1934 – Theobald Smith was born.

Theobald Smith (1859 - 1934)
Theobald Smith (1859 – 1934)

Smith was an American pathologist and microbiologist who discovered the causes of several infectious parasitic diseases. One of the most important discoveries was the cause of Texas Cattle Fever was linked to a protozoan spread by ticks. This was one of the first cases that definitely showed an insect as an important vector in infection. This line of investigation would be important for other diseases such as yellow fever or malaria.

1934 – Howard Martin Temin was born.

Howard Martin Temin
Howard Martin Temin (1934 – 1994)

Temin was an American geneticist who was awarded the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine with David Baltimore and Renalto Dulbecco for their work on the interactions between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell. It was previously believed genetic information travels only from DNA to RNA to proteins. He showed that some tumor viruses could reverse that flow from RNA to DNA using a process called reverse transcriptase.

1906 – Walter Henry Zinn was born.

Walter H. Zinn
Walter H. Zinn (1906 – 2000)

Zinn was the Canadian-American nuclear physicist who initiated the first sustained chain reaction in the first nuclear reactor. He also designed the first breeder nuclear reactor which uses neutrons from the reactor pile to enrich other fissionable material.

1901 – First Nobel Prizes awarded.

Nobel Prize Medal
Nobel Prize Medal

The first Nobel Prizes of the Nobel Foundation were awarded. The Physics prize went to Wilhelm Röentgen for the discovery of X-rays. The Chemistry prize went to Jacobus van’t Hoff for his work explaining osmotic pressure and it’s importance in animal and plant life. The Medicine prize went to Emil von Behring for his diphtheria serum. The Literature prize went to Sully Prudhomme for his poetry and the Peace prize was shared by Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross and Frédéric Passy, a prominent pacifist.

1896 – Alfred Bernhard Nobel died.

1831 – Thomas Johann Seebeck died.

Thomas Johann Seebeck
Thomas Johann Seebeck (1770 -1831)

Seebeck was the German physicist who discovered the thermoelectric effect. The thermoelectric effect is when two different metals are connected but kept at different temperatures, an electrical current will flow between them.