Today In Science History – November 11 – Artturi Ilmari Virtanen

Artturi Ilmari Virtanen
Artturi Ilmari Virtanen (1895 – 1973)
Nobel Foundation

November 11 marks the passing of Artturi Ilmari Virtanen. Virtanen was a Finnish biochemist who invented the AIV (his initials) fodder technique to prevent spoilage in stored green silage. Storing green plant fodder during long winters was always difficult since, by the end of winter, the fodder would ferment and be rendered inedible. Rotten fodder could easily result in starvation.

Virtanen noticed the process of fermentation would cease when a particular acidity was reached. He thought if he could lower the pH of the fodder, perhaps it would last longer. He prepared solutions of dilute hydrochloric and sulfuric acid and added them to stored fodder. The treated fodder remained fresh and the added acid solution did not affect the nutritive value.

This discovery greatly changed the way agricultural fodder is stored. It also earned Virtanen the 1945 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Notable Science History Events for November 11

1973 – Artturi Ilmari Virtanen died.

1907 – Joseph Gilbert Hamilton was born.

Hamilton was a medical physicist who pioneered the use of radioisotopes for treating and diagnosing diseases. He injected a radioactive sodium solution into a leukemia patient to treat the disease and showed radioactive iodine was useful for treating thyroid disease.

He was part of a series of human trials to determine the toxicity of plutonium. The teams injected unsuspecting patients with plutonium isotopes and waited for results.

Hamilton also experimented with radioactivity on himself. He died of leukemia believed to be a result of his work.

1572 – Tycho Brahe first observes a new star.

SN1572 Xray
Composite x-ray and infrared image of the remnant of SN1572 – Supernova first observed by Tycho Brahe in 1572. NASA

Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe first observed a new star in the constellation of Cassiopeia. He later showed the light did not come from a nearby object such as a planet or comet, but a great distance away. This provided the first real proof that the stars were not unchangeable as previously believed. It was later determined that his ‘nova’ or new star was actually a supernova where a star suddenly and violently explodes.

1493 – Paracelsus was born.

Paracelsus (Phillip von Hohenheim) (1493 – 1541)

Paracelsus was born Phillip von Hohenheim and later became Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He was a German-Swiss Renaissance alchemist and doctor who believed medical training should be based on observations and experience and replaced many herbal remedies with chemical substitutes. He believed illnesses had external causes instead of unbalances in the bodily humours. He took on the name Paracelsus to show he was ‘greater than Celsus’, the Roman doctor that wrote the authoritative encyclopedia on medicine. He gained fame after he published his Die Grosse Wundartznei (The Great Surgery Book).