15 Scientific Discoveries that Developed the Modern World

Posted on May 20, 2009

By Tara Miller
Science gives us a way to investigate and understand the natural world, a methodology that can lead to wonderful discoveries. Often, great discoveries are made piece by piece over a period of time and involve the contributions of several people, from professional researchers to the college graduate students. Yet there are some scientific discoveries that have contributed so significantly to the wonders of our modern world that they rank particularly high on the long list of great scientific discoveries.

Five of the most important modern technological developments are listed below, along with the three most significant scientific discoveries that allowed each of them to happen. Together, these 15 discoveries form the scientific basis for our way of life.

I. The Development of Infectious Disease Prevention & Treatment

Technologies to generate and transmit electrical power, to use computers to communicate and calculate, and to launch people, experiments and communications satellites into space are certainly a big part of our modern world, but impressive developments in medicine have allowed humanity to triumph over diseases caused by the smallest, most ubiquitous life forms on Earth. This has allowed us to live longer, healthier lives – the better to enjoy all the other fruits of scientific discovery and technological development!

1. Germ Theory of Disease. Suspicion that diseases were caused by unseen ’seeds’ or living organisms goes back to the mid-1500s when physicians began tracking epidemics of infectious diseases. After Anton von Leeuwenhoek established the existence of microorganisms in the 1670s, Ignaz Semmelweis and John Snow contributed much to prevention of transmission through medical hygiene. The experiments of Louis Pasteur in the mid-nineteenth century directly supported the germ theory of disease, and he is considered the father of germ theory and bacteriology.

2. Discovery and Development of Antibiotics. Louis Pasteur later went on to discover that some microbes killed other microbes, and suggested that a microbial defense against infections might be developed. German physicians Rudolf Emmerich and Oscar Low developed pyocyanase in the 1890s from Bacillus pycyoneus, but it was unreliable in application. In 1928 Scottish biologist and pharmacologist Alexander Fleming discovered the green mold Penicillium notratum killed a staph bacillus he was working with and Penicillin soon made its debut. Now we have whole classes of antibiotics, and researchers at medical laboratories and university facilities seek new ones as their target organisms develop resistance.

3. Discovery of Viruses and Development of Vaccines. Viruses are pathogens much smaller than bacteria, discovered in the 1890s when smaller-than bacterial filters failed to stop some infectious agents. Luckily, more than a century before Edward Jenner had successfully immunized people against smallpox by infecting them with the related but less virulent cowpox. Vaccines against various viruses may be ‘live’ or ‘killed’, and have been developed against a host of epidemic-producing viruses. Over the last couple of decades the development of antiviral drugs that halt reproduction of the pathogens have been developed which can make infections less severe as the body’s own immune system develops targeted antibodies and T cells.

II. The Development of Electrical Power

The development of electrical power generation and transmission is one of the hallmarks of our modern age, contributing a great deal to our way of life. None of it could have happened without the scientific investigation that led us to understanding and control of this natural force. Many discoveries, experiments and inventions were vital to the development of the electrical system we enjoy today. The three listed were seminal, and all occurred during a time of energetic scientific investigation during the early decades of the nineteenth century.

1. The Nature of Electricity. William Gilbert described the nature of electrical charge as related to the property of amber to acquire a static charge. Since amber is ‘electron’ in Greek, Gilbert called the effect ‘electric force’. He invented the first electroscope, a device for measuring the strength of this force. It was noticed very early on that this static “attractive” force was similar to magnetism, but it was hundreds of years before the physical relationship between electricity and magnetism was established as effects of the same fundamental force.

2. The Nature of Electromagnetism. Building upon work by Hans Christian Orstead establishing that electrical currents can create magnetic fields, Andre-Marie Ampere opened the field of electrodynamics in 1820 with his demonstration that electrical currents can be positive or negative, like magnetic polarities. He later developed a precise mathematical theory that linked the forces and predicted many new phenomena.

3. Induction of Current. Michael Faraday experimented with electromagnetism and the induction of currents using an ring-coil apparatus. He could induce a current by moving a magnet through a loop of wire, or by moving the wire loop over a stationary magnet. James Clerk Maxwell modeled this as “Faraday’s Law,” which became one of the four Maxwell equations that led to modern field theory.

III. The Development of Nuclear Technologies

It would be hard to find many citizens of modern industrialized societies who are not aware of or in many ways impacted by nuclear technology. Nuclear medicine is important in our medical system, nuclear engines propel some of our off-planet explorations, nuclear boilers provide significant electrical power, nuclear waste streams are still without a final resting place, and nuclear weapons are a perennial national security issue.

1. Discovery of Sub-Atomic Particles and Isotopic Decay. Henri Becquerel was the first to document X-ray emissions from uranium, the Curies documented two other types of emissions – alpha and beta – in addition to the gamma (X-rays). Ernest Rutherford (among others) investigated elemental decay and determined that alpha particles are relatively massive helium nuclei. He also worked with single protons. It was Rutherford who first theorized about the existence of the neutron – a massive but neutral nuclear particle – confirmed in 1932 by James Chadwick. High energy physicists have since identified numerous additional sub-atomic particles of decay.

2. Discovery of Radioactive Elements Produced by Neutron Bombardment. In 1934 Enrico Fermi and collaborators discovered that bombarding uranium with neutrons could produce at least four new radioactive elements, two with atomic numbers greater than 92. It was quickly discovered that many stable elements could be made radioactive by nuclear bombardment. For instance, stable cobalt-59 becomes radioactive cobalt-60, which then decays, releasing considerable energy. It was excitedly surmised by many investigating scientists that neutron bombardment might be used to produce energy on a larger scale.

3. Discovery of Nuclear Fission. Again it was Ernest Rutherford who first split the atom (in 1917) by bombarding nitrogen with alpha particles. In 1932 his students John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton who first split atoms artificially by bombarding lithium with accelerated protons. But it took Enrico FermiEnrico Fermi to split uranium with neutrons, producing a much more energetic reaction. Fermi and a team of colleagues are credited with establishing the first artificially induced chain reaction with moderated neutrons in 1939 before going into the wartime Manhattan Project.

IV. The Development of Computation and Computers

One of the most significant tools of the modern age is the electronic computer, through which you are accessing this article. Now everything can be done through a computer: banking, shopping, and even higher education. Since electricity is covered above, below are listed the scientific/mathematical discoveries most seminal in leading to the development of the technology.

1. Binary & Boolean Logic. The Indian mathematician Pingala discovered that a sequence of zeroes and ones (binary numeral system) can be used to represent any number or value. Isaac Newton’s nemesis Gottfried Leibniz further developed a binary logic in 1703, which could also be used to designate states (on or off) as well as values (true or false). In 1854, George Boole developed a formal logic system using the symbols of algebra to represent forms and syllogisms, the “Boolean Architecture” used to mathematically model computational processes.

2. The Turing Machine. Alan Turing is considered to be the “father of modern computer science.” After spending World War II at Bletchley Park’s codebreaking center, he developed an algorithmic program called “bombe” to break the German Enigma ciphers, and contributed much to computerized encryption. He developed a thought-concept known as a “Turing Machine”, a symbol manipulation device that could model the logic of any computer algorithm. By studying the properties of the modeling, insights into complexity theory and what became computer science could be formalized for analysis.

3. Information Theory. In the late 1930s Claude Shannon established a rigorous theoretical framework that could be applied to electronic circuits, allowing them to be used as relays to solve logic problems in parallel. His 1937 master’s thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits forms the foundation of practical digital circuitry in use in computers today. Shannon’s 1948 paper entitled A Mathematical Theory of Communication applied probability to information coding, useful for data compression in the transmission of information, thus file transfer protocols on the internet.

V. The Development of Space Flight

The discovery of gunpowder by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century seeking the fabled Elixir of Life was a seminal development in human history. Thanks to the simple discovery of gunpowder, we now have the military tapping it for warfare applications, citizens using it as pretty fireworks, and aeronautical professionals and students harnessing its projectile capability. It was the projectile applications that eventually led to rocketry, and our modern extraterrestrial applications in space-based communications, experimentation and exploration.

1. A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. In 1919 Robert H. Goddard published his groundbreaking mathematical theories of rocket-powered flight, his experiments with solid fuel rockets, and the possibilities he saw for exploring the Earth’s atmosphere and beyond. This work, along with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s 1903 The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices inspired and influenced later rocketry pioneers like Wernher von Braun, Sergey Korolev and Hermann Oberth.

2. Ballistic Missiles. Inspired by Oberth’s scientific writings and H.G. Wells’ science fiction, Wernher von Braun developed ballistic missiles for the German army after his education in aeronautical engineering. In 1941 his team designed what became the V-2 rocket, the first man-made object to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight and the progenitor of all modern rockets. After defecting to the U.S. at the end of the war, von Braun went to work for the American military and went on to develop the Redstone (a descendent of the V-2), used to launch the first Mercury manned capsules. He transferred to NASA in 1960 and developed the giant Saturn rocket, the launch vehicle that allowed Americans to explore the Moon in the 1960s and ’70s.

3. Staged Combustion. Following World War II rocket science took off in what became a “Space Race” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, both nations making ample use of German scientists. Staged combustion is a complex application of the gas-generation cycle, and was first proposed by Aleksei Mihailovich in 1949. The Soviets put it to use in rocket engines designed to carry payloads beyond Earth atmosphere (and later, into orbit and beyond). German scientist Ludwig Boelkow tested the first Western stage-combustion engine in 1963.

15 College Films With Actors Too Old For Their Roles

Posted on May 11, 2009

By Tara Miller
It’s no secret that actors are typically older than the roles of characters they play. This could be for various reasons, and sometimes it goes unnoticed. There are times, however, when the casting of actors to play a character at least a decade younger is just too far of a stretch. The following is a list of the most memorable films in which the starring actors were just too old to be believable.

How High – Method Man

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Method Man and Redman weren’t fooling anyone when they stared as college students in How High. But believability is not something Hollywood is known for.  Both stars were in their early thirties playing young college students at the time this film was shot. Regardless, 30-year-old, Method Man and, 31-year-old, Redman proved they could make an audience laugh with their brand of hip-hop stoner humor.

Road Trip – Tom Green

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In the late 1990’s it seemed Tom Green could do no wrong.  From painting lesbians on the hood of his parents’ Buick, to dating Drew Barrymore, he ruled the MTV generation. During his popularity decline, he played the role of the mouse-ingesting weirdo in a little film called “Road Trip”. Not surprisingly, this film was about a group of students taking a road trip – at the time Green was 29 and a half years old.

PCU – Jeremy Piven

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Trying to have Piven convincingly play the roole of a young college student who looks at least 35 old was a questionable move. He was however, only 29 at the time. In spite of Piven’s receding hairline, PCU was still a great film.  Note: this movie was single handedly responsible for reminding people never to wear the t-shirt of the band they’re going to see in concert.  Piven’s words, “Don’t be that guy!”

Revenge of The Nerds – Donald Gibb

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Revenge of the Nerds was the first film in which nerds were allowed to play the role of heroes.  Part of the success of this film was casting the ultimate douche bags as the rival frat. “Ogre, Orge, Orge!” Even though he was 30 at the time, Donald Gibb was cast as the mighty jock, and the bane of the film’s socially inept protaganists.

Son In Law – Pauley Shore

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Pauley Shore was one of the most popular young celebrities in Hollywood in the early 1990’s.  And as a result, he was cast into a number of college-themed movies, such as Biodome and Son-In-Law. Shore was 25 when he played ‘Crawl’ in the latter, and he may go down in the annals of time for this character. Either that or Encino Man.

The Waterboy – Peter Dante

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Having been in nearly every Adam Sandler movie since the Wedding Singer, Peter Dante has continually enjoyed the perks of being close friends with the former. This much  was apparent as Dante was 30 when cast as a college quarterback in the 1998 comedy, The Waterboy.

Glory Daze – French Stewart

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French Stewart has always been one of those annoying character that plays the same character in every one of his roles.  In 1996’s college comedy Glory Daze, 32-year-old Stewart plays a senior in college who has no idea what he wants to do with his life.

The Curve – Matthew Lillard

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At 28, Matthew Lillard stared in this film as a young college student who would do anything to get a 4.0, even kill his roommate and make it look like a suicide.

Sorority Boys – Harlan Williams

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It is amazing that Harlan Williams was 39, and is still being cast in roles as cross dressing college students.

Orange County – Colin Hanks

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Colin Hanks is an interesting actor.  Having received his start on his father’s production, Band of Brothers, his career has slowly but surely improved over the years.  Though it may seem odd to cast a 25-year-old actor as a high school senior gearing up to go to college, if you’r Tom Hanks’ son, normal rules probably don’t apply to you.

Senseless – David Spade

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All throughout his 30’s, David Spade continued to take movie roles as college students.  When Spade was cast as a 30-year-old in PCU, it was a stretch but it turned out to be plausible.  But when he was cast for the same role four years later in the film Senseless, a 34-year-old playing a college student is just too unbelievable.

American Pie 2 – Alyson Hannigan

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Alyson Hannigan will forever be remembered for her role as the lovable girl dork in the American Pie franchise. It’d be suprrising for most to findo out that, by the end of her role as the infamous band girl, she was in her early thirties.

Brick – Joseph Gordon Levitt

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Although Joseph Gordon Levitt co-starred along side French Stewart on 3rd Rock, I won’t hold it against him.  What I will hold against him is, a 25-year-old playing a student gearing up for college in the independent thriller Brick.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Levitt, who is nearly 30, continues to try and pick up college freshman because he still looks 14.

Dead Man On Campus – Lochlyn Monroe

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At 34, Lochlyn Monroe stared as the college dorm mate to Zach Morris (aka Mark Paul Gosselaar) in the 1998 comedy, Dead Man on Campus.  Sharing a similar plot line with The Curve, Monroe starred as the student his roommates wanted dead.  After seeing Monroe’s performance in this film you will have wish his roommates succeeded to off him earlier on in the movie.

Animal House – Tim Matheson

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Animal House is the quintessential college comedy, and one of the most beloved movies of all time.  To many, this film can do no wrong, except for the fact that most actors cast in the film were either in their late 20’s or early 30’s.   The  oldest of the bunch was “Otter”, played by Tim Matheson at the age of 31.

14 Examples of Revolutionary Students

Posted on May 04, 2009

Innovation, radical movements, and social change are often instigated on college campuses. This has been the norm for centuries. It makes perfect sense, as college campuses are a breeding ground for idealism, ideas and young ambition. The following is a list of some of the more memorable revolutionary individuals and groups that have helped to change the world we live in – each to varying degrees, and in unique capacities. Some of these examples may be surprising, and others less so:

Karl Marx

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From an early age, Karl Marx seemed to defy authority. This could be said about his decision to shirk his father’s wishes by pursuing philosophy instead of law, or ignoring direction from his doctoral advisers in favor propagating radical theories. When Marx transferred to the University of Berlin, he was introduced to the radical Young Hegelians. From Marx’s interactions with this group the seeds of The Communist Manifesto were born. Due to his controversial and radical philosophical observations, Marx had to submit his doctoral dissertation to a different university to avoid persecution. From these experiences as a student, Karl Marx became one of the most transformational philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Salvador Dali

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Salvador Dali was born to a lawyer and a housewife in 1904. Throughout his childhood his mother encouraged him to develop his artistic abilities. Then in 1922, Dali attended the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. There he experimented with Picasso’s Cubism, and was known by his fellow students for his outlandish eccentricities. By the end of his studies, he began to develop what would inevitably become his trademark, Surrealism. Dalí was then expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him.

John Forbes Nash Jr.

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John Forbes Nash Jr. was accepted to the doctoral Mathematics Department at Princeton based upon one recommendation letter from his undergraduate advisor. The letter simply read, “This man is a genius.” Nash is most well known from the Ron Howard movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash is known as a revolutionary due his work as a student and academic. Rarely attending class, Nash spent most of his time developing radical economic theories, such as, game theory and equilibrium theory. He was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for his revolutionary work while a student.

Che Guevara

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In 1928, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born to Argentine parents of Spanish and Irish decent. His father was quoted about the nature of his eldest son, “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.” While Guevara was a medical student, he took a motorcycle road trip that changed his life. His experiences and observations during his trip led him to conclude that the region’s ingrained economic inequalities were the result of capitalism and Western imperialism. He eventually concluded that the only way to remedy this situation in Latin America was an armed revolution.

1964 Freedom Summer

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In the summer of 1964, students from universities all over America descended on the South to help register black voters and fight for civil rights. The three most famous students to participate in the freedom summer were James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Unfortunately they became famous after their tragic murders in August of 1964. This horrific act propagated by white supremacists ended up waking the country up to horrible conditions blacks were living in. After this students of all colors increasingly became involved in the nascent Civil Rights movement, becoming activists for the civil rights of all people in America.

Al Gore

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Although Al Gore is not known as the father of the Green Revolution, he has been instrumental for the last 30 years in raising awareness about climate change. As an undergraduate, Gore was introduced to the idea of climate change by his professor at Harvard in 1967. Since his introduction to the realities of climate change, Gore has become the most well known global crusader for the environment. Throughout his public career, Gore has written books and introduced legislation to help combat climate change. Furthermore, he developed a climate change presentation that eventually became the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

May 1968 Revolt

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‘May 1968′ is the name given to a series of leftist student protests that almost caused the collapse of the De Gaulle government in France. The student movement used these events as an opportunity to shake up the “old society” and traditional morality by focusing especially on a leftist agenda for the education system and employment. The De Gaulle administration’s attempts to quash these protests lead to street battles with the police. Eventually, two-thirds of the French workforce joined the protests by striking, effectively bringing the French economy to a standstill. This movement is attributed as the beginning of decade long socialist reforms in Western Europe.

Thai Student Revolt for Democracy

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For Thailand, 1973 marked the beginning of their modern era. After a decade of fascist rule by anti-communist prime minister Thanom Kittikachorn, University students took to the streets in protest. Workers soon joined the students, and after many bloody bouts with their, Kittikachorn finally left the country. This was followed by three years of unstable democratic rule for Thailand. Then in 1976 a bloody military coup (with the blessing of the King) took control of the government and installed its own regime. Since 1973, Thailand has undergone many coups – some bloody, some bloodless – but for the majority of nearly 40 years ,Thailand has been run democratically and with relative peace.

Bill Gates

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After scoring a near perfect 1590 on his SAT test, Bill Gates was on his way to Harvard. While at Harvard in the mid 1970’s he studied mathematics and computer science. The brilliance of Bill Gates, was his ability to create a simple interpreter for complex computer functions. This basic interpreter became the foundation for Windows, and only after two years at Harvard, Gates left to start Microsoft in New Mexico. Since this move, Gates has become the richest man in the world as well as the world’s leading philanthropist, and he has recently dedicated his life to the world’s poor and combating HIV-Aids.

Iran Revolution

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In most cases, the West generally frowns upon The Iranian Revolution in the late 70’s. This movement was widely led by university students, the most famous of which called themselves, ‘The Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line.’ In November of 1979 they took over and occupied the US Embassy for 444 consecutive days. As apart of their occupation they also held 52 American hostages. This was in protest of the American government providing refuge to the recently deposed and exiled Shah. As part of this situation, they demanded the Shah be returned to Iran to face trial. This event is highly regarded as the beginning of the end for Jimmy Carter as president. On January 20, Ronald Regan’s inauguration day, the hostages were finally released and the crisis was over.

Michael Dell

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Revolutionary ideas don’t always have to be abstract and political, they can also be very simplistic and practical. In 1984, while Michael Dell was in college, he started a computer company. What made his computer company different was that it enabled the consumer to build their own computer and order it through the mail. Because of this business model, Dell was able to sell relatively cheap computers. After his company took off from his dorm room, he dropped out and created one of the most profitable computer companies in the world.

Tiananmen Square

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There is still controversy surrounding this revolutionary event in 1989. The Chinese government continues to report that only 200 deaths occurred as a result of these protests. But human rights and student groups in China report this number to be around 3,000. Nevertheless, the protests were sparked by the death of the pro-market and pro-democracy official Hu Yaobang. Following the democratic protests, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress protesters and their supporters. The Chinese government then banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the Chinese press. Members of the government who had publicly sympathized with the protesters were purged, resulting in several high-ranking members being placed under house arrest. Though these events resulted in a horrific conclusion, the protesters who stood against their repressive government have since remained an inspiration to millions facing adversity and oppression.

Invisible Children

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In the summer of 2003, three film students decided to take a trip to the heart of Africa and try to find a story to tell. After some initial disappointments, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole finally found the story they were destined to tell. They returned home and launched the nonprofit ‘Invisible Children’ to tell the world the story about child soldiers in Africa. Their documentary about their experiences has been seen by millions of young people all over the world and has encouraged many to get involved in their cause. Since starting their charity they have raised awareness and millions of dollars to help eradicate the practice of child soldiers from Northern Uganda.

Mark Zuckerberg

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Born in 1984, Mark Zuckerberg is a young computer programmer and a wealthy entrepreneur, best known as the creator of Facebook.com. While an undergarduate student at Harvard he created the college social network, and it has since become arguably the foremost social networking site on the internet. Today, three years after Facebook’s launch, Mark Zuckerberg has became one of the youngest Billionaires in the world, with a net worth of over $5 Billion.