Uranium was discovered in Berlin in 1789 by German apothecary and scientist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1 December 1743-1 January 1817). Klaproth was precipitating a yellow compound (probably sodium diuranate or similar mineral) by dissolving pitchblende in acid and then neutralizing the precipitate with sodium hydroxide.
He then took the remaining yellowish substance and heated it to drive out the oxygen-anticipating a new element, although what he now had was uranium oxide, pictured above.
Klaproth named his new element uranium, after the newly discovered planet. William Herschel, however, the German born but now English astronomer who discovered Uranus, was still insisting on calling the planet George after his patron King George III of England. Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately. German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky.
Klaproth did nothing to help the case for keeping the name George offered for the planet by Herschel, and there was probably just a bit of germanic pride going on between Elert and Klaproth. Maybe if Klaproth had been English or had moved to England and found a new patron as Herschel had done he would have named his element georgium?
Happy Birthday, Martin!
Image of uranium oxide courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory under a creative Commons 3.0 license.
Comparative anatomy and cladistics have long been tools used to organize organisms into meaningful taxonomies, but they have their limitations, and Owls typify this. The genus name came first, given by the great French Zoologist Andre Marie Constant Dumeril (January 1, 1774 – August 14, 1860) in 1805, using the Latin word bubo which meant a horned owl (pictured above) or eagle owl.
Two decades later, Swedish lawyer, naturalist and zoologist Gustaf Johan Billberg (14 June 1772– 26 November 1844) named the family of barn owls the tytonidae, using the Ancient Greek name tyto (τυτο) meaning a barn owl.
Two short years later, German herpetologistJohann Georg Wagler (28 March 1800 - 23 August 1832) named the remaining owl family the strigidae from the Latin word for screech owl, strix, strigis.
Today all owls fall into the order of strigiformes, and scientists are using mithochondrial dna to sort owls (and many other organisms) into different species, families and orders. There is an ancient order of extinct owls named paleoglaux, using the Ancient Greek word for common owl glaux (γλαυχ).
Learn all about owls in this great resource:
Great horned owl courtesy Andrew Nicholson used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Image of barn owl courtesy Tony Sutton, used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Eastern Screech owl courtesy Michael Hodge, used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).
When Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492 convinced he had found the fabled western route to India, he wasn’t the only one who was fooled. And although his geographical mistake was understood fairly early, the mistake persisted for centuries in various ways. The icon of Thanksgiving, the turkey, for example, was thought to be a type of guineafowl, and is named (first in English for the bird around 1540) for the route the bird took back to Europe. Thus the turkey fowl was named by British sailors traveling through the Eastern Mediterranean, and obviously through the country of Turkey. When Carolus Linneaus came to the new world three centuries later and began to describe the species he found, he used the common name and misunderstanding and gave the bird the binomial meleagris gallopavo, from the Ancient Greek meleagris (μελεαγρίς) meaning a guineafowl. Many languages throughout the world continue with this mistake: the French use poulet d’inde, shortened to dinde meaning chicken from India; the Russians say indeyka (индейка), meaning relating to India; Dutch, Danish, Estonian and a handful of other countries derive a word from Calcutta; Arabic uses dīk rūmī (ديك رومي) or daǧāǧ rūmī (دجاج رومي) meaning Roman/Greek/Byzantine rooster/chicken, referring again to its origin around the Eastern Mediterranean, and so on. Probably too late to give the turkey its own identity!
Image of wild turkey, meleagris gallipavo courtesy Ruben Undheim, used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Every year we hear the same stories about the narcotic effects of eating too much turkey and therefore tryptophan, which will put us to sleep before the pies are brought out. But many foods have tryptophan and even cheddar cheese has more tryptophan than turkey!
Studies in humans and mice have shown that the traditional Thanksgiving meal is rich in carbohydrates, and insulin is as much to blame as tryptophan. Tryptophan is one of the 20 standard amino acids, as well as an essential amino acid in the human diet. The word was coined in 1890 by combining the German word tryptic from the Ancient Greek root trypsis (τρυψις) meaning rubbing and phanein (φανειν) meaning to bring light to or to shine light on. Rats fed a low tryptophan diet showed reduced blood levels of triiodothyronine, which was suggested to retard the aging process. Rats on tryptophan-reduced diets have shown increased maximum life span and improved biomarkers of aging (although the rate of initial deaths was higher than in controls). The result was attributed to harmful effects of the age-related increase in brain serotonin. (rat bit at the end courtesy Wikipedia)
Image of Thanksgiving Turkey courtesy Kristin Wall/KWDesigns, used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).
Image of molecular structure of tryptophan.
Today is the birthday of Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer with many accomplishments in a short life, most notably the system for measuring temperature on a decimal scale. Born in Uppsala, Sweden (27 November 1701 – 25 April 1744), Celsius had an extremely productive and influential scientific career-traveling Europe to visit observatories and befriending scientists from every field.
The Celsius scale was originally called the centigrade scale, from the Latin words centus for one hundred and gradus meaning degree. The eponym Celsius wasn’t adopted by the scientific community until 1948 and remains the only scientific symbol in the upper case (°C), to distinguish it from the lower case c (constant) famous from Einstein’s energy equation.
Despite his obvious genius, the centigrade scale originally proposed by Anders Celsius had 100 as the freezing point of water and 0 as the boiling point. In 1744 and shortly after his death, the great Swedish scientist Carl Linneaus reversed the scale making hot temperatures have higher numbers than cold temperatures.
Today the Celsius scale is the most widely used scale for measuring and reporting temperature. In addition to his interest in a better scale for measuring temperature, Anders Celsius participated in expeditions to confirm Isaac Newton’s theory that the Earth is not a perfect sphere but rather ellipsoid, and also was the first to use colored glass plates to try to analyse and catalog magnitude and differences in stars. He supported the formation of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (along with Carl Linneaus and several others) and was elected to the Academy in its first meeting. He died of tuberculosis in 1744 at the age of 42.
On 24 November 1859 Charles Darwin published his monumental work On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, changing the face of biology. Although he only used the word once at the very end of the book, the word evolve (and evolution) is synonymous with Darwin. The word evolve had been used in a scientific sense specifically in biology for over a hundred years before Darwin wrote Origin of Species-which is one reason why he avoided it. By the mid 1850s, the word had connotations of perfectibility-something Darwin wanted to avoid. It was the last sentence of his book:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
The word evolution arrived in English in 1620 and comes from the Latin word evolutionem(nomnative form evolutio) meaning the unrolling of a book or revealing that which was rolled up. The word evolve arrived a bit later in the 1640s from the Latin word evolvere meaning to unroll and could also pertain to other ‘hidden’ things (see also for example the etymology of vulva), but mostly meant books, when a ‘volume’ was a rolled up manuscript made from vellum. The modern meaning that scientists such had Darwin meant for it began around 1832 and reached its first full expression in Darwin’s work. Get the Origin here:
Image of Darwin in the public domain.
The Fennec fox is the smallest genus of the canid family, typically weighing between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds, which is smaller than the size of a typical teacup chihuahua. With creamy light fur and massive ears, the fennec fox is built for the desert. First described scientifically by Eberhardt August Wilhelm von Zimmermann (August 17, 1743 – July 4, 1815), German geographer and zoologist in his book Specimen Zoologiae Geographicae Quadrupedum (1777). The word fennec entered English not long after in 1790 and comes from the Arabic word fanak which means fox but can also refer to any furred animal. The binomial Vulpes zerda comes from the Latin word for fox vulpes and zerda comes from the Ancient Greek word xeros (χερος) meaning dry, referring to the foxes desert habitat. The foxes are omniverous and one of the few social foxes.
Photo of the Fennec fox courtesy Nathan Rupert, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Learn more here:
The word radio was coined in 1907 after a decade of furious activity to discover the mechanism for wireless transmission. A decade earlier, French physicist Édouard Branly coined the term radioconductor to describe a means of wireless transmission. He based his term on the verb radiate which ultimately came from the Latin word radius meaning the spoke of a wheel, a ray or beam of light. The word radio was first used by itself in a 1907 article by Lee De Forest. It was used five years later by the Navy to distinguish it from other wireless technologies and entered common usage in the next decade. Radio technology advanced so quickly that a little over 50 years later on November 16, 1974, scientists broadcast the first interstellar radio message out to the stars, a program that later became known as METI, the Message to Extra-terrestrial Intelligence. To date, only 9 messages have been transmitted by a variety of organizations:
The first radio message, known as the Morse Message, does not technically belong on this list as the Russians directed the message to Venus, and thus the primary mission was not Interstellar. The message targets vary in distance from the very short (the majority of targets are under 100 light years away) to the very far, including the Arecibo Message, which targets the M13 globular cluster 24,000 light years away.
While there have been some dissenting voices who argue that ‘revealing’ our location to enemy or hostile alien civilizations is ill-advised at best, most scientific consensus agrees that due to the physical restrictions on speed and travel (as currently understood) we are in no danger of imminent attack. While the Arecibo Message won’t reach its target for another 25,000 years or so, the first of the other messages should arrive by 2029. Other scientist point out that our current terrestrial radio and television broadcasts represent their own METI signal and thus we have no need to fund additional broad- or narrow-cast messages.
Image of the Arecibo Radio Telescope courtesy Marius Strom under a Creative Commons 3.0 share alike license.
Image of the Arecibo Message of 1679 bits in the public domain.
Yes, that gorgeous ringed planet with the satellites out of Shakespeare is Uranus and not Saturn. Today is the birthday of William Herschel (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) a German born British astronomer known today as the discoverer of the planet Uranus in March of 1781. He also discovered two of Uranus's moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn.
He is also credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope’s NICMOS camera.
Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III. At the time he said this:
In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.
Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately. German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn. It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus. Learn all about William Herschel here:
All images in the public domain