Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saint of the Hungry

What you've never heard of Norman Borlaug. Interesting because over a billion people in this world owe him their lives, and more will certainly be recipients of his extraordinary work. To begin with he was a scientist that knew with our growing world more places needed to be able to grow food. He went to Mexico and there through cross breeding (before genetic manipulation) developed a strain of wheat that was drought and disease tolerant. In a few short years Mexico began to actually export wheat to the world. Then he did the same in India, and Pakistan. He didn't give his results to a big multinational corporation, though there were many offers, he gave his results to the world. He fed people that were starving. He created something known as the Green Revolution, and changed the way other scientists looked at world problems. He was a selfless, hardworking, brilliant scientist that dedicated his life to helping feed the hungry of the world. Yeah I would say that makes him a saint of science. Today we remember Norman Borlaug, the Saint of Science of the Hungry.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saint of the Earth

Nicolas Steno (11 January 1638 – 25 November 1686) was a Danish pioneer in both anatomy and geology. In 1659, he decided not to accept anything simply written in a book, instead resolving to do research himself. The consequences of this self-study is that he is considered the father of geology and stratigraphy. He was responsible for the the recognition of geological strata, and the theory that successive layers of geological formations (strata) contained a fossil record of life in chronological order. He eventually became a tutor to the de Medici family and, ultimately, became a Bishop and a strong leader in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He is largely unknown, despite his many great achievements, which may have been due to his religious zeal in a time that was moving away from reasoned science and towards observational science.
As always we thank this Saint of Science for his work understanding life and the life of the Earth itself. Thank you Nicolas Steno.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saint of Records

The following history of the man that gave us the CD and the means to use light to record information was so well written I have copied it completely. The original link can be found here.

"On the day after the United States marked Martin Luther King's birthday in 2004, another remarkable black man died, in Rome, New York. His name was John Dove, 79, and he was the inventor of the technology which created the CD (compact disk) for storing information. 

A graduate of Columbia University with degrees in math and science, John Dove was hired at the age of 20 by the US government to do research at the Rome Air Development Center, which is now the Air Force's Rome Laboratory. His employers were astonished to see a young black man arrive at their doorstep! Although initially they stuck him by himself in a back room, they soon realized that John could solve the most difficult technical problems, the ones no one else could figure out. 

Born on a farm in North Carolina, John had served in the Army as an X-ray technician, and had developed a device that used electronic beams to record and store information. It was this technology that led to the invention of CDs for information storage. In the beginning, however, his superiors refused to believe that John, "handicapped" by his skin color and youth, could possibly be the inventor of this technology. "I was told it would not work, and that anybody who reveals this idea reveals their lack of scientific knowledge," Dove said. "The (Army) division chief came to me and said, 'I've heard your idea and you know better. You've shown your ignorance of science.' " 

Nonetheless, John persisted with his idea, and earned a patent for it in 1965, disproving that he was "ignorant of science"! 

John Dove went on to establish his own businesses, as Rome's first black real estate agent, and forming Dove Electronics Inc. in Rome in 1983. One of that company's most important products was a wind shear detector created for the Federal Aviation Administration. Dove's latest research was with Syracuse University on a fiber-optic amplifier that will amplify and transmit video and computer data through fiber optic lines. The use will be no different from regular telephone messages or Internet, Dove said shortly before his death, the only difference being that it uses light, which creates a faster speed. 

He was always dressed in a suit and tie, and was known in his community for being a humble man and one who contributed in many ways to benefit both Rome and the nearby city of Syracuse, New York. In 1999, the Urban League of Syracuse and Onondaga County opened three computer centers named in his honor. The intent was to close the "digital divide" between those who had access to the Internet and technology and those who did not. Although two of these centers have since closed due to lack of funds, the third has been reopened by the Syracuse Housing Authority. 

Dove never collected royalties in the United States, but eventually would do so from companies in Japan and France that had used the CD, such as Hitachi and Yamaha. Besides the United States, Dove had traveled to these countries to obtain patents. 

"They had infringed over a period of time and they paid me three percent of all their sales," Dove said of Japan and France. 

In the summer of 2003, Dove was making plans for manufacturing the amplifier when he fell and hit his head. He had two surgeries for a blood clot on his brain and was recovering well. But an infection spread through his body, his daughter said, and his heart failed. "He had faith in technology, faith in God and faith in himself," Susan Dove said. "That really summed him up."

While this unassuming elderly black man might have gone unnoticed in a crowd, his impact on 20th century computer technology will eventually be recognized and honored by African-Americans as a hero, and by all of us as a true genius. "

This humble and brilliant man that knew his idea would work when others doubted and even stood in his way is an example of a true Saint of Science. Amplified by the fact that he did not spend countless hours pursuing reimbursement for his inventions. He cared about the Science, and giving the world something new and fantastic. For this we salute the Saint of Records who ushered in the age of Digital storage.

Thank you John Dove

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Saint of Memory

Do you know how a mineral found on the shores of the Mesopotamian, a light used to illuminate pre-lightbulb stages, and an elderly widow all contributed to the building of the Atomic Bomb? Well most people don't but James Burke sees these connections. Indeed is shows were called Connections (1,2, and 3) as well as the Day the Universe Changed, and several others. He is something so very very rare these days. A Science Historian. Someone who though not a scientist per say, is indeed essential to the scientific process. As Oppenheimer stated so clearly. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Yet how can we do this if we do not remember who has done what and when and how they did it.

James Burke does this, and it is through his efforts to educate others about what has already been explored that new explorers in the worlds of science can step forward onto new ground. Though James Burke is fairly well known, at least in geek circles, others of his kind are less so. Yet they are the ones that report the news, ensure history is recorded. If it were not for them we might be doomed to discover the same technology over and over, forgetting what had already been done. It would not be new. The secret of steel was lost and rediscovered several times on the African continent and in the end when white men finally arrived in droves the secret was lost and their primitive weapons were no match for those from the north.

Those that do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, that goes double for science, and it is thanks to the Saints of Memory, and their figurative leader, James Burke that we can remember what we have done and do things better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Saint of Insight

Saint of Insight

Imagine that there is a world you can never see, but what happens in that world affects everything in your world. From the wood that makes up your desk, to the sugar that goes in your tea. The very dirt you live on top of has an entire world inside it. Now imagine you live before anyone understood what that world looked like, or what the rules were. No Scanning Tunnelling Electron Microscopes to show you what the world of the Atom really looked like. No Femto-Pulse lasers to show you what happens as chemicals react. Yet you want to know what this world is like. Since you can't see it you need a tool to tell you how it all works. There is only one tool that can tell you how the world of the Atom works, Math. So you take that Math, and you see the perceived properties, and you work it all out. I mean ALL out. You can describe in detail what every single Atom and Molecule in the entire universe looks like, and what they behave like. From that you can make predictions about chemical properties in the real world based on the mathematical fantasy world you have built through nothing but physics. Our Saint of Insight saw a world that everyone knew was there but could make no sense of, and he put that world down on paper in such a way that we leapt forward from the Industrial age to the Chemical age. I speak of course of Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winner for the feat of intellectual gymnastics that so few people have ever accomplished. It is of interest that Niels almost became a philosopher, and the logic that he learned in those studies served him well in delving into the mystery of Atomic Physics.

Niels Bohr is one of my favorite Saints. The stories told of his unconventional approaches to everything are both entertaining and enlightening. I wish that more people could learn to look at current problems and even solutions to find the right solution at the right time. Niels did this throughout his whole life and for this he is one of the great Saints of Science.

Today our understanding of the interaction of Matter and Energy are because of the work of this Atomic philosopher and his ability to chart the unseen world of the Atom. Thank you sir.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Saint of Light

"Light is a wave, waves must pass through some medium like air or water. Therefore light as a wave must be passing through a medium, whether we can detect it or not. We shall call this medium the Either." If you were a 19th century physicist, you were trained that this was correct. You knew it was because the logic was irrefutable. The experiments confirmed this. The universe was filled with something called the Either. We could not see it, but we could see its effects by how it allowed light to be transmitted.

Then along comes our Saint and in 1905 he said "NO, you are wrong. I will tell you why." He was called an idiot, and a host of other names. His math was compelling to new physicists that didn't know any better, but any experienced scientist had already gone down that road and knew it to be a dead end. If science were like many other fields, then that would have been the end, but science is filled with scientists each striving not only for the truth but to be the one that discovered it. A bunch of young scientists could find no flaw, and in spite of all the senior scientists saying he was nuts, Albert Einstein began to get serious notice.

Finally along comes the day when Einstein had to be put to the test. The place, Sobral in Brazil, the day 29 May 1919. Would the total solar eclipse bend the light around the sun so that the Hyadeas could be seen? It took until November of that year for the analysis to be done and a special meeting of the Royal Society to be called. However the proof was clear. Einstein was not an idiot, far from it. He was right. Space was flexible, time shifting, light was not just a wave, the universe changed. It was not an easy road to be part of the change. Careers were lost, Einstein himself suffered ridicule and shame, with only a few brave scientists willing even to talk to him for fear some of his craziness would rub off on them. He could have given up. He could have just shut up and then gotten a good paying job and supported his family. However that is not the way of Saints of Science. The facts to him were clear, though he listened no one could argue with his math. He had many try though, but he always won, since he explained it all, and they could not. His truth was testable, and when tested, proved he was right.

This is why we honor Albert Einstein as a Saint of Science, not because he was right but because he searched for and found the truth, and when he found it he refused to be swayed by people he knew were wrong. It is men that search for the truth that enlighten us all. Thank you sir.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The first honored Saint of Science

Jon Edward Nalin who invented the Kindle

The Kindle is one of the great inventions of the 21st century. For the first time in history an entire library can be carried around in your pocket. You can acquire all the works of great authors like Twain, Verne, Tolstoy, Poe, etc. for less than 2 dollars. Reading books now includes access to a dictionary that can define rarely seen or outdated words, changing of font instantly so that with changing light or eyesight the books can still be read. Book marking phrases or sections for review or reference later. Instant access to sequels or other works by the same author.

Knowledge instantly made accessible. Knowledge instantly updated. School books today are outdated before the students even see them. The kindle now gives ensures the latest version, with the latest revisions is distributed instantly to all holders of the book. Further more the ability to offer similar books to customers expands the pool of available knowledge and reading to an unprecedented level.

When the Kindle was invented it was hoped it would be successful. Since other eReaders had been tried with little success, but like the iPod, and the Cell Phone, and the Windows operating system, eventually the different technologies all come together at the right time society was ready for it. This is the Kindle, the creation of a true eInk paper like display, combined with the right size and price of memory, combined with the Amazon storage and distribution network, creating the first portable, easy to use, library.

Little is known about Jon Edward Nalin including that few people know he invented the Kindle. Many attribute the invention of the Kindle to Jeff Bezos, and though it is obvious the Mr. Bezos is a very intelligent man, and he certainly paid for and described the requirements for the kindle, the actual work of inventing such a device went to an engineer with extraordinary talents and vision. This was Jon Edward Nalin. Perhaps some day more about Mr. Nalin with be available, his education, his life story, the story of his work to create the Kindle.

However we honor Mr Nalin as one of the unknown Saints of Science, thank you sir.