7 Science Experiments That Changed The World
Unfortunately for many, the word "science" itself is enough to make their eyes glaze over. But fear not, it's not our fault. In fact, blame your science teacher, because in the end it really boils down to one word, "Presentation". Take history for example. History is, without question, the greatest story ever told. Yet how is it presented to the layman? As a series of dates that must be memorized. "Presentation" is why history is one of the least favorite subjects in our schools, yet one of the highest rated channels on our TV. Now look at science, and what is the layman presented with? Formulas. This is not a list of formulas. This is why science matters.
1. The Electrical Generator Simply put, an electrical generator is a device that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. Even more simply put? Turn a crank on one end and electricity shoots out through the other. Unless you've got solar panels hooked up somewhere, if you're using electricity then it's being provided by a generator. People tend to hear "nuclear power" and imagine atomic electricity flowing through our power lines. Whether it be coal, fossil fuels, or a nuclear power plant they are all doing the same thing. They're heating water. That's it. Yes we're generalizing, but that's still pretty much it in a nutshell. Nuclear power, burning coal, burning fossil fuels, their only job is to generate the heat to boil water. So where does the electricity come from? The steam from that boiling water is used to spin a turbine (an electrical generator). That turbine could be turned with anything. We use steam. It sounds so simple, but imagine where our society would be without the invention of electrical generators. Many of our other inventions and discoveries wouldn't exist. Computers? Nope. Television and Radio? Phones? Modern refrigeration? The internet? None of it, including many of the other items on this list. To appreciate modern technology, one must first appreciate its lifeblood and the heart that provides it, electricity and the electrical generator.
2. Air Conditioning Modern refrigeration tends to steal the glory when it comes to creating a cold environment, but air conditioning is also important, especially in the Western World. Humans, especially western ones, do not handle heat well. Forget the concept of heat stroke; we're not even going that far. Simply put, when humans are subjected to heat they become lethargic. It makes natural sense. Activity generates heat, so of course the human body is going to want to relax when over-heated. Staying warm is simple enough, but staying cool while remaining active? That's tricky. Air conditioning solves this, allowing people to remain productive. So let's compare. Refrigeration has revolutionized food storage. Air conditioning maintains (therefore increasing) our productivity. Both are important, but air conditioning's contribution should hardly be ignored.
3. Antibiotics The discovery of antibiotics is similar to Christopher Columbus and the Americas. How so? Well... in grade school we're all taught that, "Columbus discovered America!" Of course, later we learn the Vikings found it well before he did, not to mention possible Eastern explorers or the Native Americans themselves. What Columbus did do, however, was make the Western World aware that the New World was out there. Such is the case with antibiotics. Several scientists around the beginning of the 20th Century discovered substances that were toxic to bacteria yet not to the human cell. But it wasn't until Sir Alexander's Flemings own discovery in 1928 that everyone took notice. While washing his equipment, Sir Fleming noticed a bit of mold attacking a patch of bacteria. It's frightening to consider how many more people would have died in the 20th Century if Sir Fleming did not have good eyes. Today, some complain that through antibiotics we are slowly creating invincible super-bacteria. It's ironic that many of these critics would be dead are not even exist if it weren't for the technology they criticize.
4. The X-Ray When German Physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen stumbled upon X-Rays, he discovered their potential when he saw a X-Ray photo of his wife's hand. Seeing the photo, Wilhelm's wife declared, "I have seen my own death." Now keep in mind that until the discovery of X-Rays, human bones were only seen when the subject was dead or very seriously injured. The idea of viewing one's bones while still completely healthy was a completely alien concept. So Wilhelm's wife truly had seen her own death. X-Ray technology has continued to evolve and revolutionize modern medicine right down to the CAT Scans we have today.
5. Controlled Aviation A lot of glory has been handed to the concept of "powered flight". Instead of floating, or gliding slowly to the ground, one can actually maintain their altitude and propel themselves through the atmosphere. The real glory, however, should be handed to "controlled aviation". Control of ones movement through the air was the true revolutionary step forward, and while this does not necessarily diminish the achievements of those such as the Wright brothers, it does add some little known accomplishments into the fold. In 1884, Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs utilized an 8.5 horsepower electric motor to control their French Army air ship. That was the true first example of man-made "controlled aviation", an idea that would take us all the way to the moon landing only 85 years later.
6. Electric Telegraph When the moon landing happened, many figured it would be considered the greatest achievement of the 20th century. If there were other contenders it would surely lie with the atomic bomb, or in some other exotic realm. Few suspected that arguably the greatest technology of the 20th century dwelled within the humble field of telegraphy, namely... the Internet. The grandfather of the Internet is the electrical telegraph, which many thought the telephone had rendered obsolete. On the contrary, the Internet is simply a very advanced electric telegraph. In fact, so are fax machines as well as any sort of computer network, no matter how small.
7. Mapping the Human Genome We have only seen the tip of this iceberg, and that in itself is exciting. Only a few years ago, in 2003, it was announced that 92% of the human genome had been mapped. 50 years from now, when we look back, this achievement will be widely considered one of the most revolutionary moments in medical history. At this point, however, the achievement has happened so recently that we are only beginning to see its benefits. Genetic predispositions for various diseases are now easily tested, allowing for better detection and preparation. The search for the cause of Alzheimer's, various cancers, and other diseases are also taking considerable steps forward. Today, the work continues as we develop the technology necessary to explore that final 8%. At the same time we are also now mapping other species to better understand the differences between human beings and other creatures.
There are countless moments in science that we consider "revolutionary". Often times, however, it is not the most dramatic moment that was the revolution, but the spark that started the fire only a few seconds before.