April 2024: Science History from 50, 100 and 150 Years Ago

April 2024: Science History from 50, 100 and 150 Years Ago

Chromosome cats; Louis Pasteur, master brewer

Map shows the distribution of emission from un-ionized hydrogen.

1974, Gassy Galaxy: “Gas motions at our galactic center are displayed. The map shows the distribution of emission from un-ionized hydrogen. The different colors indicate intensity, from violet (lowest) to red (highest). The vertical axis indicates the velocity of hydrogen lying in the galactic plane: velocities toward us are negative; velocities away from us are positive. The horizontal red ridge is centered at zero velocity.”


Scientific American, Vol. 230, No. 4; April 1974


Herbicidal Warfare in Vietnam

“Between 1962 and 1971 U.S. forces sprayed 20 million gallons of herbicidal chemicals on some four million acres of South Vietnam, or about a tenth of the country’s land surface. The objectives were primarily to defoliate trees and thus uncover enemy troop concentrations and to destroy crops destined for enemy stomachs. The environmental war has now been assessed by the national academy of sciences. Among the conclusions are that serious long-term damage was done to Vietnamese forests, that the fertility of cropland was probably not adversely affected and that it is too soon to be sure whether or not humans were made sick or genetically damaged, or will be in the future.”

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Research since then, of course, determined that many people in Vietnam were harmed, short term and long term.

Chromosome Cats

“A ‘tortoiseshell’ cat is a mixture of orange and black, usually blended together rather than in patches; a ‘calico’ cat is tortoiseshell and white, usually in patches. Most tortoiseshell and calico cats are female. Males are rare and tend to be infertile. It appears that the existence of most, and perhaps all, tortoiseshell and calico male cats can be explained by abnormalities in their sex-chromosome complement.”


Crude Oil: Vegetable or Mineral?

“No authority is prepared to state definitely whether oil should be spoken of as organic or mineral. It is possible that in remote geological times during some convulsion, animal life, whether of the land or sea, together with much vegetable growth, died and was submerged with the sandy formation in which the oil is now found, and that the heavy petroleum oil represents what is left of these organic materials. This, however, is no more than a surmise. But how is it that oil is classed by the geologists as among the minerals? It is found in mineral formation, and the process by which it is recovered is among the mining activities. Someday investigation may establish its true origin. Until that time, it will be correct to speak of it as a mineral.”


Sahara Lake, Not Desert

“French engineers have proved that the surface of the great Desert of Sahara is below the level of the ocean, in fact that it is the bottom of an ancient freshwater lake which has dried up. It has been therefore suggested to change this desert back into a lake. This would create a moist atmosphere in place of the burning hot, dusty whirlwinds which are the curse of that region. there are, however, no rivers to be turned into the basin. It has, therefore, been proposed to make a channel to the ocean, and lead the ocean water into the desert; but in consequence of vigorous evaporation in that latitude, the water, when spread out over any considerable surface, would probably disappear as quickly as even the largest canal could pour it in.”

Louis Pasteur, Master Brewer

“The liability of beer to turn sour is due to the presence of special ferments derived from the air, and from the materials used. By boiling the infusion of malt and hops, cooling out of contact with air and fermenting with a pure yeast in vessels to which only carbonic acid or pure air is admitted, a beer is produced of superior quality, which may be preserved without trouble for any time. The author makes use of the fact that oxygen favors the growth of true yeast but hinders the propagation of the other ferments. Pure yeast when kept in pure air undergoes no change, even at summer temperatures. The mycoderma vini does not, as the author once thought, become changed; it acts as an alcoholic ferment, but does not propagate itself.” —Louis Pasteur

Microbiologist Louis Pasteur famously developed early vaccines in the 1800s. Perhaps today he would have become a craft brewer instead.

Swollen Retina Means Death

“At the moment of death, there become disengaged from venous blood certain gases which are normally confined therein, and which form a pneumatosis or swelling of the veins. This action in the veins of the retina, says M. Bonchut, is easily appreciable by the ophthalmoscope, and constitutes an immediate and certain sign of death.”

Covers of Scientific American from 1974, 1924 and 1874

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