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March
Important dates in History

March 31: Sir Dugald Clerk
(Born March 31, 1854: Died November 12, 1932)
Scottish inventor of the two-stroke Clerk cycle motorcycle engine, widely used on light motorcycles and other small machines. In 1881 he patented an engine he built in 1876 to run on hydrocarbon vapour which used an explosion once every two strokes of the piston rather than the once every four of the more common Otto cycle used by most automobile engines. In another major research direction, he studied the properties of gaseous fuel and its heating and lighting applications. The British Admiralty appointed him director of engineering research in 1916, followed by his knighting in 1917. His work appears in the two volumes of The Gas, Petrol, and Oil Engine.

March 30: John Henry Poynting
(Born September 9, 1852: Died March 30, 1914)
British physicist who introduced a theorem (1884-85) that assigns a value to the rate of flow of electromagnetic energy known as the Poynting vector, introduced in his paper On the Transfer of Energy in the Electromagnetic Field (1884). In this he showed that the flow of energy at a point can be expressed by a simple formula in terms of the electric and magnetic forces at that point. He determined the mean density of the Earth (1891) and made a determination of the gravitational constant (1893) using accurate torsion balances. He was also the first to suggest, in 1903, the existence of the effect of radiation from the Sun that causes smaller particles in orbit about the Sun to spiral close and eventually plunge in.

March 29: Elihu Thomson
Born March 29, 1853: Died March 13, 1937)
U.S. electrical engineer and inventor whose discoveries in the field of alternating current phenomena led to the development of successful alternating current motors. Thomson invented electric welding and other important inventions in electric lighting and power among his lifetime total of about 700 patents. Thomson was also a cofounder of the General Electric Company (in 1892, in a merger with the Edison Company) industry.

March 28: UNIVAC fro Census
In 1946, the Census Bureau and the National Bureau of Standards met to discuss the purchase of a computer. The agencies agreed to buy UNIVAC, the world's first general all-purpose business computer, from Presper Eckert and John Mauchly for a mere $225,000; unfortunately, UNIVAC cost far more than that to develop. Eckert and Mauchly's venture foundered as the company continued to build and program UNIVACs for far less than the development cost. Eventually, the company was purchased by Remington Rand.

March 27: Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
(Born March 27, 1824: Died November 28, 1914)
German physicist who was a pioneer in electrochemical research. His early investigations were on the allotropes (different physical forms) of phosphorus and selenium. He was the first to compute the electricity- carrying capacity of charged atoms and molecules (ions), an important factor in understanding electrochemical reactions. He investigated the migration of ions during electrolysis (1853-59), developed expressions for and measured transport numbers. In 1869, he published his laws governing the migration of ions. For his studies of electrical phenomena in rarefied gases, the Hittorf tube has been named for him. Hittorf determined a number of properties of cathode rays, including (before Crookes) the deflection of the rays by a magnet.

March 26: Sir Bernard Katz
(Born: March 26, 1911)
German-born British physiologist who elucidated how nerve cells transmit signals to muscles. Although it was known that neurons release acetylcholine at their terminal ends, Katz discovered in the early 1950s that the release of this neurotransmitter occurs continuously and spontaneously, although at low levels when neurons are at rest. Further, he found that acetylcholine is released in discrete packets, later called vesicles. In the late 1960s, Katz determined that the amount of acetylcholine in a vesicle was related to the electrical potential at the terminal of an axon (the long extension of a neuron that transmits the impulse). These studies won him a share (with Julius Axelrod and Ulf von Euler) of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

March 25: Henry Charles) Fleeming Jenkin
In 1959, the maser was patented by Charles Townes (No. 2,879,439). "Maser" is an acronym for "Microwave Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation ". The invention is an apparatus for amplifying and producing electromagnetic energy directly from excited molecules or atoms. The concept grew out of research in microwave spectroscopy following Word War II . The image shows Townes with the second maser at Columbia University. The normally evaculated metal box where maser action occurs is opened up to show the four rods (centre) that send excited molecules into a resonant cavity (to the right). The microwaves that were generated emerged through the vertical copper waveguide near Townes' hand.

March 23: Hermann Staudinger
(Born March 23, 1881: Died September 9, 1965).
German chemist who won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for demonstrating that polymers are long-chain molecules. His work laid the foundation for the great expansion of the plastics industry later in the 20th century.

March 22: Robert Andrews Millikan
(Born March 22, 1868: Died December 19, 1953)
American physicist who was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize for Physics for "his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect." Millikan's famous oil-drop experiment (1911) was far superior to previous determinations of the charge of an electron, and further showed that the electron was a fundamental, discrete particle. When its value was substituted in Niels Bohr's theoretical formula for the hydrogen spectrum, that theory was validated by the experimental results. Thus Millikan's work also convincingly provided the first proof of Bohr's quantum theory of the atom. In later work, Millikan coined the term "cosmic rays" in 1925 during his study of the radiation from outer space.

March 21: George David Brikhoff
(Born March 21, 1884: Died November 12, 1944)
American mathematician, foremost of the early 20th century, who formulated the ergodic theorem. As the first American dynamicist, Birkhoff picked up where Poincaré left off, gaining distinction in 1913 with his proof of Poincaré's Last Geometric Theorem, a special case of the 3-body problem. Although primarily a geometer, he discovered new symbolic methods. He saw beyond the theory of oscillations, created a rigorous theory of ergodic behavior, and foresaw dynamical models for chaos. His ergodic theorem transformed the Maxwell- Boltzmann ergodic hypothesis of the kinetic theory of gases (to which exceptions are known) into a rigorous principle through use of the Lebesgue measure theory. He also produced a mathematical model of gravity.

March 20: AC power plant
In 1886, America's first demonstration of the alternating-current system provided lighting along Main Street at Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The power came from the first AC power plant in the U.S. to begin commercial operation. Thus its creator, George Westinghouse, now thirty-nine years old, began a new direction in his career."

March 19: Louis-Victor de Brogile
(Born August 15, 1892: Died March 19, 1987)
Louis Victor Pierre Raymond duc de Broglie was a French physicist best known for his research on quantum theory and for his discovery of the wave nature of electrons. De Broglie was of the French aristocracy - hence the title "duc" (Prince). In 1923, as part of his Ph.D. thesis, he argued that since light could be seen to behave under some conditions as particles (photoelectric effect) and other times as waves (diffraction), we should consider that matter has the same ambiguity of possessing both particle and wave properties. For this, he was awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize for Physics.

March 18: Superconductivity
In 1987, the discovery of "high-temperature" superconductivity was announced to thousands of scientists at a packed meeting of the American Physical Society in New York City. The phenomenon, discovered 1911, was at first known to occur at only 4 degrees above absolute zero, when all electrical resistance in a metal sample disappeared. In 1986, researchers discovered a ceramic material that was a superconductor at a temperature of more than 30 degrees above absolute zero. When published in September of that year, that news stirred the wider scientific community into action. By the time of the APS meeting, further discoveries had been made. The scene of excitement at the meeting was dubbed the "Woodstock of Physics."

March 17: Charles Francis Brush
(Born March 17, 1849: Died June 15, 1929)
U.S. inventor and industrialist who devised an electric arc lamp and a generator that produced a variable voltage controlled by the load and a constant current. It was adopted throughout the United States and abroad during the 1880's. The arc light preceded Edison's incandescent light bulb in commercial use and was suited to applications where a bright light was needed, such as street lights and lighting in commercial and public buildings. He assembled his first dynamo in the summer of 1876, resulting in a patent for his Improvement in Magneto-Electric Machines, issued 24 Apr 1877 (US No. 189997). He then developed an arc light that was regulated by a combination of electrical and mechanical means limited by a "ring clutch".

March 16: Georg Simon Ohm
(Born March 16, 1789: Died July 6, 1854)
German physicist who showed by experiment (1825) that there are no "perfect" electrical conductors. All conductors have some resistance. He stated the famous Ohm's law (1826): "If the given temperature remains constant, the current flowing through certain conductors is proportional to the potential difference (voltage) across it." V=iR.

March 15: Sir Henry Bessemer
(Born January 19, 1813: Died March 15, 1898)
English inventor and engineer who developed the first process for manufacturing steel inexpensively (1856), leading to the development of the Bessemer converter. Bessemer invented his steel making process to solve a specific problem vexing another of his inventions, the self-spinning artillery shell. The converter removed impurities from molten pig iron by oxidation through air being blown through the molten iron. The oxidation also raised the temperature of the iron mass, keeping it molten. The oxidation process removed impurities such as silicon, manganese, and carbon as oxides, which oxides either escapd as gas or formed a solid slag. He also solved problems about the chemistry of ores, fuels, and steel. He held 110 patents at his death.

March 14: Albert Einstein
(Born March 14, 1879: Died April 18, 1955)
German-American physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. Recognized in his own time as one of the most creative intellects in human history, in the first 15 years of the 20th century Einstein advanced a series of theories that proposed entirely new ways of thinking about space, time, and gravitation. His theories of relativity and gravitation were a profound advance over the old Newtonian physics and revolutionized scientific and philosophic inquiry.

March 13: Elihu Thomson
(Born March 29, 1853: Died March 13, 1937)
U.S. electrical engineer and inventor whose discoveries in the field of alternating current phenomena led to the development of successful alternating current motors. Thomson invented electric welding and other important inventions in electric lighting and power among his lifetime total of about 700 patents. Thomson was also a cofounder of the General Electric Company (in 1892, in a merger with the Edison Company) industry.

March 12: John Theophile Desaguliers
(Born March 12, 1683: Died March 10, 1744)
French-English chaplain and physicist. He studied at Oxford, became experimental assistant to Sir Isaac Newton. As curator at the Royal Society, his experimental lectures in mechanical philosophy and electricity (advocating, substantiating and popularizing the work of Isaac Newton) attracted a wide audience. In electricity, he first used the terms conductor and insulator. He repeated and extended the work of Stephen Gray in electricity. He proposed a scheme for heating vessels such as salt-boilers by steam instead of fire. He made inventions of his own, such as a planetarium, and improvements to machines, such as Thomas Savery's steam engine (by adding a safety valve, and using an internal water jet to condense the steam in the displacement chambers) and a ventilator at the House of Commons. He was a prolific author and translator.

March 11: Vannevar Bush
(Born March 11, 1890: Died June 28, 1974)
American electrical engineer and administrator who and oversaw government mobilization of scientific research during World War II. At the age of 35, in 1925, he developed the differential analyzer, the world's first analog computer. It was capable of solving differential equations. He put into concrete form that which began 50 years earlier with the incomplete efforts of Babbage, and the theoretical details developed by Kelvin. This machine filled a 20 x 30 foot room. He innovated one of the largest growing media in our time, namely hypermedia as fulfilled in the Internet with hypertext links.

March 10: Francis Robbins Upton
(Born 1852: Died March 10, 1921)
American mathematician and physicist who, as assistant to Thomas Edison, contributed to the development of the American electric industry. Upton was the best educated of Edison's Menlo Park assistants. He was recruited by investors who felt it couldn't hurt to supplement Edison's wizardry with some advanced scientific training. He joined Edison in 1878, working at Edison's Menlo Park laboratory on mathematical problems relating to the development of the light bulb, the watt-hour meter and large dynamos. He later became a partner and general manager of the Edison Lamp Company (est. 1880). Upton's articles for Scientific American and Scribner's Monthly introduced many of Edison's inventions to the public.

March 9: Howard Hathaway Aiken
(Born March 9, 1900: Died March 14, 1973)
American mathematician who invented the Harvard Mark I, forerunner of the modern electronic digital computer. While a graduate student and instructor Harvard University, Aiken's research had led to a system of differential equations which could only be solved using numerical techniques, for which he began planning large computer. His idea was to use an adaptation of Hollerith's punched card machine. When eventually built, (1943) it weighed 35 tons, had 500 miles of wire and could compute to 23 significant figures. There were 72 storage registers and central units to perform multiplication and division. It was controlled by a sequence of instructions on punched paper tapes, and used punched cards to enter data and give output from the machine.

March 8: Ferdinand Count von Zeppelin
(Born July 8, 1838: Died March 8, 1917)
Ferdinand (Adolf August Heinrich) Count von Zeppelin was a German engineer, the first notable builder of rigid dirigible airships, known then and now by his name. After retiring from a military career (1890), he devoted ten years to the designing and building of his first successful light-than-air craft, the LZ-1. Its initial flight on July 2, 1900 stimulated funding from the community. Eventually, he produced more than 100 zeppelins for military uses in WW I.

March 7: Telephone
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented an "Improvement in Telegraphy" (No.174,465) which established the principle of the telephone. He held earlier patents. One concerned the simultaneous transmission of two or more telegraphic signals along a single wire which utilized transmission of impulses at different rates to be received by different instruments each tuned to the pitch corresponding to one of the transmitting instruments. Another patent described ways of producing an alternately increasing and decreasing current without actually breaking the circuit. In this patent, he described a device to produce an undulatory current (similar to a sinusoidal wave form rather than the square wave of a pulsatory current) on the line wire.

March 6: First American AC power plant
In 1886, America's first alternating current power plant began operation in Great Barrington, Mass. It started producing commercial power two weeks later, but subsequently became damaged by an accident and was abandoned. The first successful A.C. electricity generating plant was opened in November of the same year at Buffalo, NY, by the Westinghouse Co.

March 5: Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta
(Born March 5, 1827: Died February 18, 1745)
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was an Italian physicist whose invention of the electric battery (1800) provided the first source of continuous, reliable current produced by the contact of two dissimilar metals. His famous voltaic pile consisted of an alternating column of zinc and silver disks separated by porous cardboard soaked in brine. This instrument revolutionized the study of electricity by producing a practical source of current, leading almost immediately to William Nicholson's decomposition of water by electrolysis and later to Humphry Davy's discovery of potassium and other metals by the same process. Volta also invented the electrophorus and the condensing electroscope. The volt, a unit of electrical measurement, is named after him.

March 4: Cray supercomputer
In 1977, the first Freon-cooled Cray-1 supercomputer, costing $19,000,000, was shipped to Los Alamos Laboratories, NM, and was used to help the defense industry create sophisticated weapons systems. This system had a peak performance of 133 megaflops and used the newest technology, integrated circuits and vector register technology. The Cray-1 looked like no other computer before or since. It was a cylindrical machine 7 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter, weighed 30 tons and required its own electrical substation to provide it with power (an electric bill around $35,000/month). The inventor, Seymour Cray, died 5 Oct 1996 in an auto accident. His innovations included vector register technology, cooling technologies, and magnetic amplifiers.

March 3: Gerhard Herzberg
(Born December 25, 1904: Died March 3, 1999)
German-Canadian physicist and winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work in determining the electronic structure and geometry of molecules, especially free radicals: groups of atoms that contain odd numbers of electrons. Herzberg is noted for his extensive work on the technique and interpretation of the spectra of molecules. He elucidated the properties of many molecules, ions, and radicals and also contributed to the use of spectroscopy in astronomy (e.g., in detecting hydrogen in space). His work included the first measurements of the Lamb shifts (important in quantum electrodynamics) in deuterium, helium, and the positive lithium ion.

March 2: Edward Griffith Begle
(Born November 27, 1914: Died March 2, 1978)
American mathematician, a topologist, who was a leader in the development of "new math" after the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 raised concerns about the adequacy of science and mathematics education in American schools. He emphasized the importance of mathematical principles over the traditional focus on memorization and computational skills. Under his leadership (director, 1958-72) the School Mathematics Study Group reconceptualized the learning of mathematics at all grade levels and developed teaching materials to fit the new concept.

March 1: Edwin James Houston
(Born July 9, 1847: Died March 1, 1914)
Edwin James Houston was a U.S. electrical engineer. Together with another Philadelphia high school teacher, Elihu Thomson, he experimented with electricity, invented (patented 1881) and manufactured arc street-lighting. He presented the first paper, Notes on Phenomena in Incandescent Lamps, to The American Institute of Electrical Engineers when it began in 1884 (AIEE - the predecessor society of the present IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) . The merger of Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric companies (1892) formed General Electric. In 1894 he joined with Arthur Kennelly (who resigned from Edison's laboratory) to form a consulting company.

 

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