Living in the 21st Century, we take many things for granted – the idea of evolution, the boiling of milk before it goes sour, the fact that the Earth is round and not flat. However, not so many centuries ago, these very ideas had confounded people. Until the discovery of antibiotics, people could die from strep throat. Until sterilization was discovered, most patients who underwent operations died due to bacterial infection in their stitches. Today doctors can replace hearts and see into sub-atomic space. So, let’s take a look at the 5 brilliant scientific discoveries that changed the world:-
The discovery of fingerprinting is credited to William James Hershel. Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district, India, Sir William at first used the impression of handprints of a local merchant on a contract on a bid to frighten him out of the thought of repudiating his signature. This soon became a tradition, and over time, he realized that only prints of the fingers were necessary – more specifically, those of the right index and middle fingers.
While his fingerprint experience was quite limited, he believed in his personal conviction that every individual had a unique fingerprint, and it remained permanent throughout his life. As his collection grew, so did his conviction. Later, Professor Paul-Jean Coulier published his studies on how examining fingerprints with a magnifying glass could lead to suspects. During the 1870s, Dr Henry Faulds recognized its importance to identify and even devised classification. By 1900, it had become a widespread concept, and today, every citizen has his fingerprint recorded by the government.
Referred to the process of introducing weak antigenic matter into a person’s system to promote antibody formation in the immune system, thus providing immunity to any further attacks by that particular pathogen. Today the birth of a child initiates a flurry of the list of vaccines to be injected at a particular age. Yet, until vaccination was discovered, no such preventive measures existed. Smallpox caused around 8-20% of deaths. In the 18th century, a doctor named Edward Jenner formally established the procedure by introducing cowpox pathogens into a boy named James Philips. Two months later, the boy was inoculated with smallpox and survived. Thus began the journey of the discovery of vaccines. The rest, they say, is history.
Antibiotics are strong drugs that are used to kill disease-causing or infectious bacteria within the body. Until its accidental discovery in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, bacterial infections were widespread and life-threatening. It all began when Dr Fleming noticed that certain enzymes produced by fungi named Penicillium Rubens killed these infectious bacteria. While Dr Fleming discovered the substance, its conversion to a commercial usable medicinal product is attributed to Australian Nobel laureate Howard Walter Florey.
Today, heating milk or water to kill the germs in it is a very common concept. Pasteurization is heating liquids to boiling point and then quickly cooling them to kill the bacteria – a concept first discovered by Louis Pasteur. He found out that this prevented milk from turning sour. Pasteurization does not kill all micro-organisms; it simply reduces life-threatening pathogens. However, unpasteurized milk is nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk as its probiotic content hasn’t been destroyed by heat. Today, pasteurization has become an indispensable part of the wine and dairy products industry. The discovery that heat kills germs also led to doctors sterilizing their instruments using boiling water.
5. Atomic Bomb
Since the 70 years of its discovery, the atomic bomb has enjoyed a mixed legacy. It was pivotal in putting an end to the Second World War – though this was done at the expense of millions of lives and the million of taxpayers’ money spent on its creation – but ushered in the era of the nuclear arms race. Called the Manhattan Project, in the 1940s, a group of scientists got together to create a weapon to harness the energy emitted from unstable Uranium isotopes – a weapon capable of large scale destruction – and they succeeded.
Edward Teller is often referred to as the father of the hydrogen bomb. On August 6, 1945, the first testing was done in Hiroshima, followed by another one 3 days later in Nagasaki. Touted as the worst ever nuclear bombing in history with the death of approximately two hundred thousand civilians, it resulted in Japan’s surrender.
As of today, there are enough nuclear weapons on the planet to render it inhabitable. Despite its ability to destruct, peaceful, controlled nuclear explosions are conducted for non-military purposes such as constructing canals or tunnels through rocky mountains.
With all the money being spent on scientific research, who knows what miraculous things are being discovered this very instant?