Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alexis Carrel

Alexis Carrel was born on June 28, 1873 in Lyons, France. His father, also named Alexis, was a businessman who died when Carrel was still young. Carrel was educated by his mother, Anne Richard, and he attended St. Joseph School in Lyons. Carrel attended the University of Lyons, earning a bachelor of letters in 1889, a bachelor of science in 1890, and a medical doctorate in 1900. While working on his doctorate using experimental animals Carrel developed methods for repairing small blood vessels using sewing techniques and tools taken from haberdashers. Carrel was also interested in organ transplantation and in 1902 he removed a dog's kidney and reattached it to a blood vessel and vein in the dog's neck. Although the kidney immediately began producing urine the dog died days later of an infection. After finishing his doctorate Carrel worked at Lyons Hospital and taught anatomy and surgery at the University of Lyons.

In 1903 Carrel traveled by train to Lourdes, France and while on the way he examined a young woman suffering from tuberculosis peritonitis. The unconscious woman had a fever with a rapid pulse and respiration and a distended abdomen. Carrel believed the woman was on the verge of death. Her companions poured water from the spring in Lourdes, which is reputed to have miraculous properties, on her abdomen and she appeared to recover. When he examined her later her abdomen was flat and she seemed to have recovered. Later when Carrel returned to Lyons he reported the apparent miracle to his colleagues for which he was criticized and told that he would not be able to pass the examinations required to join the faculty. In 1904 Carrel left France first stopping in French speaking Montreal. He later moved to Chicago where in 1905 where he began working at the University of Chicago with Charles Guthrie.

In 1906 Carrel took a research position at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research,where he would remain until his retirement in 1939. Although he lived the rest of his life in the United States, Carrel never became a citizen and during World War I he served as a major in the French Medical Corps. In 1912 Carrel began an experiment where he took embryonic chicken heart cells and kept them alive in a Pyrex container of his own design. The cells lived for over twenty years with changing of the nutrient broth they lived in, living longer than the normal lifespan of a chicken. Carrel believed that cells could be kept alive and would divide indefinitely if they were given proper nutrients. Later it was found somatic (non-embryonic) cells have a limited number of divisions before they will stop dividing. Carrel's cell culture techniques were later used by others to do viral research and develop vaccines.

In 1935 Carrel published a book called Man, the Unknown, which argued in part that humanity should be governed by an elite group of intellectuals and that a program of eugenic breeding would benefit humanity. In a 1936 German edition he added a preface that praised the eugenic program advocated by the Nazi regime.

Carrel was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1912, "In recognition for his work on vascular structure and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs." Other honors won by Carrel include a Swedish stamp honoring Nobel Prize winners in 1972 and a crater on the moon was named after him in 1979.

Carrel died on November 5, 1945 in Paris, France.


McMurray, Emily J., Editor, "Alexis Carrel" in Notable Scientists of the Twentieth Century; Gale Group; 1995; Retrieved from

Sade, Robert M.; "Transplantation at 100 Years; Alexis Carrel, Pioneer Surgeon"; Annals of Thoracic Surgery (2005)80:2415-8

Alexis Carrel Nobel Biography

Alexis Carrel Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Martin Swarzchild

Martin Swarzchild was born on May 31, 1912 in Potsdam, Germany to a German-Jewish family. His father, Karl, was the director of the Postdam observatory, which having been visited by Albert Einstein in 1913, was being outfitted to make oberservations to verify his general theory of relativity when World War I broke out. Karl enlisted in the German army and while he served in the German trenches on the eastern front he solved Einstein's equations for a point mass, we now call a black hole, and the distance of the event horizon above a non-rotating black hole is called the Swarzchild Radius. The even horizon of a black hole is the distance away from which nothing, not  even light can escape. Karl died in 1916 of pemphigus an autoimmune skin disease.

After his father's death his mother took Schwarzchild to Gottingen, Germany where he attended gymnasium school. Swarzchild attended Gottingen University first studying mathematics for a year, after which he went to Berlin University where he studied astronomy, after which he returned to Gottingen University where he finished his doctorate in astronomy in 1835. Because of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Swarzchild took a fellowship in Oslo, Norway and after a month in England he emigrated to the united states in 1937, becoming a citizen in 1942. Swarzchild served in the United States Army Intelligence, earning the Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star. After fellowship at Harvard University and a lectureship at Columbia University, Swarzchild was appointed to a full professorship at Princeton University in 1947. He became the Higgins Professor of Astronomy in 1951.

Swarzchild's early research dealt with calibrating the size of the universe and determining its rate of expansion. He observed variable stars that were used as distance markers in determining the rate of the universe's expansion. He also researched stellar evolution (the life cycles of stars) and his text Structure and Evolution of Stars (1958) was a classic text on  the subject. He used early computers to work on astronomical problems. Using a balloon borne telescope Swarzchild was the first to observe the photoshphere (the outer layer) of the sun and the Andromeda Galaxy without atmospheric interference, demonstrating the potential for this type of observations now done by the Hubble Telescope.

Swarzchild retired in 1979 although he continued to work on galactic classification. In his life Swarzchild received numerous awards, including the Bruce Medal (1965), Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1969), and the National Medal of Science (1997).

Swarzchild died on April 10, 1997.


Ostriker, Jeramiah; "Martin Swarzchild: April 31, 1912 - April 10, 1997": in Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science; 2013; National Academy Press

"Martin Swarzchild"; Physics Today (1997)35:12:90-91\

Martin Swarzchild Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, September 14, 2014

William Budd

William Budd was born on September 14, 1811 in North Tawton, Devonshire. Budd was born into a family of physicians. His father and seven of his ten brothers were medical professionals, Budd was initially apprenticed to his father and then went to Paris, France where he studied for four years. In 1838 he graduated with an MD from Edinburgh University where he shared a gold medal for an essay he wrote on rheumatism. Budd briefly served aboard the hospital ship HMS Dreadnought in Greenwich, where he nearly died from a bout of typhoid fever. Forced to resign due to his illness Budd went home to North Tawton, where he assisted his father in his country practice. There Budd began to study typhoid fever, a subject which was to become his life's work. In 1842 Budd emigrated to Bristol where he served as a physician at St. Peter's Hospital and the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

In 1847 Budd visited a patient suffering a fever in the Bristol suburb of Richmond Terrace. Budd diagnosed typhoid fever and his investigation revealed that of the 34 households of Richmond Terrace 13 had experienced cases of typhoid fever. Subsequent investigation revealed that those 13 households all shared the same well as a water supply and the rest of Richmond Terrace used different water sources. With this information Budd hypothesized that the well was the source of the infection. In 1849 when Budd took charge of the water supply for Bristol he concluded that it was responsible for the spread of cholera. Before Budd took control of the water supply a cholera epidemic had killed 2000 in Bristol. In 1866 an outbreak killed only 29. Budd was slow to publish his findings regarding the transmission of cholera waiting for microscopical results which eventually proved inconclusive, but before he published John Snow, a London physician, published his findings concerning the source of cholera spread. Budd honestly gave Snow credit for priority for the discovery that cholera was spread through contaminated water supplies.

In the days before the discovery of the organisms responsible for typhoid fever and cholera Budd's conclusions were greeted with skepticism. Today we know that typhoid fever is caused by the organism Salmonella typhi and cholera is caused by Vibrio cholerae. Both organisms are spread by fecal contamination of water supplies in conditions of poor sanitation. Vibrio cholerae was disovered by Italian microbiologist Filippo Pacini who published in 1854, but it was not until after Budd's death that the causative organism for typhoid fever was discovered.

Budd died on January 9, 1880.


Bettany, George Thomas; "Budd, William" in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 7; Elder Smith and Co.; 1886; retrieved from

Dunnill, Michael S.; "Commentary: William Budd on Cholera"; International Journal of Epidemiology (2013) 42:1576-7

Moorhead, Robert; "William Budd and Typhoid Fever"; Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; (2002) 95:561-4

William Budd Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stanislao Cannizzaro

Stanislao Cannizzaro was born on July 13, 1826 in Palermo, Sicily, the fourth and youngest son of Mariano Cannizzaro and his wife Anna. Mariano was a magistrate in Palermo and the Director-General of the Sicilian Police. Cannizzaro was educated at home and in church schools and went to the University of Palermo to study medicine in 1841. Cannizzaro found the study of medicine to be tedious as he was more interested in chemistry. Unfortunately the university did not have facilities to study chemistry so Cannizzaro went to Naples where he met the physicist Macedonio Melloni, with whom he became friends and upon Melloni's recommendation he got a job working in the chemical laboratories of the University of Pisa working for Raffeal Piria.

Cannizzaro returned to Palermo in 1847 and served as an artillery officer in the 1848 rebellion. Also in 1848 he was elected to the Sicilian Parliament and served as its youngest member. After the fall of Messina on September 7, 1848 Cannizzaro was sent to Taorminna to organize resistance. When the rebellion collapsed Cannizzaro lived a life on the run eventually escaping to Marseilles, France in 1849. Cannizzaro toured France getting access to laboratories where he could and eventually he settled in Alessandria, Italy where he got a position as a professor of physical chemistry and mechanics at the National University in Alessandria. In 1855 Cannizzaro was called to the Chair of Chemistry at the University of Genoa. In 1861 he took a professorship at the University of Palermo where he remained for ten years. In 1871 Cannizaro was called to the professorship at the University of Rome.

Cannizzaro is most remembered for his work popularizing the ideas of another Italian chemist Amedeo Avagadro. Avagadro had proposed that equal volumes of two gasses at the same temperature and pressure would contain the same number of molecules and that the molecular mass of the molecules would be the sum of the atomic masses of the atoms of which the gasses are composed. Using this principal Cannizzaro developed a method for determining the molecular masses of gasses. At the time chemists were still trying to work out the uses of the words atomic and molecular. Cannizzaro's outline, prepared for his students at the University of Genoa, helped chemists understand that gasses are molecules composed of multiple atoms and have the molecular mass of the sum of the atomic masses of the atoms of which they are composed. For example, oxygen gas, composed of two oxygen atoms each having the atomic mass of 16, has the molecular mass of 32. For his work contributing to the understanding of the concepts of atom and molecule Cannizzaro was awarded the Copley Medal by the Royal Society of London in 1891,

Cannizzaro is also remembered for his work in organic chemistry, where he studied amines and aromatic compounds. Aromatic compounds are compounds that contain a benzene ring. The Cannizzaro reaction is the reaction where an aldehyde is reacted with a base and the reaction produces the alcohol and carboxylic acid that correspond to the aldehyde.

Cannizaro died on May 10, 1910.


Anon.; "Stanislao Cannizaro"; retrieved from

Thorpe, Sir Thomas Edward; "Stanislao Canniaro" in Essays in Historical Chemistry; MacMillian and Co.; 1902

Stanislao Cannizaro Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Peter Waage

Peter Waage was born on June 29, 1832 on the island Hidra, near Flekkefjord in Norway. His father, also named Peter, was a ship-master and owner so he was often away from home and Waage was raised and taught by his mother, Regine. Waage learned to read by age four and spent his youth collecting minerals, plants, and insects. He graduated high school in Christiana and began studying medicine at the university. After his first division he switched to chemistry. in 1858 Waage won the Crown Prince's Gold Medal for a paper he wrote about oxygen containing organic acids and he earned his doctorate in 1859. After graduating Waage won a scholarship to study in France and Germany, Waage as appointed as a lecturer in 1861 and professor of chemistry in 1866 at the University of Kristiana.

Waage is most remembered for his discovery, with his brother-in-law Otto Guldberg, of the law of mass action. The law of mass action says that the rate of a chemical reaction is proportional to the concentration of the chemical reacting. For the chemical reaction A + B --> AB the rate of the reaction is =k[A][B], where [A] and [B] are the concentrations of the reactants A and B and k is the the rate constant. The rate constant, k, varies depending on what the reaction is. Waage and Guldberg also studied the effects of temperature on chemical reactions. Because their paper was published in Norwegian it was largely unnoticed. The paper was later published in French and German and gained wide acceptance when the results were repeated by William Esson and Vernon Harcourt of Oxford University.

Waage and Guldberg were brother-in-laws twice over. Waage and Guldberg married sisters and after Waage's first wife died he married Guldberg's sister. Waage also discovered ways of preparing unsweetened condensed milk and sterile canned milk. Waage developed a condensed fish meal used as rations by the Norwegian Navy.

Waage died on January 13, 1900.


Albe, Joseph and Smith, Michelle; "Otto Guldberg and Peter Wage";

Ringnes, Vivi; "Peter Wage"; Retrived from

Peter Wage Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hermann Minkowski

Hermann Minkowski was born on June 22, 1864 in Aleksotas, Lithuania, then part of Poland and the Russian Empire. He was the third son of Lewin Minkowski, a Jewish merchant and his German wife Rachel. When Minkowski was 8 the family moved to Konigsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia) to escape persecution and where he attended gymnasium school and showed an ability for mathematics. Minkowski attended the University of Kongisberg starting in 1880. He went to the University of Berlin for a three terms and shared a the Grand Prix des Sciences Mathematiques from the Paris Academy of Sciences with English mathematician Henry J.S. Smith in 1881, when he was 18. Minkowski earned his doctorate in 1885.

After two years of obligatory military service in 1887 Minkowski was appointed privatdozent at the University of Bonn. In 1892 Minkowski became an asOsociate professor at Bonn. In 1894 Minkowski joined the faculty of Zurich Polytechnic, where one of his students was Albert Einstein. In 1902 Minkowski took a chair in mathematics which had been created especially for him at Gottingen University. Minkowski remained in Gottingen util his death.

Minkowski is most remembered for his work on geometry and space-time. In Euclidean geometry there are three dimensions, representing the three dimensions of space. Minkowski incorporated a fourth dimension representing time to the Euclidean system where time and space are interlinked together forming a whole four dimensional system. This four dimensional space is called Minkowski space-time and arises naturally when consequences of relativity are considered.

Minkowski died suddenly of appendicitis on January 12, 1909.


O'Connor, J.J. and Robertson, E.F.; "Hermann Minkowski"; MacTuror; Retrieved from:

Manhanti, Subodh; "Hermann Minkowski: Founder of Geometry of Numbers"; Dream 2047 Vol.14 (May 2012) p40-42

Hermann Mikowski Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thomas H. Weller

Thomas Huckle Weller was born on June 15th 1915 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Born into a family of physicians, his father served as chair of pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School.Weller attended the University of Michigan where he studied biology earning his BA in 1936. He completed his masters a year later and then went to  Harvard Medical School where he studied tropical medicine, graduating in 1940. Weller began his residency at Children's Hospital in Boston in 1941, but his training was interrupted by World War II and three years of service in the United States Army where he earned the rank of major and he headed the departments of bacteriology, virology and parisitology at the Army research station in Puerto Rico. After the war Weller returned to Harvard and the Department of Comparative Pathology and Tropical Medicine where he worked under John Franklin Enders.

Enders was working on growing viruses in culture. Viruses, unlike bacteria, are unable to reproduce on their own, so strictly speaking they are not living organisms. Viruses require a host cell in order to reproduce. Each cell has a mechanism by which it reproduces itself. Viruses take over this mechanism and use it to produce more viruses. Viruses grown in the laboratory must be grown in a cell culture. Different viruses infect and use different types of cells to reproduce. Enders and Weller were studying which types of cultured cells could be used to grow different types of viruses. Working with Enders, Weller was the first to be able to grow poliovirus in culture. Poliovirus enters humans via the the cells of the alimentary canal and migrates to other cells. It can infect motor neuron cells causing paralysis. For their development of the ability to cultivate the poliovirus Weller, Enders, and Frederick C. Robbins were awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. With the ability to grow poliovirus in culture Jonas Salk was able to create a vaccine for polio and the disease has virtually been eliminated.

In 1954 Weller was appointed the Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Tropical Public Health, which he remained until 1983. In addition to his work growing polio virus, Weller also isolated and grew varicella virus (the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles). He was also able to grow rubella and cytomeglovirus. Weller was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1964. Weller was made professor emeritus in 1984.

Weller died on August 23, 2008.


McIntosh, Kenneth; "Thomas H. Weller:1915-2008"; National Academy Press; 2011

Roache, Christina; "Thomas H. Weller, Nobel Laureate, Professor Emeritus, Dies"; Harvard School of Public Health press releases; August 26, 2008

Thomas Weller Nobel Biography

Thomas Weller Wikipedia Entry