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10 science photos that made history and changed minds
These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.
- Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
- Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
- Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
1. Hubble's "eXtreme Deep Field"
This photo, released on September 25th, 2012, called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, was put together as a combination of 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope's pictures. All this image does is show us the beginning of the universe. The galaxies revealed by the image date back to about 13.2 billions years ago while the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion year old.
The Hubble achieved this feat by gathering faint light over an exposure lasting 23 days. This deepest image of the universe ever taken at that time showed us thousands of galaxies, both near and far. More specifically, the patch of space shown by the photo is in the constellation Fornax.
2. Solvay Conference of 1927
One of the most famous gatherings of scientists that still continues to this day, the Solvay Conferences are pre-occupied with tackling the major problems of physics and chemistry. The meeting is produced by the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912.
Perhaps the most famous such conference was the one that took place in October 1927, when the topic was electrons and photons. That meeting, documented in this photo, was attended by seminal figures in physics and chemistry, including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Planck, and many more. 17 of the 29 people attending were or became Nobel prize winners following it. The major battle of that conference involved the debate between scientific realists, led by Einstein, and instrumentalists, led by Bohr.
3. Trinity Nuclear Test
Credit: Berlyn Brixner / Los Alamos National Laboratory
The first-ever detonation of a nuclear weapon, code-named "Trinity," took place at 5:29 a.m. on July 16th, 1945. Giving birth to the atomic age, this was a culmination of efforts by the scientists of the Manhattan Project. The test took place at about 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Socorro, New Mexico at what at that point was the USAAF Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range.
The 22-kiloton explosion involved a plutonium device, nicknamed "The Gadget." It had the same design as the "Fat Man" – the bomb eventually detonated over Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945.
4. Pale Blue Dot
This celebrated image was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe at the suggestion of the astronomer Carl Sagan on February 14th, 1990. The probe at that point was 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away from Earth. Because of that, Earth looks just like a dot or a pixel in the photo, highlighting the astounding vastness of space.
The photograph inspired this beautiful passage by Carl Sagan in his book "Pale Blue Dot":
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
5. Nikola Tesla in His Lab
This remarkable image of the inventor Nikola Tesla was taken in his laboratory in Colorado Springs around 1899. Here he is supposedly sitting and reading right next to his gigantic "magnifying transmitter" while this high voltage generator creates stunning bolts of electricity. This photo did much to further the Tesla myth, but it was actually a promotional stunt engineered by the photographer Dickenson V. Alley. He used a double exposure, combining images of the machine producing sparks in a dark room with an image of Tesla sitting in his chair.
Writing in his Colorado Springs Notes, Tesla later confessed that the photo was an early photoshop job: "Of course, the discharge was not playing when the experimenter was photographed, as might be imagined!"
6. Dirac and Feynman Talking
In this humanizing photo, taken in Warsaw in 1963, the physicist Richard Feynman is talking with his hero – the physicist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac, who is considered one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics.
According to Anton Z. Capri's "Anecdotal History of Physics," there is a story about Dirac that gives us a nice insight into his precision-seeking character:
Pauli and Dirac were once riding a a train together. To try to break the silence, Pauli pointed out the window and commented on some sheep he saw: "It looks like the sheep have been freshly shorn." To which, having also examined the sheep outside, Dirac replied: "At least on this side."
7. Photograph 51
Photo 51 was the first-ever image taken of DNA, in a critical step towards identifying its structure. The photo showing a double helix was produced by the PhD student Raymond Gosling in May of 1952, working under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin at King's College London. The photo ended up being instrumental in the work of Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and James Watson in developing the chemical model of the DNA molecule, which led to their 1962 Nobel Prizes. Unfortunately, the prize was not given to Franklin.
8. Buzz Aldrin on the moon
This photo, taken on July 20th, 1969, is of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon. It's hard to get more iconic than that.
Aldrin was actually near the leg of the lunar model Eagle when the picture was taken by the Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong. The gear used was a 70mm lunar surface camera. That day Armstrong and Aldrin went exploring the Sea of Tranquility for about two and a half hours. Michael Collins, their crewmate, orbited above in the command module Columbia.
9. Nils Bohr and Albert Einstein Debate Quantum Mechanics
In the 1920s, the physics world erupted in debates over the interpretation of the fledgling field of quantum mechanics between some of history's most accomplished physicists. One one side you had Nils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg who claimed in their theory that physical systems have only probabilities and not specific properties until someone measured them. On the other side, as explains Nature magazine, you had Albert Einstein arguing that entities had independent realities, encapsulated in Einstein's famous quip God "does not play dice". He proposed that the Copenhagen interpretation was incomplete and that there existed yet-undiscovered hidden variables. This battle for the soul of quantum mechanics, captured in this 1925 photo, is still with us today.
This is another NASA photograph, this one taken on December 24th, 1968, by the Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders during a first manned voyage to orbit the moon. This Christmas-Eve image has come to be considered "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken," as it was declared by the noted nature photographer Galen Rowell. The color photo of the vibrant, lively Earth over the barren landscape of the moon changed many people's views and religious stances. It was also featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp.
Here's a telling transcript from an audio recording of how the photo was taken – a quick exchange between Anders and mission commander Frank Borman:
Anders: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There's the Earth coming up. Wow, that's pretty.
Borman: Hey, don't take that, it's not scheduled. (joking)
Anders: (laughs) You got a color film, Jim? Hand me that roll of color quick, would you...
Lovell: Oh man, that's great!
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.