Guglielmo Marconi: Tuning in with God’s Help

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On 20 July 1937, Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) passed away in Rome. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Braun (1850–1918) “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.” N.B. Several other inventors have also been recognized for their work in the development of the radio with an unresolved claim to priority: Oliver Lodge (1851–1940), Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850–1918), Alexander Stepanovich Popov (1859–1906), Fr. Roberto Landell de Moura (1861–1928), and Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937).

As noted in his Nobel biography: “In 1931 Marconi began research into the propagation characteristics of still shorter waves, resulting in the opening in 1932 of the world’s first microwave radiotelephone link between the Vatican City and the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.” During this time, Marconi had the unique honor of overseeing the first radio broadcast of a pope. On 13 February 1931, Marconi introduced Pope Pius XI (1857–1939) with the following words:

“I have the highest honor of announcing that in only a matter of seconds the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Pius XI, will inaugurate the Radio Station of the Vatican City State. The electric radio waves will transport to all the world his words of peace and blessing. With the help of Almighty God, who allows the many mysterious forces of nature to be used by man, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will accord to the Faithful of all the world the consolation of hearing the voice of the Holy Father. Most Holy Father, the work that Your Holiness has deigned to entrust to me, I, today return to you… may you deign, Holy Father, to allow the entire world to hear your august words.”

His co-laureate, Karl Braun, had also interacted with his religious background during his development of radio technologies. “Besides undergoing conventional religious instruction — he had been confirmed in the Lutheran faith at 14 — the young boy acquired a Kantian conception of the world from his teacher” (Kurylo & Susskind, 1981). Later, he would undertake his first physics teaching job at St. Thomas Gymnasium, Leipzig (a Lutheran high school famous for its 18th century choirmaster, J.S. Bach).

Referenced:
“Guglielmo Marconi – Biographical.” Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media.
Kelly, Brian. “Vatican Radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and Now an Absorption.” Catholicism.org.
Kurylo, Friedrich, & Charles Susskind. Ferdinand Braun, A Life of the Nobel Prizewinner and Inventor of the Cathode-Ray Oscilloscope. (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 7.

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Edith Quimby: The Reality Behind Exploration

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On 10 July 1891, Edith Quimby (1891–1982) was born in Rockford, IL. She is recognized as being one of the founders of nuclear medicine for her work in diagnostic and therapeutic applications of X-rays. Additionally, she conducted research on the potential of synthesised radioactive materials for treating cancer and in other medical research applications. She was elected president of the American Radium Society in 1954; was one of the first members of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine in 1958; and was honored with American College of Radiology Gold Medal in 1963.

An edited volume of a radiology journal included an interesting historical perspective on the religious aspects of x-rays and other radioactive forms of energy:

“You may remember that in ancient Egypt and Babylonia, demons were commonplace, and every man, wise or simple, knew that they regulated the two most important things in the world: his business and his health. Many of these spirits were anonymous; others bore such dreadful names… Ordinarily it was possible to placate them by easy and familiar incantations, but when there was a flood, plague, famine or other catastrophe it was the custom to call in a specialist. These were the priest-physicians, and they were able by divination and other rites to identify and drive away the offending spirit… [I]t is remarkable that in all the works of Hippocrates, spiritual causes of disease are mentioned only once, and then with courteous doubt. The Romans and primitive Christians were relatively indifferent to demons, but in the Dark and Middle Ages, the spires, arches and cornices of any Gothic cathedral find goblins roosting more thickly than pigeons. For a thousand years every flood, ulcer, pestilence and stillbirth was attributed to the act of a demon, intimately and implacably concerned with human woe. One strange family of evil spirits was said to inhabit certain mines in Saxony, and tonight they deserve our particular respect. They were called Kobolds, and were thought to cause the wasting and pallor in miners that has since been traced to arsenic, a heavy ore contaminant. Eventually the caves of these spirits yielded an element that has been marvelously refined and transmuted into an agent of healing, but it still carried its demon name: Cobalt 60… For the past two hundred years, demons have been on the decline all through the West… Probably we have heard the last of them for a time. And when we are asked why, especially as scientists, an easy answer comes to mind. We cannot see them…

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Karl Landsteiner: Assisted by the Faith

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Landsteiner 2On 26 June 1943, Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943) passed away in New York, NY. He was a biochemist who was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Medicine “for his discovery of human blood groups.” Prof. Landsteiner had initially termed the three groups of blood-agglutination reactions as “A”, “B”, “C”, which were later further characterized and identified as the “A”, “B”, “O” blood groups. With Prof. Alexander Solomon Wiener (1907–1976), he identified the Rhesus blood factor in 1937, and with Constantin Levaditi (1874–1953) and Erwin Popper (1879−1955), he identified the polio virus in 1909. He has been described as a tireless researcher and is sometimes recognized as the “father of transfusion medicine.”

From a biographical memoir:

“Karl was just 5 years old when he entered school (Wasa Gymnasisam). He was a brilliant student and in his sixth grade was considered ‘outstanding and highly commended’ in natural sciences and mathematics. His university entrance examinations required him to deal with dictation in both Latin from Cicero and Greek from Homer, as well as several difficult algebra and geometry problems… While living with his mother, he decided to become a practicing Catholic. At that time it was a common practice among ‘creative’ Jewish families to convert to the prevailing state religion, Catholic in Austria and Lutheran in Germany. Dr Philip Levine, his assistant and coworker for years (1925-1932), believed that Karl Landsteiner’s conversion tended to isolate him from his environment, and thus encouraged his concentration on science.

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“In 1916, he married Helene Wlasto, daughter  of the verger of St George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Vienna. They had been engaged for a number of years before their marriage. In 1917, a son, Ernest Karl was born, who subsequently would become an eminent surgeon in Providence, RI. In 1918, Helene acquiesced to her husband’s wishes and severed her association with the Greek Orthodox Church…

“In 1919, through the assistance of friends of his wife, he left impoverished Austria to accept an appointment as a prosector, at the R.K. Ziekenhuis, Catholic Hospital in the Hague, Holland. There he performed routine clinical analyses on urine and blood, Wassermann’s tests (for syphilis), post mortems and microscopic examinations of tissues. This activity took place in a single room. His only assistants were a nun and a man servant.

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Walter Baade: God’s Labrotories in the Stars

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On 25 June 1960, Walter Baade (1893–1960) passed away at Göttingen, Germany. An astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory from 1931 to 1958, he was known for his revolutionary research on stars in the Andromeda galaxy and his characterization of two classes of novae.

A biography notes his upbringing “in Schrottinghausen, a town in southern Germany, where his father was director of schools. There was a period in his youth when Baade seemed headed for the realm of [the] heavens, although not via the science of astronomy. The old tradition still lingered on in Europe that those born to a certain station in life had only two choices of careers open to them: the army or the church… As a result, his early education leaned toward the ecclesiastical side, with strong emphasis on Oriental languages. But his interest in science finally prevailed, and he ended school by acquiring a doctorate in astronomy in 1918 from the University of Göttingen” (R.S. Richardson, 1967). This book summarizes his career’s accomplishments as follows:

“Most of us have to be satisfied with achievements of a very modest nature in this life… When it comes to sheer magnitude of accomplishment, Walter Baade stands alone. Alexander the Great created a new empire. Columbus found a new continent. Sir William Herschel discovered a new world. But Walter Baade doubled the size of the universe. For years the distance of the Andromeda galaxy was 750,000 light-years. After Baade delivered a paper before the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Rome in September, 1952, it was 1,500,000 light-years. (It has since been moved out to 2,200,000 light-years.) Doubling the size of the universe didn’t bother astronomers nearly so much as it did the public. People had always had the utmost faith in astronomical prediction, and now their confidence was badly shaken. Actually they should have been very happy about it. For if we make the universe bigger, we also make it older.”

Another biography, Walter Baade: A Life in Astrophysics by Donald E. Osterbrock (2001), noted:

“The Mount Wilson Observatory offices on Santa Barbara Street were less than two miles from the Caltech campus, and there were many links between the two institutions… Baade and Zwicky became friends, and frequently discussed the two types of novae; they used and thus popularized the name ‘supernovae’ for the more luminous class, a word which Lundmark had just invented. Together Baade and Zwicky wrote a series of three papers, published in 1934, summarizing the fruits of their discussions and establishing supernovae research as an important field… Baade and Zwicky noted that in a supernova explosion a large mass of gas, probably comparable to a stellar mass, was expelled with high velocity, perhaps nearly the velocity of light, and conjectured that this mass contained the incipient cosmic particles. Although their suggested mechanism differed in detail from the one Millikan favored, it agreed with his general idea that cosmic-ray particles were accelerated in ‘God’s laboratories in the stars’. Baade and Zwicky further noted that the final, stable configuration of matter would be a neutron star, and that supernovae could represent transitions of stars to this state.”

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Donald J. Cram: Science Begins with Faith, Results Guide Research

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On 17 June 2001, Donald J. Cram (1919–2001) passed away in Palm Desert, CA. He was an American chemist who was educated at Rollins College, University of Nebraska and Harvard University. As biographies note, his father passed away when he was three years old, leaving Cram and his siblings to his mother, who supported the family with the financial assistance of “Aid to Dependent Children,” and who sent young Donald off to a variety of jobs including: working on fruit farms, delivering newspapers, and painting houses, while he still found time to barter for piano lessons.

His career research was focused on “container molecules” (also called “host-guest” molecular pairs), which are able to store a guest-ligand until sufficient activation energy disrupts the host/container conformation to release the encapsulated guest-ligand. This advance in organic chemistry has demonstrated numerous potential applications, including biomedical pharmacological-delivery (e.g. anti-tumor drugs), environmental removal of toxic or radioactive materials (e.g. Cesium-137), the encapsulating of nanowire filaments in nanowire growth (e.g. bi-copper complex in polymer nanowires), and sequestering chemical groups in food processing, etc.

For his work, Professor Cram shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jean-Marie Lehn (b.1939) and Charles J. Pedersen (1904–1989) “for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity.”

His Nobel autobiography noted the motivating principle behind his work ethic. Quote: “Chemical research became my god, and the conducting of it, my act of prayer…” Another statement from Cram characterizing his view of research (Cambridge, 1997):

“An investigator starts research in a new field with faith, a foggy idea, and a few wild experiments. Eventually the interplay of negative and positive results guides the work. By the time the research is completed, he or she knows how it should have been started and conducted.”

Referenced:
— “Donald J. Cram – Biographical.” Nobel Prize Online.
Cram, Donald J., and Jane M. Cram. Container Molecules and their Guests. (Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry, 1997), 1. Image online: ©QuotationOf.com.
For a good review article discussing some of the container molecule structure-designs, see: Liu, Fang, Roger C. Helgeson, and K. N. Houk. “Building on Cram’s Legacy: Stimulated Gating in Hemicarcerands.” Accounts of Chemical Research 47.7 (2014): 2168-2176.

Barbara McClintock: Getting to the Root of Scientific Research

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On 16 June 1902, Barbara McClintock (1902–1992) was born in Hartford, CT. A biologist and geneticist, she was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for her discovery of mobile genetic elements.” By studing Zea mays (maize) with variably colored kernels, she was able to analyze the independent genetic formation & development of hundreds of offspring and thereby determine the allelic patterns within plant seeds. One article notes: “McClintock’s observation of the behavior of kernel color alleles was revolutionary in its proposition that genomic replication does not always follow a consistent pattern. Indeed, as a result of both autonomous and activator-controlled transposition at different stages of seed development, the genes of maize kernels are capable of producing a variety of coloration patterns.”

A reflection on Professor McClintock’s research from an edited volume:

“It is perhaps fitting to end with the reflections of a scientist―another Nobel Laureate― and with a return to what might unite the poet and the scientist and point to a way forward for the rest of us. ‘Good research,’ Barbara McClintock has said, ‘requires a disposition to hear what the material has to say to you.’ This is not simply a device to fathom the reasons governing the world. ‘It is,’ as her biographer notes, ‘a longing to embrace the world in its very being, through reason and beyond, a capacity for union with that which is known.’ It is not too much to describe this, in the life of a research scientist, as a a religious longing. It is a desire to move beyond mere certainty to a reverence for the given, ‘a disposition to hear what the material has to say to you’.

Referenced:
― Pray, Leslie, and Kira Zhaurova. “Barbara McClintock and the Discovery of Jumping Genes (Transposons).” Nature Education 1.1 (2008): 169.
― Soskice, Janet Martin. “The Ends of Man the Future of God.” in The End of the World and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology. Eds. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press Int., 2000), 87. Image: WordPress.

Wendell Meredith Stanley: Ancient Science Advances by New Faith

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On 15 June 1971, Wendell Meredith Stanley (1904–1971) passed away in Salamanca, Spain. An American biochemist, he was co-awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with John Howard Northrop (1891–1987) “for their preparation of enzymes and virus proteins in a pure form” along with James Batcheller Sumner (1887–1955) “for his discovery that enzymes can be crystallized.” Later in life, he authored Chemistry: A Beautiful Thing, for which he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

His Nobel Lecture had described the historical roots of virology:

“Although the idea that certain infectious diseases might be caused by invisible living agents was expressed by Varro and Columella about 100 B. C., there was no experimental proof and the idea was not accepted. The cause of infectious disease remained a mystery for hundreds of years. Even the wonderful work of Leeuwenhoek and his description of small animals and bacteria during the years from 1676 to 1683 failed to result in proof of the relationship between bacteria and infectious disease. There was, of course, much speculation and during the latter half of the 19th century great controversies arose over the germ theory of disease…

“Attempts to learn something about the nature of viruses through studies on their general properties began with Beijerinck’s work in 1898 and were continued in different laboratories for over thirty years without too much success. Although Beijerinck and Allard made important contributions, perhaps the most significant work was that of Vinson and Petre during the years from 1927 to 1931 when they showed that tobacco mosaic virus could be subjected to several kinds of chemical manipulations without loss of virus activity. Nevertheless, when the work on viruses, which is recognized by the 1946 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, was started in 1932, the true nature of viruses was a complete mystery…”

Similarly, an edited volume by Prof. Stanley notes the ancient roots of this research area, and further noted the need for faith to make progress.

“In his classic paper, which appeared in 1915, Twort discussed the possible nature of the infectious agent: it could be an ultravirus, or a small parasite reproducing at the expense of the bacterium, or a phase of the life cycle of the micrococcus, or an autocatalytic enzyme, or a primitive form of life. The existence of acute infectious diseases of bacteria was confirmed two years later by d’Hérelle, who named the agent bacteriophage… Until the end of the nineteenth century, the history of viral diseases is just a part of the history of infectious diseases. In about 2500 B.C., the Chinese had identified smallpox and knew that it was transmissible. Aristotle was aware of the fact that rabies was transmitted by the bite of dogs; the Hebrews used to compare this bite to that of a venomous snake. In Latin, virus means ‘venom’ or similar poisonous fluid. Virus was something which could produce a disease. And in A.D. 50, Cornelius Aulus Celsus produced this remarkable sentence: ‘Rabies is caused by virus.’ Ideas concerning infectious diseases remained metaphysical until the notion of a specific agent emerged, and until, mainly as a consequence of Pasteur’s work, the agents of infectious diseases were identified as microbes.” (Lwoff)

“The nucleic acid of the tobacco mosaic virus was itself shown to be capable of initiating infection by Gierer and Schramm (1956a,b) and a similar, but less-detailed study was made simultaneously by Fraenkel-Conrat (1956). The idea that the nucleic acid might be the infectious agent was not a new one, but the general opinion was that it might be too unstable to exist in an infectious form for any time… When one considers the relative lack of infectivity of untreated virus, and that some 10⁸ particles of nucleic acid were therefore needed to cause a single infection, a certain amount of faith is required in the interpretation of the results, particularly if one considers that the absence of active virus can only be controlled by indirect methods. In particular, the infectivity possessed by the nucleic acid preparations is very labile to the action of pancreatic ribonuclease at concentrations of the latter which have little effect on whole virus (Gierer, 1957). Conversely, the activity is much less affected by antiserum to the whole virus, though it is indeed surprising that the serum used did not contain enough ribonuclease to inactivate the nucleic acid… As has been mentioned, the present evidence is that the infectivity of the tobacco mosaic virus resides in its nucleic acid component. If this is so, then chemical or physical agents which inactivate the virus must act in one of two ways…” (Markham)

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