Archives March 2014

"Sprinklers typically reduce the chances of dying in a home fire by one haIf to two thirds." National Fire Protection Association The automatic fire sprinkler can trace its earliest origins back to 1806 and an Englishman called John Carey. However, it was almost seventy years later that the first commercially viable fire sprinkler was invented. In 1874 Henry S. Parmelee invented a sprinkler head for use in his piano factory. It had a single valve, plugged with a solder that would melt in a fire. Once melted, the valve was opened, releasing water through a perforated chamber. The design was such that only areas affected by fire would be doused. A few modifications later and the Parmelee Sprinkler Company began to market the invention. After installation in a number of factories, where they were tested by real fires, the sprinklers soon spoke for themselves. Once insurance companies were on board, more...

Sodium thiopental was discovered in 1932 by Ernest H. Volwiler (1893-1992) and DonaleeL. Tabern (1900-1974) , two scientists on a quest to discover an anesthetic that could be injected directly into the bloodstream. Working for Abbott Laboratories, the pair spent three years screening hundreds of compounds to find one that could produce unconsciousness prior to surgery, with limited side effects. Sodium thiopental was first tried in humans on March 8, 1934, by Dr. Ralph M. Waters in an investigation of its properties. It was found to induce anesthesia for ten to thirty minutes by depression of the central nervous system within sixty seconds of injection. It was also found to show surprisingly little analgesia. For this reason, it was commonly used to make it easier for doctors to administer longer lasting, inhalable anesthetics after patients had comfortably "gone under." Sodium thiopental was the first general anesthetic to be widely used more...

People become quite excited about artificial hearts. But, when you think about it, the heart is basically a pump, the same kind of pump that people have been using for thousands of years. Described in these terms, it does not sound quite so advanced. By contrast, an artificial liver is a complex achievement. Far from the one trick pony that the heart is, the human liver has to undertake many tasks simultaneously. Among other functions, it helps to break down food into usable substances, detoxifies harmful chemicals,, stores energy in the form of glycogen, and manufactures any number of substances from bile to the proteins that make cuts stop bleeding. But how do you combine all those different functions into an artificial liver? Numerous ways have been tried to treat liver failure, from replacing the entire blood volume in a person's body with new blood to hemodialysis. All have met more...

The tampon with applicator was invented in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas (1888-1981). The design, submitted for patent in 1931, consisted of a narrow tube nestling inside a bigger tube containing a cotton plug. When the narrow tube was pushed into the bigger tube, the tampon was guided into place in the vagina. Dangling from the end of the tampon was a piece of string that could be used for easy withdrawal. The use of disposable plugs for menstrual flow dated back to the ancient Egyptians who invented tampons made from softened papyrus. Over the years women improvised with the materials at hand: in Rome it was wool, in Japan paper, in Indonesia vegetable fibers, and in Africa rolls of grass. Haas registered the name Tampax as a trademark. In 1934, Haas's patents were purchased by a group of investors, leading to the birth of the Tampax Sales Corporation. The more...

French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was one of the truly brilliant minds of the nineteenth century, whose groundbreaking work in the field of microbiology and chemistry led to a long list of scientific discoveries. He is perhaps best remembered today for his development of "pasteurization" in milk, and the invention of a number of vaccines, including rabies, and anthrax. His discovery of a vaccination for cholera, however, was something of an accident, although he was aware of the work of Edward Jenner (1749-1823), who pioneered the smallpox vaccine. In the summer of 1880, Pasteur was conducting experiments on chickens with cholera, and had instructed his assistant Charles Chamberland to inoculate the birds with a culture of cholera-bacteria. Chamberland failed to do so, and a month later the culture, which had now spoiled, was used of the birds. They became ill but did not die, so Pasteur introduced a new group more...

The Kodak Brownie was the first handheld camera suitable for use by everyone, including children. It cost just one dollar and it was designed by camera-maker Frank Brownell who had been asked to invent the cheapest camera possible, without compromising its reliability and quality by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak. However, it was not Brownell after whom the camera was named. During the 1890s, children's author and illustrator Palmer Cox was the Walt Disney of his day. His Brownie characters were so popular that they were used to advertise everything from sweets and dolls, to trading cards and cigars. Eastman thought that branding the new camera with the Brownie name would ensure its success. And he was right because the Brownie name became synonymous with popular photography for the next eighty years. It was a simple device consisting of a cardboard box and a meniscus lens, which was curved more...

In 1886, Ferdinand Frederic Henri Moissan (1852-1907) became the first person to isolate fluorine gas, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Six years later, he designed an electric arc furnace with the intention of turning iron and sugar into diamonds by heating them to temperatures of 3500°C. It is doubtful that he ever succeeded in this endeavor; however, he did discover other high-temperature chemical reactions, including a practical method of producing acetylene. Moissan constructed his furnace using two blocks of limestone with a hollow cavity between them, into which he inserted two carbon rods. The sample to be heated was placed in the cavity and then an electric current of hundreds of amperes was put on the rods, creating an energetic stream—or arc—of vaporized carbon between them that produced temperatures of thousands of degrees. To make acetylene, Moissan mixed limestone and coal at high temperature to create more...


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