2016-02-12 (Friday)

Today, I learned that:

This year has only just started, but what a fantastic year for science it seems to be! My first blog post was on January 9, and since then I have already had the pleasure of presenting four new materials, the first flower grown in space, a possible ninth planet, etc.

And yesterday was the announcement of the discovery of the gravitational waves that Albert Einstein already predicted 100 years ago. I suggest that you listen to today’s podcast from Scientific American, see reference 2 below, where the co-founder of one of the teams that made the discovery, Kip Thorne, is interviewed. It was the confirmation of the crash of two black holes into each other that happened 1,3 billion years ago.

gwaves

NASA researchers simulated the gravitational waves that would be produced when two black holes merged. Photo by NASA/C. Henze

Updated 2016-02-13: Today’s edition of Radio National’s Sciene Show is a testamonial by David Blair about what really happened on September 14, 2015, when the first gravitional waves were detected in Livingston, Louisiana. See and listen to reference 3 below.

LIGO

The Advanced LIGO detector in Livingston Louisiana. Photo by LIGO

Today is also the day that we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first penicillin treatment. Although Alexander Fleming had made the discovery in his London laboratory already in 1928, it was a team of scientists in Oxford that made the first drug out of the penicillin fungus. The first time it was tested on a real patient was exactly on February 12, 1941, to save the life of a heavily infected local policeman. They found that the drug had miraculous effects on him and so the scientists were really desperate when the small doses of penicillin they had were out after 10 days of use. They even tried to recover the drug from the poor patient’s urine, but the quantities were too small to have real effect and he eventually died after one month. But it led to that Alexander Fleming, who had not given his discovery too much thought before, started to reassess his feat. He was then awarded with the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1945, sharing the prize with two members of the Oxford team, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain.

I suggest you listen to the podcast in reference 3 below. It is a program from the Science Editors at Radio Sweden, and although the whole program is in Swedish, there are some interviews in English included, the last one from BBC in 1945, when Alexander Fleming was afraid that people would start to use the penicillin for automedication, but in too low doses to have the desired effect. He also forecasted that one day the bacteriae would be resistant to penicillin, which we now can see as a fact.

Finally, this leads me into asking you if you know from where and why the word ‘vaccin’ is derived? It is from the Latin word ‘vacca’ which means cow. In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner used antibodies from cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox. Then in 1881, Louis Pasteur suggested the use of the term ‘vaccine’ in honour of Jenner’s findings. In 1980, the World Health Organization announced the first eradication of a disease, namely the smallpox.

… That’s what I learned in school!

Refs.:

1: The Detection of Gravitational Waves Is a Triumph for Physics

2: Gravitational Waves Found: Kip Thorne Explains

3: Gravitational waves to allow new observations of the universe

4: 75 år sedan första behandlingen med penicillin

5: Penicillin

6: Vaccine

+: What did you learn in school today ?

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