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European Pupils

Emma Foster
Priestley College, Warrington, United Kingdom

What do I think made the most impact on

Science and Maths during the 20th Century?
There have been numerous important discoveries in ing to concentrate on the great events in the areas
science and maths in the 20th century. For example, associated with computing and logic, made by peo-
scientists discovered that mitochondria were the ple like Hilbert, Gödel and Turing [6].
powerhouses of cells, Neils Bohr published a model The discovery that atoms contained electrons origi-
of atomic structure in 1913 and Albert Einstein’s nally came from Joseph John Thompson who
discovered the theory of relativity, achieved his findings between 1856 and 1937. He
E = mc2 in 1905 [1] [A]. Science and maths work to- designed a model of an atom later named Thom-
gether in many aspects of life for example decision son’s plum pudding model of the atom. This model
making, hypothesis testing, medicines and research. showed that inside an atom there are many electrons
The following discoveries, both applications and with a negative charge and a spherical cloud with a
positive charge. He also identified that the negative
and positive charges within the atom cancel one an-
other out [4]. Henry Moseley and Ernest Ruther-
ford discovered that the nucleus of an atom con-
tained positively charged particles called protons
during their work from 1888 to 1915. Moseley stud-
ied an x-ray spectrum of elements and then mathe-
matically related the frequency of the x-ray to a
number called the atomic number. Rutherford’s cal-
culations showed that the charge on the nucleus was
positive. Also, in 1919, he conducted an experiment
whereby alpha parti-
cles were fired at hy-
drogen gas to produce
positive particles, later
called protons [4] .
James Chadwick,
whose discoveries took
Scientists discovered that mitochondria
place from 1891 to
were the powerhouses of cells.
1974, identified the
theories had a significant impact on science and neutron. During that Thomson’s plum pudding
maths in the 20th century. I do not believe that any period he discovered model of the atom
of the achievements that were made in the 20th cen- that neutrons have no
tury that had a significant impact on science and charge and they have the same mass as a proton [4].
maths can be considered as a unique achievement. Neils Bohr’s research took place between the
To support this idea I have searched many important years of 1885 and 1962. His scientific research
theories, discoveries, experiments and techniques showed that electrons orbit the nucleus in energy
which have helped to improve our knowledge and levels. Also, energy levels have a fixed energy
have made an important impact on today’s society value meaning they are quantised. Neils Bohr’s
especially in education, medicine and business. atomic structure model is still being studied in the
There are so many theorems and famous mathemati- 21st century and is an important aspect of chemistry
cians in the 20th century therefore; I am only go- [4]. The findings of Joseph John Thompson,

European Pupils
Science and Maths
during the 20th Century
Henry Moseley and Ernest Rutherford, James N2 (g) + 3H2 (g) 2NH3 (g)
Chadwick and Neils Bohr together have helped to At the beginning of the 20th Century Germany
shape the classical model of atom. This knowledge needed to produce nitrogen compounds from nitro-
has led to the development of technologies such as gen gas in the air, however, nitrogen gas is ex-
mass spectrometry and infra-red spectrometry. It tremely inactive. Fritz Haber’s discovery was later
has also resulted in numerous medical break- developed in order to produce ammonia gas on an
throughs. industrial scale in 1913 by Carl Bosch, a chemical
James Watson engineer. Fritz Haber
and Francis Crick became the hero of the
established the agricultural world [4]. He
structure of DNA in also contributed to the
1953 with the help development of chlorine
of Rosalind gas and other lethal gases
Franklin’s x-ray which were both used as
diffraction studies. war weapons [4]. Chlorine
Their idea, the semi gas was first used by the
-conservative German army in April
method, proposed 1915 during WW1. In
that each new 1933 Haber was forced
molecule of DNA to leave Germany by the
contained one Nazis. Ironically he and
polynucleotide his family were later
Mass spectrometer
strand from the par- killed in concentration
ent and one new polynucleotide strand. The semi- camps in gas chambers which used the gases he had
conservative method involves all four nucleotides produced.
being present; both strands of the DNA acting as a The impact of Gödel's and Turing's break-
template and the hydrogen bonds between comple- throughs in the 1930's is best understood against
mentary bases being broken by the enzyme DNA
helicase. Energy is used to activate these nucleo-
tides and the nucleotides are joined together by the
enzyme DNA polymerase [3].
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is thought
to be one of the most significant scientific advances
of our time [6]. Einstein’s contribution was the rec-
ognition that the speed of light in a vacuum is con-
stant and an absolute boundary for motion [5]. The
famous equation, E = mc2 stating that energy is
equal to mass times the speed of light squared, was
derived by Einstein in 1905 [1]. The theory of rela-
tivity has allowed scientists to look at the total solar
eclipse for the first time and analyse starlight near
the edge of the sun. The theory of relativity has al-
lowed astronomers to look at objects travelling at
near light speed [B].
Fritz Haber made a breakthrough in 1909, when
he synthesised 100g of ammonia from nitrogen and
hydrogen gases using the following reaction: Haber process 3H + N  2NH
2 2 3
European Pupils
Science and Maths
during the 20th Century
the background of the mathematical ambitions de-
finitively expressed by David Hilbert in the 1920's.
[6] Hilbert formulated the Entscheidungsproblem
otherwise known as the decision problem in 1928.
Firstly, he stated that consistency needs to be con-
sidered and the set of axioms should be consistent.
Secondly he took under consideration completeness.
In theory all mathematical truths should be calcu-
lated from those axioms. Thirdly he examined deci-
dability - a clearly formulated procedure should be
used so that when given any statement of mathemat-
ics, it can be established within a finite time whether
or not that statement is followed by the given axi-
oms. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems were pub-
lished in a famous article in 1931. Gödel proved that Penicillin
statements about mathematical relationships can be worldwide computer programme was established.
encoded as statements within arithmetic [6]. Turing Finally, in the year 1985 Microsoft Windows began
later proved that Hilbert's theory was unsolvable to compete with Apple [9] [C].
and that any consistent axiomatic theory to enable Alexandra Fleming discovered penicillin in
the expression and proof of basic arithmetic propo- 1928. Later, Howards Florey and Boris Chain iso-
sitions could be neither complete nor effectively lated and purified the compound producing the first
decidable [6]. antibiotic. Penicillin is now a very important medi-
Computers have developed dramatically since cine that has successfully saved many lives and will
their first appearances in the early 20th century. In continue to do so in the future despite the fact that it
1936 Zonrad Zuse invented the first freely pro- came as a complete accident when it was noticed
grammable computer [9]. The development of com- that mould killed a bacteria sample in a Petri dish.
puters continued to advance in the 1940s and 50s. The hormone insulin was discovered by Frederick
In addition, in 1962 the first computer game was Banting [1]. Insulin is a naturally-secreted hor-
invented by Steve Russell and MIT called Space- mone that the body cannot function correctly with-
war. Also, in 1964 Douglas Engelbart established out [2]. Insulin successfully helps to balance blood
Windows Mouse & Windows [9] The year 1979 saw sugar levels in diabetic patients allowing them to
the first Word Processors [9]. In 1981 Microsoft live a normal healthy life. Before this discovery a
MS-DOS Computer Operating System now a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence.
Electron microscopy was explored by Ernst
Ruska and Max Knoll in the 1930s. In 1931 they
created an electron microscope powerful enough to
view objects as small as the diameter of an atom [8].
It can magnify objects up to 1 million times their
actual size. However, this microscope cannot view
living specimen as they are unable to survive under
a high vacuum [8] [D].
Scientists carried out experiments in the 1960s in
which dogs inhaled cigarette smoke. The dogs that
inhaled unfiltered smoke developed pulmonary dis-
ease and early signs of lung disease. From these
Zonrad Zuse invented the first experiments many hypotheses could be tested and
freely programmable computer one discovery was how smoking leads to the de-
European Pupils
Science and Maths
during the 20th Century
velopment of a tumour. Dr Barnett Rosenberg, structure [1] has allowed the understanding of chem-
Professor of Biophysics and Chemistry at Michi- istry to advance: the work of Hilbert, Gödel and
gan State University investigated the effect of an Turing has helped problem solving in mathematics
electric current on cells in 1965 [4]. He realised that to be understood [6]: the advancement of computers
when an electric current was passing through the [9] has allowed scientific and mathematic software
cells, cell division in the bacteria stopped. In can- programmes to run which have helped improve
cer patients, cell division becomes unregulated and knowledge and has helped to save lives: the elec-
can lead to the formation of a tumour. However, tron microscope has allowed the smallest of objects
Rosenberg’s discovery of Z-platin can stop this to be seen [8] and the eradication of smallpox has
from occurring. Z-platin binds to the DNA found in saved countless lives [7].
the nucleus which prevents the DNA from replicat-
ing and the cells from dividing [4] therefore, it stops Bibliography
meiosis and mitosis and overall it can prevent the [1] Discovery Commu-
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In conclusion, my response to What do you Available: http://choo.fis.utoronto.ca/fis/courses/
think made the most impact on science and maths lis2102/KO.WHO.case.html. Last accessed 13th
in the 20th century? is that there are hundreds of im- April 2010.
portant developments in the 20th century. Overall, [8] Mary Bellis. (2000). History of electron micro-
the building of the National Health Service (NHS) scope. Available: http://inventors.about.com/od/
in 1948 has allowed medical research to help in mstartinventions/a/microscope_2.htm. Last ac-
finding cures for cancer and has allowed the United cessed 13th April 2010.
Kingdom to receive medical and dental care; Ein- [9] Mary Bellis. (2000). The History of Computers.
stein’s theory of relativity, E = mc2 [5] has allowed Available: http://inventors.about.com/library/
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