By The Telegraph, (23 Sept 2011)
The science world has been left in shock after it was announced that CERN scientists had recorded subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light in a finding that could overturn fundamental law of physics. Here are a selection of other major scientific discoveries.
Galileo Galilei overturns nearly 2,000 years of Aristotelian belief that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones by proving that all bodies fall at the same rate with his Law of Falling Bodies in 1604. More than 60 years later Sir Issac Newton concludes in his “Universal Gravitation” theory that all objects in the universe, from apples to planets, exert gravitational attraction on each other. Then in 1687 he changes our understanding of the universe by formulating three laws to describe the movement of objects. 1) An object in motion remains in motion unless an external force is applied to it. 2) The relationship between an object’s mass (m), its acceleration (a) and the applied force (F) is F = ma. 3) For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Relativity has revealed the bizarre world of black holes and told us that the universe had a beginning. With his Special Relativity theory in 1905 Albert Einstein that explained the relationship between speed, time and distance. Einstein’s theory stated that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.It overthrew basic assumptions about time and space by describing how clocks tick slower and distances appear to stretch as objects approach the speed of light. That same year E = mc^2 or energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared. His famous formula proves that mass and energy are different manifestations of the same thing, and that a very small amount of mass can be converted into a very large amount of energy. One profound implication of his discovery is that no object with mass can ever go faster than the speed of light. It is Special Relativity that scientists had CERN appear to have disproved.
Best known for his treatise “On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres”, The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus asserted that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun – contrary to the medieval belief that the earth was the centre of the universe. He presented his theory in 1532 to a select audience in the Vatican Gardens. The theory was viewed with suspicion by the Church, and his treatise was not published until 1543, the year of his death. Eventually the theory became the cornerstone for a future generation of scientists including Kepler and Galileo, but one of its ardent advocates, Italian cleric Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600. Galileo discoveries proved the Copernican System.
The theory has made the modern world possible, giving us lasers and computers and iPod nanos, not to mention explaining how the sun shines and why the ground is solid. Danish physicist Niels Bohr, considered one of the most important figures in modern physics and the “father” of quantum mechanics, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his research on the structure of an atom. Although he help develop the atomic bomb, he deplored its use for war and instead promoted atomic power for peaceful purposes.
Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in which he challenges contemporary beliefs about the creation of life on Earth. His seminal work, which popularised the theory, was published in 1859 and drew fierce criticism from the Church of England for the way it challenged the notion of divine creation. Darwin had served as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle, which set out on a five-year scientific expedition to the Pacific coast of South America in early 1832. The data he collected on the expedition, especially specimens from the Galapagos Islands, was the inspiration for his theories on evolution by the mechanism of natural selection. His work has been at the centre of controversy ever since it was published. Darwin’s The Descent of Man, published in 1871, aroused even greater debate as it suggested that humans descended from apes. Although Darwin is the most familiar name associated with evolution, he was only persuaded to publish his work when another young scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, came forward having independently come up with a similar explanation for how evolution occur.
Disease and bacteria
Before Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and and biologist, began experimenting with bacteria in the 1860s, its cause was unknown. He not only discovered that disease came from microorganisms, but he also realized that bacteria could be killed by heat and disinfectant. This idea caused doctors to wash their hands and sterilize their instruments, which has saved millions of lives. He was able to demonstrate that organisms such as bacteria were responsible for souring wine and beer (he later extended his studies to prove that milk was the same), and that the bacteria could be removed by boiling and then cooling the liquid. This process is now called pasteurisation. Pasteur then undertook experiments to find where these bacteria came from, and was able to prove that they were introduced from the environment. This was disputed by scientists who believed they could spontaneously generate.
The era of antibiotics began in 1928 when Alexander Fleming spotted how penicillin produced by green mold killed bacteria. The improbable chain of events that led him to the discovery in 1928 is the stuff of which scientific myths are made. The young Scottish research scientist, who had a profitable side practice treating the syphilis infections of prominent London artists, was pursuing his pet theory that his own nasal mucus had antibacterial effects. He left a culture plate smeared with Staphylococcus bacteria on his lab bench while he went on a two-week holiday. Upon his return he spotted a clear halo surrounding the yellow-green growth of a mold that had accidentally contaminated the plate. Unknown to him, a spore of a rare variant called Penicillium notatum had drifted in from a mycology lab one floor below. He decided not to store his culture in a warm incubator and during a cold patch of weather, gave the mold a chance to grow. Later, as the temperature rose, the Staphylococcus bacteria started growing in a similar fashion to a piece of lawn that eventually covered the entire plate except for the area surrounding the moldy contaminant. Seeing that halo is considered to be Fleming’s “Eureka” moment and he later correctly deduced that the mold must have released a substance that inhibited the growth of the bacteria. It was a discovery that would change the course of history. The active ingredient in that mold, which Fleming named penicillin, turned out to be an infection-fighting agent of enormous potency.