Looking Back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that occured the week of August 1st…

Molecule display
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

Two atoms are walking down the street. The first turns to the other and says “Dude, I think I just lost an electron.” The second atom says “Are you sure?” The first says “Dude, I’m positive!” (I’m a dork, I know, just a little science humor for you). On August 2 of 1932, Carl D. Anderson (another science dork) discovered the positron, commonly referred to as the antiparticle of the electron. A positron has an electrical charge of +1 and when it collides with an electron the two particles are annhilated, producing gamma rays photons. The positron was the first evidence of antimatter. Today, positrons are used to map the activity in the brain during PET scans.

red light
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On August 5th, 1914, the American Traffic Light Company installed the first electric traffic light in Cleveland, Ohio. Traffic lights had been used before, but this was the first installation of an electric model (previous models used gas lamps with a manual switch to change the color). The original lights only had a red and green color, a warning buzzer was used to warn drivers of an impending color change. A yellow light was not added until 1920, but is still ignored, even today.

On August 6, 1890, in New York, murderer William Kemmler became the first person to be executed by electric chair. It has been used by more than twenty five states, and shockingly enough, is still used in four of them (Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia)

Also on August 6, in 1926, the Warner Brothers premiered their new Vitaphone system with the movie Don Juan, starring John Barrymore. This was a silent movie which had an accompanied sound track that would be played in a theater and started when the movie began. The video below contains stills from the original movie, unfortunately there is no sound.
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On August 7th, 1947, Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa wood raft, which had set sail from South America 101 days earlier, landed in the Tuamotu islands in the French Polynesia (halfway between Austrailia and South America.) Thor’s 4375 mile journey by raft proves that prehistoric people could have traveled by primitive boats across large expanses of water. This helps fuel the debate of how and when early human migration took place.

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