Science & Technology

November 13, 1957 – Gordon Gould Coins the Term “LASER”

Gould’s notarized journal page for November 13, 1957

On November 13, 1957, physicist and boat-rocker Gordon Gould stared at a page of his lab notebook, had a  brain wave, and ran down to a local shop to find a notary.  At the head of this workday’s page he had written, “Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.  No one had ever used the term “LASER” before.  Gould wondered if he were to document his work carefully, whether he could patent his new, potentially revolutionary discovery.

An atheist born to Methodist parents, a graduate of Union College and Yale and Columbia Universities, a member of the Manhattan Project until he was expunged for his activities with the Communist Political Association, Gould was a brilliant scientist working in the fields of optical and microwave spectrometry.  He became an expert in the developing field of optical pumping and contacted the inventor of the “MASER” (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) to see if a synthesis of the technologies could produce an optical version of the focused-microwave-emitting device.

Gould’s journal entries on November 16th regarding analysis and suggested applications for the new optical maser constituted the first written prescription for making a viable laser.  He publicized his work initially in a conference presentation in 1959.  Gould’s efforts to join the private sector to construct a working model for the deemed classified invention were frustrated by his prior involvement in the Communist movement.  He fought protracted battles for patent rights to the laser against other researchers working in the field at roughly the same time, but was finally awarded several patents both in the United States and abroad.  His thirty-year patent war was one of the longest-fought efforts in history, and resulted in the registration in his name of 48 patents in the fields of optical pumping, collisional pumping, and their applications.

In 1973, Gould founded Optelecom, which became a successful fiberoptic communications manufacturer.  Ever the free spirit, he left the company in 1985 because it was “boring”.  He was elected to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1991, and passed away in 2005 at the age of 75.

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November 12, 1957 – Moorpark First Town Powered by Nuclear Energy

On November 12, 1957, the small town of Moorpark, California, became the first town in the United States to be entirely powered by electricity generated from a nuclear reactor.  At 7:30 PM, the lights went out for all 1100 residents of the rural Ventura County burg; twenty seconds later, when they came on again, history had been made.  Local farmers and townspeople, shop owners and newspaper editors, all had different reactions to the new technological marvel.  Barton Miller, Moorpark’s postmaster, was “pretty excited”.  “My wife and I drove up on a hill that night so we could see the town all lighted up.”  Grocery store owner Ruben Castro experienced the event as a “mystery”.  He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about atomic power, other than it was used for a bomb.  I guess I should have been happy that we were using this warlike energy for peacetime purposes.”  Whitaker’s Hardware owner James Whitaker felt let down by the whole event.  “It was very undramatic.  We were like, ‘Oh, so what.'”  An editor of the local newspaper was downright suspicious.  He accused the power company of indulging in “hocus-pocus” in a column titled, “Interesting No Doubt, but Partially Phony”.

Credibility and wider interest came with television coverage two weeks later on Edward R. Murrow’s See it Now program.  The footage obtained by a New York reporter and three-man camera crew put Moorpark on the map.  “We were more impressed with being on national television than about the event itself,” said resident and featured homeowner Charles Sullenbarger.

The Moorpark experiment had originated from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, which sought commercial uses for the new atom-splitting technology developed for military applications.  All through the 1950’s, the federal government encouraged the national power industry to take advantage of nuclear power as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to fossil fuels for generating electricity.  Moorpark’s “nuclear-flavored electricity” was generated from a small reactor in nearby Simi Hills, operated by Atomics International, a division of North American Aviation, which eventually became Rockwell International.  Southern California Edison transferred the 6500 kilowatts of energy generated by 20,000 kilowatts of nuclear reactor heat to the entire town for only about one hour, although the reactor continued to fill part of the town’s electricity needs for years.  “It was a very successful experiment,” A.C. Werden Jr., an Edison engineer explained, “We proved we could do it.  We could furnish electricity to a community from a nuclear reactor.”

Hardware-purveyor Whitaker’s slightly humorous, slightly ironic assessment of Moorpark’s scientific milestone illustrated the disconnect that can exist between visionaries and grass-roots folks.  “There was a feeling around town that the whole thing had been much overrated,” he explained.  “It was just a short little zip on TV.”

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959. Photo: EnviroReporter website

November 3, 1957 – Sputnik 2 Sends First Living Animal into Orbit

Monument to Laika, Moscow

Monument to Laika, Moscow

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched their second Sputnik earth satellite from an ICBM R-7 platform.  The 13 foot high, 2 foot diameter capsule contained compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, regeneration and temperature control systems, scientific instruments (including photometers to measure ultraviolet and x-ray solar radiation), and in her own separate padded and pressurized cabin, a part-terrier, part-Samoyed female dog named Laika.  Other than hitchhiker microbes, no living animal had ever blasted off into space before little 13-pound Laika (which meant “Barker” in Russian) went up, fitted with a harness, electrodes to monitor her condition, and supplies of oxygen, food, and water.

With Sputnik 1 still orbiting Earth, transmitting radio signals and ICBM nightmares across the globe, Sputnik 2’s successful launch introduced an even greater level of perceived alarm and threat by Cold War antagonists to the USSR’s new space supremacy.  Sputnik 2 did not carry out its mission entirely as planned, however.  While the satellite-bearing rocket achieved earth orbit, where it successfully jettisoned its nose cone, a portion of the rocket called “Blok A” did not separate, inhibiting the thermal control system.  Vital thermal insulation was torn loose during the nose cone separation as well, and Sputnik’s internal temperatures soon reached 104°F.

Sputnik 2’s fate to burn up in earth atmosphere reentry occurred on April 14, 1958, after 162 days of circling the globe.  The original plan for Laika – painful for all animal-lovers everywhere to contemplate – was for her to provide information for a limited period of time on the effects of space flight on living beings, through monitoring her vital signs.  After ten days, she was to be euthanized by lethal medication-supplemented food.  Once sent into orbit, she could never return.  But after the early loss of her capsule’s thermal insulation, Laika was only able to survive for a few hours before succumbing to the heat and stress.  Her death was a small, but significant tragedy on the road to man’s Race to Space.

Sputnik 2 Module

Sputnik 2 Module. Photo: Raumfahrer.net

November 2, 1957 – Asian Flu Documentary Airs on ABC

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

On November 2, 1957, the ABC television show Johns Hopkins File 7 aired a documentary on the deadly influenza pandemic striking millions around the globe.  In the episode titled “Asian Flu”, host Lynn Poole and expert epidemiologist Dr. Charlotte Silverman traced the origins and spread of the H2N2 virus, first discovered in 1933.  Dr Silverman, chief of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases for the Maryland Department of Health, advised viewers how to avoid contracting the virus.  Actors demonstrated the debilitating symptoms of the grippe, as it was called then, and animation sequences depicted the effect of vaccines and antibodies (the “good guys”) against viruses (the “bad guys”).  Dr. Silverman made reference to antibiotics, “the new miracle or wonder drugs”, but explained that they were ineffective against influenza (and all other viruses).

Johns Hopkins University created more than 700 educational television films from 1948 to 1960, which aired on the ABC, CBS, and the former Dumont television networks.  They are currently collected in the university’s Sheridan Libraries.  The Johns Hopkins Science Review, one of the programs to air the films, was the first university-based series to appear on a national network and also be broadcast overseas.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957 was a serious public health menace.  By the time it had circled the globe, roughly 70,000 Americans had died, among over 2 million victims world-wide.

October 31, 1957 – Tragic Power Failure at Minnesota Hospital Spurs Life-Saving Invention

Dr. Walter Lillehei and young patient with portable, battery-powered pacemaker invented by Medtronic’s Earl Bakken. Photo: University of Minnesota Archives

On October 31, 1957 – Halloween! – a rolling blackout across parts of Minnesota and western Wisconsin left Minneapolis’ University of Minnesota Hospital without power for three hours.  The hospital never anticipated such a dire emergency; two separate power plants provided electricity for the facility and it seemed unlikely that both sources could fail at the same time.  One of the most tragic consequences of the hospital’s power loss was the death of a young post-heart surgery patient, whose life was being sustained by an externally-powered heart pacemaker.

When the blackout hit, all the children in the cardiac recovery unit – whose large, cart-borne pacemakers were plugged into wall sockets  – were immediately at great risk.  The children in the unit were temporarily dependent on pacemakers as part of University of Minnesota heart surgeon Dr. C. Walter Lillehei’s new life-saving efforts to surgically treat children affected by blue baby syndrome.  While police officers parked their cruisers outside hospital windows, aiming their headlights inward to provide light, doctors scrambled to administer medication that would hopefully substitute for the inoperative pacemakers.  Their efforts were successful for all but one of the fragile patients.  The trauma of the baby’s death spurred Dr. Lillehei to consult with Earl Bakken, electrical engineer and founder of Medtronic, the then-fledgling medical device development company.  Lillehei asked Bakken, who was still running Medtronic out of his garage, if he could design a portable pacemaker that ran on a battery.  Bakken went to work.

Earl Bakken. Photo: (c) 2009 IEEE

His first design, based on a six volt automobile battery, produced more power than needed.  Then, Bakken remembered a recent article in Popular Electronics about a new metronome circuit and had a brain flash – “a metronome has the same rates as heart rates,” he realized.  The metronome circuit also had a size advantage – it could fit in a box about the size of a paperback book, and sit in bed beside the patient.

Bakken created a prototype and tested in on a dog in the hospital’s laboratory.  It worked.  Bakken headed back to the garage to make another unit for human patients.  When he returned to the hospital the next day, his first unit was already in use in the surgery recovery room.  “There was a child in there with this pacemaker connected to him . . . What a great feeling that is to see here’s something we made with our own hands keeping this child alive, ” he said.  Concerned that the initial prototype wasn’t really ready for the critical job of supporting human life, he asked Dr. Lillehei why he hadn’t waited for Bakken’s more carefully constructed second unit.  According to Bakken, Lillehei replied, “Well as long as this battery-operated pacemaker was available he wasn’t going to risk losing another child to a power failure.”

Bakken was modest about his new invention, claiming that the rapid advances in heart surgery in the 1950’s would inevitably have led to the portable pacemaker’s development.  He acknowledged that the Halloween blackout had highlighted the urgency of creating such a device.  Out of tragedy, and thanks to Dr. Lillehei and Earl Bakken, heart surgery patients young and old now stood a better chance of surviving to lead long, productive, and healthy lives.

October 26, 1957 – First American Woman Nobel Laureate Passes Away

American biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Gerty Theresa Cori. Photo: National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

American biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Gerty Theresa Cori. Photo: National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

On October 26, 1957, biochemist Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori passed away at home from complications of myelosclerosis. Gerty had been born sixty-one years earlier in Prague. Her father was a successful chemist, inventor, and sugar factory manager and her family participated in a culturally sophisticated circle which included author Franz Kafka. The Radnitz’ were Jewish. Gerty’s uncle, a professor of pediatrics, supported her in her desire to become a doctor at a time when women were discouraged from pursuing a career in science or medicine. In 1914, at age 18, Gerty entered the Karl-Ferdinands-Universitat medical school in Prague. She received her Doctorate in Medicine in 1920 and married fellow student Carl Cori the same year. Gerty was a vital, charming young woman who loved her studies, the outdoors, and mountain climbing. She converted to Roman Catholicism in order to marry Carl within his religious tradition.

Together, Carl and Gerty embarked on careers in research. They began in Vienna, but Gerty’s poor health due to post-World War I food shortages, and the increasing atmosphere of anti-Semitism prompted their emigration to America. First at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, New York (now the Roswell Park Cancer Institute) and finally at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, the Coris made investigating carbohydrate metabolism their life’s work. Carl’s opportunities, and pay, were always greater that Gerty’s. Despite repeated institutional pressure to drop her as a research partner, Carl insisted on Gerty’s continued participation. They published many papers together and completed their ground-breaking work on carbohydrate metabolism. In 1947, Carl and Gerty Cori were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

What the Coris discovered – and is now called the Cori cycle – is the reversible process by which our cells break down glycogen into glucose for fuel or reconstitute glucose into glycogen to store for future energy needs. They specifically identified the “Cori ester”, the compound glucose 1-phosphate (and the enzyme that enabled its formation). The Cori ester is the key to the glycogen-glucose-glycogen pathway. Gerty Cori later went on to study diseases attributable to defects in the glucose metabolism-related enzyme, including diabetes.

Gerty won several prestigious awards during her lifetime. As a Nobel Prize winner in 1947, she became only the third woman laureate in history and the first American woman so honored. In 1953, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Two Cori craters – one on the moon, one of Venus – were named after her. In April, 2008, the US Postal Service created a stamp in her memory. The American Chemical Society recognized the carbohydrate metabolism work of Carl and Gerty Cori with National Historic Chemical Landmark status in 2004.

Gerty suffered from increasingly poor health from myelosclerosis – a disease involving loss of bone marrow – during the last ten years of her life. In spite of pain and difficulty, she carried on her work as a professor and researcher at Washington University School of Medicine. Her discoveries, as acknowledged by the postage stamp bearing her likeness, “contributed to the understanding and treatment of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.” She was a pioneer in life and science, an example still of courage, determination, and passionate pursuit of a life worth living.

October 25, 1957 – The Rocky Mount Evening Telegram News

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper's original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper’s original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

On October 25, 1957, the Friday night edition of the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram reported the news from far and near to the residents of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Published from 1894 until 1966, the Evening Telegram served a community first founded in 1816 and the home, in 1957, of about 28,000 people.

And what would those Rocky Mount residents have seen on the front page when they snapped open the evening news at the start of their weekend? Here are two of the headlines:

 

Reds Launching Could Be Fake

REDLANDS, Calif. (AP)-Russia’s launching of Sputnik may have been a “fake stunt,” says a physicist participating in the U.S. Far Side Project.

Sputnik may have been launched from a balloon–as the Far Side rocket was–instead of using an intercontinental ballistic missile, said Charles E. Bartley.

“As propaganda, the Russian launching is undeniably superb,” Bartley told a group of University of Redlands scientists. “By innuendo, it supports Soviet claims to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“But objective analysis raises several questions. Sputnik could easily have been launched from a balloon. This would have been possible without employing a large rocket of ICBM magnitude.

He quoted a Russian scientist, Mrs. Anna T. Masevich, vice president of the Soviet Astronautical Council, as saying in Barcelona, Spain, on Oct. 4:

“Newspapers were wrong when they said the satellite weighed 184.3 pounds. I think it is not so heavy.”

Commented Bartley: “Common sense and logic sum up two reasonable suppositions. The Soviet Sputnik more likely weighs 18 pounds and it does not make sense that the Russians would expend a large ICBM rocket, even if they had it, to put that weight into an orbit when a light cluster of efficient small rockets could do the same job from a balloon.”

Bartley is the president of Grand Central Rocket Co., which makes third and fourth stage motors for Far Side rockets.

 

Not Socialized

ASHEVILLE, NC (AP)-Dr. True B. Eveleth of Chicago, executive secretary of the American Osteopathic Assn., has told the North Carolina Osteopathic Society that socialized medicine will never be imposed in the United States.

“Rapidly expanding prepaid hospitalization programs will ultimately circumvent any future possible need of government-controlled medicine,” he told the 53rd annual convention of the society here yesterday.

Dr. Albert G. Moore of Wilmington was elected president, succeeding Dr. T. M. Rowlett of Concord.

 

And at the bottom of the page, the following some-things-never-change item:

DETROIT (AP)-Mrs. Edith Hall told police a thief took $5 from her purse which she had left on the porch of her home while she raked leaves. He threw away the purse, overlooking $2,170 hidden in a secret compartment.