Scientist of the Day

Francesco Lana Terzi

February 22, 2018

Francesco Lana Terzi, an Italian Jesuit scientist, died Feb. 22, 1687; his date of birth is unknown. Lana Terzi is best known for a book he published in 1670, Prodromo, and for a single illustration in that book, depicting an airship borne aloft by four evacuated copper spheres (first image). It is often said that he got the idea from Otto von Guericke’s Magdeburg experiments with evacuated copper spheres, and indeed he did, but not from von Guericke directly, since his book did not appear until 1672, after the Prodromo was published…

Francis Ronalds

February 21, 2018

Francis Ronalds, an English inventor and electrical engineer, was born Feb. 21, 1788. Ronalds came from a family of cheese purveyors, a profession he adopted for some years (while considering changing his name to Wensleydale). But around 1810, he abruptly shifted his attention to electricity (this was 10 years after Volta’s battery had opened up a new world for electrical investigators). Ronalds invented a slew of ingenious electrical devices, including an electrograph that would measure the electricity in the atmosphere…

Ludwig Boltzmann

February 20, 2018

Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist, was born Feb. 20, 1844. Boltzmann was a founder of what is called statistical thermodynamics. By assuming that a gas is made up of atoms moving with random velocities in all directions, he was able to predict large-scale (macroscopic) properties of the gas, such as its temperature and pressure, with great accuracy…

Pierre Bouguer

February 16, 2018

Pierre Bouguer, a French mathematican , astronomer, and geodesist, was born Feb. 16, 1698. In 1735, Bourguer was sent to Ecuador, along with Charles-Marie de La Condamine and Louis Godin, to measure the length of a degree at the equator. It was hoped by the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris that by comparing the Ecuadorian measurement with the length of a degree in Lapland, that one might be able to determine if the earth is perfectly spherical, or oblate (shaped like an onion), or prolate (shaped like a lemon)…

Louis Figuier

February 15, 2018

Louis Figuier, a French science writer, was born Feb. 15, 1819. Figuier was a professional writer, which means he had to write to eat, and he must have eaten well, because he wrote a ton of books, really good books. We displayed his book on prehistoric life, La terre avant le deluge (1863)…

C. T. R. Wilson

February 14, 2018

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, a Scottish physicist better known as C. T. R. Wilson, was born Feb. 14, 1869. In his early career at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, Wilson was interested in meteorology, and in particular, in cloud formation. He found that if he saturated a small clear chamber with moisture, and then rapidly expanded the cylinder by means of a piston, a small cloud would form in the chamber. He had invented the cloud chamber…