March 21st 1925: Butler Act passed

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The trial sparked a nationwide debate over evolution and creationism

On this day in 1925, the Butler Act was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Austin Peay. The bill was introduced by farmer John Butler of the Tennessee State House of Representatives on January 21st and was immediately controversial. It banned school teachers from teaching evolution, and instead provided for the teaching of the Christian theory of creationism. Teachers who violated the law were to be fined a maximum of $500. Many protested that the law violated the 1st Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion and its provision of free speech. The Butler Act has become infamous in history due to its challenge in the so-called ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’. The trial was prompted by the arrest of science teacher John Scopes, and drew the attention of the nation as it essentially put the theory of evolution on trial. The lawyers for the case were famed in their fields – Clarence Darrow for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution but his conviction was reversed on a technicality. The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967.

 

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, 1925

Darrow (left) and Bryan (right)

The Butler Act and subsequent Scopes trial have become emblematic of a backward society’s rejection of scientific progress. There is always a period where it takes a while for people to accept the latest scientific discovery. Whilst Darwin’s theory of evolution was first advanced long before the Butler Act, it took a long time for people to reconcile this theory with their faith. Many saw the theory as explicitly contrary to the Biblical story of creationism – how God created the world in seven days. The Scopes trial was a rather extreme expression of this, and has since become infamous as an example of scientific ignorance. Now, people of faith tend to accept evolution and take the Creation story less literally – these seven ‘days’ could refer to seven eons, not the 24 period we think of today. This helps some reconcile science and faith. However, in some ways the Scopes trial is still being fought in the United States. There have been many attempts by conservative Republicans to introduce the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ in schools, which is the idea that the world must have been created by an intelligent creature – this creature is, to all intents and purposes, the Christian God. Bills such as these do not hold up well under the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. However the struggle between religion and science persists.

 

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John Butler (1875 – 1952)

“I never had any idea my bill would make a fuss. I just thought it would become a law, and that everybody would abide by it and that we wouldn’t hear any more of evolution in Tennessee
– John Butler during the Scopes trial

March 13th 1781: Uranus discovered

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William Herschel (1738 – 1822)

 

On this day in 1781, the planet Uranus was discovered by British astronomer William Herschel. He was in his garden in Bath, England when he observed the planet with his telescope. He initially thought thought the body was a comet but after he reported the sighting other astronomers weighed in and concluded it was indeed a new planet. At first Herschel wanted to name the planet after King George III, but foreign scientists were not too keen on that Anglocentric name. Eventually German astronomer Johann Bode suggested the name Uranus, which is the Latin name for the Greek god of the sky Ouranos. Thus Uranus joined other planets in the solar system whose names derived from the genealogy of Greek gods: Uranus was Saturn’s father, Saturn was Jupiter’s father and Jupiter was Mars’s father. The element uranium, which was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, was named in honour of Uranus.

 

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Uranus as observed by the Hubble telescope

 

“By the observation of the most eminent Astronomers in Europe it appears that the new star, which I had the honour of pointing out to them in March 1781, is a Primary Planet of our Solar System
Herschel in 1783 to President of the Royal Society Joesph Banks

March 10th 1876: First telephone conversation

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Bell’s diary entry for March 10th where he records the words he said to Watson (bottom of first page)
SOURCE: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trr002.html

 

On this day in 1876 the first telephone conversation took place between Alexander Graham Bell and his lab assistant Thomas Watson. Bell had recently secured the patent for his new invention – the telephone – and three days later succeeded in making a call. He summoned Watson from the next room thus making the first, albeit very brief, telephone call. Controversy surrounds the invention of the telephone, as there have been claims that the credit for the invention in fact rests with another inventor: Elisha Gray. Gray had also been working on a device for transmitting voice messages and both filed the patent the same day, leading to speculations about who got there first.

 

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Thomas Watson (1854 – 1934)

 

We can endlessly debate who deserves the credit for the invention of the telephone. However, whether erroneously or not, it is Alexander Graham Bell whose name is synonymous with the invention. Without that first, fleeting, conversation between Bell and Watson, there may have never been any more. So next time you’re on the phone to a loved one, dealing with a call-centre, ordering takeaway or having a phone interview, remember those nine words Bell spoke on March 10th 1876.

 

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Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922)

 

“I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.” To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said”
– Bell’s diary entry from March 10th 1876

February 4th 2004: Facebook founded

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The Facebook logo

 

On this day 10 years ago in 2004 the social networking site Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg. It was founded by Zuckerberg with his Harvard roommates Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, Andrew McCollum and Chris Hughes. The site was initially just for Harvard students to communicate, but it soon spread throughout American universities and eventually worldwide.

 

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Original Harvard ‘Thefacebook’

It quickly became one of the most used social networking sites and one of the most influential websites in history. Facebook is a cultural staple which is now a useful social tool for many teenagers and adults. Far from its humble beginnings in Harvard, Facebook now boasts 1.23 billion active users worldwide.

 

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Time magazine’s person of the year 2010

10 years on, we can reflect on Facebook’s impact on the rise of social media. Facebook’s decision to sell stock in 2012 made headline news; Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr was endlessly discussed by pundits; policy and controversy can both arise from a 140 character tweet by a politician. This is the world we live in now, and Facebook has had a considerable role in this. Whilst it sounds corny, and full of the overblown rhetoric you would hear from the CEOs of these companies, social media does in a way bring people together. It is much easier to communicate with old friends from your school days by just  starting a chat on Facebook, and blogging platforms have given voice to many and forged international connections. It is true that some have become more antisocial due to the fixation with social media on their phones, but a lot of this is just the lamentations of the Daily Telegraph, Fox News and the like. Like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg and his friends changed the world when they sat down in their dorm room and created Facebook.

January 24th 1984: First Mac goes on sale

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The first Apple Macintosh

 

On this day in 1984, the first Apple Macintosh PC went on sale. It was introduced by Steve Jobs, and was the first commercially successful PC with a mouse and interactive, graphical interface. The first Macintosh had a 128KB memory. The computer went on sale for $2,495 and sold well, reaching 70,000 on May 3rd 1984. It was first introduced by the famous ‘1984’ advert by Ridley Scott, which aired on January 22nd.

 

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Steve Jobs’s signature engraved in the case of the first Macintosh

 

Apple’s influence and sales decreased in the 1990s, as the PC market became dominated by Microsoft. However, Apple saw a resurgence with the 1998 iMac and the 2001 iPod. Apple now dominate the digital music business, with their wide range of iPods and the iPhone, and the iMac model continues.

 

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The current Macintosh

The first Macintosh was released 30 years ago today and Apple remains a dominant force in the technology industry. Whilst Steve Jobs died three years ago, his legacy lives on in the continued success of his company. The iPhone in particular has revolutionised mobile phone technology and ushered in the age of smartphones; they have become a staple piece of technology. 

January 2nd 1860: Discovery of planet ‘Vulcan’

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Urbain Le Verrier (1811 – 1877)

On this day in 1860, French mathematician Urbain le Verrier announced the discovery of a planet called ‘Vulcan’ to the French Academy of Sciences. The planet supposedly is between Mercury and the Sun, and was conceived of in response to an anomaly in Mercury’s orbit. We now know that this anomaly can be explained by Einstein’s theory of relativity.  Le Verrier was heavily involved in the discovery of Neptune, and insited until his death that Vulcan exists.

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A drawing showing the hypothetical planet Vulcan

It is now no longer widely believed that Vulcan exists. The only place planet Vulcan exists is in the Star Trek universe, where it is the home planet of Spock.

December 10th 1896: Nobel dies

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Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896)

On this day in 1896, the Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel died in Italy aged 63. Nobel is best known as the inventor of dynamite and the fonder of the Nobel Prizes. After his death from a brain hemorrhage, it was discovered that he had left his wealth in trust to fund the Nobel Prizes.

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Nobel’s will establishing the Prizes

He decided to begin the prizes because in 1888 when his brother died, a newspaper wrongly reported Alfred’s death. They published a damning obituary, focusing on his invention of dynamite, saying “The merchant of death is dead”. Nobel was therefore determined to be remembered in a better way, and wanted his name associated with the great prizes. The Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, medical science, economics, literature and peace.

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Nobel Prize

Nobel was successful in his attempt, and today the name Alfred Nobel is not associated with death and destruction; it is associated with the prizes which reward the best of human endeavor.

November 24th 1859: ‘On the Origin of Species’ published

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On this day in 1859, Charles Darwin published his ground-breaking book ‘On the Origin of Species’. The book introduced the idea that organisms evolve through natural selection. Darwin included evidence he gathered on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s, where he traveled widely recording his encounters. The concept of evolution revolutionised science, and was very unpopular at its time for its supposed ignoring of God’s role in man’s history. His ideas were widely ridiculed and satirised, however now his theory is the foundation of modern scientific thinking.

 

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July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon

July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon

On this day in 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. Armstrong’s boot hit the surface of the Moon at 2:56 UTC the next day. Aldrin soon joined Armstrong and the pair planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface. They received a brief phone call from President Richard Nixon. The moon landing was broadcast live, reaching an estimated global audience of 450 million. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 24th. The landing ended the space race and fulfilled the goal put in place by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

“That’s one small step [a] for man, one giant leap for mankind”