Like I said in an earlier post, I thought this week’s Newsweek had a lot of great stuff… Here are two articles with a scientific bent that I thought were neat.
The first article is by Fareed Zakaria, who asks Is America Losing Its Mojo? Zakaria points to three tidals waves of innovation that made America the world leaders in innovation.
The first was a wave of deconstruction in Europe in the aftermath of World War II – while Europe spent most of its resources rebuilding to get back to where they were before, America had the opportunity to push ahead with little competition.
The second wave, which was related to the first, was the influx of immigrants that fled Europe and took up residence in America’s universities and research centers.
The third wave came as a result of massive government funding, which led to and created markets for innovations such as the microprocessor, global positioning satellites, and the development of the Internet.
I see Zakaria’s point, but I’m not sure if America’s lead in the innovation space is really dead. The the creation of the personal computer and the drive to use the Internet (and the software industries that came as a result) were American innovations, were distinct from these three waves, and changed the planet.
But what I did find interesting from this article was the list of great scientists that helped position America as the world’s innovation leader. Here’s who was listed:
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) – Lightbulbs, phonograph
Henry Ford (1863-1947) – Assembly line
George Washington Carver (c. 1864-1943) – Crop rotation
Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912) Wright – Airplane
Willis Carver (1876-1950) – Air conditioning
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) – Theory of relativity
Charles Richard Drew (1940-50) – Blood bank
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67) – Atomic bomb
Jonas Salk (1914-95) – Polio vaccine
Marion Donovan (1917-98) – Disposable diapers
Stephanie Kwolek (1923- ) – Kevlar
James Watson (1928- ) – Structure of DNA
Arthur Fry (1931- ) – Post-its
Sergey Brin (1973- ) and Larry Page (1973- ) – Google
Ed Moses (1949- ) – Nuclear fusion (which is the subject of the next article…)
Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of energy, where a small pellet of deuterium and tritium (which are isotopes of hydrogen) hit with big lasers harnesses the energy-making power of the Sun. The byproduct, as opposed to the radioactive waste of nuclear fission reactors or the greenhouse gases associated with burning fossil fuels, would merely be helium.
From the article, “Fusion proponents claim that 10 gallons of water could produce as much energy as a supertanker of oil.“