Category: history

Soccer team of British soldiers with gas masks…

Soccer team of British soldiers with gas masks, World War I, somewhere in Northern France, 1916. Press photo.

Via Wikimedia Commons (h-t reddit r/ColorizedHistory/)

The Genius of Marie Curie



Growing up in Warsaw in Russian-occupied Poland, the young Marie Curie, originally named Maria Sklodowska, was a brilliant student, but she faced some challenging barriers. As a woman, she was barred from pursuing higher education, so in an act of defiance, Marie enrolled in the Floating University, a secret institution that provided clandestine education to Polish youth. By saving money and working as a governess and tutor, she eventually was able to move to Paris to study at the reputed Sorbonne. here, Marie earned both a physics and mathematics degree surviving largely on bread and tea, and sometimes fainting from near starvation. 


In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium spontaneously emitted a mysterious X-ray-like radiation that could interact with photographic film. Curie soon found that the element thorium emitted similar radiation. Most importantly, the strength of the radiation depended solely on the element’s quantity, and was not affected by physical or chemical changes. This led her to conclude that radiation was coming from something fundamental within the atoms of each element. The idea was radical and helped to disprove the long-standing model of atoms as indivisible objects. Next, by focusing on a super radioactive ore called pitchblende, the Curies realized that uranium alone couldn’t be creating all the radiation. So, were there other radioactive elements that might be responsible?


In 1898, they reported two new elements, polonium, named for Marie’s native Poland, and radium, the Latin word for ray. They also coined the term radioactivity along the way. By 1902, the Curies had extracted a tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride salt from several tons of pitchblende, an incredible feat at the time. Later that year, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics, but Marie was overlooked. Pierre took a stand in support of his wife’s well-earned recognition. And so both of the Curies and Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize, making Marie Curie the first female Nobel Laureate.


In 1911, she won yet another Nobel, this time in chemistry for her earlier discovery of radium and polonium, and her extraction and analysis of pure radium and its compounds. This made her the first, and to this date, only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different sciences. Professor Curie put her discoveries to work, changing the landscape of medical research and treatments. She opened mobile radiology units during World War I, and investigated radiation’s effects on tumors.


However, these benefits to humanity may have come at a high personal cost. Curie died in 1934 of a bone marrow disease, which many today think was caused by her radiation exposure. Marie Curie’s revolutionary research laid the groundwork for our understanding of physics and chemistry, blazing trails in oncology, technology, medicine, and nuclear physics, to name a few. For good or ill, her discoveries in radiation launched a new era, unearthing some of science’s greatest secrets.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The genius of Marie Curie – Shohini Ghose

Animation by Anna Nowakowska

Happy Birthday to Marie Curie!

teded: In the mid-ninth century, Chinese alche…


In the mid-ninth century, Chinese alchemists were trying to create a potion for immortality. Instead, what they created was a flammable powder that burned down many of their homes. They quickly realized that this black powder, which they called fire medicine, was precisely the opposite of something that would make you live forever.

Once they figured out the right proportions of ingredients to create a blast, they began using the powder even more, creating fireworks to keep evil spirits away and bombs to defend themselves against Mongol invaders. It was these Mongols, most likely, who spread the invention of gunpowder across the world.

So, while the Chinese alchemists never found the compound for eternal life, they did find something that would go on to shape all of civilization, something that has caused many tragic moments in human history, and yet still gives us hope when we look up in celebration at the colorful night sky.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The deadly irony of gunpowder – Eric Rosado

Animation by Zedem Media

Philosophy explained by donuts

Philosophy explained by donuts

Via @PhilosophyMttrs

teded: It’s 1762. John Montagu is the 4th Ear…


It’s 1762. John Montagu is the 4th Earl of Sandwich, a small parish in the southwest of England. Despite his keen administrative skills, Montagu is a corrupt politician, an adulterous husband, and an incessant, degenerate gambler. Often, while Montagu is in the midst of a particularly high-stakes game, he will insist on being served his meals at the table. In a moment of vision, though likely inspired by his travels, the Earl orders his meat and cheese be brought to him stacked between two slices of bread so that he may eat with one hand while continuing to gamble with the other. In one notorious episode, Montagu spends a full day and night gambling. It is during the infamous 24 hours at the gaming table that Montagu’s characteristic handheld concession is dubbed “the sandwich.“ 

According to one estimate, Americans now consume more than 300 million sandwiches every day.

Happy Sandwich Day!

From the TED-Ed Lesson How the sandwich was invented | Moments of Vision 5 – Jessica Oreck

teded: Today is Alfred Nobel’s birthday. Among…


Today is Alfred Nobel’s birthday.

Among the top prestigious awards in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize has honored some of the most celebrated and revered international figures and organizations in history. But how does the nomination process work? And who exactly is eligible? 

Adeline Cuvelier and Toril Rokseth detail the specifics of the Nobel Peace Prize in the TED-Ed Lesson How does the Nobel Peace Prize work? – Adeline Cuvelier and Toril Rokseth

I feel a responsibility as a scientist who kno…

I feel a responsibility as a scientist who knows the great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, and the progress made possible by such a philosophy, progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought…to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings. If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation. I want to demand this freedom for future generations.

Via Open Culture

Via Open Culture

For my part I reiterate what I said two years ago in the fourth centenary of Cervantes death (there you will find a bunch of links about Cervantes universe):

…always is a good time to grab his works and… devour them, definitely worth it, own a unique and perfect mixture of adventures, humor, history, philosophy and a brilliant analysis of human nature.

The Cuban Missile Crisis


At this time in 1962, the U.S. was in the thick of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here’s a brief recap of what exactly happened during those thirteen days.

It’s not hard to imagine a world where at any given moment, you and everyone you know could be wiped out without warning at the push of a button. This was the reality for millions of people during the 45-year period after World War II, now known as the Cold War. As the United States and Soviet Union faced off across the globe, each knew that the other had nuclear weapons capable of destroying it. And destruction never loomed closer than during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

In 1961, the U.S. unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Cuba’s new communist government. That failed attempt was known as the Bay of Pigs, and it convinced Cuba to seek help from the U.S.S.R. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was happy to comply by secretly deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba, not only to protect the island, but to counteract the threat from U.S. missiles in Italy and Turkey. By the time U.S. intelligence discovered the plan, the materials to create the missiles were already in place. 

At an emergency meeting on October 16, 1962, military advisors urged an airstrike on missile sites and invasion of the island. But President John F. Kennedy chose a more careful approach. On October 22, he announced that the the U.S. Navy would intercept all shipments to Cuba, but a naval blockade was considered an act of war. Although the President called it a quarantine that did not block basic necessities, the Soviets didn’t appreciate the distinction.

Thus ensued the most intense six days of the Cold War. As the weapons continued to be armed, the U.S. prepared for a possible invasion. For the first time in history, the U.S. Military set itself to DEFCON 2, the defense readiness one step away from nuclear war. With hundreds of nuclear missiles ready to launch, the metaphorical Doomsday Clock stood at one minute to midnight. 

But diplomacy carried on. In Washington, D.C., Attorney General Robert Kennedy secretly met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. After intense negotiation, they reached the following proposal. The U.S. would remove their missiles from Turkey and Italy and promise to never invade Cuba in exchange for the Soviet withdrawal from Cuba under U.N. inspection. The crisis was now over. 

While criticized at the time by their respective governments for bargaining with the enemy, contemporary historical analysis shows great admiration for Kennedy’s and Khrushchev’s ability to diplomatically solve the crisis. Overall, the Cuban Missile Crisis revealed just how fragile human politics are compared to the terrifying power they can unleash.

For a deeper dive into the circumstances of the Cuban Missile Crisis, be sure to watch The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis – Matthew A. Jordan

Animation by Patrick Smith

The original letter in which Galileo argued ag…

The original letter in which Galileo argued against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church has been rediscovered in London.

Credit: The Royal Society

Via NatureDiscovery of Galileo’s long-lost letter shows he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition

There seems there is nothing new or unknown on this find. I recommend taking a look at his essay (in the form of a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina) written in 1615 (around the time the above letter was also written):