Special Sub-Topic: Ralph and the History of British Science
|Ralph's first clue is a half-eaten apple which has been left at the scene of the crime, leading him, naturally, to the great sir Isaac Newton. However, Newton couldn't have broken the centrifuge this morning, as he was engaged in a rather odd activity in his bedroom. Which of the following bizarre things is Isaac Newton believed to have done?|
Stuck a bodkin into his eye. Newton pushed the needle so far into his eye that it touched the back wall, where his retina was. Surprisingly, Newton came away with little lasting damage to the eye and carried on his research into optics, which is what had spurred him into carrying out such an odd experiment on himself. Newton's particle theory of light was widely accepted over the wave theory propounded by his rival, Christiaan Huygens. For more information about the contending theories of light, please play my quiz "Light - Particle vs Wave".
|Ralph deduced from his talks with Isaac Newton that the culprit was someone whom sir Isaac was not particularly fond of. This leads Ralph to Robert Hooke, who closes his copy of "Micrographia" and sets aside his compound microscope so that Ralph can take a seat. It quickly becomes clear to Ralph that Hooke could not possibly have broken the centrifuge, as he was too busy. Which of these achievements is NOT accredited to Robert Hooke?|
He deduced that planets travelled around the sun in elliptical orbits. During his time at Oxford, Hooke worked closely with Robert Boyle. Hooke made an air pump for Boyle, which was essential for his investigations into the properties of air. Hooke gained a reputation for his excellent practical skills and became the first curator of experiments at the Royal Society in 1662. The various experiments performed by Hooke allowed him to make many discoveries, such as the theory that the extension of a spring is directly proportional to the load which is applied to it - now known as Hooke's Law. His work also included "Mircographia", the publication of which was made possible by his work with the compound microscope (which he built) and in which he coined the term "cell". Hooke also built some of the earliest telescopes, allowing him to study the orbits of the planets, but the actual discovery that planets orbited the sun in elliptical paths was made by Johannes Kepler.
|Hooke tells Ralph that the culprit's latest work contributed to the study of how organisms develop and how cells differentiate. "Eureka!" cries Ralph, "DNA is the answer". However, Ralph's interrogation of Francis Crick proves fruitless, as it is apparent that someone would have heard his booming laugh if he were in the lab at the time of the accident. Instead, Crick was down at the local pub announcing his discovery of the structure of the molecule of life. What is the name of this now famous pub in Cambridge? |
The Eagle. Born in 1916, Francis Crick was driven by his desire to discover "the mystery of life and the mystery of consciousness". His study of proteins using X-ray crystallography at the Cavendish laboratory eventually morphed into the structural study of DNA, as prompted by the young James Watson. Together, the team of Watson and Crick competed with the formidable Linus Pauling to discover the structure of DNA. Pauling incorrectly deduced that DNA was a triple helix with nitrogenous bases pointing outwards, but the team at the Cavendish laboratory reworked this model into a double helix, with bases pointing inwards. The double helix (or "twisted-ladder") model of DNA won Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins the 1962 Nobel Prize.
|Francis Crick told Ralph that the person he was looking for had not been given their due credit in history, and, with his mind still on DNA, Ralph could think of no one else than Rosalind Franklin. What major (and often overlooked) contribution did Franklin make to the discovery of the structure of DNA?|
She provided the X-ray diffraction images for the double helix model. Educated at Cambridge and carrying out her work on X-ray crystallography at King's College, London, Rosalind Franklin's images of DNA are said to have been the most conclusive evidence that the molecule was in fact a double helix. However, Franklin's abrasive character and determination to work alone prevented her from gaining any insights from Watson and Crick at Cambridge, or her own colleague at King's, Maurice Wilkins. Unfortunately for Franklin, Wilkins had shown Watson her diffraction images, which convinced Watson and Crick that their double helix model was the right one, allowing them to publish their findings soon after. The Nobel Prize was awarded nine years later, four years after the death of Rosalind Franklin.
|Rosalind Franklin describes the culprit, saying that they are an "ACE" scientist and "the Bombe". Ralph now questions James Chadwick, a rather ace scientist, discoverer of the neutron and one of the main British scientists involved in the atomic bomb project. However, Chadwick also has a solid alibi, since he was in Liverpool, constructing an impressive piece of equipment. Which of the following did James Chadwick construct?|
Britain's first cyclotron. Chadwick began the cyclotron's construction in 1936, a year after he had accepted the position of chair of physics at Liverpool University. The construction of this particle accelerator had caused friction between Chadwick and his friend Ernest Rutherford, discoverer of the proton. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Chadwick's cyclotron was used to show that relatively modest amounts of uranium were needed to create a nuclear weapon, thus aiding Manhattan Project.
|James Chadwick tells Ralph that the person he is looking for is a quiet person, often overshadowed by their gregarious co-workers. Ralph concludes that Chadwick must be referring to Michael Faraday. Which former employer of Faraday voted against him becoming a fellow of the Royal Society and arguably delayed his discoveries in electromagnetic rotation and electrolysis?|
Humphrey Davy. Following a gas explosion during one of his experiments, Davy was injured and required assistance in his other experimental work. Faraday's name was put forward and he was given the job. Faraday became a regular assistant to Davy and even travelled with Davy and his wife around Europe. Despite their close work relationship, Davy disdained Faraday, often insulting his "wide face" and vacant expression. As Faraday moved into his own independent study, he achieved enormous success in the field of electromagnetic rotation (which allowed for the development of the electric motor). The antagonistic attitude of Davy towards his former assistant has been put down to jealousy by some, who claim that he was not happy about the young Faraday surpassing him in the excellence of his work.
|Michael Faraday's work in electromagnetism inspires him to describe the perpetrator as "on the spectrum". Ralph takes this the wrong way and so mistakenly suspects that James Clark Maxwell was behind the broken centrifuge. Aside from his work with the electromagnetic spectrum, in which other area did Maxwell contribute, often working closely with Ludwig Boltzmann?|
The kinetic theory of gases. James Clark Maxwell was the successor of Michael Faraday in the field of electromagnetism. He showed that oscillating electrical charges would produce waves which could propagate through the electromagnetic field. He obtained a value of 310,740,000 metres per second - extremely close to the value obtained for the speed of light. Maxwell therefore concluded that light was part of the electromagnetic spectrum (along with infra-red and ultraviolet waves). In their work in the kinetic theory of gases, Maxwell and Boltzmann formulated a law which explained how different speeds were distributed to different molecules of a gas.
|James Clark Maxwell informs Ralph that the person who broke the centrifuge actually spends most of their time with machines/computers. With this new knowledge, Ralph makes his way across the lab to Dorothy Hodgkin, who is perched intensely by a computer screen, analysing several images which she has generated using X-ray crystallography. Which of these did Dorothy Hodgkin NOT discover the structure of?|
Haemoglobin. Dorothy Hodgkin completed her undergraduate degree at Somerville College, Oxford, named for Mary Somerville, another pioneer of women's science. Her work in X-ray crystallography proved hugely successful and can be seen as laying the foundations for the discovery of DNA's 3D structure. Her work spanned many years, discovering the structure of penicillin in 1949 and of insulin in 1969. She also won the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery of the structure of vitamin B12 10 years previously. To add to her accolades, she also won the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1976.
|Dorothy Hodgkin is not responsible for the broken centrifuge, but she does give Ralph another clue about the guilty party - namely that they were once based at Cambridge University. Ralph's attention is immediately drawn to Paul Dirac, one of the longest serving Lucasian Professors of Mathematics at Cambridge. Which of these is Paul Dirac most known for?|
The prediction of the existence of antimatter. Dirac's prediction of the existence of antimatter was confirmed just a few years after by Carl Anderson's discovery of the positron in 1932. For this, Paul Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in physics with Erwin Schrödinger. One peculiar and, as of yet, unexplained observation by Paul Dirac are his large number coincidences. Dirac found that the number 10^40 appeared too often as to not be a coincidence, as he saw it. For example, the force of electrostatic attraction between an electron and a proton is 10^40 times greater than the gravitational attraction between the electron and the proton. Also, the predicted radius of the known universe is 10^40 times greater than the radius of an electron, and 10^40 is roughly the square root of the number of particles in the known universe.
|Ralph's latest clue from the Cambridge alumnus Paul Dirac is that the person who broke the centrifuge also worked at the University of Manchester. Upon hearing this, it dawns on Ralph that he has been considering each clue on its own, rather than taking them together to find the member of the lab to whom they all apply (where's his scientific method?!). Ralph now lays out all of the clues he has gathered in front of him: the half eaten apple, that the culprit would be disliked by Newton, that they contributed to the study of organismal development, that they worked closely with machines, that they are "on the spectrum", quiet, and often overlooked, that they worked at the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, and that Rosalind Franklin rather oddly described them as "ACE" and "the bombe".
Help Ralph solve this enigma - who is responsible for the broken centrifuge?|
Alan Turing. Alan Turing, who has been described as "the man who knew too much", was a quiet man, believed to be autistic (clues 6 and 7). As a young man, he became familiar with Einstein's works and built upon them, allowing him to question Newton's laws of motion (clue 2). His remarkable contributions to science and mankind lay mainly in his work with computers (clue 8). He believed that machines were able to think and that they could be used to carry out similar functions as the human brain, but at a fraction of the speed. This philosophy allowed Turing to develop such "thinking machines" as the Bombe and the ACE (clue 5), the former of which was used in World War Two to decipher the German Enigma code. The efforts of Turing and the performance of his machines during the war were invaluable and some have claimed that it is difficult to think of a person who saved as many lives as Turing during the war. Turing studied and worked at Cambridge before the war (clue 9) and worked at Manchester University after the war (clue 10). One of his latest contributions to science was the mathematical model used to explain how cells develop and assemble (clue 3), as outlined in his 1952 paper "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis".
It is difficult to accept that it was because Turing was a quiet man that his contributions to science and mankind have been so often overlooked (clue 4), since so many great men in the history of science were just as reserved, but who received their due credit. Instead, it seems likely that the name of Alan Turing was tarnished by the discovery after the war that he was a homosexual - a crime at that time in England. As such, Turing was arrested and effectively forced onto hormonal treatment which intended to chemically castrate him. The prejudice Turing faced became too much for him and in 1954 he took his own life by eating an apple which had been dipped in potassium cyanide (clue 1). This unusual form of suicide was probably chosen because of Turing's obsession with the Disney film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves".
In 2009, the British government made a public apology for the way Alan Turing was treated in the closing stages of his life.
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