100 and 50 years ago

    100 YEARS AGO

    It may interest some to know that radium destroys vegetable matter. I happened to replace the usual mica plates, used to keep in the small quantity of radium in its ebonite box, with a piece of cambric, so as to permit the whole of the emanations to pass out, mica stopping the α rays. In four days the cambric was rotted away. I have replaced it now several times with the same result.


    What Mr. J. Y. Buchanan says (p. 293) about the French Academy is to me much more wonderful than the revelations of radium. It appears that there is a happy land close by where a scientific man of recognised standing can indulge in the luxury of original research, and then send in an account of his work, not to have it rejected by the opinion of, say, a couple of fellow-men, but actually to have it published as a right! This seems impossible. It is the encouragement of original research. Perhaps it is hopeless to expect such freedom in this stick-in-the-mud country, which is so much in love with tradition and antiquated forms.

    Oliver Heaviside

    From Nature 4 February 1904.

    50 YEARS AGO

    Readers of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will have noticed that the hands of the clock which forms the distinctive coverpiece of the Bulletin have been moved forward so that they now stand at two minutes to midnight. This is to direct attention to the recent announcement that an atomic test involving both fission and thermonuclear reactions was conducted by the U.S.S.R. on August 12 and to warn members of all nations of the great danger of an untoward event acting as a trigger for the eruption of atomic or thermonuclear warfare. In an article in the October number of the Bulletin entitled “The Narrowing Way”, the editor, Dr. E. Rabinowitch... considers that unless special care is taken it may only be a few more swings of the pendulum before atomic explosions strike midnight for Western civilization... Dr. Rabinowitch maintains that the Western countries are faced with the inevitable prospect of a “cold peace”, precariously supported by a mutual threat of atomic and thermonuclear annihilation.

    From Nature 6 February 1954.

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    100 and 50 years ago. Nature 427, 499 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/427499b

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