Hazardous Materials Management 365 Days a Year: February Events

louisville sewer explosion

Louisville, KY sewer gas explosion, February 1981. Courtesy of courier-journal.com.

“Those Who Do Not Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It” George Santayana, Spanish-American Philosopher, Essayist, Poet, & Novelist

Contributed by: Richard T. Cartwright PE, CHMM*, CPIM*. Connect with Richard on LinkedIn and at Richard.Cartwright@mecx.net.

Hazardous Materials Management 365 Days a Year: February Events

February 1, 2003: Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated while re-entering earth’s atmosphere over Texas, where all 7 crew members died. Eighty seconds into its launch on January 16th, a piece of foam insulation had broken off from shuttle’s propellant tank & hit edge of shuttle’s left wing.

February 1, 2012: Stampede occurred during soccer riots in Port Said, Egypt; where 73 people died.

February 1, 2004: Stampede occurred during religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, where 251 people died.

February 1, 1974: Skyscraper fire occurred in Sao Paolo, Brazil; where 179 people died.  Good news the 25 story building was built of armored concrete, which was specifically fire-resistant. Bad news is the building contained flammable items as its furniture, desks, chairs, even cubicle partitions. Ceilings were made of tiles, prepared from cellulose fiber tiles, strapped in wood. Even the carpets & curtains were made of flammable substances. No emergency lights fire alarms fire sprinkler systems, or emergency exits were fitted to the building. There was only one stairwell, which ran the full height of the building. No evacuation plans had been posted in the case of a fire.

February 1, 1944: Research scientists at Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City discovered that heredity agents (genes) are made of DNA. This crucial discovery in molecular genetics that genetic information is carried in the nucleotide sequence of DNA arose while studying pneumococcus virus. In 1928, British physician Frederick Griffith had found that extracts of a pathogenic strain of that virus could transform a harmless strain into a pathogenic one.

February 1, 1944: Earthquake (7.4-magnitude) struck Turkey, where 2,790 people died.

February 1, 1905: US Forest Service was founded by US president Theodore Roosevelt. Its first forest service chief was Gifford Pinchot, who was trained in scientific forestry management in Europe and at Yale. He brought concepts of sustainability into professional forestry.

February 1, 1905: Lloyd Viel Berkner, American physicist & engineer, was born. He first measured the extent, including height and density, of the ionosphere (ionized layers of the Earth’s atmosphere), leading to a complete understanding of radio wave propagation. Veil Berkner helped develop radar systems, especially the Distant Early Warning system. He later investigated origin & development of the Earth’s atmosphere.

February 1, 1905: Emilio Segrè, American physicist, was born in Italy. He helped to discover the antiproton, an antiparticle having same mass as a proton but opposite in electrical charge. He also created atoms of the man-made new element technetium & astatine. Technetium occupied a hitherto unfilled space in Periodic Table, & was first man-made element not found in nature. Astatine exists naturally in only small quantities because as a decay product of larger atoms, & having a half-life of only a few days, it quickly disappears by radioactively decay to become atoms of another element.

February 1, 1814: Volcano Mayon erupted on Luzon Island in the Philippines, where 1,200 people died.

February 2, 1923: Tetra-ethyl lead anti-knock gasoline first became available for sale at a Dayton, Ohio service station. High octane fuel was called Ethyl (after its new additive, tetraethyl lead) was colored a distinctive red. Thomas Midgely, at General Motors Research Laboratory, developed the anti-knock compound. In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” was name applied to the out-of-sequence detonation of gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock was called a ping or a knock & caused damage to the engine. Clair Patterson, American geochemist, later discovered in the 1950’s that tetra-ethyl lead was a toxic substance. Phase out of its use in gasoline began in 1976. EPA Administrator Carol Browner in 1996 declared, “Elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”

February 2, 2004: White powder was found in U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later confirmed that the powder was the poison ricin.

February 2, 1971: Convention on Wetlands was held in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. In commemoration of the Ramsar Convention, February 2nd every year has been recognized as World Wetlands Day (WWD). Each year, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values & benefits.

February 2, 1937: Ohio River floodwater reached 60.8 feet in Paducah, Kentucky.

February 2, 1935: Polygraph machine (“lie detector”) was used for first time to bring a conviction in court.

February 2, 1931: Earthquake (7.9-magnitude) struck New Zealand, where 256 people died.

February 2, 1925: Diphtheria serum was delivered by team of sled dogs during major epidemic in Nome, Alaska. Note: Iditarod race commemorates this historic achievement.

February 2, 1817: John Glover, English chemist was born. He developed “Glover Tower” to reclaim useful chemicals during manufacture of sulphuric acid. Previous Lead-Chamber Method used sulphur dioxide, a nitrate, air & water, but lost the nitrate in the form of nitric oxide to the atmosphere. This was expensive since replacement nitrate had to be imported from Chile. Glover introduced a mass transfer tower to recover some of this lost nitrate. In his tower, sulphuric acid (still containing nitrates) was trickled downward against upward flowing burner gases. Flowing gas absorbed some of the previously lost nitric oxide. These gases are recycled back into lead chamber where the nitric oxide can be re-used.

February 2, 1795: French government offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food & transporting it to its armies. Winner was Nicholas Appert, a French chef who invented a way to can food. He developed method of heating food in airtight glass jars, not very different from the home-bottling method that now uses Mason jars.

February 3, 1953: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, French oceanographer, published his most widely recognized book, “The Silent World”. In addition to his books, he produced several award-winning films & scores of television documentaries. Cousteau saw firsthand the damage done to marine ecosystems by humans. He was an outspoken & persuasive environmental scientist.

February 3, 1998: U.S. military jet flying too low in Italian Alps severed ski-lift cable, sending a tram crashing to the ground, where 20 people died. Plane was flying at only 360 feet above the ground, in spite of regulations that set minimum altitude for flight maneuvers at 2,000 feet.

February 3, 1996: Earthquake (6.6-magnitude) struck China, where 322 people died.

February 3, 1966: U.S. launched its first operational weather satellite, ESSA-1. Spacecraft was made of aluminum alloy & stainless steel. It was covered with 9,100 solar cells, which charged 63 batteries. Its two cameras were mounted 180 degrees opposite each other along the cylindrical side of the craft. A camera could be pointed at some point on Earth every time the satellite rotated along its axis. ESSA-1 was able to view weather of each area of the globe, photographing cloud cover at exact same local time each day.

February 3, 1954: Science writer Rachel Carson wrote to editor of “The New Yorker” magazine suggesting that he write an article about danger of pesticides. He demurred. Instead, he suggested that Carson write the article. It was genesis of her pioneering book, Silent Spring.

February 3, 1931: Earthquake (7.8-magnitude) & related-fire struck Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, where 256 people died. It was New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

February 3, 1923: One of largest earthquakes (8.5-magnitude) in recorded history struck Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia.

February 3, 1853: Hudson Maxim, American inventor of explosives, was born. He invented maximite, a high explosive bursting powder 50% more powerful than dynamite. When used in torpedoes, maximite resisted both shock of firing and greater shock of piercing armor plate without exploding until it was then set off by a delayed-action detonating fuse, another Maxim invention. Later, he perfected a new smokeless powder, called stabillite because of its high stability, & motorite, self-combustive substance to propel torpedoes.

February 4, 1941: Roy Plunkett, American scientist, received patent for “Tetrafluoroethylene Polymers” best known by its trade name, Teflon. His patent described polymer’s exceptional properties, including being “highly resistant to corrosive influences and to oxidation, and which can be molded and spun and put in to a wide variety of uses where its peculiar properties would be advantageous.” Teflon was discovered by accident, when Plunkett discovered a lining of the solid polymer had resulted when he examined the inside of containers that had stored tetrafluoroethylene gas under pressure.

February 4, 2011:  President of the Philippines announced a nationwide ban on logging after his country suffered from devastating floods & mudslides. Over seventy people died from recent floods exacerbated by too much logging.

February 4, 2006: Football stadium stampede occurred in the Philippines, where 71 people died. Crowd of 30,000 people gathered waiting to participate in first anniversary episode of television variety show, Wowowee. Stampede started when show organizers began handing out tickets to people in the crowd, many of whom had been camping outside for days to acquire them. People started trying to get ahead of the queue & became agitated. Outside the gates people started pushing & shoving, prompting security guards to close the entrance gates. Situation grew worse, when due to the crowd’s impatience, the gates eventually broke down. People at the front of the crowd stumbled, resulting in the stampede.

February 4, 1998: Earthquake (5.9-magnitude) struck Afghanistan, where 2,323 people died & 30,000 were left homeless.

February 4, 1997: Earthquake (6.5-magnitude) struck Iran, where 88 people died.

February 4, 1987: President Reagan’s veto of the Clean Water Act was overridden by Congress.

February 4, 1976, Earthquake (7.5-magnitude) struck Guatemala & Honduras, where 22,778 people died & one million were left homeless after one third of Guatemala City was destroyed. Earthquake was the result of a clash between Caribbean & North American plates along the Motagua Fault.

February 4, 1975: Earthquake (7.0-magnitude) struck Haicheng, China, where 2,000 people died.

February 4, 1965: One of the largest earthquakes (8.7-magnitude) in recorded history struck Alaska.

February 4, 1936: John Livingood, American physicist at University of California-Berkeley, synthetically produced the first radioactive substance (radium E) by bombarding the element bismuth with neutrons.

February 4, 1915: Joseph Goldberger, American physician, began experiments to find cause of the disease, pellagra. More than 10,000 Americans had died of pellagra in 1915. Experiments were conducted upon dozen prison inmate volunteers in Jackson, Mississippi. By adjusting the food in their meals, it was eventually found that pellagra is caused by poor diet. Improving diet remedies the potentially fatal disease. Goldberg’s experiment is a medical classic. His studies alerted people to importance of essential nutrients found in diets. It began “biological age” in nutrition research during which connection was made between disease & lack of essential nutrients in the diet, which we call vitamins.

February 4, 1902: Charles Lindbergh, American aviator, was born. He flew first nonstop solo flight across Atlantic was born. In 1927, Lindbergh left New York for Paris, carrying only sandwiches & water. He decided against carrying parachute & radio in favor of more gasoline. Lindberg fought fog, icing & drowsiness. Finally 33-1/2 hours later, he landed in Paris after a 3,600 mile flight.

February 4, 1887: Interstate Commerce Act authorized federal regulation of railroads. Note: This had a major impact on transportation of hazardous materials.

February 4, 1877: C.E.A. WInslow, American bacteriologist, was born. He helped found the Yale University School of Public Health. Winslow was a proactive member on the US Surgeon General’s committee investigating leaded gasoline in 1925. In the hearings, Ethyl, General Motors & Standard Oil (Exxon) officials claimed that there were no alternatives to leaded gasoline. Winslow argued that a list of alternatives should be included in the Surgeon General’s final report on leaded gasoline. Unfortunately, he was not successful.

February 4, 1797: Earthquake struck Quito, Ecuador; where 41,000 people died.

February 4, 1783: Earthquake struck Calabria, Italy; where 50,000 people died.

February 5, 1936: National Wildlife Federation was formed. Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling had persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to convene a meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss plight of our nation’s wildlife. At the meeting, Darling urged 2,000 conservationists including farmers, hunters, anglers, garden club members & other outdoor enthusiasts to unite into a block that could influence lawmakers. From that meeting, the National Wildlife Federation emerged as a proactive voice for protecting our wild heritage.

February 5, 2012: After more than two decades of drilling in Antarctica, Russian scientists pierced through Antarctica’s frozen crust to find a vast, subglacial lake that has lain untouched for at least 14 million years hiding what scientists believe may be unknown organisms & clues to life on other planets.

February 5, 1972: US airlines begin mandatory inspection of passengers & baggage.

February 5, 1958: Following a mid-air collision between a US Air Force B-47 bomber & a fighter plane, an Mk-15 nuclear weapon was lost off the coast of Georgia.

February 5, 1873: Andrew Dalrymple & his wife died in a nitroglycerin explosion at their home on Dennis Run, Pennsylvania. He was a “moonlighter” or illegal oil well shooter. Dalrymple torpedo accident revealed that nitroglycerine & other explosives were being stolen from various magazines throughout the country. Modern term “moonlighting” comes from practice of surreptitious avoidance of licensing fees imposed on the use of patented fracking techniques used to increase oilfield production.

February 5, 1872: Lafayette Benedict Mendel, American biochemist, was born. His discoveries concerning value of vitamins & proteins helped establish modern concepts of nutrition. Collaborating with Thomas Osborne, they showed that rats developed xerophthalmia on diets in which lard supplied the fat. This condition was cured by substitution of butterfat. They discovered butterfat contained a growth- promoting factor necessary for development, soon known as fat-soluble vitamin A. Mendel also contributed to discovery of B complex vitamins & linked nutritive value of proteins to their amino acids.

February 5, 1817: First American gas light company was incorporated in Baltimore, Maryland to manufacture & distribute coal gas “to provide for more effectually lighting in the streets, squares, lanes and alleys of the city of Baltimore.”

February 5, 1783: Earthquake (7.5-8.0 magnitude) struck Southern Italy where 80,000 people died. Over 100 villages were literally wiped away with no survivors or standing structures remaining. Mile-long ravine (nearly 100 feet wide) was instantly created. According to a report, more than 100 goats fell into another crack in the earth. Witness claimed that “two mountains on the opposite sides of a valley walked from their original position until they met in the middle of the plain, and there joining together, they intercepted the course of a river.” Several hundred people that survived the initial quake, fled to a nearby beach for shelter. Many then drowned when a second tremor at midnight prompted a tsunami. Misery continued across Southern Italy & Sicily for remainder of the winter. With food supplies disrupted, survivors were at risk of starvation.

February 5, 1744: John Jeffries, American surgeon & balloonist, was born. He was fascinated by weather & began taking daily weather measurements in 1774 in Boston.  February 5th every year is National Weatherperson’s Day, which celebrated in memory of America’s first weatherperson, John Jeffries.

February 5, 1663: Destructive earthquake struck Quebec, Canada. It caused vast landslides along St. Maurice, Batiscan & St. Lawrence Rivers. Charlevoix earthquake was felt sharply in New England, where tops of chimneys were broken & pewter was jarred from shelves.

February 6, 1959: Jack Kilby, American electrical engineer & Nobel Prize Laureate working for Texas Instruments, filed a patent on his invention of “Miniaturized Electronic Circuits”. His method of producing integrated circuit chips revolutionized the manufacture of computers, calculators & numerous other electronic devices. Kilby’s invention was a radical departure from prior efforts to pack components closer together to reduce the physical size of electronic circuits. His innovation was that “all components of an electronic circuit are formed in or near one surface of a relatively thin semiconductor wafer.”

February 6, 1978: Snowstorm hit New England. Parts of Rhode Island had 54″ of snow.

February 6, 1936: 1936, US Congressional Subcommittee charged that a “grave and inhuman disregard” for human life occurred during construction of Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Tunnel in West Virginia. During construction, workers encountered a long section inside the tunnel of pure silica, which the workers were directed to mine for use in electroprocessing steel. Workers were not given any masks or breathing equipment to use while mining, despite the fact that management wore such equipment during inspection visits. As a result of the exposure to silica dust, many workers developed silicosis, a debilitating lung disease. Large number of the workers eventually died from silicosis, in some cases as quickly as within a year.  The US Congressional hearing placed the death toll at 476.

February 6, 1913: Mary Leakey, English archaeologist & paleoanthropologist, was born. Known as the “woman who found our ancestors”, Mary’s work in East Africa shed new light on human evolution. She made important fossil finds interpreted & publicized by her husband (noted anthropologist Louis Leakey). Her most spectacular find: three trails of fossilized hominid footprints 3.6 million years old, which she discovered in Tanzania showing man’s ancestors, were walking upright at a much earlier period than previously believed.

February 6, 1911: Great fire destroyed most of downtown Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey.

February 6, 1886: Clement Winkler, German chemist, discovered element germanium (atomic number 32). He discovered germanium in the mineral argyrodite. While analyzing the silver sulfide ore, Winkler found that all the known elements it contained amounted to only 93 per cent of its weight. Tracking down remaining 7 per cent, he found a new element he called germanium (for Germany).

February 7, 1812: Most violent of series of 4 major earthquakes (7.7-magnitude) struck New Madrid, Missouri. It created a fluvial tsunami on Mississippi River (actually causing the river to run backward for several hours). Series of tremors between December 1811 & March 1812 were most powerful in history of American lower 48 states.

February 7, 2009: Massive Australian bushfires broke out in Victoria, where 173 people died. It was worst natural disaster in Australia’s history.

February 7, 2008: After a massive sugar dust explosion that killed 14 workers & injured 38 others, Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a statement encouraging industry to support a combustible dust standard.

February 7, 2006: Worst bushfire-weather conditions ever recorded in Australia began & lasted for 5 weeks. Temperatures of 120°F & wind speeds of 62 mph, precipitated by an intense heat wave, fanned the fires over large distances & areas, creating several large firestorms and pyrocumulus systems. Near Melbourne, a single firestorm accounted for 120 of the 173 deaths recorded.

February 7, 1984: “Bubble Boy” who was born without immunity to disease touched his mother for first time after he was removed from a plastic “bubble.”  David Vetter died two weeks later. He had lived since birth in this protective, germ-free environment. Born with a rare disorder called severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) he lacked T-cells. Note: T cells belong to group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes, which play a central role in cell-mediated immunity. Good news is that Duke University researchers in 1999 reported that early treatment with bone marrow from a parent or sibling can now save most SCID patients. After a few months, transplanted marrow stem cells, precursors to blood cells, can evolve to become patient’s own T-cells.

February 7, 1962: Coal mine gas explosion occurred in Voelklingen, Germany;   where 298 miners died.

February 7, 1932: James Chadwick, English physicist, announced discovery of a neutral particle inside nucleus of atoms. After graduating from Cambridge, he worked in Berlin under Geiger. Later, Chadwick worked in England with Ernest Rutherford. He worked on scattering of alpha particles and on nuclear disintegration. By bombarding beryllium with alpha particles, Chadwick discovered the neutron for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics. He led UK’s work on the atomic bomb in WW II.

February 7, 1904: Fire in Baltimore, Maryland business district wind-whipped into uncontrollable conflagration (destroying 1500 buildings in 80 blocks). Fire was believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette. Great Baltimore Fire ($200 million in property damages) was most destructive fire in U.S. since Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

February 7, 1863: John Newlands, British chemist, organized known elements, listing them in table determined by atomic weight, according to his “law of octaves.” He arranged elements both in order of succession & in such a way as to get elements with similar characteristics on the same line of his table. This required some fudging on Newlands’ part & ultimately resulted in some inaccuracies. In 1913, Henry Moseley established that properties of the elements varied periodically according to atomic number, not atomic weight.

February 7, 1817: America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated a major street corner in Baltimore, Maryland. The first U.S. commercial gas lighting company distilled tar & wood to manufacture its gas.

February 7, 1814: Gardner Colton, American lecturer, was born. He was first to administer nitrous oxide (laughing gas) as an anesthetic. Horace Wells (Dentist) attended one of Colton’s public demonstrations of the properties of nitrous oxide. Wells observed a volunteer paid no heed to any pain when he accidentally gashed leg while stumbling around under the influence of a moderate dose of the gas. Wells suggested use of the gas as an anesthetic, & even volunteered to have Colton administer nitrous oxide while one of Wells’ molars was extracted by another dentist.

February 7, 1804: John Deere, American agricultural equipment inventor & pioneer manufacturer, was born. As a blacksmith in a prairie town, he frequently repaired wood & cast-iron plows of eastern U.S. design because local soils were heavy & sticky. By 1838, he produced several suitable steel plows of his own new design. His agricultural machine business expanded upon moving to Moline, Illinois. John Deere Company later diversified with production of harrows, drills, cultivators & wagons.

February 8, 1834: Dmitry Mendeleev, Russian chemist, was born. He developed periodic table to classify both known & unknown chemical elements. In his final version of periodic table he left gaps, foretelling that they would be filled by elements not then known. Mendeleev predicted properties of three of those elements. He also helped design the first oil refinery in Russia and recognized the importance of petroleum as a feedstock for chemicals rather than fuel. Mendeleev once said that burning petroleum simply as a fuel “would be akin to firing up a kitchen stove with bank notes.”

February 8, 1978: Classic “Nor’easter” storm that brought severe blizzard to New England finally subsided. Powerful sustained 50 miles per hour winds with gusts of nearly 100 mph were observed. Areas of Rhode Island & Massachusetts received 55 inches of snow. Fifty-foot waves on Massachusetts coast wiped out seaside homes. In Maine, waves destroyed three lighthouses & an amusement pier.

February 8, 1931: Gas explosion & fire occurred in Manchuria coal mine, where 3,000 people died.

February 8, 1924: First execution by lethal gas in American history was carried out in Nevada. Lethal gas was adopted as more humane method of carrying out its death sentences, as opposed to traditional techniques of execution by hanging, firing squad, or electrocution. During lethal gas execution, prisoner is sealed in airtight chamber & either potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide is dropped into pan of hydrochloric acid. This produces hydrocyanic gas, which destroys a human body’s ability to process blood hemoglobin. Prisoner falls unconscious within seconds & chokes to death, unless he or she holds his or her breath, in which case prisoner often suffers violent convulsions for up to a minute before dying. Lethal gas as a method of carrying out capital punishment was largely replaced by lethal injection in late 20th century.

February 8, 1923: Coal mine explosion occurred in Dawson, New Mexico, where 120 people died.

February 8, 1906: Chester Carlson, American physicist, was born. He invented xerography, an electrostatic dry-copying process that found applications ranging from office copying to reproducing out-of-print books. It involved sensitizing photoconductive surface to light by giving it an electrostatic charge. He later sold commercial rights for his invention to Haloid Company, a small manufacturer of photographic paper (which later became Xerox Corporation).

February 8, 1905: Cyclone hit Tahiti & adjacent islands, where 10,000 people died.

February 8, 1866: Moses Gomberg, American chemist, was born in Russia. He initiated study of free radicals in chemistry by preparing the first authentic one, triphenylmethyl. Organic free radicals are essential to body functioning as well as being implicated in aging & diseases. They play major role in production of plastics & other widely used synthetic materials. Organic free radicals contain a form of carbon with an unpaired electron which allows radicals to react readily with another molecule. Until Gomberg synthesized triphenylmethyl, free radicals containing carbon had been thought not to exist. Gomberg’s discovery led to modern theories of structure & reactivity of organic molecules.

February 8, 1865: Gregor Mendel, German scientist, who first discovered laws of genetics, presented his first scientific paper in Moravia. He described his investigations with pea plants. Although he sent 40 reprints of his article to prominent biologists throughout Europe, including Darwin, only one was interested enough to reply. Most of the reprints, including Darwin’s, were discovered later with the pages uncut, meaning they were never read. Fortunately, 18 years after Mendel’s death, three botanists in three different countries researching the laws of inheritance, came to realize that Mendel had found them first. Mendel was finally acknowledged as a pioneer in field which became known as genetics.

February 8, 1817: America’s first commercial gas lighting company illuminated its first street lamp in Baltimore. Manufactured coal gas (not natural gas) was used. Note: Environmental legacy from manufactured coal gas illumination is abandoned pits & waste piles filled with polynuclear aromatic coal tars.

February 8, 1777: Bernard Courtois, French chemist, was born. He discovered element iodine. As son of a saltpeter manufacturer, Courtois became interested in chemistry & was apprenticed to a pharmacist. At his father’s saltpeter business, ashes of kelp seaweed were leached for sodium & potassium salts using sulfuric acid to produce a mother liquor. One day Courtois observed, from the mother liquor, rising clouds of purple vapor which condensed on cold surfaces as dark crystals with a metallic luster. He thought these could be a new element, but lacked ability to fully confirm his suspicion. This was later verified by Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac & Humphry Davy.

February 9, 1870: Weather Bureau authorized by U.S. Congress. Weather Bureau is now officially known as National Weather Service (NWS), a department of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Note: Cleveland Abbe had previously inaugurated a private weather reporting & warning service at Cincinnati. Hence, Abbe was only person in the country who was already experienced in drawing weather maps from telegraphic reports & forecasting from them. Thus, he was hired by this new weather service. As the first U.S. meteorologist, he became known as the “father of the U.S. Weather Bureau.”

February 9, 2001: United States Navy nuclear submarine collided with Japanese fishing boat in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, four students & five other people died. Military submarine was hosting cruise for VIPs at the time, some of whom were actually at controls when collision occurred. Appropriate sonar & periscope sweeps to determine safety of surfacing were not completed. Crew failed to communicate its intentions properly in part because civilians were sitting at the controls. They failed to notice that a Japanese fishing boat was above them on the surface. Submarine’s rudder sliced right through fishing boat’s engine room as it rose to surface. Fishing boat, used as training vessel for high school students, was damaged so severely that it sank within 10 minutes.

February 9, 2000: Five weeks of heavy rainfall began in Mozambique. It resulted in catastrophic flooding, where 800 people died. Worst hit were people living in makeshift homes in slum areas around the capital.

February 9, 1996: German scientists created an atom of the element 112. Its nucleus has 112 protons & 166 neutrons, giving it a mass number of 277. As a new element it was named Ununbium, symbol Uub. Discovery was based on presence of one atom of the element made by accelerating zinc atoms to high speed and bombarding them into lead. When an atom of each fused to make the new nucleus, it lasted a fraction of a thousandth of a second before decaying, emitting an alpha particle to become a nucleus of element 110.

February 9, 1991: Nuclear reactor accident occurred in Mihama, Japan. A pipe in the steam generator burst, causing radioactive primary (reactor) coolant water to leak into secondary steam-generating circuit. Some radioactivity was released to the atmosphere & plant’s emergency core cooling system was activated. Accident was caused by human error, when some anti-vibration bars were wrongly installed by workers & sawn off short to make them fit. Good news is that no one died.

February 9, 1971: Sylmar earthquake (6.6-magnitude) struck San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles Area), where 65 people died. It resulted in $505 million in property damages.

February 9, 1967: Earthquake (6.8-magnitude) struck Columbia in South America, where 98 people died.

February 9, 1942: U.S. Daylight Savings time first went into effect to conserve fuel during WW II.

February 9, 1909: Smoking Opium Exclusion Act banned importation, possession & use of “smoking opium” in the USA. This act became first federal law to ban use of non-medical substances. However, the act did not regulate opium-based medications.

February 9, 1863: Fire extinguishing system was patented by Alanson Crane in Virginia. Patent incorporated a water pipe under the foundation of the outside wall, which supplies a vertical pipe leading up the inside of the wall to one or more perforated pipes extending horizontally throughout the building. The principle innovation was to include a stop cock with a locking cover that could be operated outside the wall by an authorized person in the event of a fire when the building is unoccupied. Thus water could flood the floors and quickly extinguish a fire.

February 9, 1854: Aletta Henriette Jacobs, Dutch physician, was born. As first woman to attend university in the Netherlands, she studied medicine, & became her country’s first woman doctor. After taking over her father’s medical practice in Amsterdam, she soon began first systematic study of contraception. Many of her patients were worn down from too many pregnancies. She thus began prescribing diaphragms as birth control, effectively opening first birth control clinic in the world. She proactively campaigned for women’s health & safety legislation.

February 9, 1846: Wilhelm Maybach, German engineer & engine designer, was born. He invented spray carburetor. With Nikolaus Otto, he developed four-stroke engine cycle. Maybach invented float-feed carburetor in which fuel was vaporized by passing it through a jet as a fine spray & mixed with air to produce a combustible mixture for the gasoline engine. Maybach designed first Mercedes car for Daimler. He later designed & manufactured engines for Zeppelin airships.

February 10, 1846:  Ira Remsen, American chemist, was born. He co-discovered saccharin. Remsen specialized in chemistry of benzene rings & related groups. With a student (Constantine Fahlberg) working under his direction, he first synthesized orthobenzoyl sulfimide. Student accidentally discovered its intensely sweet taste by touching her fingers to her lips while unknowingly having a few grains on them.

February 10, 2010: Afghan officials removed 150 bodies of people killed during the previous week by avalanches in Hindu Kush Mountains.

February 10, 2009: Large amount of space debris was created when Russian & American satellites collided over Siberia. Currently 6,000 satellites are in orbit & 3,000 remain operational.

February 10, 2005: North Korea announced that it has nuclear weapons.

February 10, 1990: New York Times headline stated, “Perrier Recalls Its Water in U.S. After Benzene Is Found in Bottles”. The company that made bottled mineral water chic voluntarily recalled its entire inventory of Perrier from store shelves throughout the United States after tests showed the presence of the chemical benzene in a small sample of bottles. This impurity was discovered in North Carolina by county officials who so prized the purity of Perrier that they used it as a standard in tests of other water supplies.

February 10, 1983: Tanker collided with a platform in Persian Gulf, near Iran. Platform developed a 45-degree tilt & had to be shut down. Wave action & corrosion caused the riser to collapse into the wellhead causing 1,500 barrels per day spill. Oil well was not capped because the field was in the middle of the Iran/Iraq war zone. Leaking platform was attacked by Iraqi planes in March and the resulting slick caught fire. In March 1983, a nearby platform was attacked with rockets by Iraqi helicopters. About 733,000 barrels of oil spilled into the sea as a result of this incident. Rate of oil leaking into the Persian Gulf in Mid-May of 1983 was between 4,000 & 10,000 barrels per day due to war-related activity or collapse of burning platforms.

February 10, 1981: Las Vegas hotel fire, 8 people died & 198 were injured from smoke inhalation.

February 10, 1973: Staten Island natural gas storage tank in New York City exploded, where 40 people died.

February 10, 1970: Avalanche crashed down on ski resort in France where 42 people died & 60 more suffered serious injuries. After explosion-like sound, 100,000 cubic yards of dry powder snow came rushing down the mountain. Snow exploded through hotel’s large windows & swallowed breakfast crowd inside. Some people were thrown down hallways & through windows. Outside, the snow pushed cars right off the road & blocked access to the hotel. Snow was 100 yards high in some spots.

February 10, 1966: Ralph Nader, American lawyer, author & consumer safety advocate, testified before Congress about unsafe practices in the auto industry. His testimony facilitated creation of the National Traffic & Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This legislation sought to reduce the rising number of injuries & deaths from road accidents by establishing federal safety standards for every American-made vehicle, including safety belts for all passengers. Nader later was a consumer advocate for food & drug safety.

February 10, 1954: Two avalanches buried Blons, Austria, where 200 people died. One of the avalanches was 90 feet deep.

February 10, 1925: First waterless natural gas storage tank was put into service in Michigan City, Indiana. Instead of a water trough design, gasholder had a piston to adjust pressure as the amount of stored gas varied. Gas-tight joint between the piston & the holder walls was made by using a tar seal.

February 10, 1902:  Walter Brattain, American scientist, was born in China. He helped to investigate semiconductors (materials of which transistors are made). Transistors replaced bulkier vacuum tubes & became forerunner of micro-miniature electronic parts.

February 10, 1863: First U.S. fire extinguishing system patent for buildings was granted to Alanson Crane. Patent drawing showed a water pipe under the foundation of the outside wall, which supplies a vertical pipe leading up the inside of the wall to one or more perforated pipes extending horizontally throughout the building. Principle innovation was to include a stop cock with a locking cover that could be operated outside the wall by an authorized person in the event of a fire when the building is unoccupied. Thus water could flood the floors & quickly extinguish a fire.

February 11, 1847:  Thomas Edison, American inventor, was born. He created world’s first industrial research laboratory. His first invention was an automated telegraph message machine. He attached a gadget to a clock that would send a signal even if he was asleep. Edison invented 2,000+ gadgets & held 1,093 patents.  In Menlo Park, New Jersey, he invented first prototype of a commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb. Edison was known internationally as the “Wizard of Menlo Park”.

February 11, 1999: Earthquake (6.0-magnitude) struck Afghanistan, where 70 people died.

February 11, 1971: Seabed Arms Control Treaty was signed by 87 countries, including the US, UK & USSR. It is formally known as the “Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil thereof”. Like the Antarctic Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, and the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaties, the Seabed Arms Control Treaty sought to prevent the introduction of international conflict and nuclear weapons into an area hitherto free of them.

February 11, 1970: Japan’s first satellite was successfully launched into orbit around Earth. Two months after Japan’s satellite launch, China became world’s fifth space power. Note: About 40 other countries have since launched & operated satellites. Today, 3,000 useful satellites & 6,000 pieces of space junk are in orbit.

February 11, 1952: Snow storm stalled over middle of Europe, dumping several feet of snow in France, Austria, Switzerland & Germany. During Central Europe snowstorm & resulting avalanches, 78 people died.

February 11, 1939: “Nature” Journal published theoretical paper on nuclear fission. This term was coined by its Swedish Nobel Prize winning authors, Lise Meitner & Otto Fritsch. They knew that when a uranium nucleus was struck by neutrons, barium was produced. Seeking an explanation, they used Bohr’s “liquid drop” model of the nucleus to envision the neutron inducing oscillations in a uranium nucleus, which would occasionally stretch out into the shape of a dumbbell. Sometimes, the repulsive forces between the protons in the two bulbous ends would cause the narrow waist joining them to pinch off & leave two nuclei where before there had been one. They calculated the huge amounts of energy released. This was the basis for nuclear chain reaction.

February 11, 1898: Leo Szilard, American nuclear physicist, was born in Hungary. He worked with Enrico Fermi to design first nuclear reactor that sustained a nuclear chain reaction in at the University of Chicago. Szilard first conducted his fission experiments at Columbia University. Aware of danger of nuclear fission in the hands of the German government, he persuaded Albert Einstein to write to President Roosevelt, urging him to commission American development of atomic weapons. Subsequently the “Manhattan Project” was moved to a secure research location in Chicago.

February 11, 1839: Willard Gibbs, American mathematical physicist & chemist, was born. Gibbs is best known as one of founders of physical chemistry. His major work was in developing thermodynamic theory, which brought physical chemistry from an empirical enquiry to a deductive science.

February 11, 1809: Robert Fulton, American inventor, patented his steamboat. Note: Two years earlier, Fulton made his first successful steamboat trip between New York City & Albany, NY. His steamboat successfully opened up American rivers to two-way travel.

February 11, 1808: Anthracite coal was first burned experimentally as fuel by Judge Jesse Fell in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Anthracite differs from wood in that it needs a draft from below. By burning it on an open grate in a fireplace, Fell proved that it was a viable heating fuel. Note: Coal miners in Northeast Pennsylvania were known as “coal crackers”.

February 12, 1809: Abraham Lincoln, who is best known as President of the United States, was born in Kentucky. Few people know that he is the only U.S. president to hold a patent, which he received in 1849. His patent was for a device to lift boats over shoals. Note: Lincoln displayed a lifelong fascination with mechanical things. Lincoln delivered several lectures on discoveries & inventions before he became president. He noted in 1858, “Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship”. In 1859, he praised the patent laws for having “secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”

February 12, 2002: U.S. Secretary of Energy first announced the decision that Yucca Mountain in Nevada was suitable to be the United States’ nuclear waste repository. Note: Funding for development of Yucca Mountain waste site was terminated on April 14, 2011. U.S. GAO stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons. This leaves U.S. civilians without any long term storage site for high level radioactive waste, which is stored on-site at nuclear facilities around the country.

February 12, 2001: Earthquake (6.6-magnitude) struck El Salvador, where 400 people died.

February 12, 1960: France detonated its first atomic bomb.

February 12, 1957: General Electric Company announced that Borazon, a material hard enough to scratch diamonds, had been made. Cubic Boron Nitride (CBN) remains hard at temperatures at which diamond burns readily (1600 ºF), whereas Borazon can withstand temperatures of more than 3500 ºF. The hardness of diamond and borazon is approximately equal, each able to scratch the other. In actual lapping tests, Borazon powder has polished the surface of a large diamond at the same rate as the surface was polished by diamond powder. It is now used for abrasive tools for such industries as metalworking, stone, and mining.

February 12, 1953: Earthquake (6.5-magnitude) struck Iran, where 970 people died.

February 12, 1914: Sewer gas explosion sent manhole covers flying skyward, tore up pavements, shattered windows & wrecked outbuildings in Detroit, Michigan. No one was seriously injured, but there were scores of narrow escapes when heavy pieces of iron & paving blocks fell back to the ground.

February 12, 1878: Frederick Thayer, Harvard baseball player, received a patent after inventing the first catcher’s mask. Note: This was one of the earliest examples of personal protective equipment (PPE).

February 12, 1809:  Charles Darwin, English naturalist, was born. He presented facts to support his theory of mode of evolution whereby favorable variations would survive, which he called “Natural Selection” or “Survival of the Fittest”.  His two most important books were “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” (1859) and “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”.

February 12, 1791: Peter Cooper, American inventor, manufacturer & philanthropist, was born. He established “Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art” in New York City to provide free technical education of the working class. He invented the first American-built steam locomotive for a common-carrier railway, the Tom Thumb. His iron-rolling mill produced iron structural beams, included those used to build the Cooper Union, which he wanted to be fire-proof. After founding a telegraph company, he joined Cyrus Field’s effort to lay first transatlantic cable.

February 13, 1981: Series of sewer explosions destroyed over two miles of streets in Louisville, Kentucky. Blasts were caused by ignition of hexane vapors, which had been discharged from a soybean processing plant. Hexane was used as a solvent to extract oil from soybeans. Ralston-Purina plant employed a containment system designed to recycle used hexane from the process back to the plant. However, the containment system was not functioning that night. Several thousand gallons of hexane were released into the sewers. Hexane vapors slowly seeped out of manholes in the streets. Cause of the explosions was eventually traced to a spark from a car.

February 13, 2011: Ecuadorian court fined Chevron, parent company of Texaco, $8 billion to compensate for ecological problems that Lago Agrio oil field development had created including: water pollution, soil contamination, deforestation & cultural upheaval.

February 13, 2001: Earthquake (6.6-magnitude) struck El Salvador, where 402 people died.

February 13, 1960: France detonated its first atomic bomb in Algeria, thus becoming the fourth country to possess nuclear weapons after the US, Russia & Britain.

February 13, 1946: World’s first electronic digital computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was first demonstrated at the University of Pennsylvania. It occupied a room 30 by 50 feet. ENIAC’s birth lay in World War II as a classified military project. Its development is historic because it laid foundation for the modern electronic computing industry. ENIAC demonstrated that high-speed digital computing was possible using the vacuum tube technology then available. Built out of some 17,468 electronic vacuum tubes, it was in its time the largest single electronic apparatus in the world.

February 13, 1918: Earthquake (7.4-magnitude) struck China, where 1,000 people died.

February 13, 1912: Robert Millikan, American Nobel Prize winning experimental physicist, began collecting data from his famous oil drop experiment. Millikan used his measurements of motion of oil drops within an electric field to estimate the fundamental unit of charge carried by a single electron. He began by measuring the course of charged water droplets in an electrical field. His results suggested that the charge on the droplets is a multiple of the elementary electric charge. Later, he experimentally verified the equation introduced by Albert Einstein to describe the photoelectric effect. He used this same research to obtain an exact value of Planck’s constant.

February 13, 1766:  Thomas Malthus, English economist & demographer, was born. As a pioneer sociologist, he was one of first to systematically analyze human society when he published his theories in An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus predicted population would always outrun food supply & that would result in famine, disease or war to reduce the number of people. As Malthus observed Industrial Revolution was causing a rapid increase in population, he indicated keeping improved social conditions would require imposing strict limits on reproduction. Reading the book inspired Charles Darwin to reflect upon the survival of fittest individuals in process of natural selection in evolving populations of any organism.

February 13, 1633: Galileo Galilei, Italian philosopher, astronomer & mathematician, arrived in Rome, Italy to face charges of heresy for advocating the Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. During his inquisition, Galileo agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was put under house arrest where he remained until dying in 1642. Today, Galileo is recognized for making important contributions to the study of motion & astronomy. His work influenced later scientists such Isaac Newton, who developed the law of universal gravitation. In 1992, the Vatican formally acknowledged its mistake in condemning Galileo.

February 14, 1929: Alexander Fleming, Scottish bacteriologist & Nobel Prize Laureate, introduced his mold by-product called penicillin to cure bacterial infections. His accidental discovery led to one of great developments of modern medicine. Having left plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Fleming noticed that a mold that had fallen on the culture killed many of the bacteria. He identified the mold as Penicillium Notatum, similar to kind found on bread.

February 14, 1998: Derailment & collision of two tanker trains hauling fuel oil created a catastrophic fire in the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé, where 200+ people died.

February 14, 1990: Perrier recalled 160 million bottles of sparkling water after trace of benzene was found in some of their bottles.

February 14, 1989: Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million damages after hazardous materials (methyl isocyanide gas leak) disaster in Bhopal, India.

February 14, 1989: First of 24 Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites were placed into orbit around Earth. GPS revolutionized navigation, both at sea & on land, by providing position reports with unprecedented, pinpoint accuracy. Each satellite was placed in specific orbit at specific altitude to ensure that four or five satellites are always within range from any point on the planet. A GPS receiver picks up signals from satellites & trilaterates the data to fix their position.

February 14, 1961: Lawrencium (element 103) was first produced in Berkeley, California.

February 14, 1911:  Willem Kolff, American physician & biomedical engineer, was born in Holland. He invented artificial kidney machine & headed a team which invented & tested an artificial heart. In 1957, implantation of a totally artificial heart in chest of an animal (dog) was accomplished for first time. It was a pneumatic pump which kept dog alive for 90 minutes. In 1982, first fully artificial heart was implanted in human patient under his supervision. It was designed by one of Kolff’s students (Robert Jarvik) that implanted artificial heart which kept patient (Barney Clark) alive for 112 days, thus proving viability of this procedure.

February 14, 1878: Julius Nieuwland, American organic chemist, was born in Belgium. He collaborated with DuPont chemists in the polymerization of acetylene & development of chloroprene, which in turn could be polymerized to make first really successful synthetic rubber, neoprene. This was superior to rubber in its resistance to sunlight, abrasion & temperature extremes.

February 14, 1877:  Greenleaf Whittier Pickard, American electrical engineer, was born. His invention of the crystal detector was one of first devices widely used for receiving radio broadcasts (a key component, until superseded by triode vacuum tube, & later the transistor). His patent described it as “a means for receiving intelligence communicated by electric waves.” He was also one of first scientists to demonstrate wireless electromagnetic transmission of speech. In 1899, he transmitted spoken message over distance of ten miles. In his study of the polarization of radio waves, he contributed to development of the direction finder, & noted as early as 1908 that errors in reading radio compasses might be caused by buildings, trees & other objects.

February 14, 1869: C.T.R. Wilson, Nobel Prize winning Scottish physicist, was born. He invented the Wilson cloud chamber, which was used to study radioactivity, X rays, cosmic rays, and other nuclear phenomena. His discovery was a method of rendering visible the tracks of such electrically charged particles. It is based upon the formation of clouds, which develop when sufficiently moist air is suddenly expanded, thus dropping the temperature below the dew-point. Thereafter, vapor condenses into small drops, formed round dust particles, or even, an electrically charged atomic particle. Formation of droplets is so dense that photographs show continuous tracks of particles travelling through the chamber as white lines.

February 14, 1859: George Ferris, American engineer, was born. In 1893, he invented the giant observation wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

February 15, 2013: Meteorite struck Chelyabinsk, Russia (in Western Siberia) triggering a powerful shock wave that blew out windows & caused the roof of a factory to collapse. After entering the Earth’s atmosphere at 33,000 mph, it exploded with force of 20 atomic bombs. Over 1,500 people were injured, mostly by flying glass fragments.

February 15, 2002: President George W. Bush approved Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as site for long-term disposal of highly radioactive nuclear utility power plant waste. Note: In 2011, funding for development of Yucca Mountain waste site was terminated. U.S. GAO stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.

February 15, 1996: Supertanker, Sea Empress, ran aground near Wales, spilling 70,000 tons of crude oil. Oil spill did not take any human lives, but severely damaged several bird sanctuaries.

February 15, 1994: Earthquake (6.9-magnitude) struck Indonesia, where 207 people died.

February 15, 1982: World’s largest semi-submersible oil-drilling platform, Ocean Ranger, sank in a storm off Newfoundland, where all of the 84 workers died.

February 15, 1955: General Electric announced their successful synthesis of 1/16″ diamonds using the first process that was reproducible. Research team had worked since 1951 to create a special pressure vessel to subject carbon compounds to pressures of up to 1,500,000 lbs/square inch at temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees F. Manufactured diamonds are used as abrasives in masonry saws, mining drill bits, polishing machinery, and cutting tools.

February 15, 1951: First atomic reactor to be used in medical therapy treated its first patient at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island (New York State). Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR) began experimental treatment of brain cancer using neutrons from the reactor. In next two years, ten patients were treated with boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT).

February 15, 1898: Massive explosion of unknown origin sank battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, 258 sailors died. “Remember the Maine!” soon became battle cry of American yellow journalists. USA blamed Spain, which marked beginning of Spanish-American War. In 1976, team of American naval investigators concluded that Maine explosion was likely caused by spontaneous combustion of coal in bunker that ignited its adjacent ammunition stocks, not by Spanish mine or act of sabotage.

February 15, 1564:  Galileo Galilei, Italian natural philosopher, astronomer & mathematician, was born. He applied new techniques of the scientific method to make significant discoveries in physics & astronomy. His great accomplishments include perfecting (though not inventing) the telescope & consequent contributions to astronomy. Galilei studied science of motion, inertia, law of falling bodies & parabolic trajectories. His scientific progress came at a price, when his ideas were determined to be in conflict with prevailing religious dogma.

February 15, 399: Socrates, Greek philosopher, was sentenced to death for not honoring Greek deities & for corrupting his students with his ideas. Poison used was hemlock weed tea. Note: Dose makes the poison.

February 16, 1937: Wallace Carothers, DuPont research chemist, received a patent for nylon. His synthetic fiber patent covered linear condensation polymers capable of being drawn into strong pliable fibers, as well as process for making them. One of first consumer uses of this new wonder plastic was replacing hog bristles in tooth brushes.

February 16, 2006: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory determines that Greenland’s glaciers were melting twice as fast as previously estimated.

February 16, 2005: Kyoto global warming pact went into effect in 140 nations. Note: USA did not sign pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 5.2% by 2012.

February 16, 1994: Earthquake (6.5-magnitude) struck Island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where 200 people died.

February 16, 1989: Investigators in Lockerbie, Scotland, announced that bomb hidden inside radio-cassette player was reason that Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down. All 259 people aboard & 11 more on the ground died. Note: Federal Aviation Administration rules insist that checked baggage of any passenger who failed to board be removed from the aircraft’s hold. Investigators later found the case that contained the bomb was inside an unaccompanied bag.

February 16, 1983: Ash Wednesday brush fires raged across southern Australia burning thousands of acres, where 75 people died. Drought conditions resulted in dry brush & trees, perfect fuel for 24 major brush fires.

February 16, 1978: First public dialup electronic bulletin board system was launched in Chicago, Illinois. This unleashed kernel of what would eventually spawn the World Wide Web & countless online messaging systems including, Twitter.

February 16, 1962: North Sea flood hit coastal regions of Germany. In Hamburg, home of about 60,000 people were destroyed & 315 died.

February 16, 1961: China’s first nuclear reactor was completed.

February 16, 1901: John Whinfield, English chemist & inventor, was born. He helped to invent new polyester, polyethylene terephthalate, from a condensation reaction of ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid. When U.S. rights were purchased & developed by DuPont in USA, it was marketed as Dacron. Today, it is used for wash & wear clothing.

February 16, 1834: Ernst Haeckel, German biologist, naturalist & philosopher, was born. He discovered thousands of new species & coined many terms in biology, including the term “ecology” for the study of the interrelationship of species and the environment.

February 17, 1869: Dmitri Mendeleev, Russian scientist, began working on problem of how to arrange chemical elements in a systematic way. To begin, he wrote each element and its chief properties on a separate card and arranged these in various patterns. Eventually he achieved a layout that suited him and copied it down on paper. Later that same day he decided a better arrangement by properties was possible and made a copy of that, which had similar elements grouped in vertical columns, unlike his first table, which grouped them horizontally. These historic documents still exist, and mark the beginning of the form of the Periodic Table as commonly used today.

February 17, 2006: Mudslide in Philippines buried an elementary school with 250 children inside. Only one child was rescued alive. Total number of deaths in southern part of Leyte Island was 1,126.

February 17, 2003: Stampede occurred at a Chicago nightclub, where 21 people died.

February 17, 1996: Earthquake (8.2-magnitude) & a 24 foot tsunami struck Indonesia, where 108 people died.

February 17, 1993: Passenger ferry capsized near Port-au-Prince Haiti, where 900 people drowned. Ferry was dangerously overloaded, carried no lifeboats, nor any emergency gear.

February 17, 1974: Stampede for prime location seats occurred during soccer match in Cairo, Egypt, where 49 people died.

February 17, 1959: First American weather satellite (Vanguard 2) was launched.

February 17, 1952: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that Britain had developed its own atomic bomb. Nuclear test for first British-made atomic bomb was conducted off northwest coast of Australia. Britain became third nuclear power after U.S. & Russia to include an atomic bomb in its armory.

February 17, 1945: Wernher von Braun & his team of German rocket scientists evacuated V2 rocket site at Peenemunde, East Germany prior to Soviet occupation.

February 17, 1926: Avalanche buried 75 people Bingham, Utah, where 40 people died.

February 17, 1911: First electric self-starter was installed in a Cadillac automobile by General Motors. Cars previously were started by cranking a starting handle. This was hard work & caused multiple minor injuries when the cars backfired.

February 17, 1817: First public gas street light in USA was lit in Baltimore, Maryland. Rembrandt Peale, American entrepreneur, had learned about gas lighting by travelling to England. On his return, he displayed his “Ring of Fire” gas-powered light in his museum. Peale’s successful demonstration led to a plan to light the streets of the city & first Gas Company in America.

February 17, 1781:  René Laënnec, French physician, was born. As inventor of the stethoscope, he is generally considered the “Father of Chest Medicine”. Using a foot-long wooden cylinder placed on chests of his patients, he was able to hear various sounds made by lungs & heart. For three years he studied patients’ chest sounds & correlated them with diseases found in autopsies.

February 18, 1745:  Count Alessandro Volta, Italian physicist, was born. He invented electric battery, which enabled reliable, sustained supply of current. His voltaic pile used plates of two dissimilar metals (zinc & silver) each separated with porous brine-soaked cardboard. Previously, only discharge of static electricity had been available. Volt, a unit of electrical measurement, is named after him.

February 18, 2004: Run-away freight train in Iran carrying sulfur, fuel and fertilizer caught fire & exploded. Estimated 295 people, including 200 rescue workers, died.

February 18, 2003: Arsonist ignited gasoline-filled container inside subway station in South Korea where 198 people died. Blaze engulfed six-car train then spread to another train that pulled into station few minutes later.

February 18, 1965: Avalanche & glacial slide occurred in British Columbia, Canada, where 26 miners removing copper ore from underneath the glacier died.

February 18, 1937: Dust storms hit five states-in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, & New Mexico. Influenza & pneumonia patients were easily affected, as dust storms had made breathing difficult for them. Dust storms were so severe that people could taste dirt & other substances in their food at dinner time. Clouds of dust were so thick that it completely blocked light of the sun. People were advised to plug their window sills & door jams as well as hang wet sheets over doors & windows.

February 18, 1913: Frederick Soddy, Nobel Prize winning English chemist & physicist, first introduced the term, “isotope”. He suggested that different elements produced in different radioactive transformations were capable of occupying the same place on the Periodic Table. Soddy named such species “isotopes” from Greek words meaning “same place.” He co-discovered the element, protactinium (atomic number 91).

February 18, 1911: Earthquake (7.4-magnitude) struck Russia, where 90 people died.

February 18, 1871: Harry Brearley, English metallurgist, was born. He invented stainless steel, which is an alloy of steel with chromium & nickel. This chrome alloy steel was much more rust resistant than the steel then in common use. Added metals produced a surface film of metal oxides which resists rusting. Brearley quickly realized this could revolutionize the cutlery industry. Until then, table cutlery was silver or nickel plated. Cutting knives of carbon steel had to be thoroughly washed & dried after use, and even then rust stains would have to be rubbed off.

February 18, 1838: Ernst Mach, Austrian physicist, was born. He established important principles of optics, mechanics & wave dynamics. He introduced the “Mach number” for the ratio of speed of object to speed of sound is named for him.

February 19, 1473:  Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish astronomer, was born. He proposed that planets have the Sun as fixed point to which their motions are to be referred, Earth is a planet that besides orbiting the Sun annually, while turning once daily on its own axis, and that very gradual changes in direction of this axis account for precession of the equinoxes.

February 19, 2001: Foot-and-mouth disease was first detected in United Kingdom. Four million animals were slaughtered. UK was finally declared foot-and-mouth free in January 2002.

February 19, 1968: Damages for children born with deformities, caused by mothers taking the drug thalidomide during pregnancy are set by high court in United Kingdom. More than 400 children were affected.

February 19, 1889: Ohio enacted legislation: “An Act to prevent the wasting of Natural Gas and to provide for the plugging of all abandoned wells.” It was Ohio’s first petroleum resource conservation measure.

February 19, 1884: Without warning, 37 tornadoes swept across Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky & Indiana, where 167 people died. Twisters came before any warning systems were in place to alert area residents.

February 19, 1863: First pipeline from an oilfield to a refinery completed at Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, leaks made this first “high-tech” 2-inch pipeline impractical.

February 19, 1859:  Svante (August) Arrhenius, Swedish physical chemist, was born. He was awarded Nobel Prize for his electrolytic theory of dissociation. Electrolytes are chemical compounds which will conduct an electric current when fused or dissolved in certain solvents, usually water. He discovered that even when there is no current flowing through the solution, such compounds separate into particles carrying an electrical charge, called ions. He also investigated viscosity of solutions & how reaction speed changes with temperature.

February 19, 1600: Stratovolcano Huaynaputina in Peru exploded. It was the most violent eruption in South American recorded history.

February 20, 1902: Ansel Adams, American photographer & environmentalist, was born. His black & white photos of sweeping Western landscapes become icons of the conservation movement. He said: “We all know the tragedy of the dustbowls, the cruel unforgivable erosions of the soil, the depletion of fish or game, and the shrinking of the noble forests. And we know that such catastrophes shrivel the spirit of the people… The wilderness is pushed back, man is everywhere. Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere.” Ansel Adams served on the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1934 until 1971.

February 20, 2010: Floods & mudslides occurred on island of Madeira, Portugal; where 32 people died. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the archipelago.

February 20, 2003: Fire occurred during “Great White” rock concert at a Rhode Island nightclub, where 100 people died. Pyrotechnics were set off behind performers, which set fire to soundproofing foam on ceiling. Black smoke filled club’s interior, desperate rush of people to front entrance caused pile-up, trapping people where they stood.

February 20, 2002: Stove mishap set train on fire in Egypt, where 360+ people died.

February 20, 1988: Heavy rains created floods & mudslides in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; where 500 people died.

February 20, 1986: Soviet Union launched space station, Mir (Russian word for peace) It had six docking ports & special laboratories for scientific research. Five additional modules were launched between 1987 & 1996.

February 20, 1962: John Glenn, American astronaut, was successfully launched into orbit. He completed three-orbits around the earth, at maximum altitude of 162 & orbital velocity of 17,500 mph. He spotted Perth, Australia, when that city’s residents greeted him by switching on their house lights in unison. Glenn returned to space 36 years later, making 134 more orbits as a crew member of the space shuttle, Discover.

February 20, 1959: World’s first liquefied natural gas tanker (LNG) arrived in England from Lake Charles, Louisiana. LNG ship refrigerated its cargo to minus 285degrees F.

February 20, 1947: Chemical mixing error at an electroplating plant caused an explosion that destroyed 42 blocks in Los Angeles, California. Plant was using a new aluminum plating process, which employed concentrated perchloric acid. This acid is so volatile it must be kept under constant refrigeration. Unfortunately, a breakdown in the plant refrigeration system an hour earlier exacerbated the risk of a potential explosion. Mushrooming blast was so deafening that people several miles from scene believed an atom bomb had fallen.

February 20, 1947: Volcano erupted in a farmer’s corn field 200 miles west of Mexico City. It gave modern world its first opportunity to witness the birth of a volcano. Within two years, its slow moving lava flows buried most of the town of Paricutin.

February 20, 1934: Ernest Lawrence, American inventor & physicist, received a patent for the cyclotron, which accelerates ions in a circular path within a vacuum chamber via oscillations of a strong magnetic field. Spurred by a report that many elements could become radioactive upon hydrogen ion bombardment, Lawrence applied his invention to bombarding nitrogen in a cyclotron to produce artificial radioactivity.

February 20, 1920: Ammunition ship exploded in Archangelsk harbor (far north section of European Russia), where 1,500 people died.

February 20, 1910: British Admiralty announced its Navy will replace coal with oil for fuel in all of its ships. Note: Two years later U.S. Navy also followed with its fuel replacement.

February 20, 1901:  René (Jules) Dubos, American microbiologist, environmentalist, & author, was born in France. He pioneered research in isolating antibacterial substances from certain soil microorganisms and discovery of major antibiotics. He discovered ribonuclease, an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of ribonucleic acid (RNA). It is a nucleic acid molecule similar to DNA but containing ribose rather than deoxyribose. RNA is formed upon a DNA template. Dubos showed that a soil bacterium was capable of decomposing starch-like capsule of pneumococcus bacterium, rendering it harmless (unable to cause pneumonia).

February 20, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln & Mary Todd Lincoln became grief stricken when their eleven-year-old son, Willie, died from typhoid fever. This deadly disease, which killed hundreds of thousands every year, was usually contracted by consumption of fecally contaminated food/water. Bad news was the White House drew its water from the Potomac River, along which thousands of soldiers & horses were camped. Good news is that in the early 20th century, public health professionals & sanitary engineers were finally able to break the death spiral of sewage-contaminated drinking water.

February 20, 1835: Earthquake (8.5-magnitude) destroyed Concepcion, Chile; where 5,000 people died.

February 21, 1931: Alka Seltzer was introduced in USA with a heavy radio advertising campaign. During a severe flu epidemic, Hub Beardsley (President of Miles Laboratories) visited a local newspaper office in Elkhart, Indiana. He learned from the editor, that his staff seemed to be resistant to the illness. Newspaper editor explained that at the first sign of illness, he treated staff members with a combination of aspirin & baking soda. Beardsley then asked his chief chemist to develop an effervescent tablet with aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) & sodium bicarbonate as the main ingredients.

February 21, 2008: U.S. Navy destroyed a disabled (potentially hazardous) spy satellite. Spy satellite was shot down 153 nautical miles above earth using a missile fired from a warship west of Hawaii.

February 21, 1994: Whirlpool Corporation first began producing an energy efficient refrigerator that did not use Freon. Its efficiency was 25% better than U.S. law required. By removing Freon, its destructive effect on ozone in stratosphere was eliminated.

February 21, 1989: U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved low-calorie substitute for fat, Simplesse.

February 21, 1971: Tornadoes pounded Mississippi River Delta, where 117 people died. Twister (F4 category) hit Louisiana with winds between 207 & 260 mph.

February 21, 1922: Italian-built airship crashed in Virginia after hydrogen gas explosion caused by airship coming into contact with power lines. Dirigible burst into blazing inferno causing it to fall 1000 feet to the ground.

February 21, 1887: Herman Frasch (former Standard Oil chemist) applied for a patent on his process to eliminate sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” Earlier discoveries near Lima, Ohio, had produced a thick, sulfurous oil of little practical value. However, John D. Rockefeller saw an opportunity and accumulated a 40 million barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour Lima oil. His Standard Oil Company rehired Frasch — and bought his patent. With Frasch’s copper-oxide refining process used to “sweeten” the Lima oil, the odorless result multiplied its value, adding substantially to the Rockefeller fortune.

February 21, 1811: Humphry Davy, English scientist, first introduced the name “chlorine” from the Greek word for “green,” for the bright yellow green gas then known as oxymuriatic gas. In his paper, On a Combination of Oxymuriatic Gas and Oxygene Gas, Davy reported his experiments with oxymuratic gas, which appeared to have many of the reactive properties of oxygen. Hydrochloric acid was then known as muriatic acid, and when chlorine was first obtained from a reaction with the acid, the yellow green gas had been thought to be a compound containing oxygen. Davy’s later work showed that chlorine gas was in fact an element, unable to be decomposed into any simpler substances.

February 21, 1804: First self-propelled steam engine or steam locomotive on rails was demonstrated by Richard Trevithick in Wales. His engine was able to pull a 15 ton load at 5 mph. However, adhesion was a problem as the iron wheels slipped on the iron rails. Cast-iron rails of the tramways were not strong enough to support weight of Trevithick’s new machine so the experiment was soon abandoned.

February 22, 1857:  Heinrich (Rudolf) Hertz, German physicist, was born. He was first to broadcast & receive radio waves. Hertz generated electromagnetic waves by means of oscillatory discharge of condenser through a loop provided with a spark gap, & then detecting them with a similar type of circuit. Hertz’s condenser was pair of metal rods, placed end to end with small gap for a spark between them. Hertz was first to discover photoelectric effect. Unit of frequency (one cycle per second) is named after him.

February 22, 2011: Earthquake (6.3-magnitude) struck Christchurch, New Zealand, where 181 people died.


February 22, 1998: Seven tornadoes ripped through Central Florida, where 42 people died. This was deadliest outbreak of twisters in Florida history. El Nino weather system was in full effect.

February 22, 1997: Ian Wilmut, Scottish scientist, announced that an adult sheep had been successfully cloned. Dolly was actually born on July 5, 1996. Dolly was first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell.

February 22, 1978: Two propane tanker trucks exploded in Waverly, Tennessee, where 15 people died.

February 22, 1946: Selman Waksman, Russian-American Nobel Prize winning biochemist, announced his discovery of streptomycin. It was first antibiotic used effectively against tuberculosis.

February 22, 1923: Texas issued its first permit for a carbon “lamp black” factory. Adding ratio of one pound of carbon black to two pounds of rubber during vulcanizing process dramatically increases durability of tires. Lamp black was first produced by Chinese alchemists 3,500 years ago. Carbon black, which looks like soot, is produced by controlled combustion of both oil and natural gas. Today, worldwide carbon black production is 18 billion pounds/year.

February 22, 1828: Friedrich Wöhler, German biochemist, announced that he had synthesized organic chemical, urea. This landmark event was first time a material previously only associated with body function of a living thing, was made from inorganic chemicals of non-living origin. Previous source of urea was from urine of animals.

February 22, 1785: Jean-Charles-Athanase Peltier, French physicist, was born. He discovered Peltier effect, which occurs at junction of two dissimilar metals where an electric current will produce heat or cold, depending on direction of current flow. Peltier made a thermoelectric thermoscope to measure temperature distribution along a series of thermocouple circuits, from which he discovered the Peltier effect. Lenz succeeded in freezing water by this method. Its importance was not fully recognized until the later thermodynamic work of Kelvin. Peltier effect is now used in devices for measuring temperature & non-compressor cooling units.

February 23, 1954: First mass inoculations of new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, American medical researcher & virologist, were made at an Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Poliomyelitis was highly contagious disease that emerged in terrifying outbreaks & seemed impossible to stop. Attacking nerve cells & central nervous system, polio caused muscle deterioration, paralysis & even death. Its most famous victim was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

February 23, 2010: Unknown criminals pour 2.5 million liters of diesel oil & other hydrocarbons into a river in Northern Italy, creating an environmental disaster.

February 23, 1983: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announces its plan to buy out & evacuate dioxin-contaminated community of Times Beach, Missouri.

February 23, 1980: Oil tanker explosion occurred near Pilos, Greece, resulting in a 37 million-gallon spill.

February 23, 1893: Rudolf Diesel, German inventor, received a patent for his diesel engine. It burns #2 fuel oil rather than gasoline, & uses compression of gases in the cylinder rather than a spark to ignite the fuel. Diesel engines were used widely in Europe for their efficiency & power & are still used today in most heavy industrial machinery. Diesel cars never caught on in U.S. because diesel engine’s greater efficiency is counter-balanced by its higher emissions of soot, odor & air pollutants.

February 23, 1887: Earthquake (6.0-magnitude) struck Mediterranean Riviera (coast of southern France & northern Italy) where 2,000+ people died.

February 23, 1886: Charles Hall, American chemist, began manufacturing aluminum metal using a cost-effective electrolytic process to separate aluminum from its ore. He dissolved alumina ore in a bath of cryolyte (mineral containing fluorine, sodium & aluminum) & passed electric current through the solution. Pittsburgh Reduction Company later became ALCOA, Aluminum Company of America.

February 23, 1884:  Casimir Funk, American biochemist, was born in Poland. He coined term “vitamine”, which meant vital “life-amines”. Spelling was later changed to “vitamin”. Funk pursued idea that diseases such as beriberi, scurvy, rickets & pellagra were caused by lack of vital substances in the diet. His investigation of anti-beriberi factor showed that it was an amine (organic substance with molecules containing -NH2 amine group). Funk isolated nicotinic acid from rice polishing, later used against pellagra.

February 24, 1955: Steve Jobs, American inventor & entrepreneur, was born. With Steve Wozniak, he co-founded Apple Incorporated to manufacture personal computers. As either inventor or co-inventor, he was issued or applied for 338 patents. Jobs kept Apple at the forefront of innovative, functional, user-friendly designs with new products including the iPad tablet & iPhone.

February 24, 1989: Passenger jet flying from Honolulu to Sidney was 100 miles southwest of Hawaii when its cargo door blew out. Explosion on Boeing 747 created 10×40-ft. hole in fuselage, knocked out two engines on right side & caused damage to flaps & hydraulics. Nine passengers were sucked out of jetliner to their deaths 20,000 ft over the Pacific.

February 24, 1949: First U.S. rocket to reach “outer space” was launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It was first rocket to carry telemetry transmitting technical information to ground stations, including high-altitude temperature measurements. It reached record speed of 5,150 mph & record altitude of 244 miles.

February 24, 1938: Commercial production of nylon toothbrush bristles began. Before DuPont began production of “miracle tuft toothbrushes”, people used bristles made from wild swine neck hairs imported from Siberia, Poland & China. Synthetic bristles dramatically reduced toothbrush production costs. Bristles made with wild boar hairs often fell out, didn’t dry very well, or became full of bacteria.

February 24, 1925: Three 90-lb thermite charges were used for first time to break up 250,000-ton ice jam, which had clogged St. Lawrence River in Upstate New York. When a thermite mixture of finely divided magnesium & red iron oxide is ignited, it creates a violent reaction that produces hot molten iron. Note: Thermite reaction is a highly exothermic oxidation-reduction pyrotechnic reaction.

February 24, 1922: Powder magazine explosion in Illinois stone quarry shook city of Chicago (15 miles away) shattering many windows. Blast was so strong that a train passing nearby was blown completely off its tracks.

February 24, 1896: Henri Becquerel reported results of his investigation regarding phosphorescent rays of “double sulfate of uranium & potassium” crystals. He had placed the crystals on the outside of a photographic plate wrapped in sheets of very thick black paper & exposed the whole to the sun for several hours. When he developed photographic plate, he saw black silhouette of the substance exposed on the negative. When he placed a coin or metal screen between the uranium crystals and the wrapped plate, he saw images of those objects on the negative. He did not yet know yet that the sun was not necessary to initiate the rays, nor did he realize that he had accidentally discovered radioactivity.

February 24, 1892: Earthquake (7.8-magnitiude) struck near San Diego, California.

February 24, 1663:  Thomas Newcomen, English inventor, was born. He built world’s first successful atmospheric steam engine, which was used to pump water out of coal mines. On each stroke, steam filled a cylinder closed by a piston, then a spray of water chilled & condensed the steam in the cylinder creating a vacuum, then atmospheric pressure pushed the piston down. Crossbeam transferred the motion of the piston to operating the pump. This was wasteful of fuel needed to reheat the cylinder for the next stroke.

February 25, 1984: Gasoline pipeline explosion destroyed shantytown in Brazil where 500+ people died. Thirty miles southeast of Sao Paulo 9,000 people had set up makeshift homes on land that was owned by state-run oil monopoly. Pipelines ran next to slum area. When workers opened wrong pipeline, highly combustible octane gas poured into the ditches. Soon after midnight, explosion was sparked creating fireball that ripped through slum. Some homes were thrown hundreds of feet into the air. Other homes were instantly incinerated. Fireball temperature reached 1,800 0Fahrenheit.

February 25, 1977: Oil tanker explosion west of Honolulu, Hawaii spilled 31 million gallons.

February 25, 1869:  Phoebus (Aaron Theodor) Levene, American chemist, was born in Russia. He found that carbohydrate present in nucleic acid from yeast is pentose sugar ribose. Levene identified carbohydrate in nucleic acid from thymus of an animal. It is also a pentose sugar but lacks one oxygen atom of ribose & was therefore called deoxyribose. These were named ribonucleic & deoxyribonucleic acids (RNA & DNA). Levene also determined how nucleic acid components combine to form the nucleotides & how nucleotides combine in chains. Later discoveries showed DNA & RNA to be key elements in maintenance of life.

February 25, 1837: Thomas Davenport, American blacksmith & inventor, patented first practical electrical motor, which applied magnetism & electro-magnetism to propel machinery. Rotating electromagnets had cores of soft iron, wound with copper wire insulated with layers of silk. Wires from coil ran parallel down shaft to touch copper contacts on the base. These wires make contact with different plates at each half-turn. When contacts are connected to opposite poles of battery supplying current, provision is made to reverse direction of current in rotating coils at each half-turn such that magnetic repulsion is maintained between rotating coil & pole of fixed magnet they face at that point in the shaft’s rotation.

February 25, 1616: Galileo made renouncement under duress (threat of prison internment) regarding his assertion that earth moves around the sun. Good news was that he knew renouncement would not change real facts of Earth’s motion.

February 26, 1993: Bomb exploded in parking garage beneath World Trade Center in New York City where 6 people died & 1,000 were injured. Explosion created crater 200 feet wide & caused $591 million in damage. Investigators at bomb scene found section of Ryder Van at center of the blast. Storage facility owner came forward to say that he had seen four men loading Ryder Van. When this storage space was checked, they found enough chemicals, including very unstable nitroglycerin, to make another massive bomb. Investigators also found videotapes with instructions on bomb making. One of terrorists had bought hydrogen tanks from AGL Welding Supply. In wreckage under World Trade Center, three tanks marked “AGL Welding” were found. In addition, terrorists had sent a letter to the New York Times claiming responsibility for the blast. Portions of this letter were found on computer desk taken from suspect’s office. DNA analysis of saliva on envelope matched that of suspect. On September 11, 2001, World Trade Center was again attacked.

February 26, 1972: Slag heap dam collapsed above Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, where 118 people died. Waste tailings from area coal mines had been used to create the dam. Bad news is that tailings can be unstable, especially in heavy rain.

February 26, 1952: Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that Britain had developed its own atomic bomb.

February 26, 1935: Feasibility of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) was demonstrated by Robert Watson-Watt, Scottish physicist. Earlier, while working on methods of using radio-wave detection to locate thunderstorms in order to provide warnings to airmen, he realized that it could be used to track enemy aircraft for air defense. Test showed that bomber flying in main beam of BBC short-wave radio transmitter gave back reflected signals to ground on three occasions that aircraft passed overhead.

February 26, 1896: Henri Becquerel, French physicist & Nobel Prize laureate, accidently discovered x-rays. He inadvertently stored a wrapped photographic plate in a closed desk drawer with a phosphorescent uranium compound laid on top, awaiting a bright day to test his idea that sunlight would make the phosphorescent uranium emit rays. When he developed the photographic plate several days later, he found a fogged image in the shape of the rocks. Radioactive material was spontaneously generating & emitting energetic rays totally without the external sunlight source. This was a landmark event. This new form of penetrating radiation was the discovery of the effect of radioactivity.

February 26, 1866: Herbert Dow, American chemist, was born. He developed & patented entirely new electrolytic method for extracting bromine from prehistoric brine trapped underground at Midland, Michigan. Dow’s process did not result in a salt by-product, it operated on comparatively little fuel & it was first commercially successful use of direct-current generator in American chemical industry. He next developed electrolysis of sodium chloride in order to yield sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) & chlorine for bleaching powder. As the founder of the Dow Chemical company, he extracted magnesium, a very lightweight metal from brine & quickly saw its importance as a structural metal.

February 26, 1852:  John Harvey Kellogg, American physician & health-food pioneer, was born. His development of dry breakfast cereals was responsible for creation of the flaked-cereal industry. A vegetarian, he advocated low calorie diets & developed peanut butter, granola, and toasted flakes. He warned that smoking caused lung cancer decades before this link was studied. Kellogg was an early advocate of exercise. His brother, William Kellogg sweetened the flakes with malt & began commercial production as Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (now Kellogg’s Cereal).

February 26, 1799:  Benoit Clapeyron, French engineer, was born. He expressed Sadi Carnot’s ideas on heat analytically. While investigating operation of steam engines, Clapeyron found there was a relationship (between heat of vaporization of a fluid, its temperature & increase in its volume upon vaporization. Made more general by Clausius, it is now known as the Clausius-Clapeyron formula. It provided basis of second law of thermodynamics.

February 26, 1531: Earthquake struck Lisbon, Spain, where 20,000 to 30,000 people died.

February 27, 1869: Alice Hamilton, American pathologist known for her research on industrial diseases was born. By actively publicizing danger to workers’ health of industrial toxic substances, she contributed to passage of workmen’s compensation laws & development of safer working conditions. As special investigator for U.S. Bureau of Labor, she began field investigations of mines, mills & smelters. Concentrating first on lead, she compiled statistics dramatically documenting high mortality & morbidity rates of workers. She later did same for aniline dyes, picric acid, arsenic & carbon monoxide.

February 27, 2010: Earthquake (8.8-magnitude) struck Chile where 600+ peopled died. Quake left two million+ people homeless as 500,000 houses became uninhabitable.

February 27, 1943: Explosion at coal mine in Montana where 74 miners died. Exact cause of explosion is not known, though some miners claimed methane gas had built up in some abandoned shafts & was ignited after a cave-in.

February 27, 1940: Carbon-14, radioactive isotope of carbon having mass number of 14 & half-life of approximately 5,700 years was discovered at University of California Radiation Laboratory. It occurs naturally, arising from cosmic rays. Used as tracer in studies of metabolism & in radiocarbon dating (method of determining age of carbonaceous, once-living material).

February 27, 1932: Explosion at coal mine in Virginia where 38 miners died.

February 27, 1900: Felix Hoffman. German chemist was issued U.S. patent for “Acetyl Salicylic Acid”. Hoffmann had discovered the chemical compound in 1897 while working as a researcher at the Bayer Company. It was marketed as Aspirin, the familiar pain reliever, which at the time was a trademarked name.

February 27, 1891: David Sarnoff, American pioneer in development of radio & television broadcasting was born. He was first general manager of RCA & founded television network NBC. He steered NBC into world of television, first black & white, then color.

February 27, 1879: Saccharin artificial sweetener was discovered by Constantin Fahlberg at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. With hands unwashed after leaving his laboratory work, during a meal, he accidentally discovered its intensely sweet taste when his fingers touched his lips.

February 28, 1953: James Watson & Frances Crick, English scientists, discovered structure of DNA while shuffling cardboard cutout models of the molecules of the DNA bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). After a while, in a spark of ingenuity, he discovered their complementary pairing. He realized that A joined with T had a close resemblance to C joined with G, and that each pair could hold together with hydrogen bonds. Such pairs could also neatly fit like rungs meeting at right-angles between two anti-parallel helical sugar-phosphate backbones of DNA wound around a common axis. Such structure was consistent with the known X-ray diffraction pattern evidence. Each separated helix with its half of the pairs could form a template for reproducing the molecule. This was the secret of life & reproduction!

February 28, 1997: Earthquake struck Pakistan, where 45 people died.

February 28, 1935: Nylon was discovered by DuPont chemist, Wallace Carothers. Its first demonstrated use was toothbrush bristle. During World War II, nylon was used in parachutes, flak vests, combat uniforms & tires. It became a staple in fabrics, carpets & ropes. Its most celebrated use was women’s stockings. Carothers didn’t live to see his discovery put to any practical use. He killed himself two years after the discovery using cyanide at age 41. Note: He committed suicide shortly after his favorite sister suddenly died. He never recovered from the loss.

February 28, 1901: Linus Pauling, American physicist, chemist & author was born. He applied quantum mechanics to study of molecular structures, particularly in connection with chemical bonding. Pauling was awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry for charting chemical underpinnings of life itself. Because of his work for nuclear peace, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. He is remembered also for his strong belief in health benefits of large doses of vitamin C.

February 28, 1893: Carborundum patent was received by Edward Acheson in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. It is an abrasive or refractory material made primarily of silicon carbide & fused alumina.

February 29, 1936: Nature magazine published Niels Bohr’s “bowl of balls” explanation of effect of bombarding particles on a nucleus. His follow up article in Science magazine explained that “to understand the typical features of nuclear transmutations initiated by impacts of material particles… A simple mechanical model which illustrates these features of nuclear collisions is … a shallow basin with a number of billiard balls in it. If the bowl were empty, then a ball which was sent in would pass out on the opposite side with its original energy. When, however, there are other balls in the bowl, then the incident one will not be able to pass through freely but will divide its energy first with one of the balls, these two will share their energy … divided among all the balls.”

February 29, 2000: Floods struck Mozambique where 700 people died.

February 29, 1960: Leap Day earthquake & tsunami struck Morocco where 12,000 people died.

February 29, 1952: 1952 Signs were first installed at Times Square in New York City that told pedestrians when to walk.

February 29, 1504: Christopher Columbus used a lunar eclipse to frighten hostile Jamaican Indians.