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See Inside December 2011

100 Years Ago: Presidential Letter

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. V, NO. 25; DECEMBER 21, 1861

December 1961

Protein Structure
“We looked at something no one before us had seen: a three-dimensional picture of a protein molecule in all its complexity. This first picture was a crude one, and two years later we had an almost equally exciting experience, extending over many days that were spent feeding data to a fast computing machine, of building up by degrees a far sharper picture of this same molecule. The protein was myoglobin, and our new picture was sharp enough to enable us to deduce the actual arrangement in space of nearly all of its 2,600 atoms.
—John C. Kendrew”
Kendrew shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.

Milgram on Conformity
“My objective was to see if experimental techniques could be applied to the study of national characteristics, and in particular to see if one could measure conformity in two European countries: Norway and France. Conformity was chosen for several reasons. First, a national culture can be said to exist only if men adhere, or conform, to common standards of behavior; this is the psychological mechanism underlying all cultural behavior. Second, conformity has become a burning issue in much of current social criticism; critics have argued that people have become too sensitive to the opinions of others, and that this represents an unhealthy development in modern society. Finally, good experimental methods have been developed for measuring conformity. —Stanley Milgram”
The complete article is available at www.ScientificAmerican.com/dec2011/milgram

December 1911

Presidential Letter
“To the Editor of the Scientific American: Until peaceful means of settling all International Controversies are assured to the World, prudence and patriotism demand that the United States maintain a navy commensurate with its wealth and dignity. —Wm. H. Taft. Letter from President Taft, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy.”
Printed in the special issue on the Navy.

Gnathological Observation
“To determine the average strength of the jaws, Dr. G. E. Black, president of the Chicago Dental University, devised an instrument of very simple design but with a name that would put the average jaw to a severe test—the gnathodynamometer. With this instrument he made tests of the bite strength of a thousand persons. The average showed 171 pounds for the molar teeth and much less for bicuspids and incisors. The list of subjects includes men and women of all classes, from a blacksmith to a Chinese laundryman.”

December 1861

A Mighty Wind
“One of the great forces nature furnished to man without any expense, and in limitless abundance, is the power of the wind. Many efforts have been made to obtain a steady power from the wind by storing the surplus from when the wind is strong. One of the latest and simplest of these is illustrated in the accompanying engraving. A windwheel is employed to raise a quantity of iron balls, and then these balls are allowed to fall one by one into buckets upon one side of a wheel, causing the wheel to rotate, and thus to drive the machine.”

Patents
“From inquiries repeatedly made of us as to who are the legitimate owners of inventions issued under various circumstances, a few items of information under this head will interest our inventor readers at least. In regard to inventions made by slaves, it has been the practice of the Patent Office to reject such applications, as they are considered legally incompetent alike to receive the patent and to transfer their interest to others. In reference to free colored men, we believe them also to be incompetent to receive a patent, as under the United States Laws they are not regarded as citizens, and could not therefore defend a patent against infringers in the United States courts.”
The Dred Scott decision of 1857 that legalized this situation was nullified by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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