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history

March 23, 1821: Bauxite Discovered

Compared to gold, silver, lead and copper — metals that people have extracted, refined and used for millennia — aluminum is a relative newcomer. Pure aluminum was more valuable than gold when it was first discovered in the early 19th century. It graced the fine china of Napoleon III and was displayed next to the French Crown Jewels at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. Today, aluminum is cheap and plentiful, used in everyday products ranging from soda cans to jets. The transformation of the metal from unknown material to rare metal to ubiquity in fewer than two centuries is due to two pivotal discoveries: an abundant aluminum ore — bauxite — and a process of refining this ore using electricity.
 
23 Mar 2010

The Washington Monument's Apex

An aluminum pinnacle has graced the Washington Monument since 1884, but subsequent modifications have changed the look of the point. 

23 Mar 2010

Benchmarks: January 13, 1404: England prohibits Alchemy

Alchemy, in both ancient and medieval times, wasn’t just about turning lead into gold, although such “transmutation” was certainly one desirable goal. In a broader sense, alchemists were both philosophers and the precursors to modern chemists, in that they sought to understand thedifferent states of matter, the interactions of metals, and the way in which elements were created from the original chaos. There were thought to be four elements — earth, air, fire and water — and combining them properly could produce any substance on Earth, from medicines to gold. Among the more lofty ambitions of alchemists was the search for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that was supposed to enable the transmutation of one substance into another (and perhaps act as an elixir of life).
 
13 Jan 2010

Benchmarks: November 22, 1859: "On the Origin of Species" published

By David B. Williams

About a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to hold in my hands a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” The green cover was cracked and frayed. The cardboard backing protruded through the torn corners. I put the book down and stared at it in awe. The owner of this book was Asa Gray, one of America’s greatest botanists, an important early American supporter of natural selection, and a friend of Darwin’s.

23 Nov 2009

Benchmarks: August 17, 1959: Hebgen Lake earthquake and landslide

By Callan Bentley

You’re camping in Montana, doing some fly fishing on the Madison River. You’ve had a full day of beautiful Big Sky country weather, and had fresh trout for dinner. In your campsite at the Rock Creek Campground, you go to bed satisfied and happy. It’s a nice enough evening that you sleep out in the open, to better appreciate the stars. The waters of the Madison gurgle by, gently lulling you to sleep while Orion shines above.

18 Aug 2009

Benchmarks: April 26, 1986: Nuclear explosion at Chernobyl

By Carolyn Gramling

A rusting Ferris wheel dominates the skyline of Prypiat, Ukraine’s ghost town. A few kilometers away, within a massive concrete structure called the Sarcophagus, are the remnants of the worst nuclear disaster in history: the ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s reactor number four — and about 200 tons of highly radioactive material.

24 Apr 2009

Benchmarks: March 1, 1872: "Bone Wars" heat up

By Brian Fisher Johnson

Edward Drinker Cope stood before a smoke-filled audience at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 1, 1872. One of the nation’s leading paleontologists, Cope would present his latest fossil find: an extinct flying reptile he designated Ornithochirus. Certainly the piece would be recognized as a major contribution to the scientific understanding of ancient life. More importantly, Cope thought, he would receive credit as its discoverer.

27 Feb 2009

Benchmarks: January 3, 1961: Three men die in nuclear reactor meltdown

By Cassandra Willyard

Of the hundreds of thousands of caskets buried in Arlington National Cemetery, only one is lined with lead to prevent the body from leaking radiation. It holds the radioactive remains of Richard Leroy McKinley, one of three men killed when a nuclear reactor exploded in the nation’s only fatal nuclear accident.

02 Jan 2009

Benchmarks: December 3, 1984: Bhopal gas leak kills thousands

By Cassandra Willyard

On Dec. 3, 1984, Aziza Sultan woke to the sound of coughing. When she opened her eyes, she could see that the room was filled with a white haze. She heard people shouting “Run, run.” Then she too began to cough. Each breath burned her lungs.

03 Dec 2008

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