. . Curiosity is the essence of our existence.
. . Gene Cernan
This final post in my Great Scientific Discoveries is about the discoveries that are born of chance, but then they seem to take on an impetus of their own and become established, whatever the real needs of the community. The most famous example is that of the motor car, the usefulness of which is becoming geometrically inverse to the numbers on the road, but which continues to feature in public opinion as a necessity of life. In the United States, for example, airlines have created such congestion that sometimes, taking into account the delays and the transport time from the airport to the city centres, they take three times the theoretical time of the journey to get from one town to the other. Meanwhile, a train, which would carry at least five times more passengers on each journey, would be on time and would take travellers from city centre to city centre with less risk. But the aeroplane has the image of speed and so is preferred.
The history of inventions in the 20th century includes a lesson in philosophy, whilst that of the preceding centuries includes one in psychology. In considering the past, one can only marvel at the precocity of technical inventiveness, and also at the strange slowness with which some of the major inventions have come to light. In recent decades it is surprising what modest beginnings some inventions have had, and the tremendous, even excessive, influence which they have exercised over time. A new branch of study has developed lately reflecting the destiny of the human race: the philosophy of science.
TIM BERNERS – LEE
Born 8 June 1955
In modern life, it seems incredibly hard for an individual to invent something that truly changes the world; however, one person who did just that is an English physicist and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. In 1990, he invented the World Wide Web.
A plaque at CERN commemorating the invention of the Web:
Timothy Berners-Lee was born in London. His parents were both computer scientists. As a boy, Tim became interested in electronics after building circuits to control his model train set. He studied at The Queen’s College, Oxford University; while he was there, he built his first computer. After graduating in 1976, he worked as a computer systems engineer at various companies.
The Queen’s College, Oxford University
In 1980, Berners-Lee spent six months at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a particle physics facility on the outskirts of Geneva, on the border between France and Switzerland. It is better known by the acronym CERN, which derives from the facility’s original name, Conseil European pour la Recherche Nucleaire. While at CERN, Berners-Lee devised a computer system, for his own use, to store and retrieve information. Named ENQUIRE, this was a forerunner of the Web. It was based upon hyperlinks, cross-references in one document that enables a computer to call up another, related document.
In 1984, Berners-Lee was back at CERN, on a computing fellowship programme. He became frustrated by the lack of compatibility between different computer systems, and between documents written using different software applications. In a memo, which he sent to his manager in 1989, Berners-Lee set out his vision of a ‘universal linked information system’ with which to organise the huge amounts of information produced at CERN. He proposed that a ‘web of links’ would be more useful than the ‘fixed, hierarchical system’ that existed. Documents available on computers within CERN’s network would contain hyperlinks to other documents, including those on different computers. In 1990, Berners-Lee’s manager encouraged him to spend some time – as a side project – on developing his idea.
Part of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN
During the autumn of 1990, Berners-Lee, along with his colleague, a Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau (born 1947), created all of the now-familiar fundamental components of the World Wide Web. The universal language he invented for writing linked documents (web pages) is ‘html’ – hypertext markup language. The software that responds to ‘requests’ from hyperlinks is called a ‘web server’, a term that also refers to the hardware that hosts the web pages. And the language, or protocol, computers use to communicate the hyperlink requests is ‘http’ – hypertext transfer protocol. Berners-Lee had to write the first web browser, the application used to view the documents hosted on web servers. He called his browser ‘World Wide Web’. Berners-Lee also wrote the first web pages, which he published on his server in December 1990. It was on 25th of that month that Berners-Lee first ‘surfed’ from one web page to another, via http, by clicking a hyperlink in his browser.
The corridor at CERN where the Web was born:
The following year, Berners-Lee made available his software to people outside CERN, and the idea quickly caught on. By 1994, the Web had grown so much that each ‘resource’ – a document or image, for example – needed a unique ‘address’ on the Internet. In consultation with the Web community, Berners-Lee created the format for web addresses, called the ‘uniform resource locater’ (URL). After 1994, the Web spread rapidly beyond academic and military circles. Within a few short years, most people in the world had been affected directly by its existence, and millions were already regularly ‘surfing’ from documents to documents online.
Below is the Nataraj statue at CERN, a depiction of a Hindu cosmic dancer which is a metaphor for modern physics
Tim Berners-Lee has received a huge number of accolades for his invention, which he gave free to the world without patent or rights. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, which helps keep the Web working smoothly and aims to foster its future growth. He also campaigns to keep the Internet ‘neutral’ – free of restrictions on content and what kinds of computers may be connected.
Doug Engelbart (1925 -)
Two very important technologies underpinned Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web: hyperlinks and the computer mouse. An American computer scientist Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse in 1967, and he was also heavily involved in the development of hyperlinks.
In the 1960s Engelbart headed a team at the Augmentation Research Centre at the Stanford Research Institute, California. Engelbart’s team devised an online ‘collaboration system’ called NLS (oN-Line Systems). This included the first use of hyperlinks and the mouse. In 1968, Englebart demonstrated NLS to a large audience of computer scientists. In addition to hyperlinks and the mouse, the 90-minute session referred to as ‘The Mother of All Demos’, introduced such ideas as e-mail, video-conferencing, and real-time collaboration between computer users far apart.
Stanford University, California
25 November 1844 – 4 April 1929
The person responsible for designing the first true motor car, a German engineer Karl Benz, had no idea what effect his invention would have on the world. By increasing mobility, less than 100 years after the rise of the railways, the motor car once again revolutionised patterns of work and play and the distribution of goods and its rapid uptake in the twentieth-century changed the landscape quickly and dramatically.
Karl Benz was born in Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany. His father died when Karl was just two years old, but his mother encouraged him greatly, working hard to put him through grammar school and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. It was his dream from early to invent a form of transport that would run without horses and off rails.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
The idea of self-propelled road vehicles was already popular before Benz was born. Some engineers had made ‘cars’ – mostly steam carriages and electric vehicles; all of them were adaptations of horse-drawn carts and none was particularly effective. The most crucial invention in the development of the motor car was the internal combustion engine. In a steam engine, the combustion – the fire that heats the steam – is produced outside the cylinder. The first practical engines in which combustion took place inside the cylinder, and drove a piston directly, appeared in the 1850s. The most important was invented in 1859 by Belgian engineer Etienne Lenoir (1822 – 1900).
Below are shown Etienne Lenoir and one of his automobiles
The next step towards the motor car was the ‘four-stroke’ engine designed by German inventor Nikolaus Otto (1832-1891) in 1876. The four-strokes – intake of the fuel-air mixture; ignition, and exhaust – still form the basis of petrol engines today. Otto’s engine was the first alternative to the steam engine.
Below are shown Nikolaus Otto and one of his engines
Karl Benz closely followed developments in engine design after leaving college, and worked towards his dream of building a motor car. He had been employed on various mechanical engineering projects, and in 1871 had moved to the nearby city of Mannheim. In the 1870s, Benz designed a reliable, two-stroke petrol engine, in which the four operations of the four-stroke engine are combined into one upward and one downward stroke , for which he was granted a patent in 1879. Four years later, he formed a company with two other people: Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren – Fabric. The company began as a bicycle repair shop, and quickly grew when it began making machines and engines.
Benz & Company did well, giving Benz the time and the confidence he needed to pursue his dream. By the end of 1885, Benz’s car was ready. It was a three-wheeled carriage powered by a single-cylinder four-stroke engine, which he had created specially. Benz’s motor car incorporated several important innovations of his own design. These included an electric starter coil, differential gears, a basic clutch, and a water-cooling system for the engine. Despite his hard work and obvious brilliance, Benz had not quite worked out how to achieve steering with four wheels. He took the easy option and had three wheels, the single front wheel is turned by a ’tiller’ – type handle.
Benz applied for a patent in January 1886, and it was granted in November of that year. His application was successful because his motor car had been designed from the start as a self-powered vehicle. and not simply as a cart with an engine attached. After a few improvements, including the world’s first carburettor, the first Benz Patent Motorwagen was sold in 1887. Benz began production of the car and advertised it for sale in 1888; it was the first commercially available production car in history. Uptake was very slow, however, so Benz’s wife Bertha (1849-1944) decided to try to raise awareness. In August 1888, she drove with her two sons from Mannheim to her home town of Pforzheim and back – a total distance of nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles). The stunt generated a great deal of publicity – and thanks at least in part to that publicity, Benz’s Motorwagen became a great success. The age of motoring had begun.
By 1888, Benz had improved his design and began producing cars in greater numbers. A French engineer and entrepreneur Emile Roger, in Paris, held the sole rights to sell Benz’s cars outside Germany and helped to popularise the vehicle.
1863 – 1947
For twenty years after, Karl Benz’s Patent Motorwagen motor cars were not available to most people. The fact that each one had to be made individually kept the cost high, which in turn kept demand low. In 1908, an American entrepreneur Henry Ford set out to change that, when he introduced what he called ‘a car for the great multitude’.
The affordable Ford Model T was a breakthrough being made from interchangeable parts in a factory with tools laid out in an efficient arrangement. From 1913, the cars were manufactured on assembly lines. Ford’s famous motto was: ‘You can have a car in any colour you want, as long as it is black.’
One of Ford’s employees had seen how effective production lines could be when he visited a meat-packing factory in Chicago. The application of the idea to the motor car industry brought costs down dramatically, made Henry Ford incredibly rich and had a rapid and profound effect on the world of the twentieth century.