This Week in Science History: 6-12-10

By Peter Dearden 06/12/2010


This week in Science History
Tamsin Jones, Laboratory for Evolution and Development

’In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind’: 7th December 1854.

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur

’In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind’. Louis Pasteur first said this now famous phrase at a lecture on the 7th of December, 1854. Pasteur spent the majority of his time observing rather than actively experimenting, and yet made many important discoveries. The role of chance in scientific discovery is enormous — for example, many commonly used drugs have been discovered ‘by accident’. The occurrence of an unexpected result, however, is not the point when a scientific discovery is made: the scientist needs to be able to interpret the result and make sense of it.

Thomas Cech born 8th December 1947

Cech is an American molecular biologist who was awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize (with Sidney Altman) for the discovery that RNA molecules can act as catalysts — that is, they can aid in chemical reactions. It was previously thought that RNA was only a genetic messenger, carrying genetic information.

First nobel prizes awarded: 8th December 1901

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, on the 5th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. The winners were:
Physics: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, for his discovery of X-rays.
Chemistry: Jacobus van’t Hoff won the first Chemistry prize, for his work in chemical thermodynamics.
Literature: The poet Sully Prudhomme, which was a controversial decision, with many people arguing that it should have been awarded to Leo Tolstoy instead.
Physiology or Medicine: Emil von Behring, for his development of an antitoxin to diptheria.
Peace: The Peace Prize was awarded to two people, Frédéric Passy, co-founder of the interparliamentary union, and Henry Dunant, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Publication of the C. elegans genome: 11th December 1998

Caenorhabditis elegans. (Photo: Bob Goldstein)
Caenorhabditis elegans. (Photo: Bob Goldstein)

The first multicellular organism to have its genome sequenced was the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Its genome was published on the 11th of December 1998. C. elegans is widely used in studies of genetics and molecular biology, with many major discoveries being made using it as a model. It is easy to keep in the lab, and is transparent, making it a very useful tool for studying animal development.