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Scientific breakthroughs from the year you were born

  • Scientific breakthroughs from the year you were born

    Chemist and Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the speed and processing power for computer technology would double every two years. This idea came to be known as Moore’s Law.

    Moore's theory was daring for its time but appears less so when looked at in the context of the massive scientific and technological breakthroughs of the decades prior. Starting in 1927, Stacker has done just that: By combing through the archives of science’s highest achievements, we've selected some of the top scientific breakthroughs of the last 93 years. Because of these milestones, humans today are capable of things earlier generations would have chalked up to be pure science fiction. Scientists have extended and improved human life, cured seemingly incurable illnesses, uncovered previously unknown worlds and creatures, and unearthed fascinating discoveries about our world and the solar system beyond.


    Keep reading to discover major scientific breakthroughs of the last century.

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  • 1927: Matter found to be wavelike

    In 1925, Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer of Bell Telephone Laboratories experienced a fortunate accident. A botched experiment ended up showing that particles of matter can act like waves and that electrons scatter from a crystal the same way an X-ray does. In 1927, they published two papers describing their findings. Their work eventually earned Davisson a Nobel Prize.

  • 1928: Discovery of penicillin

    Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, returned to the lab from a trip and discovered something had changed in his petri dishes of Staphylococcus aureus. A particular mold had invaded and prevented normal growth. This soon resulted in the discovery of penicillin, one of the world’s first antibiotics (still used widely today) and a game-changer in the field of medicine.

  • 1929: Hubble’s Law of the expanding universe

    In 1929, Edwin Hubble published one of the most famous scientific papers of all time. He detailed what would later be known as Hubble’s Law, which explains how the universe is continually expanding, a postulation that changed humankind’s understanding of space.

  • 1930: Absolute geological timescales developed

    Geologic time is divided into eras (such as the Mesozoic) and epochs (such as Pleistocene). This measure, which is based on rock layers, had been theorized about for centuries, but, in 1930, British geologist Arthur Holmes established the first absolute timescale.

  • 1931: First electron microscope created

    The University of Berlin’s Ernst Ruska, a physicist, and Max Knoll, an electrical engineer, created the first electron microscope. This development overcame a huge barrier for microscopes and aided discoveries in physics.

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  • 1932: Discovery of the neutron

    In 1932, British physicist James Chadwick used scattering data to calculate the mass of neutral particles, which would become known as neutrons. This fundamental discovery for his field earned him a Nobel Prize.

  • 1933: Concept of neutron stars developed

    A neutron star is created when a large star—four to eight times as big as the sun—explodes in a supernova. After the outer layer blows off, its dense core continues to collapse, pressing so tightly that its protons and neutrons combine into neutrons. Astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky came up with this term in 1933, especially impressive considering that neutrons had only recently been discovered.

  • 1934: Sonoluminescence discovered

    When high-pitched sounds hit liquids, the liquid’s microscopic bubbles emit a short burst of blue light, an event known as sonoluminescence. Researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany discovered this in 1934. Today, scientists still don’t quite understand what causes this phenomenon, and continue to study it.

  • 1935: Magnitude scale for earthquakes developed

    If you read about an earthquake, one of the first things you’ll learn about it is its magnitude. The namesake of the Richter scale is Charles Richter, who was studying earthquakes in California and needed a way to quantify them. He modeled it after the stellar magnitude scale for stars.

  • 1936: First nerve agent discovered

    Nerve agents have done immeasurable damage as biological weapons. The first such agent to be synthesized was tabun, discovered accidentally by a German chemist named Gerhard Schrader. He was testing insecticides when some of the chemicals spilled. His colleagues at the lab began experiencing serious side effects, such as dizziness, which lasted for weeks.

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