Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident

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The Three Mile Island accident was a partial nuclear meltdown that occurred on this date in 1979, in reactor number 2 of Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. It was the most significant accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.

The accident began with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. In particular, a hidden indicator light led to an operator manually overriding the automatic emergency cooling system of the reactor because the operator mistakenly believed that there was too much coolant water present in the reactor and causing the steam pressure release.

The accident crystallized anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and has been cited as a contributor to the decline of a new reactor construction program that was already underway in the 1970s. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. Worries were expressed by anti-nuclear movement activists. However, epidemiological studies analyzing the rate of cancer in and around the area since the accident, determined there was a small, statistically non-significant increase in the rate and thus no causal connection linking the accident with these cancers has been substantiated. Cleanup started in August 1979, and officially ended in December 1993, with a total cleanup cost of about $1 billion. (from Wikipedia)

Polio Vaccine invented …

Jonas Edward Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered one of the most frightening public health problems in the world. In the postwar United States, annual epidemics were increasingly devastating.

The 1952 U.S. epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis, with most of its victims being children. The “public reaction was to a plague,” said historian Bill O’Neal. Citizens of urban areas were terrified every summer when this frightful visitor returned.” According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.”

As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the world’s most recognized victim of the disease, founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (known as March of Dimes Foundation since 2007), an organization that would fund the development of a vaccine.

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March of Dimes poster circa 1957

That same year, the first March of Dimes fundraising program was set up, with radio networks offering free 30-second slots for promotion. Listeners were asked to send in a dime and the White House received 2,680,000 letters within days.

As the fear of polio increased each year, funds to combat it increased from $1.8 million to $67 million by 1955. Research continued during those years, but everything scientists believed about polio at first was wrong, which lead them down many blind alleys–furthermore, most researchers were experimenting with highly dangerous ‘live’ vaccines. In one test, six children were killed and three left crippled.

This was the situation when young Jonas Salk, a medical doctor in charge of a virology laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, decided to use the safer ‘killed’ virus. After successful tests on laboratory animals, it next had to be tested on human beings. On July 2, 1952, assisted by the staff at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children, Jonas Salk injected 43 children with his killed-virus vaccine. A few weeks after the Watson tests, Salk injected children at the Polk State School for the retarded and feeble-minded. In November 1953, at a conference in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, he said, “I will be personally responsible for the vaccine.” He announced that his wife and three sons had been among the first volunteers to be inoculated with his vaccine. Jonas Salk tested the vaccine on about one million children, who were known as the polio pioneers. This testing started in 1954, and the vaccine was announced as safe on April 12, 1955.

According to medical author Paul Offit, “more Americans had participated in the funding, development, and testing of the polio vaccine than had participated in the nomination and election of the president.” At least 100 million people contributed to the March of Dimes and seven million had donated their time and labor, including fund-raisers, committee workers, and volunteers at clinics and record centers.

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Salk in 1955 at the University of Pittsburgh

In 1988, numerous international medical organizations launched a campaign to eradicate polio globally, as had been successfully done for smallpox. By 2003, polio had been eradicated in all but a few countries, among them Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. However, mullahs in northern Nigeria began to oppose the vaccination program, claiming that it was a plot to spread AIDS and sterility, and prevented any vaccination. Polio cases in Nigeria tripled over the next three years.

Environmental scientist Lester Brown speculates that Nigerian Muslims may have spread the disease to Muslims of other polio-free countries during their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. With these same fears, Saudi Arabian officials imposed a polio vaccination requirement on certain visitors.

In Pakistan in 2007, opposition was violent to vaccinations in the Northwest Frontier Province, where a doctor and a health worker in the polio eradication program were killed. Since then, the Taliban has blocked all vaccinations in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan was the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of polio, according to the WHO, along with having the highest incidence of polio in the world. Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent $1.5 billion, planned to spend another $1.8 billion through 2018 to help eradicate the virus.(from Wikipedia)

 

Alcatraz closes …

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The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (often just referred to as Alcatraz) was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, one and a quarter miles off the coast of San Francisco, which operated from 1934 to this date in 1963 when it closed.

The main prison building was built in 1910–12 during its time as a United States military prison; Alcatraz had been the site of a citadel since the 1860’s. Acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized to meet the requirements of a top-notch security prison. Given this high security and the location of Alcatraz in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America’s strongest prison.

Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons. One of the world’s most notorious and best-known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1,576 of America’s most ruthless criminals including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”) and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prisons staff and their families. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts during the 29 years of the prison’s existence, the most notable of which was the violent escape attempt of May 1946 known as the “Battle of Alcatraz,” and the arguably successful “Escape from Alcatraz” by Frank Morris, John Angelin and Clarence Angelin in June 1962 in one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Faced with high maintenance costs and a poor reputation, Alcatraz closed in 1963.

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The prison cells typically measured 9 feet by 5 feet and 7 feet high, were primitive and lacked privacy, with a bed, a desk, and a washbasin and toilet on the back wall, with few furnishings except a blanket. African-Americans were segregated due to racial abuse being prevalent. D-Block housed the worst inmates, and five cells at the end of it were designated as “The Hole,” where badly behaving prisoners would be sent for periods of punishment, often brutally so.

Today the penitentiary is a public museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, with some 1.5 million visitors annually. The former prison is now operated by the National Park Service. (from Wikipedia)

 

First liquid-fueled rocket & rubber bands

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Robert Hutchings Goddard was an American engineer, professor, physicist, and inventor who is credited with creating and building the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket, which he successfully launched on this date in 1926, ushering in an era of space flight and innovation. Goddard and his team launched 34 rockets between 1926 and 1941, achieving altitudes as high as 1.6 miles and speeds as fast as 550 mph.

Goddard’s work as both theorist and engineer anticipated many of the developments that were to make spaceflight possible. He has been called the man who ushered in the Space Age. Two of Goddard’s 214 patented inventions — a multi-stage rocket (1914), and a liquid-fuel rocket (1914) — were important milestones toward spaceflight. His 1919 monograph A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes is considered one of the classic texts of 20th-century rocket science. Goddard successfully applied three-axis control, gyroscopes and steerable thrust to rockets to effectively control their flight.

Although his work in the field was revolutionary, Goddard received very little public support for his research and development work. The press sometimes ridiculed his theories of spaceflight. As a result, he became protective of his privacy and his work. Years after his death, at the dawn of the Space Age, he came to be recognized as the founding father of modern rocketry. He not only recognized the potential of rockets for atmospheric research, ballistic missiles and space travel, but was the first to scientifically study, design and construct the rockets needed to implement those ideas. (from Wikipedia)

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The rubber band was invented this date in 1845. Can you imagine life without them?

 

Ides of March

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The Ides of March is the name of the 15th day of March in the Roman calendar. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Caesar was stabbed (23 times) to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. His death marks a turning point in Roman history. Some Romans celebrate the Ides of March as new year celebrations. In Canada, the day is celebrated with the drinking of Bloody Caesars. (from www.cute-calendar.com)

Cotton Gin Patented

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Eli Whitney was an American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin in 1793. This was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the economy of the Antebellum South. Whitney’s invention made upland short cotton into a profitable crop, which strengthened the economic foundation of slavery in the United States.

A cotton gin is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, allowing for much greater productivity than manual cotton separation. The fibers are then processed into various cotton goods such as linens, while any undamaged cotton is used largely for textiles, including clothing. Seeds may be used to grow more cotton or to produce cottonseed oil.

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Although simple handheld roller gins had been used in India and other countries since at least 500 AD, the first modern mechanical cotton gin was patented this date in 1794 by Whitney. However, the Indian worm-gear roller gin, invented sometime around the sixteenth century, has remained virtually unchanged up to the present time. Whitney’s gin used a combination of a wire screen and small wire hooks to pull the cotton through, while brushes continuously removed the loose cotton lint to prevent jams. It revolutionized the cotton industry in the United States, but has been identified as an inadvertent contributing factor to the outbreak of the American Civil War. (from Wikipedia)

 PHOTO:  A model of a 19th-century cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut.

Harvard University named …

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Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, established in 1636, whose history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Established originally by the Massachusetts legislature, it was named this date in 1639 for clergyman John Harvard (its first benefactor) and is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th Century Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites.

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Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot’s long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College. (from Wikipedia)