Amazing advances in science
The discovery of vaccines
In the ensuing centuries, researchers have developed vaccines for deadly disease like diphtheria, tetanus, typhoid, polio and measles. Today, we even have vaccines like Merck’s Gardasil, which protects against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus. The next step is therapeutic vaccines, which are under investigation as a method of boosting the immune system in patients who are already sick with diseases like hepatitis, HIV and cancer.
Learning about what causes illness
Within weeks, the death toll reached 500. But physician John Snow was on the case, interviewing families and searching for a common thread. He found it in a contaminated water pump on the corner of Broad Street. Once the pump handle was removed so that residents could no longer pump the water, the epidemic stopped in its tracks. (It would take several more years for the scientific community to fully accept that diseases are caused by germs.)
Today, outbreaks like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), avian flu and the H1N1 flu have the potential to go global within hours. Debate may rage about the appropriate level of response to these threats, but we’re thankful to have epidemiologists watching our backs.
Watching the brain in action
MRIs have been used to reveal everything from brain maturity to the effect of violent video games on teen brains. Brain scans have even been entered as evidence at murder trials.
The magic of microscopes
Without microscopes, a staggering portion of our world would remain invisible. We’ve moved beyond (though not discarded) the optical microscopes that English scientist Robert Hooke used to discover the cell; these days, scientists can manipulate individual atoms to write words and draw pictures using scanning tunnel and atomic force microscopes.
Understanding ancient life
Now, thanks to the steady progress of science, we have what we know to be the remnants of undersea life 50 million years ago in the Burgess Shale, Hippo-like mammals basking in the once-toasty warm Arctic, and dinosaur fossils galore. Yes, ancient pudgy mammals – what’s not to be thankful for?
Pictured above is a fossil that is more than 120 million years old. Scientists Phil Manning and Roy Wogelius of the University of Manchester mapped trace metals in the fossil to reveal the specimen’s original pigmentation patterns.
The mighty Hubble
Hubble has arguably changed our view of the universe and our place in it with achievements such as one of the first direct photos of an exoplanet. In its Deep Field Survey, the scope aimed its lens at an “empty patch” of the sky. With a million-second-long exposure, the survey revealed the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called “dark ages,” the time shortly after the Big Bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. Since it’s human nature to want to know “where we came from,” Hubble gets a big pat on the tube.
Pictured above is a classic image of the “pillars of creation” in the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Communication through satellites
People can also be thankful for satellite radio and satellite TV, even as they look forward to satellite Internet, satellite-guided smart cars, and 4G wireless mobile service for smartphones. Meanwhile, sensing satellites have given us perhaps some of the best views of Earth and its natural rhythms to date. Thanks, orbiting man-made Earth-viewers.
The above artist’s rendition shows the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (Calipso), an environmental weather satellite with remote-sensing technology that continually monitors the Earth’s clouds.
A smashing time: the Large Hadron Collider
The secrets of dark matter, the mysteries of the so-called God particle, and extra dimensions in the universe are just a few of the exotic discoveries scientists are hoping to make with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile (27-kilometer) circular tunnel running 300 feet (91 meters) underground near Geneva. Recent feat: creating little big bangs.
Pictured above is the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), which is one of the detectors on the Large Hadron Collider and weighs more than 12,000 tons.
Learning what’s out there
Some experts say that we won’t find aliens for many centuries, and others predict finding them within 25 years, but the very idea of first contact excites ordinary people enough to want to see encounters at every turn. Just don’t tell famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking about wanting to shake hands with ET.
Pictured above is the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array at Hat Creek Observatory, located about 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, Calif. The radio telescope has been searching the cosmos for alien signals since 2007.
Sleeping late without guilt
The problem, according to Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich, Germany, is that in spite of our 24/7 expectations, our society still clings to the agrarian idea of ‘the early bird gets the worm.’ Here’s to catching up on sleep over the long weekend!