Looking back at the C&EN archives and pondering science’s more subtle influences.
To launch the online archive of Chemical & Engineering News, reaching back to the first issue in 1923, Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum blogged about his recent attempt to track down ‘Silence, Miss Carson’, a 1962 review of Rachel Carson’s highly influential book Silent Spring. In those pre-archive days, he had to use a fair amount of “laborious (though pleasurable) effort to find [it]”, but now it’s a few clicks away. Others in the chemical blogosphere used some clicks to find their mentors in the newly digitized pages. Paul Bracher on ChemBark found a 1969 cover story about his post-doc advisor Harry Gray, who is pictured strumming his guitar. Inside, Gray is described as talking “in a breezy vernacular more often associated with locker rooms than with chemistry labs” and owning two fast cars. Unfortunately for Sam at Everyday Scientist, the coverage of his advisor, W. E. Moerner, is less in depth/lifestyle-focused but he does unearth some choice pictures of other Stanford chemists.
Who are “the Velvet Undergounds of science”? This question was posed by Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles, and echoed by The Curious Wavefunction. For those less au fait with the influential but commercially unsuccessful New York band, Orzel defines this as “somebody whose work was only read by a tiny number of people, but ended up being incredibly influential on those people and subsequent generations”. Orzel nominates Sadi Carnot, whose book about heat in the 1820s laid “the foundations for essentially all of thermodynamics”, but which “basically nobody read until after his death”. Wavefunction suggests, among others, Josiah Willard Gibbs “for thermodynamics: He published his founding contributions in an obscure Connecticut journal.” Both are excellent nominations (there are more in the comments on both posts), but it does beg the question ’What is it with thermodynamics?