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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Wednesday (4/26/17) 4:56pm - ... wherein Peter lists further info about every item on the "Texas Science" sign.

This page gives background explanations for everything on this sign that I made about Texas scientific achievements:


(Here's the other side of it.)




"Put men on the moon"
Houston's Johnson Space Center served as mission control for the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first two human beings on the moon. JSC has made many other contributions to space exploration over its nearly 50-year history, including serving as mission control for the first space station and the space shuttle program.
"Invented microchips"
I'm specifically referring to the integrated circuit, which Jack Kilby first created in 1958 at Texas Instruments. He won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention, which basically now runs all computers everywhere.
"... and 3D printing"
This refers to the "selective laser sintering" process developed at UT-Austin in the mid-1980s. (The program was sponsored by DARPA, the folks who also brought you the Internet.) Modern commercial 3D-printers usually work by fabricating thin slices of material one at a time, but SLS came first.
"Cloned the first cat"
"CopyCat" (AKA "CC") was cloned in 2001 at Texas A&M university. Aggies have done amazing work in cloning; they were also the first to clone horses, bulls, and deer, among others. As for CC, she's apparently gone on to lead a happy, pampered little cat life near College Station, and has had a litter of kittens of her own. As of this writing, she's just turned 15.[1]
"Cracked Mayan hieroglyphs"
UT archaeologist Linda Schele led a 1973 working group that made dramatic breakthroughs in deciphering Mayan writing, starting with deciphering the dynastic list of the kings of Palenque. She then ran the Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop at UT-Austin, starting in 1977, where scholars met to share and discuss further discoveries, not just regarding Mayan linguistics, but their life, culture, and history.
"Did the first artificial-heart transplant"
This happened in 1969 at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Doctors transplanted a mechanical, pneumatic-powered heart into a dying man's chest and ran for 64 hours until the donor heart could be brought in. The original prototype is on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
"Invented calculators"
This is Texas Instruments again. Yes, before the handheld calculator, there were desktop models, and mainframe computers (and, for that matter, the abacus), but the first handheld model -- the thing you and I would actually call a calculator -- was the "Cal Tech" prototype developed at Texas Instruments (yes, that's Jack Kilby again) in 1967. It could do the four basic arithmetic operations, and output results to a paper tape.
"Created an invisibility cloak"
This is a fun piece of engineering from UT back in 2013. They used a 'metascreen cloak' to hide three-dimensional objects from microwaves.
"Discovered the largest volcano on earth"
This is a 2013 discovery by William Sager at the University of Houston. He presented conclusive evidence that Tamu Massif, a massive underwater feature (about the size of Great Britain) in the Pacific Ocean, is actually a single inactive volcano. To be more precise, it is the largest "shield volcano" we know of -- there are larger "igneous features", but we don't know if those are single volcanos or conglomerates of more than one volcano.
"Found the most distant galaxy in the universe"
This was a team effort between Texas A&M and UT in 2013. Together, they published the discovery of galaxy z8_GND_5296, which was over 13 billion light-years away. This means we see it as it was 13 billion years ago -- no mean feat, given the universe itself is an estimated 13.8 billion years old.
"Sequenced 2 human chromosomes"
Specifically, chromosomes 3 and 12 (and part of X, while they were at it), as part of the Human Genome Project. This was performed by the Baylor College of Medicine, which has done phenomenal work in genetics over the last decades. They led the first genetic sequencing of a variety of animals, including the mouse, rat, fruit fly, rhesus monkey, honey bee, sea urchin, marmoset, orangutan, and cow. They also documented the first case of uniparental disomy, where a baby receives both copies of a chromosome from only one parent.
"Uncovered a 300-million-year-old 'supershark'"
In 2015, two amateur fossil hunters from the Dallas Paleontological Society uncovered fossil fragments of a shark that was 25% bigger than a great white, and predated all known giant-shark fossils by 170 million years.
"Invented smartphone batteries"
More specifically, "lithium-ion batteries", some version of which is almost certainly powering your cell phone right now. In 1980, UT professor John B. Goodenough demonstrated, with Koichi Mizushima, that you could make a lithium battey using lithium cobalt oxide. This opened the door for commercial lithium-ion batteries, leading eventually to the batteries now used in everything from cordless drills to electric cars.[2]
"Discovered folic acid"
Folic acid, AKA "B9", is a crucial vitamin for your diet, especially if you're pregnant. (Low levels of folate can lead to neural tube defects in the baby.) It had been identified in the 1930s as a nutrient required to prevent anemia during pregnancy, but it wasn't isolated until 1941, when a UT-Austin team led by Esmond Emerson Snell[3] extracted the substance from spinach. Snell discovered a number of other so-called B-vitamins, and more than half of all known vitamins have been discovered by applying his microbiological techniques.
Invented Dacron grafts
Dacron, AKA "polyethylene terephthalate", turns out to be a good material for vascular grafts, AKA "routing your bloodstream around something that isn't working right". It was pioneered by Michael E. DeBakey at the Baylor College of Medicine.
"Found thermal vents in the Arctic Ocean"
In 2003, Dr. Hedy Emdonds UT's Marine Science Institute discovered deep-sea thermal vents in the Arctic Ocean for the first time, in the Gakkel Ridge above Greenland. Subsequent research with robotic submersibles have found "bizarre 'mats' of microbial communities containing a half-dozen or more new species" living around the vents.

Some Slightly Political Words About the Sign


I made this sign after attending the March for Science here in Austin. Seeing all the scientists (and science enthusiasts like me) there at the Texas Capitol got me to thinking.

I think a lot of Texans dismiss science as something that happens somewhere else. They sneer at it as something that's only pursued by pointy-headed elites in distant, coastal ivory towers. But science happens here in Texas -- it's happening at our hospitals, it's happening at our universities. Hell, it's happening in little towns where amateurs dig up exciting new fossils. And it's been happening here a long, long time: there's a proud tradition of invention and discovery here in our state.

So: sneer at science all you want. But know that you are dismissing the brilliance, and the hard work, and the breakthroughs of your fellow Texans. You're turning your back on some of the proudest and most memorable achievements of this state.

Maybe people can find some twisted way to reckon "I'm proud of Texas" with "science is fake". Maybe they can cheer on their college football team while scoffing at what Texas universities do for knowledge as a waste of money. Maybe they can get life-saving medical care while forgetting the Texas doctors that helped make it possible. But I'm hoping this sign gets across that Texas does amazing work in science, and that being proud of Texas should mean being proud of the work we do.



<political hat off>

P.S. I had to leave out a whole bunch of stuff, of course, including buckyballs, the term "black hole", the discovery of a tectonic plate, the USA's first ATM, the first prenatal surgery, and the New Horizons space probe.

Are there other things missing from the list? Let me know in the comments.

_______
[1] Hat-tip to Cindy Page for pointing me towards A&M's cloning programs.
[2] Kudos to Melinda Chow for pointing out this one.
[3] I can't get over how awesome this name is. Surely it's a name for a scienctist in some 1940s pulp novel, right?

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