Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer was born on this date in 1832 and grew up to become an astronomer and a serious fan of solar eclipses – he twice led expeditions to India to view them. He was also interested in electromagnetic spectroscopy, especially as a means of determining the composition of planets.
That’s how he was able to identify a totally unknown substance that appeared as a yellow line around the edge of the sun during an eclipse in 1868 – in honor of the sun, he named it ‘helium.’ (It was discovered on earth ten years later.)
So we’d know his name for that, in any case, but he did something even more special in 1869 – he started a little magazine that is now considered ‘ the world’s most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal’ and he remained its editor for the next 50 years, until his death.
He called it Nature and it was intended to make original science available to scientists in all fields, as well as the educated public. Lockyer and his authors were Darwinians, liberals and progressives, and he wasn’t afraid to publish controversial theories.
Nature has been over the years the first publication to suggest the existence of a neutron (1932), explain the structure of DNA (1953). identify the hole in the ozone (1985) and describe the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep (1997). Its 53,000 subscribers are just the tip of the iceberg – it’s estimated that a single copy is, on average, read by eight people.
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Many happy returns to Taj Mahal (aka Henry Saint Clair Fredericks), who celebrates 70 years today – and he’s just so good that there are two videos to watch. The second has a downside – a horrible little commercial – but it’s short and it’s a recording with some nice photos, so the upside is really good sound. Enjoy.