Fritz Haber and the Double-Edged Sword of Synthetic Nitrogen I

Lead: By 1900 world population was beginning to outstrip agricultural capacity. Farmers could not grow enough to feed the people. Then Fritz Haber solved the nitrogen problem.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The three main nutrients required for successfully growing plants are potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Good top soil contains them in sufficient amounts to grow crops, but after long use, soil becomes depleted of these ingredients and must be renewed. Potassium and phosphorus are economically available in sufficient quantities to be put back easily, but nitrogen is not. Nitrogen is in the air. It is a gas that is a large part of the atmosphere. Getting it into the soil for plant synthesis is very difficult. Traditional farmers added plant clippings and animal waste, rotated crops or planted legumes such as beans or lintels, so-called green manure, to restore the soil and increase yields. Traditional agriculture could not keep up with an exploding world population. Farmers were losing the battle.


Marie Sklodowska Curie II

Lead: Winner of two Nobel prizes, the French physicist Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska near Warsaw, Poland, helped advance the understanding of radioactive substances.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Learning was a lifetime passion for Marie Curie. Her parents lived and taught in a private school and as a child she demonstrated a remarkable memory in academic matters but hers was not a purely abstract scholarship. During Maria's childhood, her native Poland could not be found on the maps of eastern Europe. For centuries Polish territory had been parceled out to hostile neighbors and in 1863, due to an abortive revolt, Poland had become little more than a Russian province. The Polish language was suppressed. As a teenager she took part in the secret nationalist "free university" where she taught the Polish language to women workers.

Marie Sklodowska Curie I – A Personal Word from Dan Roberts

Lead: In 1937 Marie Curie died of leukemia caused in part by her long exposure to radiation seeking to determine its value in medical treatments. Today I would like to share a personal word.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the quarter century I have written and related these narratives as a public historian I have avoided making myself the focus of the story. Nevertheless, recently many loyal and supportive listeners have expressed concern about a perceived change in the quality of my voice. They are correct to have noticed this change. Perhaps the struggle of Madame Curie is a good platform to explore the value and challenges associated with radiation.

Suppression of Galileo II

Lead: Condemned in 1632, the Italian scientist was not given reprieve until 1993.

Intro.: "A Moment in Time" with Dan Roberts.

Content: Galileo, the Italian mathematician and astronomer, believed along with the Polish scholar Copernicus' that the earth revolved around the sun. The Roman Catholic Church disagreed. It taught that the earth was the center of the universe and in 1616 told Galileo to cease and disist his teachings on the subject. In 1624 there was a new pope, he was a long time friend and protector of Galileo and the scientist thought that perhaps a personal appeal would bring him some relief. He felt that it was dangerous for the church to champion a position so vulnerable to scientific evidence, that if people found themselves convinced by proof of something that it was made a sin to believe, they would reject the church's teachings in other areas and perhaps even attracted to the new Protestant ideas coming from Martin Luther in northern Germany.

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Suppression of Galileo I

Lead: Few early scientists contributed as much to the understanding of the way the universe works as Galileo but in his lifetime he was not popular.

Intro.: "A Moment in Time" with Dan Roberts.

Content: Galileo Galilei was the son of a poor nobleman and destined for a medical career. Yet, while at the University of Pisa in northern Italy, he became fascinated with mathematics and by 1589 was teaching at the University level. Fairly early in his career, he came to believe the theory taught by the Polish mathematician Copernicus that the planets revolve around the sun, but was hesitant to teach this openly because of the almost universal acceptance of the older theory which placed the earth of the center of the universe.


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Edison vs. Westinghouse I

Lead: One of the great struggles in the history of technology was that between Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The use of electricity as a means of lighting homes, businesses and streets was in its infancy in the early 1880s. Thomas Edison had improved the incandescent light bulb and was hard at work constructing the power system for the City of New York. To get the power from generating power plants out to the customers, he used direct current which can be compared to a water flowing in a pipe. Power goes in one direction at a constantly low voltage over wiring that was very expensive so as to not blow out the light bulbs waiting for power down the circuit.

Eugenics II

Lead: From its start as an optimistic approach to improving the human condition, eugenics degenerated into a racist tool in the hands of bigotry and ultimately led to the gas ovens of the Third Reich.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The fundamental problem with eugenics, even as Sir Francis Galton articulated it in the 19th century, was that it focused primarily on inborn characteristics and almost completely disregarded social, environmental, educational, and physical factors when examining the human race. Basically, eugenicists advocated a form of genetic determinism. A person is born with a genetic imprint that determines the course of their lives. Not surprisingly these theories became a powerful tool in the hands of racists. It all depends on who is setting the standard. If society is to improve itself, it is said, it must eliminate genetic threats to racial purity. In the sad history of eugenics, a wide variety of groups have been singled out for social restriction, sterilization, or elimination. Feeble-minded or mentally ill people, habitual criminals, sexual libertines, Negroes, Native Americans or any non-whites, Jews, gypsies, and evangelical Christians have all fallen under the wary and sometimes fatal scrutiny of the eugenic mandate. They bore undesirable human traits.

Eugenics I

Lead: In the 19th and 20th centuries, theories about the way to improve the human condition spawned the pseudo-science of eugenics. Unfortunately, optimism about making mankind better degenerated into the darkness of racism.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Sir Francis Galton confessed to having had a happy childhood. His upper-class parents gave him a Cambridge education though he never took his degree, and left him sufficient inherited funds so that he could avoid work and indulge his great love of travel. From 1845 to 1853 Galton explored parts of the Middle East and Africa, including a very careful but ultimately fruitless expedition from West Africa in search of Lake Ngami, which is in Botswana, north of the Kalahari Desert. After his marriage he turned to more scholarly pursuits producing books on a wide variety of subjects including fingerprinting, calculus, genetics and weather prediction. Galton is best known, however, for his advocacy of improving the human species through selective parenting, a process he called eugenics.