Physical Sciences & Engineering

Discoveries in The Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Information and Computer Sciences That Have Changed Our Lives:

Year Institution Discovery Discoverer
1933 Columbia University FM Radio: Frequency Modulated radio which controlled noise static caused by electrical equipment and the earth’s atmosphere Edward Howard Armstrong
1922 University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana Sound Motion Picture: Sound recorded simultaneously with pictures on film Joseph T. Tykociner
  Purdue University Black & White Television  
1958 Columbia University Laser: Collaborated and showed theoretically that masers could be made to operate in the optical and infrared region and proposed how this could be accomplished in particular systems - i.e. lasers. Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes
2001 Stanford University Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin
1935 DePauw Synthesized Physostigmine: A natural substance to reduce pressure in the eyeball caused by glaucoma - cutting the costs of the drug from hundreds of dollars to a few cents per gram which made treament available worldwide Percy Julian
1947 Washington University in St Louis Cori Cycle: biochemical process by which the body reversibly converts clucose to glycogen - explaining how carbohydrates supply energy to muscles during exercise and how carbohydrates are regenerated and stored until needed again by the muscles Gerty and Carl Cori
1943 Rutgers antibiotics: Isolated antibiotics from actinomycetes - of wich streptomycin (the first effective treatment for tuberculosis) was the most notable Selman Waksman
  Stanford University Hewlett-Packard David Packard and William Hewlett
1960s   Liquid hydrogen bubble chamber: a detector device that allowed scientists to see and photograph the interaction of particles produced in cyclotrons and other particle accelerators Luis W Alvarez
  Stanford University Klystron Tube: high-frequency amplifier was used to generate microwaves and revolutionary high-energy physics and microwave research William Hansen and Russell and Sigurd Varian
1935 CalTech Richter Scale: scale by which earthquake size is measured Charles F Richter and Beno Gutenberg
  Columbia University superstring theory development: showed that in superstring theory there is a process which can convert microscopic black holes into superstrings and vice versa - this dramatically reduced the number of solutions to superstring equations Brian Greene and David Morrison and Andrew Strominger
  Duke University theory of spinal cord injury mechanisms: describes how the spinal cord is injured in various traumatic situations - this has been applied in the design of football and motorcycle helmets as well as auto airbags and occupant restraint systems Jim McElhaney
1977 MIT public key cryptographic system: First workable code based on the use of very large prime numbers allowing secret communication that has so far proved to be unbreakable Ronald L Rivest & Adi Shamir * Leonard Adelman
1988 MIT Ocean plankton: A species of ocean plankton that could be the most abundant single species on earth Sallie Chisholm
1991 MIT laser catheter system: used for microsurgery on the arteries Michael Feld
  MIT Microchip that can store and release chemicals on demand Michael Cima Robert Langer and John Santini
1997 MIT First Atom Laser: Analogous to an optical laser but emits atoms instead of light Wolfgang Ketterle
2002 MIT First acrobatic robotic bird: a small agile helicopter that the military could use in mountainous and uran combat as well as capturing aerial imagery  
2003 Berkeley Oldest homo sapiens: Discovered three skulls that filled a gap between pre-human and modern humans and showed that even 160000 years ago early humans were using stone tools to butcher animals Tim White
1946 Princeton Hubble Telescope Lyman Spiter
2001 Princeton Dark Energy: The percentage of dark energy in the universe came from the findings of the WMAP Satellite which collects data on cosmic microwave background radiation that is left over from the big bang  
  University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana LEDs: Light-emitting diodes which are at the very heart of CD players and computer optical drives Nick Holonyak Jr
1946 Stanford University Nuclear magnetic resonance: Laid the foundation for the MRI used today in medical diagnosis and in much other research Felix Bloch
  CalTech Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy John D Roberts
1948 University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana Use of nuclear magnetic resonance to establish molecular structure:Became a standard tool in chemistry molecular biology and medical imaging. Herbert S. Gutowsky
  UC San Diego First experimental climate forecast center; the first research diving program; the unique Floating Instrument Platform; the longest and most complete dataset of a marine ecosystem; and the Deep Sea Drilling Project  
  UC San Diego Helped define the field of Marine biology Claude ZoBell
  UC San Diego wave forecasting Walter Munk
1958 UC San Diego Keeling Curve: A corner of climate change research - the impact of the carbon cycle on changes in the climate pinoneered our understanding of global climate change Charles David Keeling
2005 Columbia University Inner core of the earth rotating eastwards: Researched seismic waves through the inner core with a travel time that gets smaller by about a tenth of a second per decade Paul G Richards
1985 Columbia University El Nino: First physically based forecats of El Nino and the Southern Oscillation Mark Craine and Steve Zebiak
1947 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions theory for ocean circulation: Explained why some currents run counter to the wind Harald Ulrik Sverdrup
1948 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions Explained why Gulf Stream and other strong currents are on the western side of the ocean Henry Stommel
1977 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions Seafloor vents were brimming with unepected life: Discovered life in hydrothermal vents  
2007 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions Greenhouse gas emissions estimates: Estimates that suggest if emissions continue to rise at the current rate average temperatures in the Eastern US could rise by 10 by 2080 and sor more than 100 degrees in other cities.  
1985 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions RMS Titanic: Discovery of the sunken Titanic with underwater research submersible revealing the interior of the titanic  
1996 Rice University Buckyballs: A previously unknown carbon molecule often containing 60 atoms - structured as a series of interlocking hexagons and pentagons Harry Droto Richard Smalley and Robert Curl
1930s CalTech Principles of airplane design and flight: Helped established US aircraft industry including the modern jet plane  
1986 Princeton University Computer technique that simplifies process of aircraft design: Reduces need for costly and time-consuming wind tunnel testing  
  University of Arizona Dendrochronology: Study of tree rings which has been used to understand the history of the earth (climate changes; environmental issues; major evens like fires and volcano eruptions A. E Douglass
  University of Arizona Spin-casting mirrors: enabled the production of the largest telescope mirrors ever made Roger Angel
  Carnegie Mellon University First autonomous vehicles and helicopter  
  Columbia University Poison Ivy: First to isolate the irritant in poison ivy Charles Dawson
  Duke University Nonlinear aeroelasticity:pioneering research that create definitive experimental databases and developed novel and highly effective computational models for predicting and avoiding potentially fatal oscillations Kenneth Hall
  Duke University Optimized biphasic stimulation of the heart: improved clinical defibrillators and makes implantable defibrillators possible Ray Ideker; Pat Wolf; Bill Smith
1999 Harvard University Black Silicon: new type of material which could lead to more efficient ways of converting sunlgiht to electricity; communicating by light; and monitoring the environment for evidence of global warming Eric Mazur; Gordon McKay; Claudia Wu; Tsing-Hua Her
1997 Harvard University Expanding Universe: Scientists found evidence that the universe will go on expanding forever and not end in the crushing grasp of gravity  
  University of Michigan; University of Hawaii Supermassive black hole: Appears to contain the mass of a billion suns in a galaxy 30 million light years from earth - the object is 100 times more massive than any previously discovered black hole Douglas O Richstone; John Kormendy
  University of Michigan; Las Cmpanas Observatory Andromeda (M31) and m32: Massive dark objects lie at the centers of two galaxies nearest our own suggesting that black holes lie at the center of all galaxies; lending support to the idea that black holes are the energy source of quasars  
1992 University of Michigan Most powerful pulse of laser light: Produced a 55-terawatt pulse: one terawatt equals one trillion watts - and equivalent energy output from 10 billion 100 watt light bulbs. 55 terawatts is 100 times the total electrical power generated in the united states  
  University of Michigan Holographic electron microscope: Can deliniate the electron clouds of atoms. Its magnifying power is 260,000,000 times. Lawrence S Bartell; Charles Ritz
1952 University of Michigan Liquid bubble chamber: Provides a way to track the paths of moving subatomic particles Donald Glaser
1940s Northwestern University High-octane aviation fuel: 100-octane fule gave british plans an advantage because the fuel produced 50% faster bursts of acceleration than were available to Luftwaffe plans - enabling the British to out maneuver the enemy; the British lost 915 planes compared with the 1733 planes lost by the Germans Herman Pines
1930s Ohio State Universtiy Freons: Discovery and use of freons in refrigeration and air conditioning A. L. Henne
1950s Ohio State University Heparin: Used world-wide for treatment of cardiac diseases; heart attacks; related coronary disorders and various surgical procedures M. L. Wolfrom
  Ohio State University Aliphatic Polynitro compounds: Used in solid fuel rockets by the US Armed Forces H. Shecter
1934 Pennsylvania State University; Columbia University Ferdinand Brickwedded; Harold Urey; George Murphy
1923 Penn State Diesel engineering research programs: The discoveries over the next 230 years in superchargin and scavenging pioneered the way for more efficient and powerful diesel engines Paul Schwitzer; K. J. Dejuhasz
1945 Penn State R Values: Standardized measures of resistance to heat transfer - later widely applied to industrial and residential insulating materials and helped consumers make more energy-efficient choices Everett Shuman
1946 Penn State Artificial Insemination Techniques John Almquist
1974 Penn State Heart Assist Pump: The first long-life rechargeable heart pacemaker: used to treat cardiovascular patients and led to the Penn State Heart  
  Princeton University Nash Equilibrium: Equilibrium in game theory; adapted to modern economics John Nash
1983 University of Chicago Study of Black Holes: Conceived of the study of black holes and received the Nobel Prize for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars Subramanyan Chandrasekhar
1993 Princeton University Gravitational Radiation:: Demonstrated that neutron stars were loosing energy at exactly the rate that Einstine prdicted for gravitational radiaton Joseph H Taylor Jr; Russell A Hulse
  Princeton University Fourier transform: Algorithm for the fast fourier transform leading to profound implications for digital computing John Cooley and John Tukey
1979 Purdue University Chemical reations with boron compounds: revolutionized the low-cost production of medicines and agricultural chemicals Herbert C. Brown
  Purdue University Bulk Aseptic: Sterile processing of food that allowed for the production and worldwide shippping of large quantities of not-from-concentrate orange juice Philip F. Nelson
  Purdue University Long term storage packaging: Made transport of fresh fruits and vegetables possible William Scholle
  Purdue University Pest resistant Soybeans  
  Purdue University Wheat varieties: Purdue developed wheat varieties that are grown on more than 80 percent of the United stage acreage  
1950s University of Illinois Swine diet: Demonstrated that it was possible to ensure swine grwoth with a simple combination fo corn; soybean meal; vitamins and minerals D Eugene Becker
1953 University of Illinois Illini Supersweet: Hybrid corn that revolutionized the sweet corn industry - higher in protein and lower in calories than conventional sweet corn John R. Laughnan
1938 University of Nebraska-Lincoln no-till farming: Changed the face of agriculture in the Great Plains and worldwide  
1960s UC Davis California wine industry: Developed dozens of new grape varieties and improved methods of growing and handling vines and making wines  
  University of Florida Frozen concentrated orange juice  
1987 Washington University St Louis Genetically engineered tomato plants: Designed to protect themselves from invading viruses; this technique has since been applied to other staple crops such as rice; wheat; and cassave.  
1919 University of Illinois Antitoxin for botulism poisoning  
1960s Purdue University Improved varieties of Sorghum: Primary food source for 300 millino people in sub-Saharan Africa - parasite-resistant; drought-intolerant; more nutritious and easier to digest  
1997 Rice University Capricorn Plate: Discovery of a new tectonic plate Richard Gordon
1952 Stanford University Henry Kaplan; Edward Ginzton
  Rice University Helium Optical Pumping: Forms the basis of ultrasensitive magnetometers - still used in various applications including submarine detection and ultrasensitive MRI imaging  
  Texas A&M StarRotor engine: Captures heat given off in car exhaust and uses it to power the car Dr Mark Holtzapple
  Texas A&M Digital Feeder Monitor (DFM): A microprocessor-based monitoring device that detects broken wires in electrical power distribution systems.  
  Texas A&M ET-2000: Brings vehicles to a controlled stop when they crash into the end of a guardrail  
  UCLA CAT Scans & MRI Dr William Oldendorf
  UCLA PET (positron emission tomography): The only current system to provide scientists and physicians with images of the biology of the human body - allowing metabolic changes in the body to be visualized Michael Phelps and Edward Hoffman
  UC San Diego Bioengineering: Focuses on the interface between body movement and medicine Y. C. Fung
  UC San Diego Steel jacket system: Strengthens bridge columns and other structures for earthquake safety and may be able to be used to protect buildings against bombs  
  UC San Diego Silcon Polymer: Capable of detecting trace amounts of chemicals commonly used in terrorist bombs  
  University of Chicago First Blood Bank Oswald Robertson
  University of Chicago First controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction Enrico Fermi
  University of Chicago Jet stream: pioneered the study of the jet stream focusing on the relationship between oceans and atmosphere and how they interact; and on problems of turbulence. Carl-Gustaf Rossby
1950 Princeton University First numerical weather forecast Jule Charney; R. Fjortoft; John von Neumann
1960 University of Chicago Carbon-14 dating: Use of carbon-14 to determine the age of archaeological artifacts as well as in hydrology and geophysics. Willard Libby
1985 University of Chicago Genetic evolution: mathematical foundations and fundamental contributions to our knowledge of how to aply classical and molecular genetics to the study of evolution and natural variation. Brian Charlesworth
  University of Colorado Bose-Einstein condensate: a chilled gas that condenses into a superatom and behaves as a single entity Carl Wieman; Eric Cornell
  University of Colorado F Ring: New ring around the planet Saturn Larry Esposito
  Universiyt of Colorado New quantum gas: Creating a quantum state where atoms behave like waves - this may help unlock the mysteries of high-temperature superconductivity - leading to increased efficiency of electrical transmission systems and the potential development of magnetically levitated train Deborah Jin
1926 Johns Hopkins Chlorinated water purification system: Eventually was adopted by every major municipal and industrial water supply system in the US and many other parts of the world  
1950s University of Florida Reverse Osmosis: used in desalinization of seawater  
1960s CalTech Health Hazards of Lead Pollution: lead to federal automobile pollution control standards  
1974 UC Irvine Ozone Damage: Discovered that Freon propellant in aerosol spray cans was damaging the ozone layer - leading to the banning of fluorocarbons from American spray cans  
1972 Cornell University Acid rain: Documented the existence and significance of the acid rain problem in North America  
1989 Johns Hopkins Spray Paint: New process for spray-painting cars; furnitures; appliances that reduces air pollution from these sources by as much as 70 percent  
1980s Carnegie Mellon University Robotic machines: First robotic machines used to clean up hazardous radioactive waste at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant site  
1996 Johns Hopkins All-plastic battery: First all-plastic batter that is regargable and environmentally friendly as well as lightweight; capable of being olded to fit into awkward places; able to operate in extreme heat or cold.  
1970s UC Berkeley Carcinogens screening test: Developed a quick and economical screening test for possible environmental carcinogens which is now used widely as the first line of defense in identifying potential cancer-causing agents  
1990 Washington University St Louis African elephant tusk database: Allows ivory to be traced which will help stop ivory poaching and preserve the species  
  University of Pennsylvania Conducting polymers: resulted in fundamental discoveries in chemistry and raised the possibility of making electronic circuits out of cheap bits of plastic Alan MacDiarmid; Alan Heeger
1891 University of Pittsburgh Rings of Saturn: provided the first visual proof that the rings of saturn were particulate James Keeler
1896 University of Pittsburgh first heavier-than-air flying craft to achieve free flight Samuel Langley
1959 University of Pittsburgh Edward Wallace
1999 University of Pittsburgh Green Steel: Process replaces lead with tin in machining steel - making steel manufacturing more environmentally friendly and reduces costs Anthony DeArdo and Issac Garcia
2001 University of Pittsburgh Sonic Flashlight: Handheld real time tomographic reflection device that superimposes ultrasound images on the part of the body being scanned George Stetten
2003 Pittsburgh non-invasive glucose sensor Sanford Asher; David Finegold
1942 Iowa State University Atanasoff-Berry Computer: First computer with a binary system of arithmetic parallel processing; regenerative memory; and a separation of memory and computing functions John Atanasoff; Cifford Berry
1942   ENIAC Computer: First patented digital computing device Presper Eckert and John Mauchly
1944 Harvard University MARK I Computer Howard Aiken and Admiral Grace Hopper
1948 Bell Labs Transistor: modulates electronic current; composed of semi-conductor material that conducts and insulates - much more efficient and smaller than previously used vacuum tubes John Bardeen; Walter Brattain; William Shockley
1986 MIT Alcove hologram: projects a computer-generated 3D image into space Stephen Benton
  University of Arizona data mining: Computer technique that is used nation-wide to link law enforcement agencies databases - useful in solving high profile crimes Hsinchun Chin
  Ohio State University Form*Z: world-renowned 3D modeling software, used by the vast majority of architectural and deign firms in the United States and developed world Christos Yessios
1962 MIT Spacewar: First computer game Steve Russell
1975 UC Berkeley UNIX operating system  
  Stanford University Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC): new type of computer design that increased performance while reducing cost  
1970 Stanford University The Computer Mouse Douglas Engelbart
  CalTEch VLSI (very-large-scale integrated) circuits: now used by all semiconductor companies Carver Mead
  Carnegie Mellon University Email system: first to create a distributing computing environment with what we now call email.  
  Carnegie Mellon Search Engine  
1980 University of Michigan Photoshop/ImagePro: First program to display grascale images on a monochrome display - later developed into Adobe Photoshop Thomas Knoll
1993 University of Illinois Mosaic: First popular graphical browser for the world wide web Marc L Andreessen; Eric J. Bina
  University of Illinois Netscape / Internet Explorer  
1973 DARPA TCP (Transmission Control Protocol): allows peer networks to connect in order to exchange data Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf
1990 CERN World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee
1955 Carnegie Mellon University Artificial Intelligence: developed the field on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it Al Newell ; Herbert Simon; JC Shaw
1957 Carnegie Mellon University General Problem Solver Allen Newell; JC Shaw
  MIT Lisp Language: critically important in developing functional programming - from AI robots to computer games to patern recognition John McCarthy
1961 MIT SAINT: first symbolic integration program which solved calculus problems at the colege freshman level James Slagie
1963 MIT ANALOGY: demonstrated that computers could solve the same analogy problems as are asked on IQ tests Thomas Evans
1967   Dentral Program: could interpret mass spectra on organic chemical compound - the first successful knowledge-based program for scientific reasoning Edward Feigenbaum; Joshua Lederberg; Bruce Buchanan; George Sutherland
  MIT MacHack: first knowledge-based chess program rated good enough to achieve a class-C rating in tournament play Richard Greenblatt
1974 Stanford First expert system : demonstrated the power of rule-based systems for knowledge representation and inference in the domain of medical diagnosis and therapy Ted Shortliffe
1948 Drexel University Bar Codes  
1983 University of Southern California Domain Name System: What we know as .com and .edu Paul Mockapetris and Jon Postel
  University of Southern California Face recognition software: Facial identity-scanning software that has many applications for commercial as well as military customers Christoph von der Malsburg; Hartmut Neven
1990 University of Arizona Braille music software: Computer software that allows blind musicians to compose directly to Braille  
1993 University of Arizona Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2: Placed on the Hubble Telescope - provided images of the Crab and Eagle Nebulas Jeff Hester
2004 University of Arizona Flexible Display Center: Established by the US Army in an effort to revolutionize how electronics are designed and used Gregory Raupp
2005 University of Arizona Decision Theater: first facility in the world to combine collaboration; visualization; and simulation to address complex public policy programs.  
2006 University of Arizona RUBERT (Robotic Upper Extremity Repetitive Therapy): Enables stroke survivors to regain independence by maximizing motor function - RUPERT is able to mimic a fluid natural extension of the arm and can be programmed for repetitive exercises specific to the user that improve arm and hand flexiility and strength. Jiping He
  University of Southern California Human Centrifuge: used in the development of the G-suit to prevent pilot blackout during WWII and in research related to the first US space missions  
  University of Southern California Smith-Waterman algorithm and Lander-Waterman formula: Crucial for advancement of the Human Genome Project Michael Waterman
  University of Texas -Austin modern-day detectors of laser light used in telephone and other telecommunication systems to receive voice and data over fiber optics Joe C. Campbell
  University of Wisconsin - Madison Satellite Meteorology: invented the spin scan camera that enabled the development of the geostationary weather satellite that gave us the first pictures of weather from space Verner Suomi
1963 University of Wisconsin-Madison Map Projection: Minimzes the distortions inherent in world maps using new computer techniques - producing a projection map that more accurately reflects the size of continents. Arthur Robinson

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