Other scientists / inventors
of the past two centuries
whose impact was great but not quite as great:
(1915: general relativity)
(1876-1886: gasoline engine and car, quintessential machines of the 20th century)
(mathematician of the millennium)
Fleming (1928: Penicillin saves
millions of lives)
(1935-41: first program- controlled computer)
(1830s: first designs of such computers);
(1928: transistor; also O. Heil, 1935, and
Shockley et al., 1948)
(1931: limits of math and computation),
(1936: Turing machine,
1943: Nazi code breaker)
(1853: genetic theory),
Darwin & Wallace
(1858: evolution theory) and
Crick, Watson, Wilkins, Franklin
(1873: theory of electricity),
(1866: practical dynamo drives electricity era; 1892: electric locomotion),
(1877: phonograph; his employees and J.W. Swan
improve light bulbs of Davy, Houdin, etc.)
Meucci, Reis, Bell
(wireless communication for radio and cell phone)
Hahn & Meitner (1938: uranium fission, for A-bomb and nuclear power)
(1900: quantum physics),
(1925: uncertainty principle)
Fritz Haber (left, 1.0 Nobel prizes in
and Carl Bosch (right, 0.5 Nobels in
have probably had a greater impact than anyone in the
past 100 years, including Hitler, Gandhi,
Their Haber-Bosch process has often been called
the most important invention of the 20th century
(e.g., V. Smil, Nature, July 29 1999, p 415)
as it "detonated the population explosion," driving the world's
population from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000.
The 70 million deaths of World War I and World War
II almost vanish next to these numbers.
But Haber, a patriotic German Jew,
shared some responsibility
for those as well: his
work helped Germany
to significantly prolong WW I, and also to
develop the Zyklon B poison gas
used in WW II's Holocaust.
Haber's almost paradoxical biography
affected more lives and deaths than anybody else's.
Bosch was a co-founder of IG-Farben,
the world's largest chemical company. After WW II
the allies broke it up into three smaller parts, each
still larger than any foreign chemical company.
In the past 200 years only
germ theory of disease by
had an impact on mankind that rivals the one of the Haber-Bosch process.
Under high temperatures and very high pressures,
hydrogen and nitrogen (from thin air) are combined
to produce ammonia.
Nearly one century after its
invention, the process is still applied all
over the world to produce
500 million tons of artificial fertilizer per year.
1% of the world's energy supply is used for it
(Science 297(1654), Sep 2002);
it still sustains roughly 40% of the population
(M. D. Fryzuk, Nature 427, p 498, 5 Feb 2004).
Billions of people would not even exist without it.
And our dependence will only increase
as the global count moves from six to ten billion people or so.
Compare the ongoing robot population explosion!