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A look at just a few of the important discoveries we have made in the past 135 years:

  • Determined that massive, mature, fully formed galaxies existed more than 8 billion years ago, far earlier than expected, necessitating a re-examination of the dominant theory of galactic evolution (2004)
  • Sent a spacecraft to Mercury to orbit the planet and see, for the first time, the majority of Mercury’s surface (2004)
  • Landed the first spacecraft on an asteroid (2001)
  • Isolated and cultivated human embryonic stem cells, the undifferentiated cell from which an entire human being eventually develops (1998)
  • Helped develop the first effective treatment for sickle cell anemia (1995)
  • Discovered that pennies’ worth of vitamin A supplements administered to Indonesian children as part of a blindness prevention program were accompanied by a dramatic drop in infant death rates, leading to similar vitamin treatments for thousands of children in developing countries (1983–86)
  • Identified high rates of infant deaths in motor vehicle accidents, leading to the passage of child safety restraint laws throughout the United States (1979)
  • Developed the first successful treatment to desensitize people against bee stings (1975)
  • Invented the first implantable, rechargeable pacemaker for cardiac disorders (1972)
  • Took the first color photograph of the whole earth from space (1967)
  • Discovered restriction enzymes, the so-called “biochemical scissors,” which gave birth to the entire new field of genetic engineering (1960s); the discoverers were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their achievement
  • Conducted the first major, large-scale research study of conditions of inequality in American schools, which resulted in the landmark report Equality of Educational Opportunity (1960)
  • Invented cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the lifesaving first-aid technique, thanks to a chance observation during work on the defibrillating machine (also invented at Johns Hopkins) that weight placed on the chest increases blood pressure (1958)
  • Showed that retrolental fibroplasia, which causes blindness in premature infants, was related to high concentrations of oxygen used in babies’ incubators (1954)
  • Confirmed the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, speeding acceptance as genuine of these earliest biblical manuscripts (1948)
  • Discovered Dramamine’s effectiveness in alleviating motion sickness (1948)
  • Immunized chimpanzees with inactivated vaccines, essential to the development of the first widely used polio vaccine and a major step toward the prevention of poliomyelitis in human beings (1947–52)
  • Took the first images of Earth’s curvature, from a V-2 rocket (1946)
  • Developed the first supersonic ramjet engine (1944)
  • Developed the “blue baby” operation to correct congenital heart defects, ushering in a new era in open heart surgery (1944)
  • Developed Mercurochrome, a widely used antiseptic (1919)
  • Published the first modern edition of the “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” making available to the world the most significant extra-biblical work of ancient Near Eastern literature (1891)
  • Introduced the rubber glove for use during surgery (1889)
  • Discovered the sweetening agent saccharin (1879)