On this day in science history: 3 December

From the days of ancient technology to modern science - find out what happened on this day in the history of science.

3rd December 2017
Four of the earliest neon lights include a neon lamp of about 1922, an Osram `Glimmelamp', a lamp shaped to show a letter 'E', and a beehive-type neon lamp © SSPL/Getty Images

Four of the earliest neon lights include a neon lamp of about 1922, an Osram `Glimmelamp', a lamp shaped to show a letter 'E', and a beehive-type neon lamp © SSPL/Getty Images

1910 – Neon lighting makes its public debut

Neon lights are displayed for the first time by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show. Known colloquially as the ‘Edison of Paris’, the French chemist Georges Claude realised that inert gases generate light when an electrical current flows through them.

Only two years after its debut, neon technology had evolved into commercial signs illuminated by neon lights. Pure neon yielded an orange-red glow but different inert gases could be combined to produce in excess of 150 different colours. Although, with the advance of technology, neon lighting is not as popular as it was when it peaked in the early 20th century, neon signs are still prevalent in retro shops.

1967 – First successful human-to-human heart transplant

Louis Washkansky sits up in bed © Bettmann/Getty Images
Louis Washkansky sits up in bed © Bettmann/Getty Images

At 53 years old, Louis Washkansky becomes the first person to undergo a human heart transplant. The ground-breaking surgery took place in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital where Christaan Barnard replaced Louis Washkansky’s defective heart with Denise Darvall’s healthy 25-year-old heart. Regrettably, it was only 18 days later that Washkansky’s body, vulnerable from immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the new heart, succumbed to pneumonia.

Despite Washkansky’s premature death, the surgery was considered a success because it was pivotal to further advances in the field. From this initial transplant, there are now around 3,500 heart transplants every year, with upgraded immunosuppressant (anti-rejection) drugs meaning recipients now survive an average of 15 years post-surgery.

1984 – 40 tonnes of poisonous gas engulfs Bhopal

Victims who lost sight after the Bhopal tragedy © STR/AFP/Getty Images
Victims who lost sight after the Bhopal tragedy © STR/AFP/Getty Images

Methyl isocyanate, among other noxious gases originating from the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant, immerses the air of Bhopal. The industrial disaster that took place in the Indian city of Bhopal killed 3,800 civilians instantly, with estimates suggesting the death toll escalated to an alarming 15,000. The majority of the 600,000 people exposed to the dangerous chemicals escaped death, but many suffered burns to the throat and eyes causing respiratory dysfunction, nausea and permanent blindness.

Since that fateful day, thousands of children with birth defects have been born to mothers exposed to the toxic fumes. With over 350 tonnes of industrial waste estimated to still to be polluting Bhopal, frustrated residents and victims have been protesting against their distressing situation from the onset of the disaster to present day.

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