Heike Kamerlingh Onnes died on this date on 1926. He was a Dutch physicist. He pioneered refrigeration techniques and used these to explore how materials behave when cooled to nearly absolute zero. He was the first to liquefy helium. His production of extreme cryogenic temperatures led to his discovery of superconductivity in 1911: for certain materials, electrical resistance abruptly vanishes at very low temperatures. Onnes received widespread recognition for his work, including the 1913 Nobel Prize in Physics for in the words of the committee: “his investigations on the properties of matter at low temperatures which led, inter alia, to the production of liquid helium.”
Sir Frederick Grant Banting, KBE, MC, FRS, FRSC died on this date in 1941. He was a Canadian medical scientist, doctor, painter and Nobel laureate noted as the first person that used insulin on humans. In 1923 Banting and John James Rickard Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Banting shared the award money with his colleague, Dr Charles Best. As of September 2011, Banting, who received the Nobel Prize at age 32, remains the youngest Nobel laureate in the area of Physiology or Medicine. The Canadian government gave him a lifetime annuity to work on his research. In 1934 he was knighted by King George V.
Carl Peter Henrik Dam was born on this date in 1895. He was a Danish biochemist and physiologist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1943 for joint work with Edward Doisy work in discovering vitamin K and its role in human physiology. Dam’s key experiment involved feeding a cholesterol-free diet to chickens. The chickens began haemorrhaging and bleeding uncontrollably after a few weeks. Dam isolated the dietary substance needed for blood clotting and called it the “coagulation vitamin”, which became shortened to vitamin K. He was born and died in Copenhagen. He received an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Copenhagen Polytechnic Institute (now the Technical University of Denmark) in 1920 and was appointed as an assistant instructor in chemistry at the School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. By 1923 he had attained the post of instructor in biochemistry at Copenhagen University’s Physiological Laboratory. He studied microchemistry at the University of Graz under Fritz Pregl in 1925, but returned to Copenhagen University, where he was appointed as an assistant professor at the Institute of Biochemistry in 1928, and assistant professor in 1929. During his time as a professor at Copenhagen University he spent some time working abroad, and in 1934 submitted a thesis entitled Nogle Undersøgelser over Sterinernes Biologiske Betydning (Some investigations on the biological significance of the sterines) to Copenhagen University, and received the degree of PhD in biochemistry. Between 1942–1945 he was a Senior Research Associate at the University of Rochester; it was during this period that he was awarded the 1943 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Howard Walter Florey, Baron Florey of Adelaide OM FRS FRCP died on this date in 1968. He was an Australian pharmacologist and pathologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Sir Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for his role in the making of penicillin. Although Fleming received most of the credit for the discovery of penicillin, it was Florey who carried out the first ever clinical trials in 1941 of penicillin at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford on the first patient, a Postmaster from Wolvercote near Oxford. The patient started to recover but subsequently died because Florey had not made enough penicillin. It was Florey and his team who actually made a useful and effective drug out of penicillin after the task had been abandoned as too difficult. Florey’s discoveries are estimated to have saved over 82 million lives, and he is consequently regarded by the Australian scientific and medical community as one of its greatest figures. Sir Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, said, “In terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia.”