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Promoting the Planck Club: How Defiant Youth, Irreverent Researchers and Liberated Universities Can Foster Prosperity Indefinitely by Donald Braben

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7

Charles Townes: A Meticulously Careful Scientific Adventurer

In previous chapters I outlined how some of Nature's unexpected and unpredicted properties came to be revealed. Until Max Planck came along, it was universally believed that energy, even on the minutest scale imaginable, streams continuously like water from a pipe. But Planck's deliberations led him to conclude inexorably that it comes only in integral numbers of packages of a specific size. Thus, energy is quantized, a discovery that also marked the end of the “classical” physics era. Before Oswald Avery published his ground-breaking results, scientists assumed that the molecules that control every aspect of our biological lives were complex proteins, and that simple, boring, ubiquitous DNA was merely junk, old baggage left over, perhaps, from previous evolutionary eons. Barbara McClintock originally thought, in common with scientists generally, that our genetic makeup was written, in effect, on invariant tablets of stone (except sportive accidents) for every species for all time. However, I will now describe a discovery that, as its originator often pointed out, should not have come as a surprise and indeed could have been made decades before it was actually produced. Remarkably, its arrival was catalyzed only after scientists had been dragooned into wartime service and stimulated into devising imaginative ways of using their expertise. Their motivation was to increase our chances of surviving a total and brutal ...

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