Fun Facts and Interesting Information from Around the World


The transistor was invented in 1947 by a team that included William Shockley (1910–1989), Walter H. Brattain (1902–1987), and John Bardeen (1908–1991). In 1956 the three men received the Nobel Prize in physics for the development. Later close study of the invention has tended to minimize the role of Shockley, suggesting that he insisted on… read more »

uranium isotope separation

When the researchers in the Manhattan Project sought to build an atomic or nuclear bomb from 1942 to 1945, they soon recognized that there were two elements that could represent the fissionable core of the weapon. One fissionable material was plutonium,which could be made in nuclear reactors.The second was an isotope [V] of uranium with… read more »

Van Allen belts

In 1958, the American scientist John Van Allen (1914– ) discovered two belts of radiation encircling Earth, now known as Van Allen belts. The belts are shaped like concentric doughnuts, with the doughnut hole over the North and South Poles of the planet. Van Allen, who had earned a doctorate in physics in 1939 from… read more »

vertical takeoff and landing aircraft

The vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft has been an elusive goal, but by the end of the 20th century, a British and an American model were in military service. The helicopter can achieve vertical takeoff and landing but is limited in its forward speed because at more than 200 miles per hour it will… read more »

videotape recorder

The first videotape recorders were developed by Bing Crosby Laboratories, under a research team headed by engineer John Mullin, in 1951. The camera converted the visual information into electrical impulses and saved the digital information onto magnetic tape. Over the following years the video recorder was perfected. By 1956, the VR 1000, invented by Charles… read more »

Wankel engine

A major improvement over the piston-driven internal-combustion engine [IV], the Wankel engine was developed over the early 1950s and perfected in 1956 by Felix Wankel (1902–1988). Wankel was a German engineer who sought for many years to find a way to harness internal combustion without the necessity of transforming linear motion into rotary motion, a… read more »


The origin of radar (originally an abbreviation for radio detection and ranging) can be traced to the German researcher Christian Hulsmeyer, who in 1904 demonstrated a radio wave warning system that detected the interruption of a radio beam for ships. At the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States in 1922, A. Hoyt Taylor and… read more »

wide-screen motion pictures

As part of the effort to make motion picture theaters more competitive with television in the 1950s, several systems of wide-screen cinematography came into use in that decade, along with the brief fad of threedimensional motion pictures. In some systems, the same 35-millimeter film was employed; in others, a 70-millimeter-wide film was used. A French… read more »

radio telescope

In 1932 Karl Jansky, an American researcher at Bell Labs, received radio waves apparently coming from empty interstellar space. Over the next 15 years these radio waves remained a mystery, until more sensitive radio equipment, developed during World War II, was applied to the phenomenon. The first radio telescopes, designed to sort out and register… read more »