Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

32. Nebraska’s Scientists

The conclusion of World War II and the subsequent beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s quickly brought home to Americans the need to develop quality scientists. Science had always been a part of life in the Americas ever since the first indigenous peoples’ Agricultural Revolution and their domestication of corn and the discoveries of the Benjamins: Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Banneker, and Benjamin Franklin, that is. These enlightenment inventors of the Revolutionary War era dabbled in inoculations, seventeen-year locust cycles, bifocals, stoves, and street paving, to name a few of their many scientific contributions. But by 1945, after two world wars in thirty years and the continuation on a war footing, there was a greater sense of urgency about science in the United States than ever before. The federal government now sought to encourage science and to find scientists ready to make their mark. Three Nebraska scientists of the mid-twentieth century—Harold Edgerton, George Beadle, and Loren Eiseley—more than made impressions.

The mid-1940s found Harold Edgerton assisting the U.S. Army’s air squadrons in Italy, England, and France. He figured out how to create strobes of light for nighttime aerial reconnaissance photography so that the Allies could detect enemy troop movements, and for his scientific contribution Edgerton received the Medal of Freedom in 1946. Meanwhile, George Beadle had just completed nine years of collaboration with Stanford University biologist Edward Lawrie Tatum. Beadle’s research discovered that genes regulate biochemical events within cells, a crucial prelude to the unraveling of DNA. For this important biological breakthrough, both Beadle and Tatum would receive the 1958 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Loren Eiseley, a soon-to-be renowned paleontologist and ecologist, moved to the University of Pennsylvania to head its

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