As each year ends, it's fairly easy to add up the astronomical accomplishments -- new discoveries, new instruments, and new missions. But the true significance of the year may not become apparent for quite a while. Among other things, that's because we can't be sure which new PhD's will make the next big discoveries, or which immigrants will be among the giants of science.
As an example, consider 1933, which included a wave of talented European immigrants.
The leader of that wave was already the best-known scientist in the world: Albert Einstein. He'd published his theories of Relativity years earlier, and already won a Nobel Prize. He left the growing fascism of Germany for Princeton, New Jersey. Another Nobel winner, Hans Bethe, fled Germany the same year. He devised our understanding of the nuclear reactions that power stars.
Edward Teller and George Gamow departed Europe in 1933, too. They worked together on early Big Bang theory.
Ukrainian Sergei Gaposchkin's journey was more convoluted. After he was fired from his job at an observatory near Berlin, he feared that he was about to be sent to a concentration camp. So he bicycled 160 miles to an astronomy meeting, where he found someone to sponsor his emigration. Gaposchkin went to Harvard College Observatory, where he studied variable stars and married his sponsor, Cecilia Payne.
None of these scientists moved back to Europe. 75 years ago, Europe's loss was America's gain.
Script by Thomas Hockey, Copyright 2008
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