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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Nucleus Quotes (33 quotes)

Adam, the first man, didn’t know anything about the nucleus but Dr. George Gamow, visiting professor from George Washington University, pretends he does. He says for example that the nucleus is 0.00000000000003 feet in diameter. Nobody believes it, but that doesn't make any difference to him.
He also says that the nuclear energy contained in a pound of lithium is enough to run the United States Navy for a period of three years. But to get this energy you would have to heat a mixture of lithium and hydrogen up to 50,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If one has a little stove of this temperature installed at Stanford, it would burn everything alive within a radius of 10,000 miles and broil all the fish in the Pacific Ocean.
If you could go as fast as nuclear particles generally do, it wouldn’t take you more than one ten-thousandth of a second to go to Miller's where you could meet Gamow and get more details.
'Gamow interviews Gamow' Stanford Daily, 25 Jun 1936. In Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historica1 Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 90.
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After the discovery of spectral analysis no one trained in physics could doubt the problem of the atom would be solved when physicists had learned to understand the language of spectra. So manifold was the enormous amount of material that has been accumulated in sixty years of spectroscopic research that it seemed at first beyond the possibility of disentanglement. An almost greater enlightenment has resulted from the seven years of Röntgen spectroscopy, inasmuch as it has attacked the problem of the atom at its very root, and illuminates the interior. What we are nowadays hearing of the language of spectra is a true 'music of the spheres' in order and harmony that becomes ever more perfect in spite of the manifold variety. The theory of spectral lines will bear the name of Bohr for all time. But yet another name will be permanently associated with it, that of Planck. All integral laws of spectral lines and of atomic theory spring originally from the quantum theory. It is the mysterious organon on which Nature plays her music of the spectra, and according to the rhythm of which she regulates the structure of the atoms and nuclei.
Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), viii, Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines, trans. Henry L. Brose (1923), viii.
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At the planet’s very heart lies a solid rocky core, at least five times larger than Earth, seething with the appalling heat generated by the inexorable contraction of the stupendous mass of material pressing down to its centre. For more than four billion years Jupiter’s immense gravitational power has been squeezing the planet slowly, relentlessly, steadily, converting gravitational energy into heat, raising the temperature of that rocky core to thirty thousand degrees, spawning the heat flow that warms the planet from within. That hot, rocky core is the original protoplanet seed from the solar system’s primeval time, the nucleus around which those awesome layers of hydrogen and helium and ammonia, methane, sulphur compounds and water have wrapped themselves.
Ben Bova
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Atoms have a nucleus, made of protons and neutrons bound together. Around this nucleus shells of electrons spin, and each shell is either full or trying to get full, to balance with the number of protons—to balance the number of positive and negative charges. An atom is like a human heart, you see.
The Lunatics (1988). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 323.
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Everybody now wants to discover universal laws which will explain the structure and behavior of the nucleus of the atom. But actually our knowledge of the elementary particles that make up the nucleus is tiny. The situation calls for more modesty. We should first try to discover more about these elementary particles and about their laws. Then it will be the time for the major synthesis of what we really know, and the formulation of the universal law.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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Fertilization of mammalian eggs is followed by successive cell divisions and progressive differentiation, first into the early embryo and subsequently into all of the cell types that make up the adult animal. Transfer of a single nucleus at a specific stage of development, to an enucleated unfertilized egg, provided an opportunity to investigate whether cellular differentiation to that stage involved irreversible genetic modification. The first offspring to develop from a differentiated cell were born after nuclear transfer from an embryo-derived cell line that had been induced to became quiescent. Using the same procedure, we now report the birth of live lambs from three new cell populations established from adult mammary gland, fetus and embryo. The fact that a lamb was derived from an adult cell confirms that differentiation of that cell did not involve the irreversible modification of genetic material required far development to term. The birth of lambs from differentiated fetal and adult cells also reinforces previous speculation that by inducing donor cells to became quiescent it will be possible to obtain normal development from a wide variety of differentiated cells.
[Co-author of paper announcing the cloned sheep, ‘Dolly’.]
In I. Wilmut, A. E. Schnieke, J. McWhir, et al., 'Viable Offspring Derived from Petal and Adult Mammalian Cells', Nature (1997), 385, 810.
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Following the original proposal of Belinfante, “the writer has in a recent note on the meson theory of nuclear forces” used the word “nuclon” as a common notation for the heavy nuclear constituents, neutrons and protons. In the meantime, however, it has been pointed out to me that, since the root of the word nucleus is “nucle”, the notation “nucleon” would from a philological point of view be more appropriate for this purpose….
In Physical Review (1 Feb 1941), 59, 323. For book using the word “nuclon”, see Frederik Jozef Belinfante, Theory of Heavy Quanta: Proefschrift (1939), 40.
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Four elements, Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, also provide an example of the astonishing togetherness of our universe. They make up the “organic” molecules that constitute living organisms on a planet, and the nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. Then the organisms on the planet come to depend wholly on that starlight, as they must if life is to persist. So it is that all life on the Earth runs on sunlight. [Referring to photosynthesis]
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
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If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time. I think that such a beginning of the world is far enough from the present order of Nature to be not at all repugnant. It may be difficult to follow up the idea in detail as we are not yet able to count the quantum packets in every case. For example, it may be that an atomic nucleus must be counted as a unique quantum, the atomic number acting as a kind of quantum number. If the future development of quantum theory happens to turn in that direction, we could conceive the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe. This highly unstable atom would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process.
'The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory', Nature (1931), 127, 706.
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If, as I have reason to believe, I have disintegrated the nucleus of the atom, this is of greater significance than the war.
[Apology to the international anti-submarine committee for being absent from several meetings during World War I.]
(Jun 1919). Quoted in D. Wilson, Rutherford: Simple Genius (1983), 405, as cited in Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century Physics (1995), Vol. 1, 113.
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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In the discussion of the. energies involved in the deformation of nuclei, the concept of surface tension of nuclear matter has been used and its value had been estimated from simple considerations regarding nuclear forces. It must be remembered, however, that the surface tension of a charged droplet is diminished by its charge, and a rough estimate shows that the surface tension of nuclei, decreasing with increasing nuclear charge, may become zero for atomic numbers of the order of 100. It seems therefore possible that the uranium nucleus has only small stability of form, and may, after neutron capture, divide itself into two nuclei of roughly equal size (the precise ratio of sizes depending on liner structural features and perhaps partly on chance). These two nuclei will repel each other and should gain a total kinetic energy of c. 200 Mev., as calculated from nuclear radius and charge. This amount of energy may actually be expected to be available from the difference in packing fraction between uranium and the elements in the middle of the periodic system. The whole 'fission' process can thus be described in an essentially classical way, without having to consider quantum-mechanical 'tunnel effects', which would actually be extremely small, on account of the large masses involved.
[Co-author with Otto Robert Frisch]
Lise Meitner and O. R. Frisch, 'Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: a New Type of Nuclear Reaction', Nature (1939), 143, 239.
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It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.
[Recalling in 1936 the discovery of the nucleus in 1909, when some alpha particles were observed instead of travelling through a very thin gold foil were seen to rebound backward, as if striking something much more massive than the particles themselves.]
Quoted in Abraham Pais, Inward Bound (1986), 189, from E. N. da C. Andrade, Rutherford and the nature of the atom, (1964) 111.
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Let us ... consider the ovum [egg] as a physical system. Its potentialities are prodigious and one's first impulse is to expect that such vast potentialities would find expression in complexity of structure. But what do we find? The substance is clouded with particles, but these can be centrifuged away leaving it optically structureless but still capable of development.... On the surface of the egg there is a fine membrane, below it fluid of high viscosity, next fluid of relatively low viscosity, and within this the nucleus, which in the resting stage is simply a bag of fluid enclosed in a delicate membrane.... The egg's simplicity is not that of a machine or a crystal, but that of a nebula. Gathered into it are units relatively simple but capable by their combinations of forming a vast number of dynamical systems...
As guest of honour, closing day address (Jun 1928), Sixth Colloid Symposium, Toronto, Canada, 'Living Matter', printed in Harry Boyer Weiser (ed.), Colloid Symposium Monograph (1928), Vol. 6, 15. Quoted in Joseph Needham, Chemical Embryology (1931), Vol. 1, 612-613.
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New sources of power … will surely be discovered. Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy we use today. The coal a man can get in a day can easily do five hundred times as much work as himself. Nuclear energy is at least one million times more powerful still. If the hydrogen atoms in a pound of water could be prevailed upon to combine and form helium, they would suffice to drive a thousand-horsepower engine for a whole year. If the electrons, those tiny planets of the atomic systems, were induced to combine with the nuclei in hydrogen, the horsepower would be 120 times greater still. There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight, or it may be the detonator to cause the dynamite to explode. The scientists are looking for this.
[In his last major speech to the House of Commons on 1 Mar 1955, Churchill quoted from his original printed article, nearly 25 years earlier.]
'Fifty Years Hence'. Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57:3, 395.
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O. Hahn and F. Strassmann have discovered a new type of nuclear reaction, the splitting into two smaller nuclei of the nuclei of uranium and thorium under neutron bombardment. Thus they demonstrated the production of nuclei of barium, lanthanum, strontium, yttrium, and, more recently, of xenon and caesium. It can be shown by simple considerations that this type of nuclear reaction may be described in an essentially classical way like the fission of a liquid drop, and that the fission products must fly apart with kinetic energies of the order of hundred million electron-volts each.
'Products of the Fission of the Urarium Nucleus', Nature (1939), 143, 471.
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Over the last century, physicists have used light quanta, electrons, alpha particles, X-rays, gamma-rays, protons, neutrons and exotic sub-nuclear particles for this purpose [scattering experiments]. Much important information about the target atoms or nuclei or their assemblage has been obtained in this way. In witness of this importance one can point to the unusual concentration of scattering enthusiasts among earlier Nobel Laureate physicists. One could say that physicists just love to perform or interpret scattering experiments.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1994), in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1994 (1995).
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Reagents are regarded as acting by virtue of a constitutional affinity either for electrons or for nuclei... the terms electrophilic (electron-seeking) and nucleophilic (nucleus-seeking) are suggested... and the organic molecule, in the activation necessary for reaction, is therefore required to develop at the seat of attack either a high or low electron density as the case may be.
'Significance of Tautomerism and of the Reactions of Aromatic Compounds in the Electronic Theory of Organic Relations', Journal of the Chemical Society (1933), 136, 1121, fn.
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Shortly after electrons were discovered it was thought that atoms were like little solar systems, made up of a … nucleus and electrons, which went around in “orbits,” much like the planets … around the sun. If you think that’s the way atoms are, then you’re back in 1910.
In QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985, 2006), 84.
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Since it is proposed to regard chemical reactions as electrical transactions in which reagents act by reason of a constitutional affinity either for electrons or for atomic nuclei, it is important to be able to recognize which type of reactivity any given reagent exhibits.
'Principles of an Electronic Theory of Organic Reactions', Chemical Reviews (1934), 15, 265.
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The ingenious but nevertheless somewhat artificial assumptions of [Bohr’s model of the atom], … are replaced by a much more natural assumption in de Broglie’s wave phenomena. The wave phenomenon forms the real “body” of the atom. It replaces the individual punctiform electrons, which in Bohr’s model swarm around the nucleus.
From 'Our Image of Matter', collected in Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Erwin Schrödinger, Pierre Auger, On Modern Physics (1961), 50. Webmaster note: “punctiform” means composed of points.
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The landed classes neglected technical education, taking refuge in classical studies; as late as 1930, for example, long after Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge had discovered the atomic nucleus and begun transmuting elements, the physics laboratory at Oxford had not been wired for electricity. Intellectual neglect technical education to this day.
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
In Visions of Technology (1999), 23.
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The nature of heredity is based upon the transmission of nuclear substance with a specific molecular constitution. This substance is the specific nucleoplasm of the germ-cell, to which I have given the name of germ-plasm.
Trans. Joseph S. Froton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 391.
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The nucleus cannot operate without a cytoplasmic field in which its peculiar powers may came into play; but this field is created and moulded by itself. Both are necessary to development; the nucleus alone suffices for the inheritance of specific possibilities of development.
The Cell in Development and Inheritance (1896), 327.
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The same algebraic sum of positive and negative charges in the nucleus, when the arithmetical sum is different, gives what I call “isotopes” or “isotopic elements,” because they occupy the same place in the periodic table. They are chemically identical, and save only as regards the relatively few physical properties which depend upon atomic mass directly, physically identical also. Unit changes of this nuclear charge, so reckoned algebraically, give the successive places in the periodic table. For any one “place” or any one nuclear charge, more than one number of electrons in the outer-ring system may exist, and in such a case the element exhibits variable valency. But such changes of number, or of valency, concern only the ring and its external environment. There is no in- and out-going of electrons between ring and nucleus.
Concluding paragraph of 'Intra-atomic Charge', Nature (1913), 92, 400. Collected in Alfred Romer, Radiochemistry and the Discovery of Isotopes (1970), 251-252.
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There is a place with four suns in the sky—red, white, blue, and yellow; two of them are so close together that they touch, and star-stuff flows between them. I know of a world with a million moons. I know of a sun the size of the Earth—and made of diamond. There are atomic nuclei a few miles across which rotate thirty times a second. There are tiny grains between the stars, with the size and atomic composition of bacteria. There are stars leaving the Milky Way, and immense gas clouds falling into it. There are turbulent plasmas writhing with X- and gamma-rays and mighty stellar explosions. There are, perhaps, places which are outside our universe. The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming a part of it.
Opening paragraph, in 'Introduction' Planetary Exploration (1970), 15.
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Though much new light is shed by ... studies in radioactivity, the nucleus of the atom, with its hoard of energy, thus continues to present us with a fascinating mystery. ... Our assault on atoms has broken down the outer fortifications. We feel that we know the fundamental rules according to which the outer part of the atom is built. The appearance and properties of the electron atmosphere are rather familiar. Yet that inner citadel, the atomic nucleus, remains unconquered, and we have reason to believe that within this citadel is secreted a great treasure. Its capture may form the main objective of the physicists’ next great drive.
'Assault on Atoms' (Read 23 Apr 1931 at Symposium—The Changing World) Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1931), 70, No. 3, 229.
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Unless the structure of the nucleus has a surprise in store for us, the conclusion seems plain—there is nothing in the whole system if laws of physics that cannot be deduced unambiguously from epistemological considerations. An intelligence, unacquainted with our universe, but acquainted with the system of thought by which the human mind interprets to itself the contents of its sensory experience, and should be able to attain all the knowledge of physics that we have attained by experiment.
In Clive William Kilmister, Eddington's Search for a Fundamental Theory (1994), 202.
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We have seen that a proton of energy corresponding to 30,000 volts can effect the transformation of lithium into two fast α-particles, which together have an energy equivalent of more than 16 million volts. Considering the individual process, the output of energy in the transmutation is more than 500 times greater than the energy carried by the proton. There is thus a great gain of energy in the single transmutation, but we must not forget that on an average more than 1000 million protons of equal energy must be fired into the lithium before one happens to hit and enter the lithium nucleus. It is clear in this case that on the whole the energy derived from transmutation of the atom is small compared with the energy of the bombarding particles. There thus seems to be little prospect that we can hope to obtain a new source of power by these processes. It has sometimes been suggested, from analogy with ordinary explosives, that the transmutation of one atom might cause the transmutation of a neighbouring nucleus, so that the explosion would spread throughout all the material. If this were true, we should long ago have had a gigantic explosion in our laboratories with no one remaining to tell the tale. The absence of these accidents indicates, as we should expect, that the explosion is confined to the individual nucleus and does not spread to the neighbouring nuclei, which may be regarded as relatively far removed from the centre of the explosion.
The Transmutation of the Atom (1933), 23-4
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We [Frisch and Lise Meitner] walked up and down in the snow, I on skis and she on foot (she said and proved that she could get along just as fast that way), and gradually the idea took shape that this was no chipping or cracking of the nucleus but rather a process to be explained by Bohr’s idea that the nucleus was like a liquid drop; such a drop might elongate and divide itself.
Otto Frisch and John A. Wheeler, 'The Discovery of Fission', Physics Today, Nov 1967, 20, 47.
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Within the nucleus [of a cell] is a network of fibers, a sap fills the interstices of the network. The network resolves itself into a definite number of threads at each division of the cell. These threads we call chromosomes. Each species of animals and plants possesses a characteristic number of these threads which have definite size and sometimes a specific shape and even characteristic granules at different levels. Beyond this point our strongest microscopes fail to penetrate.
In A Critique of the Theory of Evolution (1916), 91.
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You tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize that you have been reduced to poetry. … So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art.
In Albert Camus and Justin O’Brien (trans.), 'An Absurd Reasoning', The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955), 15.
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[The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946),
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Marcel Proust
William Harvey
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
John Watson
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