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118 Vitamins

Eijkman believed that something in brown rice cured beriberi and wrote a report
claiming victory over the disease. He never considered looked at it the other way: that beriberi was caused by the absence of something that was present in brown rice.
Frederick Hopkins was an American medical researcher who was born as the Civil
War broke out in 1861. In 1900 he isolated an amino acid. (Other researchers had discovered two others before him but had not investigated their importance.) Hopkins called his
amino acid tryptophan. From a review of other research, he found that farm animals could
not be kept alive if their only sources of protein were things that included no tryptophan. No
matter how much protein they got, animals seemed to require trace amounts of tryptophan
to survive.
By 1906 chemists had isolated at least 13 amino acids. Each was an essential building
block of protein molecules. It occurred to Hopkins that these particular amino acids (which
were commonly found in foods) were essential to life. Not for the protein and calories they
provided; those could come from anywhere. There was something else these amino acids
provided that was essential to lifeeven if only supplied in trace amounts.
Hopkins reviewed Eijkmans work and discovered that it was an amino acid in brown
rice feed that prevented beriberi. He found that it was not just fruit that prevented scurvy (as
first discovered by Lind in 1747). It was a particular amino acid in fruit.
Hopkins decided that diseases such as beriberi, scurvy, pellagra, and rickets were not
caused by a thing (a germ) but by the absence (or deficiency) of something. Hopkins believed that these diseases were caused by a dietary deficiency of amine groups of molecules
(combinations of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms found in amino acids). He named this group
of acids by combining the Latin word for life with amines and got vitamines.
A few years later, researchers discovered that not all essential vitamins contained
amines. They dropped the e to form the word vitaminwhich we still use today. However, research in nutrition has ever since been shaped by Hopkinss discovery of vitamins.
Fun Facts: Think all sweets are bad for you? Hersheys Sugar Free
Chocolate Syrup has 10 percent vitamin E per serving.

More to Explore
Apple, Rima. Vitamania: Vitamins in American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers
University Press, 1996.
Becker, Stanley. Butter Makes Them Grow: An Episode in the Discovery of Vitamins.
Hartford: Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, 1997.
Carpenter, Kenneth. Forgotten Mysteries in the Early History of Vitamin D. Washington, DC: American Institute of Nutrition, 2005.
Rucker, Robert. Handbook of Vitamins. New York: CRC Publishers, 2001.
Yan, Kun. Stories of the Discovery of Vitamins: The Young Doctors Collection.
Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005.

Radioactive Dating
Year of Discovery: 1907
What Is It? The use of radioactive decaying elements to calculate the age
of rocks.
Who Discovered It? Bertram Boltwood

Why Is This One of the 100 Greatest?


Nothing is more basic than knowing your ageor the age of your house, or of a tree in
your yard. For science, the same is true for Earth and for the rocks that make up Earths
crust.
Scientists had been estimating Earths age for thousands of years. However, these
were little more than guesses. Boltwood discovered the first reliable way to calculate the
age of a rock. Since some rocks are nearly as old as the earth, dating these rocks provided
the first reasonable estimate of Earths age.
Boltwoods discovery also allowed scientists to date individual rock layers and strata
and to study the history of Earths crust. It led to aging techniques developed for plants,
documents, societies, and ancient buildings. Boltwood gave back to geology a sense of time
that the misestimates of previous researchers had taken away.

How Was It Discovered?


Radioactivity was discovered by Marie Curie at the end of the nineteenth century. In
1902 Frederick Soddy (who later discovered isotopes) and Ernst Rutherford jointly discovered that uranium and thorium radioactively decayed at a constant rate. (It always takes exactly the same amount of time for exactly half of the radioactive atoms in a sample to decay.
Its called a half-life.) They also discovered that these two radioactive elements fissioned
(radioactively decayed) into other elements in a fixed sequencethey always fissiioned in
the same way into the same elements. The stage was set for someone to figure out how to
use this new information.
Bertram Boltwood was born in 1870 in Amherst, Massachusetts. He studied physics
(and later taught physics) at Yale University. While doing research in 1905, Boltwood noticed that when he analyzed the composition of minerals containing uranium or thorium, he
always found lead.
Thinking that this find might be significant, he studied 43 mineral samples and ranked
them by their estimated age. The amount of lead in these samples always increased as the
samples grew older, just as the amount of uranium in them decreased. Boltwood concluded

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