Science Milestones: The Golden Gate Bridge

One of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Golden Gate Bridge was the life mission of an engineer who had never designed or overseen the building of a suspension bridge. At the time of its construction the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, built hundreds of feet above the dangerously churning waters of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate. 

goldengatebridgeJoseph Strauss, a bridge builder from Chicago, had been visiting San Francisco for several years to supervise work on a small drawbridge, one of four hundred he had built around the world. But Strauss’s ambitions far surpassed any work his firm had ever attempted.

Bridges have long been an interest to us a family and we enjoy spending the weekend in the big city of San Francisco whenever possible. We watched the new Bay Bridge as it was constructed but the red hue of the Golden Gate Bridge has always captivated us.

Biography

straussJoseph Baermann Strauss was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on the 9th of January 1870. He loved poetry and hoped to pursue a career in the arts like his mother, a pianist, and his father, a painter and writer. Though he never became a fine artist, he would help create one of the most famous bridges in the world.

Following his college graduation, Strauss worked as a draftsman for the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company, and the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company in Chicago. Seven years later, he was named principal assistant engineer in the firm of Ralph Modjeski, a Chicago engineer. While working for Modjeski, Strauss developed his trademark “bascule” drawbridge design. Strauss’ bascule was a utilitarian structure, practical but unlovely.

Strauss eventually left Modjeski’s company, forming the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company in 1904. A prolific engineer, he constructed some 400 drawbridges across the U.S. Yet he dreamed of building “the biggest thing of its kind that a man could build.”

In 1919, San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael O’Shaughnessy, approached Strauss about bridging the Golden Gate, the narrow, turbulent passage where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. Strauss campaigned tirelessly over the next decade to build the bridge. He faced enormous opposition from the “Old Guard” — environmentalists, ferry operators, city administrators, and even the engineering community. Yet in November 1930, a year into the Great Depression, voters at last supported a bond issue for Strauss’ bridge. The ambitious project finally had its green light.

Strauss alienated many people in his quest to build the structure, his first suspension bridge. Obsessed with claiming credit as the span’s creator, he minimized the contributions of Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff, the two visionaries who actually worked out the significant engineering challenges of building the bridge.

On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to the public. Returning to his other great love, poetry, Strauss composed verse for the occasion, exulting, “At last, the mighty task is done.” It would be the last mighty task of his life. Exhausted, Strauss moved to Arizona to recover. Within a year, he would die of a stroke.

Bring it Home

  • Read about some of the opposition to the bridge. Then prepare a poster expressing either support for, or opposition to, the Golden Gate Bridge project. Your poster should reflect one of the arguments made for or against the bridge at the time it was being debated. Illustrate your poster with a drawing of the benefit or harm the bridge would bring to your community.
  • During his campaign, Strauss had bribes distributed to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to secure their support for the project. Imagine that you are a young newspaper editor in San Francisco at the time and you have just learned about these bribes. How could you respond in a way that would be in the city’s long-term interest? Write an editorial condemning the bribes or praise the project as necessary regardless of the maneuvers that might be necessary to make it happen.
  • Read about Irving Morrow, about the man who designed the Golden Gate Bridge’s distinctive Art Deco features. Find a photo of another building or other object designed in the Art Deco style and explain what you like about the style. Alternatively, choose another bridge or building structure, find out what style of architecture it represents, and explain why you like it.
  • Coordinate a toothpick bridge building competition amongst your friends.
  • People love suspension bridges for many reasons: their beauty, their utility, their mathematical elegance, their long spans, or even for the regional bragging rights they confer. Research other suspension bridges around the world and create a PowerPoint or a webpage to share with others what you learned.
  • Learn how the Golden Gate Bridge was financed. What is a bond? Why do governments issue bonds? Why do voters have to vote to approve a bond issue? What is “collateral” and what did these six counties use as collateral for the bonds?
  • Visit the Golden Gate Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion yourself and learn more about the construction of this Strauss’ first suspension bridge.
  • While in San San Francisco, enjoy the Golden Gate Treasure Hunt in honor of the 75th Anniversary.

Science Milestones

Science Milestones: Jean-Henri Fabre

jhfabreJean-Henri Fabre is best known for his popularization of insect natural history. Although a reclusive amateur, with no scientific training, he was an acute observer of insect behavior. He combined his observations (most made in his own backyard) with an easy to read writing style that made his books popular.

The ten volumes of Souvenirs Entomologiques attracted only mild attention when they were first published. Fabre was 84 when the last volume appeared, and he was “discovered” soon afterwards. He was elected to numerous scientific societies, provided a government pension, and even the President of France came to visit him.

Biography

FabreJean Henri Casimir Fabre was a French entomologist born at Saint-Léons in Aveyron, France on December 22, 1823.

He earned teaching certificate at the young age of 19 and began teaching in Carpentras. He was a popular teacher, however, he is probably best known for his study of insects, and is considered by many to be the father of modern entomology.

Much of his enduring popularity is due to his marvelous teaching ability and his manner of writing about the lives of insects in biographical form. He died on October 11, 1915.

One of his most notable discoveries was in regards to insect pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals released from the body of animals and insects that are used to attract mates or relay danger.

L’Harmas, Fabre’s house at Sérignan in the Vaucluse northeast of Orange, was well screened by trees. In a series of key experiments, initially studying the Great Peacock Moth, Fabre found that a female moth could attract males over large distances, even on stormy nights.

It is smell, therefore, that guides the Moths, that gives them information at a distance“.

He deduced that the male antennae had something to so with it, noted that surrounding the female with trays of molecules like naphthalene or lavender oil did not deflect the males from their aim, and observed that males were attracted to an empty cage where the female had spent the previous evening.

Bring it Home

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Science Milestones: Marie Curie

During the 19th century scientists knew little about what went on inside an atom. However, by the end of the century there were startling new ideas about the structure of the atom resulting from the discoveries of X-rays, radioactivity, and the electron. Marie Curie was amongst the leaders whose discoveries of radioactivity led to a new understanding of atomic structure.

mariecurie

In 1896 Henri Becquerel was using naturally fluorescent minerals to study the properties of x-rays, which had been discovered the previous year by Wilhelm Roentgen. Becquerel exposed potassium uranyl sulfate to sunlight and then placed it on photographic plates wrapped in black paper, believing that the uranium absorbed the sun’s energy and then emitted it as x-rays.

Believing his experiment had failed due to the inclement weather in Paris, he decided to develop his photographic plates anyway. To his surprise, the images were strong and clear, proving that the uranium emitted radiation without an external source of energy such as the sun. Becquerel had discovered radioactivity.

“I am amongst those who think science has great beauty.”

The term radioactivity was actually coined by Marie Curie, who together with her husband Pierre, began investigating the phenomenon recently discovered by Becquerel. The Curies extracted uranium from ore and to their surprise, found that the leftover ore showed more activity than the pure uranium. They concluded that the ore contained other radioactive elements. This led to the discoveries of the elements polonium and radium. It took four more years of processing tons of ore to isolate enough of each element to determine their chemical properties.

Biography

MarieCurie

Maria Sklodowska was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the daughter of a school teacher.  As a young girl, Manya (as she was affectionately called)  received a general education in local schools and some scientific training from her father. She was a brilliant student and dreamed of studying at the Sorbonne in Paris but it took eight years of saving before she could afford to go. Despite very poor living conditions and a lack of French she graduated in physics in 1893 and mathematics in 1894.

“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.”

She met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics in 1894 and in the following year they were married. Her early researches, together with her husband, were often performed under poor laboratory conditions. The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896 inspired the Curies in their research which led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie’s birth.

Pierre was tragically killed in 1906, leaving Marie with two daughters; Irène aged 9 and Eve aged 2. Determined to continue their work, Marie became the first ever woman professor at the Sorbonne and as well as teaching, she discovered how to isolate radium in metallic form. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

During World War I, she established a front-line X-ray service in the battlefields of Belgium and France, tirelessly fundraising, training staff, and driving the X-ray vans. After the war, Marie continued her research and to raise funds for a hospital and laboratory devoted to radiology. She eventually died in 1934 from the cumulative effects of radiation exposure.
marie_curie

My daughter is pictured here giving a living history performance as Madame Curie.

Bring it Home

  • Research Marie Curie and her life’s work and create a living history presentation to present to others.
  • Watch the BrainPop video on Marie Curie to learn about her early days, from her humble beginnings in Poland, to her professorship at the Sorbonne.
  • Visit the EPA‘s Radiation Protection Pages to learn about radiation and radiation protection.
  • Write a brief story that describes what Marie Curie might have felt when she realized that she had discovered a new element.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional November Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.