Our Blog

Europe Student Travel: 5 Unsung Heroes of the 20th Century

Posted by Tristen Clarke-Cousineau on Mon, Oct 17, 2016 @ 11:57 AM

   

rosalind-franklin.jpg

"The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable." - Malcolm Gladwell

From Einstein to Churchill, from Princess Diana to Pablo Picasso, 20th Century Europe produced an endless list of icons and pioneers. Some names, however, slipped under the radar. Here are five such unsung heroes:

1- Rosalind Franklin: The Mother of DNA Research

Born in London, England, Franklin used the X-Ray to capture the very first picture of DNA. She developed her work in a laboratory with physicist Maurice Wilkins, who was so impressed by her work that he presented it to colleagues as is his own, He's widely credited for having "discovered" the structure of DNA, leaving her with no credit. Sadly, her life was cut way too short by cancer, though her contribution to DNA research is starting to see the light of day.

2- Robert Cailliau: Developer of the World Wide Web

Robert Cailliau, a Belgian informatics engineer and computer scientist whose work played a huge role in developing the World Wide Web along with Tim Berners Lee. Cailliau is an icon in his field, though doesn't tend to get the limelight as Berners-Lee was the face of the project. He does, however, get credit for having organized the first-ever International World Wide Web Conference in 1994. He enjoys a rich legacy in his own right - unlike Franklin, who was caught up in Wilkins', ahem, Web of lies.

3- Lise Meitner: The Mother of the Atomic Bomb

A slightly dubious honour, in hindsight, but German-born Meitner should be recognized as "the mother of the atomic bomb". Her theory on nuclear fission gained traction until World War 2 when she, along with countless fellow Jews, fled to Sweden. To keep the project going, she allowed co-researcher Otto Hanh to take credit for many of her works. After the War, she was never recognized for her discoveries and the Nobel Prize committee declined to acknowledge her collaboration with Hanh, awarding him alone for their work.

4- Emilio Herrera Linares: Inventor of the Space Suit

In 1935, this Spanish military engineer and physicist invented the space suit that was eventually developed and worn in space on Russia's first mission in 1961. His work is generally recognized but it's never really been celebrated. He was deeply involved in the Spanish Civil War, having remained loyal to the Second Spanish Republic; he was even President of the then-exiled republic from 1960 to 1962. Amidst the political turmoil, you could say that his legacy is a little bit like the space suit he invented: up in the air.

5- Rod Temperton: "The Invisible Man"

Unless you were raised by wolves in a cave on another planet, you've at least heard of Michael Jackson's Thriller, the best-selling album of all time. Michael Jackson gets all the credit for this acheivement, and rightfully so, but he wouldn't have had anything to sing had it not been for British songwriter Rod Temperton. Affectionately known as "the invivisible man" by his peers, Temperton was an ultra-private man with a knack for writing ultra-popular tunes, from 'Thriller' to 'Rock With You'; he also wrote George Benson's 'Give Me the Night'. Sadly, he passed away just a few weeks ago.

Photo: Rosalind Franklin (courtesy of Mental Floss)

Planning a class trip to Europe?

Learn More

Topics: travel, Europe, International