Insulin

Insulin keeps diabetics alive.

Banting and Best discovered insulin, winning them the Nobel Prize.

Banting stole most of the credit, but historians argue they co-discovered insulin together. They won the Nobel Prize together. Banting despised Best and the two never spoke again.

To continue his work, Banting received a lifetime annuity by the Canadian government. Best was a professor.

Eli Lilly & Co. commercialized and mass-produced insulin. However, the British Medical Research Council held the patent. Their goal was to prevent a monopoly on insulin that would drive up the price and harm diabetics.

The World Health Organization estimates about 8.5 percent of the people in the world over 18 have diabetes. In 2019, insulin costs are skyrocketing, especially in the United States. Insulin will be a $40 billion USD market by 2020.

“Do not enter upon research unless you cannot help it. Ask yourself the “why” of every statement that is made and think out your own answer. If through your thoughtful work you get a worthwhile idea, it will get you. The force of the conviction will compel you to forsake all and seek the relief of your mind in research work.”

Sir Frederick Banting

X-Ray Imaging

In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen noticed that electromagnetic radiation would expose bone structure under certain conditions. He invented the medical X-Ray machine. For his invention, Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, and several other illustrious awards. Due to WWI, companies were forbidden from paying the German royalties and his savings were destroyed by post-war hyperinflation. Röntgen died bankrupt despite the enormous impact of his work. However, General Electric used the technology to build a thriving medical imaging business that still exists.

Even high-quality modern sources wrongly attribute the X-Ray tube to prolific GE inventor Elihu Thomson. However, Thomson’s own papers make few mentions of x-rays. His only dated lab journal entry, Feb. 26, 1896, references “X-rays of Röntgen.”

Thomson’s earliest patent involving x-rays has a priority date of Feb. 14, 1898, three years after Roentgen’s work. The entry is titled “Roentgen-ray tube.”

It seems likely that Thomson may have, at most, invented a better (or at least different) x-ray generation tube.

Thomson came to GE after Edison General Electric Company acquired the Thomson-Houston Electric company in 1892, renaming itself the General Electric Company. He refused to move his laboratory from Massachusetts to GE headquarters in NY and also refused a management position.

Thomson has countless other legitimate innovations, with over 700 patents.

Synthetic Ammonia

Fritz Haber arguably saved and killed more people than any other single person in history.

Synthetic ammonia vastly lowered the cost of making fertilizer, explosives, and other chemicals.

The process to create synthetic ammonia was a concurrent invention. That is, two scientists came up with it at the same time independently of one another.

Because it allows for inexpensive fertilizer, the Haber-Bosch is responsible for approximately half the food grown in the world today. Fritz Haber, who both invented and also commercialized the process, saved billions of lives.

However, there is a darker history. Haber was a German Jew, a key German chemist developing chemical weapons for Germany in WWI. He oversaw their first use at the Second Battle of Ypres, where approximately 67,000 allied troops were killed in one gassing. His first wife committed suicide after learning how many people he helped kill.

Later, the institute he founded invented Zyklon A. Nazis used a successor chemical, Zyklon B, to murder millions in death camps including many members of Haber’s family. This caused his second wife to leave him, with the marriage ending in divorce.

Both, like Haber, converted from Judaism to Christianity though the Nazis did not care and banned Haber from his lab. He escaped Nazi Germany but died soon after the Nazi’s ascent to power in Basel, Switzerland.

Haber won the 1919 Nobel Prize in Chemistry but died a miserable man.