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April 20

2008 American race car driver Danica Patrick won the Indy Japan 300, becoming the first woman to win an Indy Car race.

1927 Swiss physicist Karl Alexander Müller was born in Basel. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 with Johannes Georg Bednorz for their work on superconductivity in ceramic materials.

1864 French scientists Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard carried out the first pasteurization test. The process was originally conceived as a way of preventing wine and beer from souring, but is today widely used to reduce the number of viable pathogens in food products so they are unlikely to cause disease.

1745 French physician Philippe Pinel was born in Saint-André, Tarn, in southern France. Some consider him “the father of modern psychiatry”, having developed a more humane psychological approach to the custody and care of psychiatric patients and contributing to the classification of mental disorders.

1303 The Sapienza University of Rome, officially Sapienza – Università di Roma, was founded with the papal bull In supremae praeminentia dignitatis issued by Pope Boniface VIII. It is the largest European university and the oldest of Rome’s three state-funded universities.

April 19

1971 Russia launched Salyut 1, mankind’s first ever space station. The craft measured 20 m in length, 4 m in maximum diameter, and 99 m³ in interior space. Of its several compartments, three were pressurized and two could be entered by the crew. Salyut 1 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on October 11, 1971.

1912 Swedish-American scientist Glenn T. Seaborg was born in Ishpeming, Michigan. From 1940 to 1958, he helped produce nine of the transuranic elements (plutonium to nobelium) by bombarding uranium and other elements with nuclei in a cyclotron. He coined the term actinide for the elements in this series. Seaborg and his early collaborator Edwin McMillan shared the 1951 Nobel Prize for chemistry, and Seaborg was chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1962 to 1971. Element 106, seaborgium, was named in his honour.

1877 Norwegian-American inventor Ole Evinrude was born in Norway. At the age of five he emigrated with his family to the United States, settling in Cambridge, Wisconsin. In 1907, he invented the first practical and reliable outboard motor, built of steel and brass, and with a crank on the flywheel to start the two-cycle engine. In 1919, Evinrude invented a more efficient and lighter two-cylinder motor.

1839 The Treaty of London was signed by the European great powers, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Belgium. Under the treaty, the European powers recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium and confirmed the independence of the German speaking part of Luxembourg.

April 18

1847 The Battle of Cerro Gordo took place, during the Mexican-American War. American troops, led by Winfield Scott, attacked and routed a much larger Mexican force that was entrenched in a strong defensive position. The battle took place 3 weeks after American forces had captured the port city of Veracruz and were marching towards Mexico City. The Mexican forces, led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, suffered 1,000 killed and wounded with an additional 3,000 men taken prisoner, while the Americans had only about 400 casualties.

1580 English playwright and poet Thomas Middleton was born in London. He was one of the most successful and prolific playwrights of the Renaissance Jacobean era, achieving equal success in both comedy and tragedy.

1506 Construction began on St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter’s has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world, holding 60,000 people, and is regarded as one of the holiest Christian sites since it is traditionally considered to be the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.

1025 Bolesław I Chrobry, known as The Brave or The Valiant, became the first King of Poland when he was crowned at Gniezno Cathedral. He was able to turn Poland into one of the largest and most powerful monarchies in eastern Europe, having consolidated the Polish lands and conquered territories outside of the modern borders of Poland such as Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen, Lusatia, and Bohemia.

April 17

1967 NASA launched the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, the third lander of the Surveyor program sent to explore the surface of the Moon. It landed 3 days later at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum and transmitted a total of 6,315 TV images to the Earth.

1964 American aviation pioneer Jerrie Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world, in her airplane Spirit of Columbus, a Cessna 180. Her trip lasted 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes, had 21 stopovers and amassed almost 22,860 miles.

1866 English physiologist Ernest Starling was born. He is most famous for developing the “Frank-Starling law of the heart”, which describes blood input and output of the heart. He also developed the Starling equation, describing fluid shifts in the body, discovered peristalsis, discovered secretin (the first discovered hormone), and made important contributions to our understanding of how the kidneys work.

1598 Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli was born in Ferrara. He was the first to observe a double star (two stars so close together that they appear to be one) in 1650. The star was Mizar in Ursa Major, the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper. He also discovered satellite shadows on Jupiter. In 1651, he assigned the majority of the lunar feature names in current use, and together with Francesco Maria Grimaldi created a map of the moon called Almagestum novum.

1492 Christopher Columbus signed The Capitulations of Santa Fe with Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, in Santa Fe, Granada. They granted Columbus the titles of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, the Viceroy, the Governor-General and honorific Don, and also the tenth part of all riches to be obtained from his intended voyage.

April 16

1972 NASA launched Apollo 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the fifth mission to land on the Moon and the first to land in a highlands area. The lunar module landed successfully in the Descartes Highlands on April 21 and brought back 94.7 kg of lunar samples. The crew consisted of Commander John W. Young, Command Module Pilot T. Kenneth Mattingly Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot Charles M. Duke Jr.

1912 American aviator and movie screenwriter Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly an airplane across the English Channel. She flew from Dover to France and made the flight in 59 minutes, landing about 25 miles from Calais on a beach in Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais.

1780 The University of Münster, located in the city of Münster, was established. It is Germany’s third largest university and one of the foremost centers of German intellectual life.

1755 French painter Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was born in Paris. She is recognized as one of the most important female painters of the 18th century, painting generally in the Rococo style.

1728 Scottish physician Joseph Black was born in Bordeaux. He is known for his discoveries of latent heat, specific heat, and carbon dioxide. He was professor of Medicine at University of Glasgow, and the chemistry buildings at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow are named after him. In about 1750, he developed the analytical balance, which became an important scientific instrument in most chemistry laboratories.

1495 German mathematician, astronomer, and cartographer Petrus Apianus was born in Leisnig. During his lifetime, he published several highly respected and influential books. These included Cosmographicus liber in 1524 (a work on astronomy and navigation), Ein kurtzer bericht der Observation unnd urtels des jüngst erschinnen Cometen in 1532 (containing observations of comets), and Instrumentum primi mobilis in 1534 (a trigonometry book containing sine tables). The lunar crater Apianus is named in his honour.

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