It seems that last year took away some much loved celebrities including Terry Wogan, George Michael, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, David Bowie and Carrie Fisher. However, there were several other notable deaths from last year where you have never heard of the person. For various reasons, the following three people deserve to be household names.
You may never have heard of Andy Grove, but it would be a surprise if you had never used any of the products for which he is famous. Born András István Gróf in Hungary in 1936, as a Jew he survived Nazi occupied Hungary when his parents used false identities. But the end of the war would not see relief. He fled Communism to the USA aged just 20. He always had a love of science and business, and was fortunate and grateful to his adopted country that he was allowed to pursue these interests.
In the US, he demonstrated his love of technology and this is where he made his name. Andy Grove achieved a bachelor’s degree and then a PhD in chemical engineering. This qualification would, in part, drive the founding of Intel for which Grove was famous. He died in March aged 79 having been part of 50 years of IT revolution that would see his company dominate the computer chips market. He was also a great business leader, his open approach to management was once revolutionary but is now considered the norm, at least in the technology industries.
It is a matter of some concern that girls and women are not taking enough interest in the science profession. The reasons have been debated a hundred times or more, but Rubin never let her gender stop her entering into a traditionally male dominated field. To say that Rubin was a prominent woman in science doesn’t even begin to go far enough to explain the impact that she had. Later on in life, she did take up the mantel of encouraging women to enter the field, but this came on the back of several advances in the sciences for which she was responsible.
Rubin was an astrophysicist whose revolutionary work on the rotation of galaxies pushed modern astronomy forward. However, her biggest achievement was to discover the substance known as Dark Matter. Astronomers and astrophysicists had speculated about its existence for decades, but Rubin confirmed its existence. Even now, decades after her discovery, astronomers and astrophysicists struggle to define it and understand its nature. Thanks to Rubin, we now know how it interacts with matter. She died on Christmas day aged 88.
The battle against disease is one we can only hope to delay, but never win. Humanity has had only a handful of victories against illness and Donald Henderson should be more of a household name than he actually is. He was born into a Scottish-Canadian family in 1928, the son of a nurse and an engineer. Yet it was down a different scientific path that his career would take him. A notable epidemiologist, he became head of the organisation known as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in the USA. During his stint, he began a five year monitoring programme of smallpox.
He was responsible for the founding of USAID, an organisation that worked with the World Health Organisation that eventually led to the eradication of this disease. Smallpox is now extinct thanks to the efforts of Henderson and his team. But his work did not end there. His strong belief in worldwide vaccinations led to mandatory inoculations against many childhood diseases that had killed so many in the decades and centuries before the programme. He died in August aged 87.