Center For Integrating Research and Learning

Arrow1960 - 1979


The space age, begun in 1957 with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, had a powerful impact on the culture and science of these decades. Following in the paw and foot prints of various dogs and monkeys before them, first cosmonauts, then astronauts traveled into space. People across the planet began to focus on the universe around them. Scientists were no exception.

Maglev Train Exterior

One of the most incredible discoveries of this era was the quasar (or Quasi-Stellar Object), extremely luminous sources of light and other electromagnetic energy. The most distant objects known in the universe, quasars can be billions of light years away, and may therefore contain a wealth of information about the beginnings of the universe. Scientists have come to believe that these powerful emissions of light result from matter pouring into massive black holes at the center of galaxies.

In the early 1970s, during the Apollo 15 and 16 missions, astronauts surveyed the magnetic field of the moon using an electron detector. Although our moon has no internal dynamo (iron fluid core) as does the Earth, it does emit a faint magnetic field in some areas, which scientists later correlated with meteor impacts. More research on magnetic fields and celestial bodies was begun in 1979, when NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey teamed up to send a magnetic field satellite dubbed Magsat into space. Its mission: the first precision mapping of the near-Earth magnetic fields.

Meanwhile, back in the troposphere, computers became more sophisticated and eventually started cropping up in people’s homes. Intel Corporation’s development of the microprocessor – a complex circuit on a silicon chip – led to computers getting “personal.” In 1977 the first of the mass-marketed “PCs” came out, the Apple II. The improved Apple II Plus followed in 1979. For most computer owners, life would never be the same.

At the same time, commercial nuclear power plants began popping up on the horizon. In the U.S. alone, 70 such plants were operating by the end of the 1970s. That growth slowed toward the end of the decade, in part because of safety concerns following the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant.

Apple II Plus

In the realm of particle physics, scientists continued to discover new subatomic particles. In 1963, a huge intellectual hurdle was cleared when scientists first theorized that neutrons and protons were not fundamental particles. Rather, scientists said that those components of the nucleus were in turn made up of other particles that were fundamental, which became known as quarks. Scientists continued to believe that the electron was a fundamental particle, which is still accepted today.

Scientists began to get some practical use out of superconductivity (a current encountering no resistance), a phenomenon first discovered back in 1911. Americans James Powell and Gordon Danby patented the first design for superconducting magnetically levitated trains in 1969. Germany and Japan, however, took the lead in developing maglev trains, using both electromagnets and superconducting magnets. Despite their work, maglev trains remain a rarity in transportation.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), another superconductor technology, has had a far greater impact. Demonstrated for the first time in 1973, the machines began to be used in hospitals the following decade, revolutionizing diagnostic medicine.

Long suffering in the shadow of more powerful electromagnets and superconducting magnets, the humble permanent magnet got a boost in the 1960s. A new type of magnet was developed by a US Air Force scientist. Combining the so-called “rare earth” elements of samarium and cobalt, Karl Strnat came up with the first rare-earth magnets, which pound for pound offered more strength than existing permanent magnets. A boon to the radar and satellite industries (among others), these magnets were soon upstaged by a next generation of rare-earth magnets developed by Strnat and colleague Alden Ray.

1960 - 1979


Quasars, extremely distant and luminous sources of strong radio waves and other forms of energy, are discovered.


Murray Gell-Mann theorizes that subatomic particles he termed quarks are the fundamental units of matter that make up protons and neutrons. Another American physicist, George Zweig, develops a theory similar to Gell-Mann’s, but terms his basic particles aces rather than quarks.


American geophysicists Richard Doell, Allan Cox and Brent Dalrymple chart the irregular schedule of the Earth’s polarity changes based on extensive studies of the magnetic properties of rocks from different periods of time.


Karl Strnat discovers the first generation of rare-earth permanent magnets.


The electroweak theory is developed to unify quantum electrodynamics with the theory of weak interactions (also known as weak nuclear force).


James Powell and Gordon Danby patent the first design for superconducting magnetically levitated trains, becoming pioneers in maglev technology.


The first superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) system, designed to store energy in the magnetic field created by the flow of direct current in a coil of cryogenically cooled superconducting material, is proposed in France, though it is deemed too expensive to build.


Apollo spacecraft survey the magnetic field of the Earth’s moon.


Americans Karl Strnat and Alden Ray develop the second generation of rare-earth magnets.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is first demonstrated in the United States by Paul Lauterbar. The concepts that made MRI possible were discovered a few years earlier by Raymond Damadian.


Greek physicist John Iliopoulos presents, for the first time in a single report, the view of physics now called the Standard Model, a theory which describes the strong, weak and electromagnetic fundamental forces as well as the fundamental particles that make up all matter.


Apple comes out with the Apple II computer, the first popular personal computer using microprocessors. The improved Apple II Plus follows in 1979.


The magnetic satellite known as Magsat is launched as a joint venture of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey to undertake the first precision mapping of the near-Earth magnetic fields.

Next Section Arrow1980-2003

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