What to Know About Hedwig Kohn, the Subject of Today's Google Doodle


If you want to learn about underappreciated figures in science, politics, and the arts, keep tabs on the latest Google Doodles. Today, April 5, Google is celebrating what would have been the 132nd birthday of Hedwig Kohn with a Doodle honoring the barrier-breaking physicist.

Born in 1887 in Breslau (modern-day Wrocław, Poland), Kohn obtained her doctorate in physics in 1913, just five years after women in her country were officially allowed to pursue higher education. She made history by earning her credential to teach physics at a German university, something only two other women (Lise Meitner and Hertha Sponer) were certified to do before World War II.

Hedwig Kohn wasn't just notable for blazing trails for women in physics. She was also a Jewish woman living in Nazi Germany, and in 1933, she lost her university teaching position because she was Jewish. After working on research contracts for a few years, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1940 to escape Nazi persecution and find steady work.

In America, Kohn continued to share her passion for physics with students. She taught at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina and Wellesley College in Massachusetts. After retiring from teaching in 1952, she accepted a research associate position at Duke and did work on flame spectronomy. At the time of her death in 1964, Hedwig Kohn's research had led to more than 20 publications, one patent, and several textbook chapters on radiometry. Following World War II, the German government had awarded her with a pension and the title of professor emerita.

Hedwig Kohn paved the way for many female scientists to change the world in the past century. Here are just some of the women from recent history who made an impact in their scientific fields.

Read up on the subjects of some of Google's previous Doodles here.

This Outdoor Lantern Will Keep Mosquitoes Away—No Bug Spray Necessary

Thermacell, Amazon
Thermacell, Amazon

With summer comes outdoor activities, and with those activities come mosquito bites. If you're one of the unlucky people who seem to attract the insects, you may be tempted to lock yourself inside for the rest of the season. But you don't have to choose between comfort and having a cocktail on the porch, because this lamp from Thermacell ($25) keeps outdoor spaces mosquito-free without the mess of bug spray.

The device looks like an ordinary lantern you would display on a patio, but it works like bug repellent. When it's turned on, a fuel cartridge in the center provides the heat needed to activate a repellent mat on top of the lamp. Once activated, the repellent in the mat creates a 15-by-15-foot bubble of protection that repels any mosquitos nearby, making it a great option for camping trips, days by the pool, and backyard barbecues.

Mosquito repellent lantern.

Unlike some other mosquito repellents, this lantern is clean, safe, and scent-free. It also provides light like a real lamp, so you can keep pests away without ruining your backyard's ambience.

The Thermacell mosquito repellent lantern is now available on Amazon. If you've already suffered your first mosquito bites of the summer, here's some insight into why that itch can be so excruciating.

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Map Shows How Everyone Blamed Syphilis on Everyone Else

Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse by Rembrandt van Rijn. De Lairesse, a painter and art theorist, had congenital syphilis that deformed his face and eventually blinded him.
Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse by Rembrandt van Rijn. De Lairesse, a painter and art theorist, had congenital syphilis that deformed his face and eventually blinded him.
Gerard de Lairesse, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The origins of syphilis may be one of the greatest (and grossest) health mysteries of our time. Some historians claim that Christopher Columbus and his sailors contracted the sexually transmitted disease in the New World and brought it back to Europe. Other experts believe that the disease, which is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, existed in various forms around the globe but was simply misclassified as other conditions. (European writers, including Italian historian Niccolo Squillaci, first described syphilis in the late 15th century.) And in 2015, researchers announced that they had identified signs of congenital syphilis in 14th-century skeletons from St. Polten, Austria, adding new evidence to an ages-old debate.

One thing's for sure: As the map below illustrates, nobody wanted to take credit for originating the virulent condition. Created by Redditor masiakasaurus (and spotted by The A.V. Club), the map illustrates the various nicknames Europeans gave the disease before the name syphilis caught on. (Italian physician and poet Hieronymus Fracastorius coined the word in 1530 with his poem "Syphilis Sive Morbus Gallicus" ("Syphilis or the French Disease"). Not surprisingly, nearly every single moniker used for the disease places blame on another group for giving birth to what by then had become a continental scourge.

“Most physicians felt that this was a new disease, that it hadn’t been seen before in Europe, and that view tended to prevail for quite some time,” medical historian John Parascandola told The Atlantic in 2016. “There were certain tempting reasons for people to accept that—blame it on the others, blame it on the outsiders. Before that, the French were blaming it on the Italians, the Italians were blaming it on the French, et cetera.”

Masiakasaurus sourced the syphilis nicknames from nine scholarly books/journals, including The Early History of Syphilis: A Reappraisal,The rise and fall of sexually transmitted diseases in Sweden, and A Medical History of Persia and the Eastern Caliphate: From the Earliest Times Until the Year A.D. 1932. You can view the full list on Reddit—after giving silent thanks to Alexander Fleming for discovering penicillin, found to be an effective cure for syphilis in 1943.

[h/t The A.V. Club]