From the inventor of email to the man who saved Apollo 13, remembering the tech titans that died in 2016

2016 was a year full of goodbyes in the tech world. From notable scientists to exceptional programmers, inventors to innovators and even explorers, we bid a fond farewell to these titans of technology. Their numerous contributions helped shape not only the technology we use today, but also that of the the future.

Vera Rubin, the woman who confirmed dark matter

Vera Rubin, the woman behind the discovery of dark matter, the unidentifiable, unseen matter that accounts for more than 90% of the matter in the universe, died at the age of 88. Rubin was an American astronomer whose work on galaxy rotation rates led to the theory of dark matter.

Among her many scientific achievements, Rubin discovered the galaxy rotation problem, wherein she debunked the then existing theory that stated that galaxies could fly apart due to their fast rotation, if the gravity of their constituent stars was all that was holding them together. But since galaxies were not flying apart, therefore, it was concluded that a huge amount of unseen mass must be holding them together.

This phenomenon became known as the galaxy rotation problem. Rubin’s calculations went on to prove that galaxies must contain at least ten times as much dark mass as can be accounted for by the visible stars. In 1970, Rubin presented strong evidence of the existence of dark matter and the rest is history.

Ray Tomlinson, the man we have to thank for email

Ray Tomlinson, the genius computer programmer who invented email as we know it, breathed his last at the age of 74 and passed away in March 2016.

Tomlinson implemented the first email program on the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), an early packet-switching network and the first network to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite.

Tomlinson’s system was the first such program that could send email between users on different hosts connected to the ARPANET. Before this, email could only be sent to others who used the same computer. Tomlinson used the ‘@’ symbol to separate the user’s name from that of the machine, something we use to identify email addresses till date.

Marvin Minsky, the computer scientist who made the first head-mounted graphical display

Marvin Minsky, a gifted mathematician and computer scientist died this year at the age of 88. Minsky is highly regarded in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and invented the first ever head-mounted graphical display in 1963.

He also invented the confocal microscope in 1957, the predecessor of the confocal laser scanning microscope used till date. Having written several important books in the field of artificial intelligence, and after co-founding MIT’s AI lab, Minsky laid the foundation for the analysis of artificial neural networks.

 Interestingly, he also worked as an adviser on Stanley Kubrick’s blockbuster movie, 2001: A space Odyssey. In fact, a character in the movie called Victor Kaminski, was named after him in his honor.

Piers Sellers, the climate scientist and Nasa astronaut who served on three different space shuttles

Piers Sellers, was a British born American meteorologist who was not only an astronaut, but also the Director of Earth Sciences at NASA. Sellers died in 2016 at the age of 61. In his illustrious career, Sellers flew three different space missions aboard the space shuttle Atlantis and Discovery.

He was awarded the NASA exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, the Arthur Fleming Award, American Meteorological Society Houghton Award and was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to science.

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth

The fifth person in space, John Glenn passed away at the age of 95. Glenn was not only a gifted engineer, he was also an aviator and an US Senator. He was one of the Mercury Seven: military test pilots selected by NASA as United States’ first astronauts.

Glenn also flew the Friendship 7 Mission in 1962, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. His spirit of discovery will forever foster new talent and encourage future generations.

Edgar Mitchell, the Apollo 14 astronaut who walked on moon

Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk the surface of the Moon. Mitchell died at the age of 85, following a grand career as a Naval officer, an aviator, a Ufologist and an Aeronautical Engineer. Mitchell was working as part of an operations team on the Apollo 13 mission.

During the Apollo 13 crisis, he worked in an Apollo simulator to help bring the crew back to Earth safely. For this, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the then US President Richard Nixon. He went on to pilot the Apollo 14 mission and stayed on the Moon for 33 hours. Mitchell made great contributions to the field of space exploration and went on to establish the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 and the Association of Space Explorers in 1983.

Besides some great scientific minds, 2016 also claimed veteran actors, musicians and other artists that influenced today's pop culture. Most notable amongst them are Carrie Fisher of the Princess Leia fame, singer and musician Prince, as well as singer-songwriter George Michael. Their performances will forever live with this 80's kid.


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