Scientific Discoveries Made on Christmas Day

With the holiday season right around the corner it might be all too easy to just kick back and relax, but we’d like to take the time to pay homage to the scientists who worked late on Christmas day and highlight the discoveries and contributions they gifted to the world.

Centigrade temperature scaleAnders Celcius

December and Christmas time have always been synonymous with cold weather. However, our method of reading temperature has changed over the past few centuries. The Centigrade temperature scale, posthumously renamed to Celcius, was devised by the Swedish astronomer Anders Celcius in 1742. 

Celsius, Centigrade, Gauge, Glass, Heat

Centigrade comes from the Latin words centum (100) and gradus (steps) referring to 100 intervals between two extreme temperature points, the boiling and freezing point of water. Interestingly, the original positions of the two temperature extremes were reversed in Anders model with 100℃ indicating freezing and 0℃ boiling. In 1744 centigrade/celsius was reverted to match the contemporary methods of temperature measurement which we still use today.

Isolation of ThyroxineEdward Calvin Kendall

In the Christmas of 1915 American chemist Edward Calvin Kendall first isolated Thyroxine from the thyroid glands of pigs. Thyroxine, which is the major form of thyroid hormone in the blood, is essential to the development and growth of all the cells of the human body as well as the metabolic regulation of carbohydrates, protein and fats. A deficiency of thyroxine produced by the thyroid gland results in a condition known as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism has been linked to numerous developmental issues in children and metabolic disorders in adults who are unlucky enough to have the condition. 

Edward Kendall and his peers at the Mayo Clinic used over 6500 pounds of thyroid glands extracted from hogs to isolate and crystallize Thyroxine. This initial isolation allowed for further research into Thyroxine with its chemical structure being determined in 1926. After multiple years of research Glaxo began commercialization of Thyroxine in 1949. Today Levothyroxine is the primary treatment for hypothyroidism and has vastly improved the quality of life for those afflicted with the condition.

Halley’s Comet – Edmond Halley

On Christmas night of 1758, Halley’s Comet appeared in the night sky. We know now that Halley’s comet passes by the earth every 76 years. However,  the repeated appearances of the comet throughout the centuries were originally imagined as multiple comets passing by the Earth. The first hypothesis of a recurring astronomical phenomena was by the English astronomer Edmond Halley. Halley published his theory in 1705 based on Sir Issac Newton’s comet observations and theories on gravity. Based on the last comet sightings in 1607 and 1682, Halley predicted the comet would make its return in 1758. Halley unfortunately died in 1742 and could not observe his prediction’s result. But as initially theorized, Halley’s comet passed by the Earth on Christmas day of 1758. Christmas of 1758 and the appearance of Halley’s comet marks an important scientific triumph for Newtonian physics and the field of astronomy.

Cryosurgery – Dr. Irving S. Cooper

On Christmas day of 1961, American neurosurgeon Dr. Irving S. Cooper was given a Christmas gift that inspired development of the first cryosurgery device. The gift, a wine-bottle opener, injected cooled carbon dioxide gas into the bottle to remove the cork. The device was able to precisely aim and administer gas to cool specific targets without disturbing surrounding areas. Dr. Cooper saw great potential in the device for the field of neurosurgery requiring a high degree of precision for effective treatments. In 1962 the neurosurgery technique, cryosurgery was developed.

Photo by cottonbro on

During cryosurgery liquid nitrogen is administered in thin tubes to brain tumors and areas of the brain responsible for nerve disorders, deadening those targeted cells and alleviating  their symptoms. Initially cryosurgery was highly controversial in the medical community because patients needed to be conscious during  the procedure for effective probing and treatment. However, the success of the technique in treating Parkinson’s disease and previously inoperable tumors led to liquid nitrogen’s widespread acceptance as a viable treatment and inspired research of cryosurgery into other therapeutic areas.

If you want to send your own gift this Christmas that will inspire the future generation of scientists, consider looking through Edvotek’s new product catalog to find the newest cutting edge Biotechnology education equipment for the classroom @ Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!


Celsius, Anders (1742) “Observationer om twänne beständiga grader på en thermometer” (Observations about two stable degrees on a thermometer), Kungliga Svenska Vetenskapsakademiens Handlingar (Proceedings of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), 3 : 171–180 and Fig. 1.

Kendall EC. The isolation in crystalline form of the compound containing iodine, which occurs in the thyroid: its chemical nature and physiologic activity. J Am Med Ass 1915;64:2042–3

Weissman, Paul. “Halley’s Comet”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 May. 2020, Accessed 15 December 2021.

COPPER IS. Cryogenic surgery: a new method of destruction or extirpation of benign or malignant tissues. N Engl J Med. 1963 Apr 4;268:743-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM196304042681401. PMID: 14022909.

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