What happens when a country is isolated from the rest of the world and yet has the brain trust and science acumen to evolve technology independent of the rest of the world? Can they succeed without the international peer review that takes place?
Obviously the answer is yes and the proof of this is the contributions made involuntarily by Nazi scientists after the United States and the allies repelled the horrid Third Reich and crushed the fascist leaders in 1945.
As we began to dismantle the Nazi regime and confiscate its records, the Allied powers uncovered all sorts of advances in science and technology the German scientists made during the 12 to 15 years they were isolated behind Hitler's wall of fear and occupation of Europe. Before I go any further I want to point out the purpose of this column is not to glamourize or romanticize the atrocities these monsters committed on the human race, but more to explore what happens when a body of scientists are isolated from their colleagues.
The most important advance the Nazi scientists made arguably was the developments in rocket science. Led by the genius scientist Wernher Von Braun who is considered to be the Father of Modern Rocket Science at a level that only Robert Goddard probably shared, the Nazis developed rockets for the purpose of continuing the bombing of England and their long term intention of attacking the United States. Von Braun had worked on the V-2 rocket which attacked Western European targets during the latter years of World War II. The Germans used over 3,100 of these rockets from 1944 until the end of the war to kill over 7,250 soldiers and citizens in Allied countries according to one article in Wikipedia.
Coincidentally, Robert Goddard innocently helped the German rocketry program in its infancy by occasionally answering questions for German scientists who were working on developing this technology between 1934 and 1939. While Von Braun was a high-ranking official in the Nazi Party, his record was expunged when he emigrated to the United States in the late 1940s so that he could gain the clearances to work on the United States rocket and later space programs.
Most people are aware of this affiliation and the subsequent invaluable contributions Von Braun made which made it possible for us to eventually reach the moon and have a successful space program, but the Nazis did much more than this even though some of their advances were made with immoral ethics.
For example, I did not know the Nazis made the first magnetic tape recording of an Adolf Hitler speech. This particular innovation is mentioned in a Harper's Weekly article in 1946. In the article, the author describes the discovery of a ribbon that is plastic and covered with a magnetic coating.
He describes how it can hold an entire radio program and be instantly erased and rerecorded, an advance over the single use phonograph records used prior to this advance.
The Germans also developed an infrared detector that could locate and make visible objects up to two hundred meters in front of vehicles through the use of a selenium screen. The screen captured the infrared light bouncing back toward the screen and excited electrons on a companion fluorescent screen that made the objects visible. They also developed a miniature generator that whirred at 10,000 rotations per minute. This advance required a new type of grease as conventional lubricants of the day were quickly destroyed by the friction and heat. This new chlorinated paraffin oil did not have this shortcoming and was able to be used successfully to keep the generator working.
The Germans also developed a method of synthetically creating mica, a crystalline mineral used extensively in the electronics industry today. American scientists of the day had no idea how Germany was getting a supply of mica especially producing it in large sheets, but after the war they learned the Nazis developed a method of growing the crystals using magnetism and a carefully controlled production process.
Their scientists also developed a cold extrusion process for mass producing metal parts that the magazine article theorized would revolutionize the manufacturing process. Extrusion is the process of producing parts by pressing a malleable metal or any other substance through a die to create parts. A good example of this which many of us might recognize is a pasta machine.
Other contributions made by their science research include food sterilization, weaving machines and food preservation through the use of a special plastic material that kept food fresh for several months if left intact around the food being preserved.
The most disturbing and despicable treatment of prisoners by these inhuman scientists nevertheless also provided advances in medical science. One goal these scientists were trying to reach was the ability to freeze a human being and revive them at a later time. This grisly experiment along with several others also provided valuable scientific data to Allied scientists later to help advance hypothermia treatment and medicine.
An apocryphal advance that was never confirmed was the possibility that the Nazis were able to not only develop antigravity flying machines that looked quite a bit like the modern day description of a flying saucer, but also a landing dock for these craft. This speculation was explored on the series "Ancient Aliens" as well.
In conclusion, while Nazi Germany was a horrific blemish on the twentieth century, an unintended side effect of the war was a unique perspective on how technology in isolated countries develops and branches away from mainstream ideas. It is entirely possible that such isolation might be providing similar advances in countries we isolate today. What do you think?
Til next time …