1940 in science
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- August 24 – Howard Florey and a team including Ernst Chain, Arthur Duncan Gardner, Norman Heatley, M. Jennings, J. Orr-Ewing and G. Sanders at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, publish their laboratory results showing the in vivo bactericidal action of penicillin. They have also purified the drug. On December 25 they seed their first batch of culture with spores of penicillin to grow it in medicinal quantity.
- The antibiotic dactinomycin (actinomycin D) is first isolated by Selman Waksman and H. Boyd Woodruff at Rutgers University.
- February 2 – The first transposons are discovered in maize (Zea mays, aka corn) by Barbara McClintock.
- February 27 – The radioactive isotope carbon-14 is discovered by Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben at the University of California, Berkeley.
- May 15 – Women's stockings made of nylon are first placed on sale across the United States.
- December 14 – Plutonium is first synthesized by a team led by Glenn T. Seaborg and Edwin McMillan at the University of California, Berkeley by bombarding uranium-238 with deuterons.
- The radioactive element Astatine is synthesized by Dale R. Corson, Kenneth Ross MacKenzie and Emilio Segrè at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Neptunium, the first transuranic element, is synthesized by Edwin McMillan and Philip H. Abelson at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Louis Plack Hammett coins the term Physical organic chemistry when he uses it as the title of a textbook published in New York.
- Robert McCance and Elsie Widdowson publish the standard text The Chemical Composition of Foods.
- January 8 – In the history of computing hardware, Bell Labs' Complex Number Calculator, a relay-based calculator for complex numbers, is completed under the direction of George Stibitz.
- May–August – Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman at the United Kingdom Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park, design the British Bombes to help decrypt Wehrmacht Enigma machine signals.
- December – Finn Ronne and Carl Eklund of the United States Antarctic Service determine that Alexander I Land is an island.
- At Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States, Dr. Austin T. Moore (1899–1963) performs the first metallic hip replacement surgery.
- In 1940, German optometrist Heinrich Wöhlk produced fully plastic contact lenses.
- January 5 – FM radio demonstrated to the FCC for the first time.
- March – Frisch–Peierls memorandum: Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, at this time working at the University of Birmingham in England, calculate that an atomic bomb could be produced using very much less enriched uranium than has previously been supposed, making it a practical proposition.
- Cavity magnetron invented by John Randall and Harry Boot.
- Spontaneous fission first observed by Georgy Flyorov and Konstantin Petrzhak.
- May 26 – First free flight of Igor Sikorsky's Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter, in the United States.
- September 21 – American Bantam deliver the first prototype BRC Quarter-Ton General Purpose Vehicle – the four-wheel drive Jeep, designed by Karl Probst.
- November 7 – The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses due to aeroelastic flutter.
- Donald Leslie demonstrates the Leslie speaker, intended as an adjunct to the Hammond organ.
- September–November – The Tizard Mission, a British technical and scientific mission, exchanges information on wartime scientific advances with the United States, including radar (in particular a greatly improved cavity magnetron), Frank Whittle's jet engine, the Frisch–Peierls memorandum on feasibility of an atomic bomb and work of the 'Tube Alloys' project on production of enriched uranium.
- April 1 – Wangari Maathai, née Muta (died 2011), Kenyan biologist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
- April 18 – Joseph L. Goldstein, American biochemist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
- May 17 – Alan Kay, American computer scientist and winner of the Turing Award.
- June 1 – Kip Thorne, American gravitational physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
- June 5 – Dickson Despommier, American microbiologist, ecologist and Professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University.
- June 22 – Daniel Quillen (died 2011), American mathematician.
- July 15 – Stephen Jacobsen (died 2016), American bioengineer and roboticist.
- September 12 – Joachim Frank, German-born biophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
- September 26 – Louise Johnson (died 2012), British biochemist and protein crystallographer.
- November 20 – Arieh Warshel, Israeli-born winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
- November 26 – Enrico Bombieri, Italian-born mathematician.
- Judith Pipher, American astrophysicist.
- March 9 – Robert Gunther (born 1869), English historian of science.
- April 13 – Pierre Marie (born 1853), French neurologist.
- April 29 – Edgar Buckingham (born 1867), American physicist.
- June 21 – John T. Thompson (born 1860), American inventor.
- July 31 – Louis Charles Christopher Krieger (born 1873), American mycologist.
- August 30 – J. J. Thomson (born 1856), English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics.
- November 8 – Arthur Vierendeel (born 1852), Belgian civil engineer.
- November 17 – Raymond Pearl (born 1879), American biologist.
- December 16 – Eugène Dubois (born 1858), Dutch paleoanthropologist.
- Drews, Jürgen (March 2000). "Drug Discovery: a Historical Perspective". Science. 287 (5460): 1960–4. Bibcode:2000Sci...287.1960D. doi:10.1126/science.287.5460.1960. PMID 10720314.
- Robertson, Patrick (1974). The Shell Book of Firsts. London: Ebury Press. p. 124.
- Waksman, S. A.; Woodruff, H. B. (1940). "Bacteriostatic and bacteriocidal substances produced by soil actinomycetes". Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. 45: 609–614.
- Kamen, Martin D. (1963). "Early History of Carbon-14: Discovery of this supremely important tracer was expected in the physical sense but not in the chemical sense". Science. 140 (3567): 584–590. Bibcode:1963Sci...140..584K. doi:10.1126/science.140.3567.584. JSTOR 1710512. PMID 17737092.
- Trossarelli, L. (2010). "the history of nylon". Club Alpino Italiano, Centro Studi Materiali e Tecniche. Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
- Corson, D. R.; MacKenzie, K. R.; Segrè, E. (1940). "Artificially Radioactive Element 85". Physical Review. 58 (8): 672–678. Bibcode:1940PhRv...58..672C. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.58.672. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
- Mcmillan, Edwin; Abelson, Philip Hauge (1940). "Radioactive Element 93". Physical Review. 57 (12): 1185–6. Bibcode:1940PhRv...57.1185M. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.57.1185.2. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
- Hammond, George S. (1997). "Physical organic chemistry after 50 years: It has changed, but is it still there?" (PDF). Pure and Applied Chemistry. IUPAC. 69 (9): 1919–22. doi:10.1351/pac199769091919. Retrieved 2014-01-22.
- Whitehead, Roger (2004). "Widdowson, Elsie May (1906–2000)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74313. Retrieved 2011-08-10. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- US patent 2668661, "Complex Computer", issued 1954-02-09, assigned to American Telephone & Telegraph
- Smith, Michael (2007). Station X: the Codebreakers of Bletchley Park. Pan Grand Strategy Series (rev. ed.). London: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-330-41929-1.
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: 1940 in science
- Siple, Paul (1963). "Obituary: Carl R. Eklund, 1909-1962" (PDF). Arctic. Arctic Institute of North America. 16 (2): 147–148. doi:10.14430/arctic3531. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
- Gowing, Margaret (1964). Britain and Atomic Energy, 1935–1945. London: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 40–43. OCLC 3195209.
- Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. "1906-1939 Jeep: Jeep Makes History". HowStuffWorks. Retrieved 2012-05-31.