Inventions of the 80s

Imagine this: You’re at Cape Canaveral waiting to watch a Space Shuttle launch. You have a great view since you recently ditched your crappy glasses for brand new contacts. On your drive over to the coast you played through your new CD collection- Duran Duran, Madonna, Depeche Mode, and Aerosmith. On the way back you might listen to some Michael Jackson or Poison. If you’re feeling extra sullen, maybe you’ll put on The Cure or The Smiths. Hoping to capture the trip, you brought along a disposable camera, a cheap investment for life-long memories. Your mind drifts to your new PC sitting back at home. While you’re excited to see the shuttle launch, you’re also excited to peruse the manual of the PC you just bought. After all, you’re one of your first friends to finally get one. Now if only you could figure out how to type in commands to make it work…

Does this sound outdated? If it does–you’re right. This imaginary scene was set in the 80s. At the time, everything mentioned above was new to the market. Other inventions of the time included the nicotine patch, Prozac, HDTVs, DNA fingerprinting, and a (permanent) artificial heart.

In list form, here are 10 Inventions from the 80s and some of their details:


1. Space Shuttles
-“Orbiting scientific laboratory capable of hosting numerous experiments designed to increase our understanding of the universe.”
-Inspired by the lunar missions of the ’60s and ’70s
-First launch was Colombia on April 12, 1981
-There have been 130 launches since the first in April of 1981


2. Disposable Contact Lenses
-Made losing lenses less costly
-Lenses could be disposed of after one use; did not require regular cleaning and care like previous lenses


3. Compact Discs
-Revolutionized the music industry
-Easier to store than vinyl albums and did not degrade over time (like cassettes and 8 tracks)

DC 14

4. Disposable Cameras
-Cornered the tourism industry; perfect for traveling/travelers
-Cheap and easy to use. Taking photographs no longer required a huge investment.


5. Personal Computers (IBM and Macintosh)
-IBM was synonymous with personal computers in the 1980s; ancestor to the Windows-based PC used today
-Apple launched the Macintosh, the first personal computer to use a graphics-based user interface (used icons to represent programs and featured a mouse)
-Most computers required users to type in commands to launch programs

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HIV/AIDS in the 1980s

The history of HIV/AIDS goes far back to the early 20th century when the first leap of the virus is hypothesized to have transferred to a human from primates in Africa. However, the issue of HIV/AIDS did not fully hit America until the 1980s. Once it did, though, the virus became a mysterious, lurking predator that struck fear into the public.

The first case was observed clinically in 1981. It primarily arose in injecting drug users and homosexual men. These patients were observed to have severely diminished immune systems. In particular, a rare skin cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, and an opportunistic infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, appeared to accompany the HIV/AIDS.

The disease remained so elusive, however, it took until 1986 for the name Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) to be given to it.

Once identified, the disease took on a significant role in shaping society and cultures of the time.

For instance, the fear of infection which accompanied this epidemic resulted in people ostracizing and discriminating against those infected. This was also a result of the public viewing the disease in association with life styles which were frowned upon at the time such as homosexuality, drug use, and promiscuity.  This idea began to be changed when Ryan White became a poster child for the disease. He was diagnosed with the infection in 1984 and contracted it through a contaminated blood treatment for his hemophilia. More stories about the campaign that Ryan White sparked and other stories can be found here.

Many stars of the 1980s became involved in the campaign against HIV/AIDS, as well. Micheal Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, for example, were very involved.

Here is a video of Micheal Jackson devoting a song to Ryan White and the fight against AIDS. Although this video is from the 1990’s it is a reflection of his experiences from the 1980s — particularly his time with Ryan White.

Here is a video of Elizabeth Taylor speaking about HIV/AIDS, too. I found this particularly interesting because she discusses many of the stigmas attached to it from the time.

Also as a consequence of HIV/AIDS rising prevalence, it began to be a topic of many movies in the late 1980s.


Image of As Is


Image of Go Toward the Light


Image of Longtime Companion

More movies on HIV/AIDS can be seen here.

If you are interested in the science behind AIDS here is a great video that explains it very thoroughly.


Advances in Genetics — 1980s

Genetics has undergone incredible advancements throughout the years. Every decade produced its own key elements that make up the genetic knowledge we have today – including the 1980s. The following are summaries of what have been referenced as the most important of these genetic advancements of the 1980s along with brief descriptions and some fun videos.

1. Methods for mapping DNA

In 1980, Paul Berg, Walter Gilbert, and Frederick Sanger were awarded a Nobel Prize for having devised a method to map the structure of DNA.  This allowed scientists to determine base sequences of nucleic acids (the fundamental building blocks of the genome). The award was also for the use of this knowledge to construct recombinant DNA with circles of DNA known as plasmids. Here is a video on how it works!

2. First U.S patent for gene cloning

In 1980, Stanley Norman Cohen and Herbert Boyer received the first patent for a gene. The way this was accomplished was through the use of plasmids with foreign DNA incorporated into their structure to produce specific proteins of interest such as HGH, Erythropoietin and Insulin. Not only did the patent earn about 300 million $, but this is a technique that has become common place and essential in labs. Also, in 1982, this genetically engineered human insulin was approved by the FDA.

3.Transposons – mobile genetic elements

In 1983, Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize for her research regarding mobile genetic elements referred to as transposons. Eventually, this information would be used to understand mutations that result from transposons which often arise when these sequences insert within the middle of an important gene.

4. Polymerase chain reactions

In 1983, Kary Mullis devised a method for amplifying DNA using a cloning procedure called polymerase chain reactions (PCR). This technique allows a small amount of DNA to be amplified exponentially into many copies permitting a greater ability to study sequences of interest. Check out this awesome video!

5.Genetic fingerprinting

In 1985, Alex Jeffrey created DNA fingerprinting. This is a method that uses the unique small sequences of DNA, mini-satellites, within an individual’s genome as a means for identifying them (a DNA fingerprint). The strands of DNA are submitted to a specific endonuclease that will cut corresponding fragments of mini-satellites out. These pieces are separated through electrophoresis to create a unique set of bands that can be matched to a person.

6. Genes for color blindness and color vision identified

In 1986, Jeremy Nathens identified the genes responsible for color vision and color blindness. The identification of specific genes in relation to disease states becomes significant in understanding and treating various inherited diseases such as Progeria, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Can you see the numbers?

7. Identification of RNA as a catalyst

In 1989, Thomas Cech discovered that RNA is capable of acting as a catalyst. This not only unveiled the significance of DNA that previously the function of was not known, but also led to many elucidating hypothesizes regarding the origin of life potentially arising from an originally RNA based form.