This provides a timeline of events related to ultraviolet radiation from both a living world and a physical world perspective.
900 BC–500 AD – Ancient Greek and Roman women lighten their skin
Tanned skin is not seen as desirable. Unfortunately, the lead-based whitening paints often cause premature deaths (aside from skin ruptures, madness and infertility) due to lead poisoning.
1500s – Tanned skin associated with the working classes
Upper class women apply copious amounts of powder on their faces. Ladies throughout Europe and America always protect their hands and faces with gloves, hats and parasols (small sun umbrellas) when outside.
1652 – Human lymphatic system described
Danish physician Thomas Bartholinus (1616–1680) publishes the first full description of the human lymphatic system – later found to be an important part of the body’s immune response to cancer and also one of the most common pathways for the spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body (metastasis).
1660s – The Malpighian layer in the skin named
Medical doctor and Italian scientist Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694) from the University of Bologna (Italy) uses the microscope to study living plant and animal tissue. He is considered to be the father of microscopic anatomy.
1665 – The term ‘cell’ is first used
Robert Hooke uses the term ‘cell’ to describe the structures he sees when looking through a compound microscope at non-living cork cells. These structures remind him of the rooms that monks live in, so he names them ‘cells’.
1670s – Leeuwenhoek builds superior microscopes
Leeuwenhoek’s skill at grinding lenses enables him to build microscopes that can magnify up to 200 times, whereas most others can only magnify up to 20–30 times. He also draws single-celled organisms, which he calls ‘animalcules’ and we now call microorganisms.
1787 – First metastatic melanoma surgically removed
Scottish surgeon John Hunter (1728–1793), considered one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his time, describes the removal of a "cancerous fungous excrescence". In 1968, microscopic examination of the preserved tumour shows that it was a melanoma.
1801 – Ultraviolet radiation discovered
Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776–1810) finds that the process of decomposition of silver chloride is most efficient in the presence of ‘invisible’ radiation, beyond the violet end of the spectrum. This radiation becomes known as ultraviolet radiation.
1804 – First description of melanoma as a disease
French physician René Laennec (1781–1826) presents melanoma as a disease in a lecture for the Faculté de Médecine de Paris. In 1820, general practitioner William Norris presents the same report in English.
1839 – Proposal that living things are made of cells
German scientists Theodor Schwann (physiologist) and Matthias Schleiden (botanist) carry out independent work, but talk to each other about their microscopic observations of plants and animals and come to the conclusion that all living things are made up of cells. This is the central idea of the cell theory.
1840 – Advanced melanoma untreatable
Despite significant medical advances in treating many forms of cancer more than one and a half centuries, later this situation remains the same – early removal is still of critical importance.
1842 – Chromosomes observed in plant cells
Chromosomes are observed in plant cells by Swiss Scientist Karl von Nageli (1817–1891). He is best known for his correspondence with Gregor Mendel and that he did not recognise the significance of his discoveries about the breeding of peas.
1920s – Sun tans become fashionable
Being bronzed becomes associated with having wealth and leisure time, and being able to afford to travel to warmer climates during winter months. (Some credit style icon Coco Chanel with with beginning this fashion trend.)
1931 – Spectrophotometer invented
Gordon Dobson (1889–1976) produces his spectrophotometer – a measuring device used to measure ozone from the ground. It is still the standard instrument used worldwide, with a network of over 150 instruments making daily observations.
1953 – Structure of DNA discovered
James Watson and Francis Crick publish the first accurate model of the DNA structure in the journal Nature, based on X-ray diffraction images taken by Rosalind Franklin. Information about DNA is also written by Maurice Wilkins (a New Zealander born in Pongaroa, North Wairarapa), and the three share the Nobel Prize in 1962.
1956 – Melanomas associated with intensity of sunlight
Australian professor Henry Lancaster discovers that melanomas are directly associated with latitude (i.e. intensity of sunlight) and that exposure to the sun is a very risk high factor in the development of the cancer.
1960s – Melanoma an ancient problem
Examination of nine Peruvian Inca mummies (dated to be approximately 2,400 years old) reveals signs of melanoma (masses on the skin and metastases to the bones), which shows melanoma is not a new disease.
1970s – Sun-tanning widely popular
Advertising campaigns featuring bronzed and beautiful bodies become the norm. The social significance of having a tan is totally reversed from Egyptian times.
1974 – CFCs linked to ozone depletion
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), first created back in 1928 as non-toxic non-flammable refrigerants, feature in a laboratory study published by Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland that shows CFCs can break down ozone in the presence of high frequency UV light. They received a Nobel Prize in 1995.
1985 – Antarctic ozone hole discovered
British Antarctic Survey scientists Joseph Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin discover the Antarctic ozone hole and publish a paper in Nature summarising data that shows that the ozone levels for Antarctica had dropped to 10% below normal January levels.
1989 – Montreal Protocol becomes official
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for depleting ozone. It is followed by many countries.
2004 – Skin cancer rates on the rise
In New Zealand, there are 45,000–70,000 non-melanoma skin cancers, 1,896 melanoma cases and 249 deaths (152 males and 97 females) from melanoma. Find out more about skin cancer in these articles.
2016 – Mole checking via smartphone launched
New Zealand company Firstcheck creates a smartphone app through which users can take photos of a mole they are concerned about, send to a dermatologist to review and receive feedback within 3 days.
2019 – New Zealand melanoma rates decline
In February 2019, researchers at Australia's QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, released a study that showed New Zealand melanoma rates have declined and Australia's have remained steady. New Zealand skin cancer rates are still amongst the highest in the world.
2020 – Review of skin cancer scanning apps
A review of six algorithm-based AI apps that assess the risk of suspicious moles has found that they cannot be relied upon to detect all skin cancers, this research was published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) in Febraury 2020. It is agreed though, that the apps will get better as technology improves and artificial intelligence offers a huge hope for the future.