Sperm capacitation refers to the physiological changes spermatozoa must undergo in order to have the ability to penetrate and fertilize an egg. This term was first coined in 1952 by Colin Russell Austin based on independent studies conducted by both Austin himself as well as Min Chueh Chang in 1951. Since the initial reports and emergence of the term, the details of the process have been more clearly elucidated due to technological advancements. The recognition of the phenomenon was quite important to early in vitro fertilization experiments as well as the continued understanding of embryology and reproductive biology.

Dr. John Rock, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology in Boston, and Miriam Menkin, Rock s hired lab technician, were the first researchers to fertilize a human egg outside of a human body in February of 1944. Their work was published on 4 August 1944 in an issue of Science in an article entitled "In Vitro Fertilization and Cleavage of Human Ovarian Eggs." This experiment marked the first time in history that a human embryo was produced outside of the human body, proving that in vitro fertilization was possible in humans. The initial approach in the research was to see if experiments involving the fertilization of egg cells in rabbits and rats could be repeated with human egg cells. Based on previous experiments with other mammals, Rock and Menkin believed that the same could be done with human egg cells.

Caspar Friedrich Wolff is most famous for his 1759 doctoral dissertation, Theoria Generationis, in which he described embryonic development in both plants and animals as a process involving layers of cells, thereby refuting the accepted theory of preformation: the idea that organisms develop as a result of the unfolding of form that is somehow present from the outset, as in a homunculus. This work generated a great deal of controversy and discussion at the time of its publication but was an integral move in the reemergence and acceptance of the theory of epigenesis.

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