Catching Up with Today in Science History

Born Dec. 16:

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Born 16 Dec 1805; died 10 Nov 1861). French zoologist noted for his work studying anatomical abnormalities in humans and lower animals, for which he coined the term “teratology” in 1832. Although his father, Étienne, had initiated such studies, Isidore was the first to publish an extensive study of teratology, organising all known human and animal malformations taxonomically in Histoire générale et particulière des anomalies de l’organisation chez l’homme et les animaux. This taxonomy of mutants paralleled the Linnean system of natural species: assigning to each a class, order, family, genus, and even species. Many of the principles governing abnormal development were enunciated for the first time in this work. Many of hundreds of names for specific malformations are still in use.

Died Dec. 16:

Thomas Pennant (Died 16 Dec 1798; born 14 Jun 1726). Welsh naturalist and traveller, one of the foremost zoologists of his time. He was a prolific author of natural history and topographical works. His first book was the 1766 folio, British Zoology. Further works of natural history appeared over the years including the Synopsis of Quadrupeds, Arctic Zoology, Genera of Birds, and Indian Zoology. Pennant believed in meticulous research and preparation and in the importance of high quality illustrations. He popularized and promoted the study of natural history, though on the whole he was not a propounder of new theories. Pennant is best known for his travels and extensive writings about touring in Wales, her language, people, history and landscape.

Born Dec. 17:

Alexander Agassiz (Born 17 Dec 1835; died 27 Mar 1910). Alexander (Emmanuel Rodolphe) Agassiz was a Swiss marine zoologist, oceanographer, and mining engineer. He moved to the U.S. in 1849 to join his father, naturalist Jean Louis Agassiz, and studied at Harvard for degrees both in civil engineering (1857) and zoology (1862). Alexander Agassiz made important contributions to systematic zoology, to the knowledge of ocean beds, and to the development of the copper mines of Lake Superior (1866-9). He was curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (1873-85), founded by his father. He made numerous oceanographic zoological expeditions, wrote many books and examined thousands of coral reefs to refute Darwin’s ideas on atoll formation. [See Reef Madness]

Died Dec. 17:

Lord Kelvin (Died 17 Dec 1907; born 26 Jun 1824). (baron) Born as William Thomson, he became an influential physicist, mathematician and engineer who has been described as a Newton of his era. At Glasgow University, Scotland, he was a professor for over half a century. The name he made for himself was more than just a temperature scale. His activities ranged from being the brains behind the laying of a transatlantic telephone cable, to attempting to calculate the age of the earth from its rate of cooling. In 1892, when raised to the peerage as Baron Kelvin of Largs, he had chosen the name from the Kelvin River, near Glasgow. [See this post at The Red Notebook on Kelvin and Darwin, and Kelvin is one of this week’s featured biography at ODNB’s website]

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