Today in Science History

Born this day:

Luther Burbank (Born 7 Mar 1849; died 11 Apr 1926). American naturalist and horticulturist who was a pioneer of plant breeding. At age 21, he produced the the Burbank potato. Thus he began a 55 year career, prodigiously producing useful varieties of fruits, flowers, vegetables, grains, and grasses. He had an ability to detect and nurture hybrids which he made from multiple crosses of foreign and native strains under suitable growing conditions. Basing his understanding upon his own observations, he believed in the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. It was for others to develop the modern science of plant breeding based on the genetic theory. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including the Freestone peach, and the Burbank potato (1871).

Sir John F. W. Herschel (Born 7 Mar 1792; died 11 May 1871). (1st Baronet) Sir John (Frederick William) Herschel was an English astronomer. As successor to his father, Sir William Herschel, he discovered another 525 nebulae and clusters. John Herschel was a pioneer in celestial photography, and as a chemist contributed to the development of sensitized photographic paper (independently of Talbot). In 1819, he discovered that sodium thiosulphate dissolved silver salts, as used in developing photographs. He introduced the terms positive image and negative image. Being diverse in his research, he also studied physical and geometrical optics, birefringence of crystals, spectrum analysis, and the interference of light and sound waves. To compare the brightness of stars, he invented the astrometer.

See this post on Herschel’s influence on Darwin from the blog Mystery of Mysteries

André Michaux (Born 7 Mar 1746; died 13 Nov 1802). French explorer, botanist and silviculturist who wrote the first book on the forest trees of America. After studying under Bernard de Jussieu, beginning in 1779, he began a series of explorations searching for and classifying new species of plants in England, France and the Pyrenees. Becoming French Consul in Persia led to full-time botanical explorations there (1782-85). Next, he travelled in North America for the French government to send back tree species suitable to transplant for naval shipbuilding. Jefferson provided him with letters of introduction as a scientist. In 1796, he lost notes and specimens in a shipwreck off Egmont, Holland. In 1801, while exploring Madagascar his health failed from the exertion and he died of a tropical fever.

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