Today in Science History: some geologists and botanists were born

Born this day:

George Julius Poulett Scrope (Born 10 Mar 1797; died 19 Jan 1876). English geologist, political economist and Member of Parliament. He took an early amateur interest in geology and volcanology, and his work helped disprove the Neptunist theory that all Earth’s rocks were of oceanic sedimentary origin believed by a number of early 19th century geologists. He studied volcanic features in Italy, Sicily and Germany, and especially in central France and wrote Considerations on Volcanoes (1825) and Memoir on the Geology of Central France (1827). It was by his observations on the erosion of valleys by rivers, that he was able to extend and confirm the views of Hutton and Playfair. His birth name of Thompson became Scrope in 1821 when he married the daughter of the earl William Scrope.

John Playfair (Born 10 Mar 1748; died 20 Jul 1819). Scottish mathematician, physicist, and geologist who is remembered for his axiom that two intersecting straight lines cannot both be parallel to a third straight line. His Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) gave strong support to James Hutton’s principle of uniformitarianism, essential to a proper understanding of geology. Playfair was the first scientist to recognise that a river cuts its own valley, and he cited British examples of the gradual, fluvial origins of valleys, to challenge the catastrophic theory (based on the Biblical Flood in Genesis) that was still widely accepted. He was also the first to link the relocation of loose rocks to the movement of glaciers. Playfair published texts on geometry, physics, and astronomy.

Died this day:

Sir C. Wyville Thomson (Died 10 Mar 1882; born 5 Mar 1830). Sir C(harles) Wyville Thomson was a Scottish naturalist who was one of the first marine biologists to describe life in the ocean depths. He led the famous 110,224-km (68,890 mile) scientific expedition of HMS Challenger in (1872-6) which trawled the depths of the oceans for new forms of life. This was the world’s first foray into big science. The expedition was to circumnavigate the world in the steam corvette, HMS Challenger, with a goal, as resolved by the British Association (1871) of “carrying the physical and biological Exploration of the deep-sea into all the great oceanic centres”. The extensive biological collections, together with soundings, bottom samples, and chemical and physical observations, presented the first broad view of the character of the oceans.

John Torrey (Died 10 Mar 1873; born 15 Aug 1796). American botanist and chemist known for his extensive studies of North American flora. The first professional botanist in the New World, Torrey published extensively on the North American flora, advocated the “natural system” of classification that was replacing Linnaeus’ artifical system, and collaborated for many years with his student Asa Gray (who was to become an important botanist). Torrey never was able to make a living from botany and worked (among other things) as a freelance chemical analyst. Unidentified plants collected on government expeditions to the western states were sent to him for study, however, as a foremost authority of his time. A genus of evergreen trees, Torreya, is named for him.

Rembert Dodoens (Died 10 Mar 1585; born 29 Jun 1516/17). Flemish physician and botanist whose Stirpium historiae pemptades sex sive libri XXX (1583) is considered one of the foremost botanical works of the late 16th century. In this work, he divided plants into 26 groups and introduced many new families, adding a wealth of illustration. He was the first Belgian botanist of world-wide renown. He studied at Louvain and visited medical schools in France, Italy and Germany and finally became doctor and court physician to Maximillian II (1574). His Cruydt boeck (1554) is beautifully. The text is in ancient Flemish, which later translated in French, English, and Latin. Cruydt is a Flemish word meaning “spices” and other herbs used for cooking and conserving food; by extension, it also means medicinal herbs.

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