Pierre Lyonet - Scientist of the Day

Pierre Lyonet, a French illustrator and microscopist, was born July 22, 1708. Lyonet did most of the drawings for Abraham Trembley’s classic Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire d’un genre de polypes d’eau douce (Memoir on fresh-water polyps, 1744), which revealed that tiny Hydra, the miniature medusa-like denizens of swamp water, could regenerate all their missing parts after being cut into pieces (see first image above).

Having earned his spurs at Trembley’s microscope and the drafting table, Lyonet set off on his own, and in 1762 he published Traité anatomique de la chenille qui ronge le bois de saule (Anatomical treatise on the willow caterpillar), which, in numerous engravings, showed every single muscle, nerve, organ, and duct of what we now call the goat-moth caterpillar. The drawings were so detailed that some critics doubted that that such precise observation was possible. In fact, the details were real. Lyonet made his observations with a single-lens microscope of his own design, with the lens suspended on the end of a tiny segmented arm which could be easily moved around over the dissecting table, an integral part of the microscope. In our 2009 exhibition, Singular Beauty, we displayed several single-lens dissecting microscopes, and we also displayed Lyonet’s book, which has an illustration of his microscope (second image), as well as many exquisite engravings of caterpillar innards (third image).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Jean Picard - Scientist of the Day

Jean Picard, a French astronomer, was born July 21, 1620. In 1669-70, Picard successfully measured the length of a degree of latitude.   He carved up eighty miles of open country north of Paris into 13 adjoining triangles. He carefully measured one side of one triangle with measuring rods, and then measured all the other sides by triangulating with precision quadrants. After he had thus measured this line of triangles, he set up a zenith telescope (one that looks straight up) at the two endpoints and sighted on a star, and determined that the two endpoints were 1 degree and 12 minutes apart. He concluded, therefore, that for a separation of precisely one degree, the two points would be 69.07 miles apart, which is thus the length of one degree of latitude at the latitude of Paris. Assuming the earth were a perfect sphere and every degree were like every other, this would mean that the earth has a circumference of 24,865 miles.

Within the next eighty years, it would be discovered by a French expedition to Ecuador that a degree of latitude on the equator is shorter than one at Paris, and another French expedition would determine that both are shorter than one in Lapland. This means that the earth is not a sphere, but is shaped more like a grapefruit, being wider at the equator than through the poles. Picard’s Mesure de la Terre (1671, issued 1676) was one of the first publications of the recently-founded Paris Academy of Sciences; we have a copy in the History of Science Collection.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Plate 9:  Individuals with normal vision or tritanopia will see the number 56. Individuals with protanopia, deuteranopia, or achromotopsia will see no numbers.

Plate 19: Individuals with normal vision or tritanopia will see the number 5. Individuals with protanopia or deuteranopia will see the number 2. Individuals with achromotopsia will see no numbers.

Plate 34. Individuals with normal vision, tritanopia, or achromotopsia will see no numbers. Individuals with protanopia or deuteranopia will see the number 73.

From Tests for Colorblindness, Shinobu Ishihara, 1940. These plates will not be an accurate test because of fading colors and variations with monitors.

Elizabeth Gould - Scientist of the Day

Elizabeth Gould, an English artist, was born July 18, 1804. In 1829, she married John Gould, an up-and-coming ornithologist, and Elizabeth immediately became the official family draughtswoman, finishing John’s rough drawings and executing the lithographs for the Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830-32), and The Birds of Europe (1833-37). Although John gave Elizabeth full artistic credit in the Century, he became increasingly reluctant to share the limelight in later publications, so that, for example, Elizabeth receives almost no acknowledgement in the bird volume of Darwin’s Zoology of the Beagle (1841), although she did all the drawings and lithographs.

Elizabeth went to Australia with John in 1838 (leaving her 3 youngest children behind) and spent two years there, capturing the local birds and mammals on paper. John and Elizabeth returned to England in 1840, but sadly, Elizabeth died of puerperal fever in 1841, after giving birth to their eighth child. She was only 37 years old. All of her Australian paintings were lithographed and eventually published in such volumes as The Mammals of Australia (1863), but she received no credit at all for these posthumous publications.

The images show the crimson horned pheasant from Century of Birds, the blue roller from Birds of Europe, and the cactus finch from the Zoology of the Beagle,as well as a portrait of Elizabeth in a private collection.

Elizabeth was one of 12 women artists featured in the Library’s 2005 exhibition, Women’s Work. All of the volumes mentioned here are in the Library’s History of Science Collection.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

(Source: lhldigital.lindahall.org)

Georges Lemaītre - Scientist of the Day

Georges Lemaītre, a Belgian priest and astronomer, was born July 17, 1894. It is often said that Edwin Hubble, in 1929, announced that the universe is expanding, certainly one of the great cosmological discoveries of the century. Except that Hubble didn’t proclaim any such thing. What Hubble discovered was that more distant galaxies have a larger red-shift than closer galaxies, which one might interpret as the result of an expanding universe, but Hubble did not do so. The man who first proposed the expansion of the universe was Lemaītre, in a paper of 1927, and he did so on no observational evidence at all, arguing instead that Einstein’s equations of general relativity were more compatible with an expanding universe than with a static one. When the relationship between galactic distances and their red-shifts was discovered, it was Lemaītre, not Hubble, who saw the important implication—that the universe must be expanding. And in 1931, when Lemaītre’s work finally became known to English cosmologists, Lemaītre further proposed that the universe must have had a beginning in time as an incredibly dense “primaeval atom”, and the expansion is the result of the explosion of that condensed atom. In our terminology, Lemaītre was the originator of the idea of the Big Bang. It is still common in popular literature to credit Hubble with the expanding universe and George Gamow for the Big Bang idea, but Lemaītre is increasingly getting his due as the originator of both concepts. In 1933, there were several photographs taken of Lemaītre with Einstein, on the occasion of their joint visit to the United States; we see one of them above. Einstein was not too impressed with Lemaītre in 1927, but by 1933 he had come to embrace the expansion of the universe as the only viable solution of his equations of general relativity.

The other image shows the dust jacket of the 1st English edition of Lemaītre’s Primeval Atom (1950).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Giuseppe Piazzi - Scientist of the Day

Giuseppe Piazzi, an Italian astronomer, was born July 16, 1746. Piazzi presided over the observatory at Palermo on the island of Sicily, and on the first day of the new century, Jan. 1, 1801, Piazzi discovered a new heavenly body. It travelled along the ecliptic like a planet, and it moved slower than Mars and faster than Jupiter, suggesting that it lay somewhere between the two. Piazzi named it Ceres, after the patron goddess of Sicily. The first image above is an allegorical representation of Piazzi’s discovery—Jupiter is the object with 4 moons to the left of Ceres, and Mars is to the right. It turned out that Ceres was an asteroid, not a planet, but that was OK, because instead of being the second astronomer to discover a new planet, Piazzi became the first to discover an asteroid. Three more asteroids were spotted in the next six years, and then no more until just before mid-century, when they began to be sighted by the hundreds.

In 2006, Ceres was redesignated as a dwarf planet, so Piazzi now has the honor of being the first person to discover a dwarf planet (the second dwarf planet, Pluto, would not be observed until 1930). The goddess Ceres, namesake of the asteroid (excuse me, the dwarf planet), was the patron of grain, specifically wheat and barley. She ought to have a statue in Battle Creek, Michigan, and perhaps she does. But for sure Ceres has one in Jefferson City, Missouri, right on top of the State Capitol building and facing west, where she can’t quite see the purple mountains’ majesty, but does stand above the fruited plain. The second image above shows Ceres the dwarf planet as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. The third image captures the goddess Ceres of Jefferson City, fittingly posed against another astronomical object, the full moon. We have a copy of Piazzi’s Della scoperta del nuovo pianeta Cerere Ferdinandea (1802) in the History of Science Collection, which is the source for our first image.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Rembrandt van Rijn - (Honorary) Scientist of the Day

Rembrandt van Rijn, a Dutch artist, was born July 15, 1606, in Leiden. Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam as a young man, and soon after his arrival, he was commissioned to paint a group portrait centered on the new demonstrator of anatomy at the Guild of Surgeons, Nicolaes Tulp. The resulting painting, executed in 1632, shows Tulp dissecting the forearm of a cadaver and revealing the tendons that work the fingers. Considerable scholarly ink has been devoted to the question of why Tulp is shown dissecting the arm first, when traditionally an academic dissection would begin with the abdomen, since the internal organs need to be dealt with and removed as soon as possible, even in January, when the dissection was traditionally performed. I will spare you the details of the debate, since no one really knows, and instead mention two facts that we know for sure. One, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp hangs today in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, which was built by Johan Maurits while he was in Brazil setting up a Dutch colony. Second, the painting depicts the interior of the old De Waag, or Weighhouse, where the Surgeons Guild was located; it used to be one of the Gates of Amsterdam, and today is a tourist attraction, with a café out front. So you can eat lunch not fifty feet from where they used to cut up criminals. Bon appetit!

There have been a number of stagings and re-enactments of The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp over the years, but this is our new favorite.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Augustin-Jean Fresnel - Scientist of the Day

Augustin-Jean Fresnel, a French physicist and mathematician, died July 14, 1827. Fresnel’s name is well-known to physicists because of his theoretical work in optics, but his greatest impact may have come from a practical device he invented, the Fresnel lens. Fresnel was asked by the French government to find some way to make lighthouses more efficient. A typical lighthouse of the day would have a kerosene flame and some sort of lens and reflector system to direct the light out to sea, but most of the light was lost, and beams were very faint. So Fresnel came up with a lens that looks like a multi-sided crystal barrel, surmounted with an elaborate crown of prisms. It was so designed that nearly every ray of light from the source is re-directed out on a horizontal path. The first Fresnel lens was installed in France in 1823, and by the 1850s they were in use everywhere. Fresnel lenses are ranked in “orders” of first through sixth; a first-order lens, the largest in ordinary use, is about 12 feet high and 7 feet wide, and sends out a beam that can be seen for over twenty miles. There are only about a dozen first-order Fresnel lenses left in the United States; each is worth millions of dollars. In our opinion, they are the most beautiful cut-glass objects ever made.

The images show, in order, a first-order lens from Cape Canaveral, now on display at Ponce Inlet, Florida; a first-order lens in place in the Heceta Head Light, Oregon; a restored third-order lens from Queensland, Australia; and a fourth-order lens at Horton Point, Long Island. This link shows a variety of Fresnel lenses on display in American maritime museums.

Fresnel did not live to see the popularity of his invention; he died of tuberculosis on this day in 1827, only 39 years old.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Trees from North American Sylva, 1865, by Thomas Nuttall and Francois Michaux.

Robert Jameson - Scientist of the Day

Robert Jameson, a Scottish geologist and professor of natural history at Edinburgh University, was born July 11, 1774. Jameson has always had a slightly sour reputation, primarily because of Charles Darwin’s reminiscences about his days at Edinburgh and Jameson’s’ “incredibly dull” lectures. Jameson was also the last of the Neptunists in geology, who refused to believe that granite and basalt might be igneous rocks that had cooled from a molten state, which Darwin also comments on with great derision in his Autobiography. But it turns out that Jameson had a little secret that makes him much more interesting. In 1827, an anonymous article was published in the first volume of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, titled “Observations on the Nature and Importance of Geology,” in which the author praised the idea of the transmutation of species, as advocated by the French zoologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck (see image above of the anonymous article). Since there was a known Lamarckian at Edinburgh at this time, Robert Grant (whom Darwin praised in the same autobiography where he damned Jameson), it has always been assumed that Grant was the author of this proto-evolutionary piece. But this assumption was ill-founded, for it turns out that the most likely author is Jameson, as scholar James Secord demonstrated convincingly some years ago. Jameson was proposing evolutionary ideas long before Darwin had any such notions! We like to divide historical figures into the good guys and the bad guys, and Jameson has always been a bad guy, but it turns out that, under his black hat, he had a rose in his teeth. Darwin might have benefitted, had he paid more attention in Jameson’s class.

The portraits show, in order, Jameson, Darwin, and Lamarck. The complete article by Jameson is available in the Library’s digital collections

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City