Hugo Grotius - Scientist of the Day

Hugo Grotius, a Dutch scholar, died Aug. 28, 1645, at age 62. In 1600, when only 17 years old, Grotius published his second book, an edition of an ancient astronomical treatise by Aratus with the commentary of Germanicus. What makes this book special is the manuscript on which it is based. Grotius had somehow acquired an illuminated copy of Aratus’s text, produced around 816 AD. The manuscript contained 35 “miniatures” of the constellations, which are in fact full-page paintings. Grotius had these illustrations copied as engravings by the great Dutch engraver, Jacobus de Gheyn.

The result was a very important work in the history of celestial cartography, because the engravings in Grotius’s book would be used by Johann Bayer when he fashioned his Uranometria (1603), the first modern star atlas. We have both Grotius’s Aratea and Bayer’s Uranometria in the History of Science collection, and we displayed them next to each other in our exhibition, Out of This World. The manuscript that Grotius owned is now at the University of Leiden, where it is known as MS Voss. lat. Q79. You can see the constellation Cepheus from that manuscript above, as well as the engraving after the manuscript illumination by Grotius. These are followed by the constellation Cancer in Grotius, and Johann Bayer’s map of Cancer in his Uranometria, clearly taken from Grotius’s engraving.

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

Bartolomeo Eustachi - Scientist of the Day

Bartolomeo Eustachi, an Italian anatomist, died Aug. 27, 1574, probably around the age of 65. In 1543, he witnessed the publication of one of the great books on anatomy (indeed, one of the milestone books of the entire history of science), when On the Fabric of the Human Body, by Andreas Vesalius, first appeared in print. With its large woodcuts, artfully drawn from observations made by Vesalius himself, it instantly revolutionized the teaching of anatomy, and almost every anatomical text published between 1543 and 1650 looks just like Vesalius’s book. Except for that of Eustachi. He started preparing illustrations for an anatomical text in the 1550s, and they could not have been more different from those of Vesalius. The Vesalius illustrations were woodcuts, very classical in appearance, the bodies standing like ancient sculptures in charming landscapes. Eustachi used copper-plate engravings, and his figures were not classical but mannerist—each body enclosed in a graduated grid, pushing against the confines of their restraint in varied and wonderful ways. If Eustachi’s Tabulae anatomicae had appeared as scheduled, there might have ensued a wonderful confrontation between partisans of the classical Vesalian style and advocates of the modern Eustachian style. But his book was not printed, for reasons unknown. The manuscript did not come to light until 1714, when the copperplates were discovered in the Vatican Library and finally sent to the press. Even 150 years too late, the plates had a profound impact on 18th century anatomy, and the book went through several editions.

The images show two Vesalius woodcuts on the left, and two Eustachi engravings on the right. We have a first-edition Vesalius and a 1728 edition of the Eustachi work in our History of Science Collection, and they were the source for all four images above.

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

Antoine Lavoisier - Scientist of the Day

Antoine Lavoisier, a French chemist, was born Aug. 26, 1743. Lavoisier is rightly considered the father of the chemical revolution of the late 18th century, and he is remarkable for having achieved this stature without discovering a single new element or gas or any other natural phenomenon. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide were identified by others. What Lavoisier did was to reinterpret how these elements interact. Contemporary chemists invoked a substance called “phlogiston” to explain why things burn or rust; it was thought that phlogiston was given off when a substance burned. In 1778, Lavoisier proposed that oxygen was the key element; things burn by taking on oxygen, not by giving off phlogiston. Rusting is just a slower “oxidation” of an element.

The oxygen theory of combustion turned out to have much more explanatory power that the phlogiston theory, especially since it explained why substances gain weight when they oxidize. Lavoisier later set down the first modern list of elements, and he also reformed chemical nomenclature, dumping the colorful alchemical language of “flowers of sulfur” and “sugar of lead” in favor of carbonates and oxides and adjectives like sulfuric and nitrous. His collaborator in much of his work was his wife, Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, who also illustrated most of Lavoisier’s scientific publications. It is sad that she had to witness Lavoisier’s final fate. Lavoisier was a member of the Ferme-Générale, a tax collection agency, and he was arrested along with the other administrators during the Reign of Terror and executed by guillotine on May 8, 1794, at age 50. As a countryman said at the time, “It took only a moment to cause this head to fall, and a hundred years will not suffice to produce its like.”

The double portrait of Antoine and Marie-Anne above was painted by the great Jacques-Louis David in 1788, and you can see it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The other image shows a reconstruction of Lavoisier’s laboratory at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris.

We have nearly all of the works of Lavoisier, as well as numerous translations, in our 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

James Lick - (Honorary) Scientist of the Day

James Lick, an American real-estate tycoon, was born Aug. 25, 1796, in Philadelphia. He moved to South America in 1821 to make pianos, living mostly in Argentina and Peru. Having made a modest fortune, and sensing that California was about to boom, he moved to San Francisco in 1848 and started buying land. This was just before the Gold Rush, so he quickly grew wealthy, eventually becoming the richest man in California, owning huge chunks of San Francisco and San Jose. As he neared death, he decided to donate his fortune to various charities, but he saved the biggest chunk to fund the building of an observatory with the largest telescope in the world. After he died in 1876, the Lick Observatory was constructed on top of Mt. Hamilton, just east of San Jose, and in 1888, a 36” refracting telescope was installed, which was indeed the largest in the world (for about 9 years). Lick was buried under the pier that holds the refractor.

The images above show the completed mountain-top observatory, from a period photo; the Lick refractor, from a period wood engraving, and a photograph of the moon, made with the Lick refractor in 1897. We featured the album that contained the Lick lunar photographs in our exhibition, The Face of the Moon.

 As an incidental point of interest, when Lick first came to California from Peru, he brought with him over 500 pounds of chocolate, which he sold at great profit. He wrote to his neighbor back in Peru, who had supplied the chocolate, and told him of the opportunities in San Francisco. His neighbor quickly followed suit and re-established his chocolateering business in San Francisco. His name was Domingo Ghirardelli, and you can still visit his establishment, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, at Ghirardelli Square, the next time you visit San Francisco.

 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

Initial letters from a selection of rare books.

Francois Péron - Scientist of the Day

Francois Péron, a French zoologist, was born Aug. 22, 1775. In 1800, Péron signed on with Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste, two ships that were headed for Australia, commanded by Nicolaus Baudin, with a full complement of 24 scientists on board. Péron was the junior naturalist, but as others succumbed to scurvy and dysentery, he gradually rose to become the senior man (which is to say, the sole survivor). The voyage gathered some hundred thousand specimens, quite a number of them still living, which—animals and plants alike—would be farmed out to such artificial Edens as the gardens of Malmaison, the estate of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. Baudin himself died in 1803, before the ships returned, and so it fell to Péron’s lot to write the narrative of the voyage. The curse of Baudin eventually spread to Péron, who died in 1810, when he was only 35 years old, and the narrative had to be finished by yet another. We displayed Péron’s Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes (1807-16) in our Grandeur of Life exhibition in 2009; on the web version you can see the plates of two banded wallabies and two black emus. The images above, from the same work, show two platypi (Ornithorhynchus), a family of Tasmanian aborigines with their reed canoes, and a pair of quoll (Dasyrus), which are small carnivorous marsupials.

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


Conrad Martens - (Honorary) Scientist of the Day

Conrad Martens, an English artist, died Aug. 21, 1878 (he was born in 1801, we don’t know the exact date). Martens happened to be in Montevideo in 1833 when HMS Beagle came into port. Robert Fitzroy, the captain, had just lost his ship’s artist to illness, and he hired Martens as a replacement. Martens was thus on board the Beagle when it sailed down to Cape Horn, and Martens’ images of the Beagle in the straits of Tierra del Fuego, and of the Fuegian natives who lived there, have become classic accompaniments to any account of Charles Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle. Martens left the ship before it got to the Galapagos Islands, so we have no good images of that famous part of the voyage. Instead, Martens booked passage to Australia, and remained there, as a very popular landscape artist. He and Darwin became friends and continued to correspond long after Darwin came back home.

The first two images above are original watercolors by Martens, of the Beagle in the straits of Tierra del Fuego, with Mt. Sarmiento looming large, and of a native Fuegian, with his hut and family in the background. Below these are the same images as they appeared as woodcuts in Fitzroy’s printed Narrative (1839). Darwin was not allowed to use any of Martens’s drawings for his own volume, Journal and Remarks, which nevertheless became much more popular than Fitzroy’s.

We displayed both Fitzroy’s and Darwin’s narratives in our Grandeur of Life exhibition in 2009, where you may see Martens’ image of the Fuegian native.

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

Franz Reuleaux - Scientist of the Day

Franz Reuleaux, a Geman mechanical engineer, died Aug. 20, 1905, at age 75. Reuleaux was one of the first engineers to approach engineering design from the vantage point of mathematics, rather than mechanics, which was quite a revolutionary slant in the mid-19th-century—engineers at that time were customarily craftsmen, not theoreticians. Reuleaux wrote a series of books on the mathematical principles of engineering, a number of which we have in our Library. But to the layman, one his most interesting contributions to the field was the design, construction, and marketing of a series of engineering models, designed to help teach students the principles of machines. Cornell University bought 268 of these Reuleaux models in 1882, of which 220 still survive in their School of Engineering. They are made of iron and brass, are fully operational, and are quite beautiful to behold, if you like well-crafted machines. Two of the models are shown above. Cornell has made all the models available online, and if you follow the linkseach model is fully explained, and there is an option to see each one in operation (select the movie tab). 

The third model, an elaborate cam-driven mechanism, is of interest because the cam in the center has a curious shape that Reuleaux invented—it looks like a triangle with love handles, but it has the interesting property of being a curve of constant width. So if you attached four of them to two axles and laid a flatbed across the top, and then rolled it along, the axles would wobble up and down like crazy, but the bed would remain perfectly flat. The shape is called a Reuleaux triangle. It also has the additional curious property of being able to rotate inside a square, as this animation shows (please excuse Wikipedia’s misspelling of Reuleaux). A chap named Wankel in the 1950s invented a rotary engine with a rotor in the shape of a Reuleaux triangle, and for a while the Wankel engine was slated to be the next “big thing” in automobiles. But fifty years later, it seems to be found in only a few motorcycles, sports cars, and go-kart engines.

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

James Hall Nasmyth - Scientist of the Day

James Hall Nasmyth, a Scottish engineer and inventor, was born Aug. 19, 1808. Nasmyth is best known to historians of technology for inventing, or at least perfecting, the steam hammer, which became indispensable for forging large iron manufactures, and which made him a small fortune. Today however we feature a book that Nasmyth co-wrote, with James Carpenter, called The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1874). The book is beautifully illustrated with photographic prints known as Woodburytypes. However, the photographs are not of the moon itself, but of plaster models that Nasmyth built after observing the moon through a telescope. We see two of those Woodburytypes above, showing models of the lunar Apennines, and the region around the crater Plato, in high shadow. The third image is not a Woodburytype but a chromo-lithograph, made from a photograph of a plaster set. It looks rather like a matte painting from a 1950s science fiction movie. The fourth image, a portrait of Nasmyth, is once again a Woodburytype, and one can see why the medium was in demand for portraits, since it has a depth and richness difficult to achieve with other methods of reproducing photographs.

 We displayed a second edition of The Moon in our 1989 exhibition, The Face of the Moon, as it was the only edition we had at the time. Now we have four English and two German editions, and the illustrations in each one are different, which is why research libraries like to have as many editions as possible of important works.

 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