Charles Boyle - (Honorary) Scientist of the Day

Charles Boyle, the 4th Earl of Orrery, died July 28, 1674. Boyle was reasonably well learned, and he published an edition of the epistles of Phalaris in the 1690s, but mostly, he was rich and titled. He was related in a fashion to Robert Boyle, the chemist—both were descended from the 1st Earl of Cork of Ireland—but Robert never had the peerage, and Charles did. Which is probably why Robert, for all his achievements, is buried in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and Charles, for all his lack of achievement, is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Charles Boyle is remembered mostly for an instrument that was named in his honor. In 1713, James Rowley, a London instrument maker, built a small mechanical device that replicated the motions of the earth and moon as they orbited the sun. He made it for Charles, and he called it an “orrery”. The name has stuck, and any working model of the solar system is commonly called an orrery, right down to the present day. The original orrery is in the Science Museum in London; you can see it above as the first image. The link will allow you to see several other views of this pioneering astronomical instrument.

Some years after Charles’ death, the artist Joseph Wright of Derby painted a dramatic scene depicting a philosopher demonstrating an orrery to a small group of excited onlookers (the drama coming from the fact that the scene seems to be lit entirely by the solar part of the orrery). The painting is now in the Joseph Wright gallery of the Derby Museum in the English midlands, and it is, so they claim, their most popular piece of Wrightiana. It is the second image 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

A selection of items from Athanasius Kircher’s curiosity cabinet as illustrated in Filippo Buonanni’s  Musaeum Kircherianum, 1709.

Andreas Libavius - Scientist of the Day

Andreas Libavius, a German chemist, died July 25, 1616, at about 56 years of age. In 1597, Libavius published a book, Alchymia, that, in spite of its title, is seen by many modern chemists as the foundation book of their discipline. Libavius at the time preferred the word “alchemy” to “chemistry” because the latter word had been co-opted by followers of Paracelsus and was a mystical, magical art practiced in secrecy, mostly at the courts of such rulers as Rudolf II. Libavius wanted chemistry to be an academic and a laboratory discipline, divorced from astrology and natural magic, and concerned only with the nature of matter and its combinations, and he wanted it taught openly in the universities, not hidden away at royal courts. Libavius was none too pleased when the first professorship of chemistry was finally established at Marburg in 1609, because the professor appointed was Johannes Hartmann, a Paracelsian and a favorite at the court of Moritz of Hesse. But Libavius’s attitude did ultimately win the day, and although his word “alchymia” was replaced by “chemiatria”, everything else he argued for came to pass, as chemistry came to be established as an open empirical science, based on observations and experiments accessible to every practitioner. We have five of Libavius’s original works in the History of Science Collection, including 1st and 2nd editions of his Alchymia.

Our copy of the second edition of the Alchymia is an especially handsome specimen, with its stamped vellum boards still held closed by a beautiful pair of bronze clasps. The second edition is important because, unlike the 1st (1597) edition, it has a number of woodcuts illustrating an ideal modern chemical laboratory, including a design for the building itself, and plans for all sorts of furnaces and alembics for distillation.

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

Henry Shaw - Scientist of the Day

Henry Shaw, an English businessman and philanthropist, was born July 24, 1800. In 1819, Shaw came to St. Louis, Missouri, from Sheffield, England, to help sell his father’s Sheffield steel. He amassed a sizeable fortune and retired in 1840 to pursue his passion of botany. Shaw built a house in St. Louis in 1849, called Tower Grove House, and after seeing the great gardens of England, he determined to build his own public garden. He solicited advice from William Hooker of Kew Gardens, and from Asa Gray at Harvard, and ended up building a professional research garden instead of a pleasure garden. The Missouri Botanical Garden, opened to the public in 1859, is now one of the finest in the world. Many of the trees that Shaw planted are still there, including a giant ginkgo, several bald cypress trees, and a black gum, The MBG at one time issued a poster featuring original Shaw plantings, which you can see above. Shaw died in 1889 and was buried in a mausoleum right on the garden grounds (see above).

Shaw also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame (which is not at the Garden), at 6346 Delmar, right between Barry Commoner, Betty Grable, and Harold Ramis.

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

Prideaux John Selby - Scientist of the Day 

Prideaux John Selby, an English naturalist, was born July 23, 1788. In 1819, Selby began the task of compiling a set of illustrations of every bird found in the British Isles, drawn life-size. It would take him 14 years to finish the project, but when he was done, he had 218 beautiful plates depicting 280 species of birds, 110 of which he had seen on his own estate in Northumberland. Twizell House, as his home was called, was on the English coast just south of Scotland, and was a stopping point for any naturalist travelling between London and Edinburgh. One early visitor was John James Audubon, who dropped by in 1827, just after he had launched his Birds of America project and was seeking subscribers; the two became good friends.

Selby did his own drawings of birds, assisted by his brother-in-law, Captain Mitford, who also etched many of the plates (neither Selby nor Mitford knew anything about engraving or etching, so Mitford went to Newcastle to learn the art from the great John Bewick; Mitford then taught Selby). Selby’s finished publication, Illustrations of British Ornithology (1833) is a handsome set, with one large folio volume on land birds, and another on water birds. The images above show the black stork, common heron, northern loon, and the tawny owl.

We displayed Selby’s book in our 2009 exhibition, The Grandeur of Life: A Celebration of Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species. One of the images shown there, the little egret heron, is one of the most splendid bird paintings of the entire century, John Gould and Audubon notwithstanding.

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

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