Thomas Sopwith

Thomas Sopwith, an English geologist and mining engineer, was born Jan. 3, 1803. Thomas’ father was a cabinet maker, and Thomas thought of making that his own career, entering into an apprenticeship, before giving up woodworking in favor of geology and mining. Ordinarily, cabinet making is not too useful for a geologist, but in Thomas’s case, it was just the ticket. Around 1840, Sopwith got the idea of making geological models for instructional use, where the layers of rock are represented by different kinds and colors of wood…

Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, was born Dec. 26, 1792. Babbage was a rather eccentric mathematical genius who came out of Cambridge University in the 1810s, part of a “Philosophical Breakfast Club” that also included John Herschel and William Whewell. In the 1820s, impressed by an 18-volume French set of mathematical tables that had been computed entirely by hand, Babbage decided to see if he could devise a mechanical calculator that could do the same task, only much more accurately…

Elisabeth Hevelius

Elisabeth Catherina Koopman Hevelius, a Dutch/German/Polish astronomer, died Dec. 22, 1693. Elisabeth was born in Danzig in 1647, where the eminent astronomer Johannes Hevelius worked and had an observatory. The very year Elisabeth was born, Johannes published his Selenographia, the most elaborately illustrated astronomy folio printed to date, and the first geographical book devoted to a body other than the Earth. Elisabeth developed an early interest in astronomy and a reverence for the elder astronomer, and when Hevelius’s first wife died in 1662, Elisabeth eased into the breach, and the two were married in 1663. Elisabeth was 16; Johannes was 52…

Robert Brown

Robert Brown, an English botanist, was born Dec. 21, 1773. Brown was the naturalist on the Flinders voyage to Australia, 1801-05, and he brought back a large number of new Australian plants. He got to know Sir Joseph Banks, who had been on Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia, 1769-71, and had returned with quite an Australian herbarium of his own. Banks evidently took a liking to Brown, for Brown became the keeper of the Banks library and herbarium in 1810…

Oronce Fine

Oronce Fine, a French mathematician, was born Dec. 20, 1494. Fine was a very talented fellow, since he not only edited and printed classics of mathematics and astronomy, such as the works of Euclid and Sacrobosco, but he also wrote his own treatises on cosmography, and illustrated them with his own woodcut illustrations. In addition, he constructed several world maps that were widely reprinted…