Scientist of the Day

Johann Jakob Kaup

April 20, 2016

Johann Jakob Kaup, a German paleontologist, was born Apr. 20, 1803, in Darmstadt. In 1829, in a place called Eppelsheim, about 40 miles from Darmstadt, Kaup uncovered the fossil remains of a huge, elephant-like animal. Its most distinguishing features were its gigantic size–bigger than a mastodon–and a pair of enormous downward-facing tusks that grew out of the lower jaw, making it kind of a pachydermal backhoe. He called the extinct creature Dinotherium giganteum, “terrible gigantic beast”, and announced it in several publications before 1836. William Buckland in England picked up on it right away; he included a picture of the lower jaw in his Bridgewater treatise, Geology and Mineralogy considered with reference to Natural Theolory (1836), and in later editions, he added a life restoration and an image of the entire skull…

Michael Stifel

April 19, 2018

Michael Stifel, a German mathematician and clergyman, died Apr. 19, 1567; his birthdate is unknown. Stifel started out as a monk at an Augustinian monastery in Esslingen, and then was caught up in the German Reformation, taking the side of Martin Luther, who became a good friend. Stifel spent 12 years as a minister in a town near the University of Wittenberg, a school presided over by Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right-hand man. These 12 years of relative peace and quiet allowed Stifel to develop his understanding of mathematics, especially algebra. He published a book in Latin on algebra, Arithmetica integra (1544), and then another in German two years later, Rechenbuch von der Welschen und Deutschenn Practick (1546), and several others. We have the two named books in our History of Science Collection.

Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran

April 18, 2018

Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran, a French chemist, was born Apr. 18, 1838. De Boisbaudran was a pioneer in spectroscopic chemistry, by which new elements can be identified in compounds when unfamiliar lines show up in the compound’s spectra. De Boisbaudran published the first French book on chemical spectroscopy, Spectres lumineux, in 1874. Putting his methods to good use, De Boisbaudran discovered four new elements in all, including samarium and europium. But his most famous discovery was gallium, which he detected spectroscopically in 1875 and isolated later that year…

Karl Friedrich von Martius

April 17, 2018

Karl Friedrich von Martius, a German botanist, was born Apr. 17, 1794. As a young man, Martius became a favorite of the King of Bavaria, and was sent by him in 1817 on a collecting expedition to Brazil. His companion was a zoologist, Johann von Spix. When they returned three years later, Martius had enough plants, seeds, and descriptions to occupy him for the rest of his life. The living plants went into the Bavarian Botanic Garden in Munich, but the dried specimens became the fodder for the truly monumental Flora Brasiliensis, which Martius began in 1840. By the time of his death, he had issued 46 fascicles; the entire work, comprising of 130 fascicles, was completed in 1906…

Joseph Black

April 16, 2018

Joseph Black, a Scottish chemist, was born Apr. 16, 1728. In 1754, Black discovered that when you heat magnesia alba (magnesium carbonate), it loses weight, and he found that the weight loss was due to an “air” that is given off during heating. This “air” differs from ordinary air in that it will not support combustion and is soluble in water. The same air could be extracted from other minerals, such as limestone. In 1756, Black presented a paper to the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh in which he described his new gas, which he called “fixed air”, because it could be fixed into a solid substance. We now call it carbon dioxide. This was the first of the many gases that would be identified during the chemical revolution of the next twenty-five years…

Thomas Beddoes

April 13, 2018

Thomas Beddoes, an English chemist and physician, was born Apr. 13, 1760. Beddoes studied in Edinburgh under the great chemist Joseph Black (who will be our Scientist of the Day on Monday, Apr. 16), and he got his professional start by translating some of the most important chemical treatises of the 1770s into English, including Torbern Bergman’s Essay on Elective Attractions (1785) and Carl Scheele’s Chemical Essays (1786). Beddoes modestly left his name off the title pages, but he at least signed the preface of the Scheele work…