Scientist of the Day

Thomas Hudson

January 26, 2018

Thomas Hudson, an English portrait painter, died Jan. 26, 1779, at age 78; his date of birth is not known. Hudson was the foremost portraitist of his day, which is to say, the 1740s and 1750s. Most of his portraits captured wealthy gentry and their families-dukes, earls, baronets and such-but not a few of his subjects were natural philosophers, which was fortunate, because in many cases the Hudson portraits are the only ones we have…

William MacGillivray

January 25, 2018

William MacGillivray, a Scottish naturalist, was born Jan. 25, 1796. A native of Aberdeen, he moved at a young age to the Harris end of the island of Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, just west of the northern Scottish mainland. He returned to Aberdeen to educate himself, and he used to walk back and forth between Harris and Aberdeen, a fair distance, even for someone on horseback. In 1819, at age 23, and now an enthusiastic birder, he got the urge to see the bird collection in the British Museum in London. So he set off on foot, with ten pounds in his pocket, a drinking glass, and a trowel, to visit a metropolis that was 840 miles away…

George Ord

January 24, 2018

George Ord, an American naturalist, died Jan. 24, 1866, at the age of about 85; his date of birth is unknown. Ord lived in Philadelphia and was a prominent member of the two great scientific societies of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences. He was also a friend of the early American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, and when Wilson died of overwork before finishing his 9-volume American Ornithology, Ord stepped in and saw the last volumes through the press…

Hideki Yukawa

January 23, 2018

Hideki Yukawa, a Japanese physicist, was born Jan. 23, 1907. In 1935, Yukawa proposed the existence of a new kind of particle, the meson, in order to explain how protons and neutrons in the nucleus interact. The proton had been discovered in 1919, and the neutron only in 1932. It was clear that nuclei contain both protons and neutrons, but it was not at all evident what held the nuclear particles together…

Francis Bacon

January 22, 2018

Francis Bacon, the English philosopher and politician, was born Jan. 22, 1561. Bacon, in his Novum Organum of 1620, suggested that there is a new world of knowledge waiting to be discovered, if we abandon the scholastic method of the schools and instead follow a more fruitful “inductive method,” based on gathering evidence and devising experiments. Bacon was a wonderful writer, and he liked to capture his major points in witty aphorisms, many of which are quite memorable…

James Watt

January 19, 2018

James Watt, a Scottish inventor, was born Jan. 19, 1736. While working at Glasgow University in the 1760s, Watt devised an improved steam engine, and in the 1770s, he teamed up with the Birmingham manufacturer, Matthew Boulton, to build and market that engine. The Newcomen engine had ruled the roost for over half a century, pumping water out of mines. The Newcomen engine was quite reliable, but it was extremely inefficient and costly to run, since it used the same cylinder to do work and to condense the steam, which meant it had to be heated then cooled with every cycle…