Scientist of the Day - Mathurin-Jacques Brisson
Mathurin-Jacques Brisson, a French zoologist and physicist, died June 23, 1806, at the age of 83. Brisson started out in the natural sciences, working as an assistant to René-Antoine Réaumur in the 1740s and early 1750s, and publishing a beautiful 6-volume Ornithologie in 1760. But when Réaumur died and Georg Buffon took over at the Jardin du Roi, Brisson lost his access to the Royal Collections, and so, amazingly, he gave up natural history and turned to physics, where he would excel for the rest of his career. He succeeded Jean Nollet, the great electrical demonstrator, as chair of experimental physics at the College of Navarre and became a close friend of the chemist Antoine Lavoisier. In 1781, Brisson published Dictionnaire raisonne de physique, an introduction to experimental physics and chemistry. We have a greatly enlarged second edition (1800) in the Library, which has, in addition to six octavo volumes of text, a separate quarto volume of engraved plates, and they provide some of the best views available of the laboratory apparatus of the late 18th century. We acquired our set just last year from the eminent New York City bookseller, Jonathan Hill. The selected images above illustrate: a Newcomen steam engine (first image); the workings of a Newtonian and a Gregorian telescope (second image); two magic lanterns (third image); an Orrery (fourth image); and several people about to get the shock of their lives, as they touch gun barrels charged by an electrostatic machine (fifth 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. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.