Sunday, January 30, 2011

G. Evelyn Hutchinson

George Evelyn Hutchinson was born in Cambridge, England on January 30 1903. His father was a professor of mineralogy at Pembroke College, Cambridge University and his mother was a descendant of minor Italian nobility. As a child he kept red water mites in an aquarium and learned that different animals lived in different waters. He also collected butterflies, but tired of this pursuit by age 13. His first publication, at age 15, was a note on grasshoppers, swimming in a pond near Cambridge.

He was educated at Gresham's School, in Holt and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After earning a double first, the only degree he ever earned, Hutchinson took a Rockefeller Fellowship to the Naples Seaside Laboratories. There he worked on studying cephalopod hormones, but the work did not progress well because the octopi were scarce and good to eat. While at Naples he answered an ad for a lectureship in zoology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and was accepted, taking it against his parents advice because it was under H. B. Fantham, who had a reputation of being difficult. He was dismissed from his duties by Fantham for incompetent teaching, and he made use of his time studying the life in and chemistry of the dry lakes or pans of South Africa with his first wife Grace Pickford. The University of Witwatersrand now posses a Hutchinson Hall, dedicated to the study of Biology.

He applied for a fellowship at Yale University, studying embryology under Ross Granville Harrison after the deadline had passed, applying by Trans-Atlantic cable. Hutchinson was granted the fellowship just at the time a lectureship in zoology unexpectedly opened up, allowing him to teach. In 1932 Hutchinson went to India with geologist Helmutt de Terra and studied the chemistry and biology of the high altitude lakes around Ladakh. Hutchinson was valuable on the expedition because he was the only member that knew how to properly skin mammals, a skill he had learned as a boy. While in India in addition to studying ecology he also studied the culture and religion and published a book on the subject, The Clear Mirror, in 1936. Returning from India, Hutchinson began a stream of teaching, research, and writing that lasted throughout his career at Yale.

For his work he his considered the father of limnology, the study of inland bodies of water incorporating chemical, biological, physical and geological aspects. He is the first person to use radioactive phosphorus to study the cycle of this important element in natural waters and thus is the founder of the field of radioecology. Many ideas of modern ecology can be traced back to the writings of Hutchinson. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1949 and the National Academy of Science in 1950. He was awarded the Kyoto Prize in 1986 and the National Medal of Science, posthumously in 1991. At least 22 species of organisms are named after him. The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography named an award after him, the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award, given each year to the mid-career scientist for outstanding contributions to the society's fields.

After his retirement from Yale he spent most of his time in England and he died on May 17, 1991.


Slobodkin, Lawrence A and Slack, Nancy G.; "George Evelyn Hutchinson: 20th Century Ecologist"; Endeavour(1999) Vol. 23 No. 1 at

"G. Evelyn Hutchinson a.k.a. the Father of Modern Limnology and a Modern Darwin"; from the Soil and Water Conservation Society of Metro Halifax

G. Evelyn Hutchinson Wikipedia Entry

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude Belle Elion was born on January 23, 1918 in New York City the daughter of immigrant parents. She grew up in New York City and the Bronx, which at that time was a still a suburb of New York with many open lots for children to play in. By her own account she was a child with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and she did well in all her classes. Her interest in science was sparked by the death of her grandfather, who died of cancer when she was 15. When she went to Hunter College in 1933, she chose to study science and in particular chemistry.

After graduating from Hunter College she had trouble finding work, but was eventually able to able to find work teaching and as a laboratory assistant. In 1939 she entered graduate school at New York University. The only woman in her class, she continued her studies, taking work as a substitute secondary teacher, graduating with a masters in chemistry in 1941. After finishing her masters she took a job working in the quality department of a food company. She soon bored of this work and looked for a job doing research. The most interesting position she found was working in George H. Hitchings' laboratory at Burroughs Wellcome. Hitchings was working on antagonists to nucleic acid analogs and she worked for him as an organic chemist, synthesizing new compounds.

Nucleotide and nucleoside analogs are compounds that resemble nucleic acids. These compounds can be used to treat patients with viral diseases, cancer and can also be used as immunosuppresent drugs used for organ transplants. Viruses, replicating cancer and immune cells can be inhibited if their ability to reproduce DNA is inhibited. These compounds inhibit the synthesis of new DNA, by substituting a compound that resembles a nucleic acid or nucleoside but which blocks further synthesis. For their work in developing these compounds Elion and Hitchings were awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

Shortly after taking the position in Hitchings laboratory, Elion began taking classes to earn her Ph.D. After a year of taking classes she was told that she would have to work on her Ph.D. full time. Given the choice she continued her work for Hitchings. She worked for Burroughs Wellome until 1983 when she retired and assumed the status of scientist emeritus. Other awards won by Elion include honorary doctorates from the Polytechnic University of New York and Harvard University, The National Medal of Science, and induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame, of which she was the first woman to be inducted. She was elected into the National Academy of Science in 1990 and to the National Institute of Medicine in 1991.

While on her daily walk on February 21, 1999 she collapsed. She was admited to the hospital and passed away at midnight at the age of 81.


Avery, Mary Ellen; "Gertrude B. Elion" in Biographical Memiors; National Academy Press; 2000

Gertrude B. Elion Nobel Autobiography

Gertrute B. Elion Wikipedia Entry

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

August Weismann

Friedrich Leopold August Weismann was born on January 17, 1834 in Frankurt, Germany. His father was a high school teacher and graduate in ancient languages and theology. His early education took place in Frankfurt and at 18 he left to go to the University of Gottingen where he studied medicine, graduating in 1856. After graduation he took a job in the city clinic in Rostock and successfully submitted two papers, one on the synthesis of hippuric acid in herbivores and one on the salt content of the Baltic Sea. He served as the physician of the Archduke of Austria from 1860 to 1862.

He studied zoology at the University of Giessen under Rudolf Leuckart and in 1863 he became privadozent in comparative anatomy at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg in Breisgau. He was made extraordinary professor in 1866 and was full professor from 1873 to 1912. He was the first chair in zoology and served as director of the zoological institute. Due to problems with his eyesight there were long periods in which he was unable to do microscope work and his reading and writing was done with the help of others.

Weismann's biological studies led him to theorize that in multicellular organisms there were two type of cells, germ cells and soma cells. Germ cells, such as sperm or ova, are the carriers of biological information, the means by which traits of parent cells were transferred to daughter cells. Somatic cells were the offspring of germ cells and carried out the biological functions of the organism. These somatic cells did not transfer information to future generations. Before the discovery that chromosomes are the means that cells use to transfer genetic information, Weismann's germ cell theory was an important stepping stone, holding that biological traits come from within the organism and do not arise from an external mechanism.

For his work Weismann was awarded the Linnean Society of London's Darwin-Wallace medal in 1908. Weismann died on November 15, 1914.


"August Weisman" in Report of the National Academy of Sciences; U. S. Government Printing Offices; 1914

August Weisman Wikipedia entry

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Simon Marius

Simon Marius (latinized from the German Simon Mayr) was born in Gunzenhausen, Germany on January 10, 1573. His father was the mayor of Gunzenhausen in 1576. From 1586 to 1601 he studied at Markgraftschaft's Lutheran academy in Heilsbronn. During this time he became interested in astronomy and his observations began in 1594.

In 1596 he published an account of the comet of that year and in 1599 he published a set of astronomical tables. On the strength of these publications he was appointed mathematician of the Markgraftschaft of Ansbach. In this capacity he published astronomical predictions each year until his death. Soon upon his appointment he traveled to Prague to study under Tycho Brache, unfortunately Brache died soon after. He then went to Padua to study at the university there.

He returned to Ansbach in 1605 and married Felicitas Lauer, the daughter of his publisher. In 1609 he published the first German translation of Euclid's Elements. In 1608 he learned from an artillery officer about spyglasses. Marius attempted to reproduce the device with the officer, but it was not until 1609 that he obtained a telescope that was good enough to be used for astronomical observations. In December, 1609 Marius turned his telescope to Jupiter, where he observed 4 satellites orbiting the large planet. Because he was the first to publish Galileo Galilei is usually given credit for discovering these satellites, but his observation of them is dated January 1610, after that of Marius' claim (which Galileo would dispute). It is Marius who is given the credit for naming these four satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) which he named after four human consorts of the Roman god Jupiter. Regardless of who was first to observe them, it was Marius who first published tables of their motions.

At the time of their observation the satellites of Jupiter, moons that orbited a planet other than Earth, went against the model of the solar system that was prevalent at the time, the Earth centered model put forth by Aristotle. Because these observations ran counter to that model many believed that they were the result of defects in the telescopes used to observe them. Today we know that Jupiter has 63 moons, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Marius also observed the Andromeda nebula, which had been observed by Arab astronomers of the Middle Ages, and he also observed sunspots. His observations of stars led him to believe that they were not as distant as would be required by Copernican model of the universe, where all the planets, including Earth, orbit the sun. Marius believed in the Tychonic system, where the planets orbit the sun but the sun orbits the Earth. We now know that the Copernican model is correct. A crater on the moon is named after Marius.

Marius died on December 24, 1624 after a brief illness.


Burgess, Eric; By Jupiter: Odysseys to a Giant
; Columbia University Press, 1982

Simon Marius biography at The Galileo Project

Simon Marius Wikipedia Entry