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

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