Scientists born in May

Thomas Henry Huxley (May 4, 1825) was a British naturalist. He started his scientific career in medicine, but because he was too young to be allowed to practice medicine, he joined the Royal navy. In his early twenties, Huxley embarked as an assistance surgeon in the royal ship ‘Rattlesnake’ which mission was to survey the island of New Guinea for the purposes of establishing possible colonies. During this trip he learned a lot about nature, and when he returned to England he decided to look for positions as a lecturer biologist. He taught in several scientific institutions and eventually became well known in the scientific world. At that time Darwin was trying his evolutionary ideas in people including Huxley who become the main champion of Darwin’s ideas. Huxley made enemies of other scientists who attacked Darwin’s theory of evolution. He published two important books that have become classics ‘Zoological evidence as to man’s place in nature’ and Lectures in comparative anatomy. During his later years, Huxley become a great proponent of teaching science along with the classics at schools. He served in the royal commission leading a movement promoting with science education in schools. He received many awards and was a member of the Royal society.

Dorothy Crowfoot (May 12, 1910) was a British chemist and a crystallographer. Her mother encouraged her to follow her childhood interest in crystals. Crowfoot studied chemistry and obtained a degree at the University of Oxford where she studied the structure of organic compounds by X-ray crystallography. She went on to do her doctoral studies at Cambridge University where she used X-ray diffraction to study the crystallized protein pepsin. After graduation, Crowfoot obtained a research position in the women’s college at Somerville where she stayed until her retirement. There she established her laboratory and started her research on taking X-ray photographs of insulin, steroids, and other natural products. Crowfoot became known and respected as a crystallographer and was asked to solve the complicated structure of penicillin. Her atom-by-atom description of penicillin was a great advanced and gained her election to the Royal Society. Another great achievement was the elucidation of the structure of Vitamin B12. Crowfoot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964 for her work in insulin and vitamin B12. For her many other achievements, she was awarded the highest honor in Britain, the Order of Merit. Later in her career, Crowfoot was an ardent advocate of bringing scientist from all over the world together to discuss issues of international development.

Inge Lehmann (May 13, 1888) was a Danish seismologist, her interest in science led her to studying mathematics at the University of Copenhagen. Lehmann became assistant to the head of the royal Danish Geodesic Institute, where she was in charge of setting up seismic stations in Denmark and Greenland. This work awakened her interest in seismology, and she decided to go back to university and obtained a master’s degree in seismology. Returning to the Royal Danish Geodesic institute as the director, she worked as a geodesist, collecting seismology information and periodically publishing reports. During this work, Lehman used the data to determine the exact location of earthwake epicenters. She investigated how earthwake’s p and s waves travel from the focus of the earthwake to the other side of earth, the antipode. Based on her results, Lehman proposed that Earth is composed of three layers; the inner core, the outer core, and the mantle. Earthwake waves travel at different but at constant velocities in each layer. The discontinuity between the inner and outer core at a depth of 3,200 miles is known as the Lehman discontinuity. This model was confirmed when more advanced technology was available. The America Geophysical Society created the Inge Lehman Medal in her honor, this is awarded to outstanding researchers contributing to the understanding of the Earth structure.

Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707) was a Swedish botanist whose love for plants was nurtured by his father since childhood. Linnaeus started his scientific career by studying medicine, however his real interest was in botany. While learning medicine at different universities, he spent a lot of time in the botanical houses and the countryside surveying the local flora. During this time, he started to form the fundamental ideas around the classification of plants. After he completed his studies as a medical doctor, Linnaeus obtained a position as a chief medical officer at the Swedish navy. He became a well-known naturalist and the first president and main mover to form the Swedish Academy of Science. He also became a professor of Botany at Uppsala University where he was in charge of the botanical garden. It was during this time that he reformed and perfected the rules by which he classified plants. In his taxonomy of plants, the classification was based on sexual characteristics of plants. He used traits that are likely to be constant, like the flower and the fruit. Linnaeus wanted to use simple and practical taxonomical methods so that people could easily classify plants. He was building a very extensive and unique collection of plants. He traveled extensively to the country side always with the aim of collecting new plants. He promoted some of his students to go on long trips as far as Japan and Ceylon for the purpose of collecting new and exotic plants to add to his already extensive collection. Linnaeus classification was used until the nineteen century, after which modification and other ways to classify nature took over. After his death all his collections were sold by his widow to the founder and first president of the Linnaeus Society of London.

Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 195) was an American physicist, astronaut, and the first American woman traveling to outer space. She was a very active girl and become quite good at tennis, however after trying professional tennis, she decided to focus on science. Ride received a physics bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree on astrophysics from Stanford University. Immediately after graduation, she started her training as an astronaut, obtained her pilot’s license, and become eligible to participate in a mission to space. Ride served in the shuttle orbiter ‘Challenger’ where she performed many experiments and deployed two communication satellites. After a second trip on board the challenger, NASA stopped shuttle flights because of a terrible accident were the challenger exploded after launch. Rider was called to help in the investigations of the causes of the explosion of the challenger in 1986 and of the breakup of the orbiter ‘Columbia’ in 2003. After resigning from NASA, she become a physic professor In the University of California, San Diego. Ride was an advocate of science education especially spearheading programs for girls interested in mathematics and science. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of freedom posthumously.

Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907) was born near the small town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. During her early education, Carson interests focused on nature and writing. She graduated manga cum laude in english and biology from the Pennsylvania college for women. Carson accepted a position in the woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory where she developed her lifelong interest in the study of marine life. She decided to go to graduate school at John Hopkins University and obtain a master’s degree in marine zoology. Carson obtained a position at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, where she did extensive writing. Her work as a nature writer allowed her to publish several articles that lead her to compose first book. Carson’s second book was a big success, it was serialized by the New York times and thus with a wider audience, became very poplar. She became a well know naturalist and received a fellowship to write a seashore guide for the Eastern Atlantic Coast. In the later part of her career, Carson turn her attention to writing about the dangers of the overuse of pesticides and its threat to humanity, the ecosystem, and life in general. These ideas were the foundations for her most famous and influential book “Silent Spring” published in 1962. The advocacy for conservation and protection of nature is probably Carson’s most importance legacy. Carson received the presidential Medal of freedom posthumously as well as other literary and scientific honors during her life.