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 surveying 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 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 the classics at schools and served in the royal commission leading a movement promoting with science education. 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 an obtained a degree in the University of Oxford where she studied an organic compound by X-ray crystallography. She went on to do her doctoral studies in 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 structure of penicillin. Her atom-by-atom description of penicillin 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 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. She started her interest in science by studying mathematics at the University of Copenhagen. Lehmann became assistant to the head on the royal Danish Geodetic 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 where she collected seismology information and periodically publishing reports. During this work, Lehman used the data collected to determine Earth wake epicenters. She investigated how earth wake’s p and s waves travel from the focus of the earth wake to the other side of earth, the antipode. Based on her results, Lehman propose that Earth is composed of three layers; the inner core, the outer core, and the mantle. Earth wake waves travel at different but 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 promoted by his father and he pursued since childhood. Linnaeus started his scientific by studying medicine, however his real interest was in nature. 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 which to classify 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. This 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 travelled extensively to the country side always with the aim of collecting new plants. He promoted some of his students to go on long trips, Japan, 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. She 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. She 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. She 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. She obtained a position at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, where she did extensive writing. Her work as a writer allowed her to publish several articles that lead her to compose first book. Carson’s’ second book was serialized by the New York times and was a success. 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 put into 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.

Dorothy Hodgkin (May 12, 1910) won the 1064 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for determining the three dimensional structure of several important biochemical substances by using X-ray diffraction techniques. Some of these substances are the steroid cholesteryl iodide, penicillin, insulin, and vitamin B12. Hodgkin was the second woman to receive the Order of Merit, the first to receive the Copley medal, and she was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. She worked against social inequalities and the resolution of conflicts. In recognition to her work, the Royal Society created the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for early career researchers. There are several buildings and educational institutions bearing her name and her face appears in British stamps.

Sigmund Freud (May 6, 1856) was a medical doctor, physiologist and psychologist; he is considered the father of modern Psychiatry. Freud was a very influential thinker of the twentieth century. His most important claim is psychoanalysis, a new science of the mind. Freud conceptualized the mind as something that has to be examined and uncovered. His explanations and accounts of sexual genesis and neurosis led to the development of the clinical treatment of psychoanalysis. This treatment aims to self-understanding, and the use of this knowledge to explain the patient’s unconscious motivations and drives. Freud complete work is published in 23 a volume set The complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.

David Attenborough (May, 8, 1926) is an English naturalist, he is well known as an icon of the advance of popular knowledge of science with many educational programs on television. He started is career as a BBC producer with a successful 10 year long TV series ‘zoo quest’ were animals were film is their native habitat, rather than in the TV studio or zoo. Attenborough is best know for BBC productions like Life of Earth, The living planet, The private Life of Plants, and others nature documentaries that use cutting edge filming techniques. Attenborough has dedicated his life to preserving wildlife. He wrote the environmental themed books State of the Planet and Saving Planet Earth. He is involved in organizations such as Population Matters and World Land Trust.

Cecilia Payne (May 10, 1900) was an English-American astronomer first to apply the laws of physics to the study of stellar bodies, specifically temperature and density. She concluded that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe. Her doctoral thesis showed that the sun’s spectrum consisted of 99% hydrogen and Helium and only 1% iron. This went against the accepted idea at that time that the sun composition of 65% iron and 35% hydrogen. Her superiors did not accept her results until after 20 years her results were confirm by Fred Hoyle.

Richard Feyman (May 11, 1918) was an American theoretical physicist his major claim is that he was one of the three scientists that develop the theory of quantum electrodynamics. Other contributions to science are the formulation a mathematical theory that dealt with the super-fluidity of helium and the development of the quark theory. In collaboration with Murray Gell-Mann he studied beta decay. Feyman introduced his famous Feyman diagrams as a way to conceptualized and calculate basic physical processes. Feyman had a mission to make physic understandable to the general public, he published several popular books like The Character of Physical Law and Q.E.D: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.

Maurice Ewing (May 12, 1906) was an American geologist, oceanographer, and geophysicist. His several contributions include the understanding of marine sediments and ocean basins, earthquake seismology, marine acoustics, sediments, and tectonics. He discovered the continental shelf of the Atlantic coast, and founded the Columbia Lamont Geological Observatory with the mission to study the ocean floor. His constant research on the ocean led to the production of a detailed 3D physiographic map of the North Atlantic Ocean. These maps revealed that the mid-ocean ridge is a global system of volcanic mountains under water.