It’s the Christmas holidays and time for a few sunfish-free days… It’s party time this festive season and it’s got me thinking, if I were to have a New Year’s Eve party to celebrate the natural sciences, which scientists should I invite to mingle with the party guests? From a long, long google search and hundreds of entries, these are the fantastic few that were randomly picked from the large Christmas hat:
To prevent this from becoming an endless list of people, some ground rules!
– 5 places only (who wants to cook for more!)
– all invitees must have made a significant contribution to their respective field
– any person from history can be included (so no limitations by who is available… living or not so)
So with this basic premise in mind, I can list my invitations and put the champagne on ice!
- The modern day communicator: David Attenborough (1926-eternity surely!)
Yes I know, not a surprising choice for inclusion, but as perhaps the greatest communicator of scientific discoveries in the natural world I would have to invite David, -can anyone else hold an audience captivated in quite the same way? After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in natural science, David joined the BBC in 1952 where he presented a suite of programmes including the famous Zoo Quest. He became Controller of BBC2 in 1965 and then Director of Programmes; however by 1973 he had resigned in order to return to making programmes. The best scientific communicators explore natural history through a series of stories, and David is the perfect guide, explaining and exploring the great dramas of life, rapidly switching from great bursts of energy and excitement through to moving passion and tenderness. Number 1 spot goes to David.
2. The self-taught fossil hunter: Mary Anning (1799-1847).
Born in 1799 to a poor family in Lyme Regis, Dorset, Mary was taught by her father to hunt for and clean fossils to sell from a small stall to help support the family. Despite having no formal education, she taught herself geology and anatomy whilst uncovering rare fossils including near complete specimens of Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs. I believe that Mary (well known for her intelligence and humour), would be an intriguing party guest. Aside from her expertise and passion for palaeontology, she carefully balanced her scientific findings (where her opinion was often sought by eminent geologists of the day) alongside her need to derive a commercial living from those discoveries.
3. The adventuring collector: Evelyn Cheesman (1881-1969).
During her lifetime Evelyn collected over 70,000 specimens which she donated to the Natural History Museum, London. She became the first female Insect House Curator at the London Zoological Society where she collected specimens, supplemented by more exotic species that were found in boxes of imported fruit. Evelyn later studied entomology and undertook daring expeditions globally until the age of 73. She was an avid collector and story teller where her adventurous tales ranged from pinning insects in stormy seas, getting trapped for hours in giant spiders’ webs in the Galapagos to befriending cannibal tribes in New Guinea. I believe her inexhaustible energy and spirit of adventure would make Evelyn the life and soul of the party.
4. The father of ecology: Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).
From southern Sweden, Carl began his career studying medicine, particularly as relates to herbalism where his passion for botany and describing new species took flight. Frustrated by the lack of clarity in organising species, Carl devised the binomial classification system which has become the standard scientific method now used globally. To be able to discuss current research with the man who identified ecology as a distinct scientific discipline (and perhaps the first to discuss food chains) would be a wonderful start to the new year. Carl takes place number 4.
5. The ‘last scientific generalist’: Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).
Born in Berlin, Alexander contributed to many areas of natural science, believing that no organism or natural phenomenon can be fully understood in isolation. In 1799 he began an expedition to Latin America where he recorded geology, botany, archeology, zoology, oceanography and biology of the natural world alongside the culture, languages and economies of the countries he saw. Charles Darwin attributed von Humboldt’s Narrative as the primary inspiration for his famous voyage in the Beagle. With such a width breadth of knowledge and thirst for travel I think that Alexander would make a fantastic final guest.
So as my famous five get a glass of fizz, collect a canapé and begin mingling, I am delighted with my party list (and apologies to those hundreds of other scientists whose names remain in the Christmas hat!)
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!!
P.S. New Year’s resolution number 1: learn to use photoshop…