Saturday, September 8, 2007

juicy back stories on famous biologists

In most textbooks it seems like scientists just waltz into their labs, fiddle around for a bit, then wait for the Nobel Committee to call. Sadly, the road to discovery is rarely that simple, and speed bumps pop up constantly. Call it historical context or call it dirt; there’s always more to the story.

2. Naturally Selected

Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882), a young graduate from the University of Cambridge, almost didn’t get to go on the 1831 voyage of the HMS Beagle, the five-year voyage that provided the basis for Darwin’s historic Origin of Species. Initially, the ship’s captain wanted to reject him based on the shape of his nose. It seems Captain Fitz-Roy judged a man’s character by his profile, and Darwin’s nose just didn’t indicate "sufficient energy and determination." Also, Darwin’s father thought the trip was a frivolous attempt to avoid getting a real job (like joining the clergy). What to do? A three-day test voyage with the captain and a well-worded letter from Darwin’s uncle soon removed the barriers, and Darwin was on his way.

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