Titans of Humanity

There have been some people throughout history whose minds have been so extraordinary that they have shaped and revolutionized they way we live and they way we view the world. Sadly, many of these people are not widely known amongst the general population and even more tragic some even died before their brilliance was realised.

This is a list that is by all means not exhaustive of some of the people that history should not neglect, each with a fascinating and impressive story:

Gregor Mendel: Those who took even just high school biology should immediately reecognise the name of the world's first geneticist. His experiments involving pea plants were so simple that it amazing that no one before him thought to do it. But you should not let the simplicity of his experiments distract you from its elegance nor its brilliance. Also bare in mind the context of the time and setting - long before the discovery of DNA and the work of Thomas Hunt Morgan (see later) Mendel hypothesised the existence of alleles, their contribution to inheritance and proved so by not only producing up to a F2 generation (grandchildren) but by further analyzing these progeny and formulating the now infamous ratio of 3:1 phenotype and 1:2:1 genotype. Those with an appreciation of science and in particular genetics will know how significant and amazing this inference is; also remember that the leading scientific theory on inheritance at the time was the blended theory, and Leeuwenhoek(inventor of lenses) stating that it was only the male that contributed to inheritance. Mendel's Laws defied all this and it is for this reason that his work went undiscovered for some time and he died not realising how his work would change the course of biology forever.

Godfrey Hardy: An English mathematician who contribute greatly to the field. He was one of those greats whose mind was as mad as it was brilliant. His work alone could have got him onto this list but a story that I find just sheer fascinating is the story of the Hardy-Weinberg equation. Hardy, a friend of the equally brilliant scientist Reginald Punnett was out to dinner one night with the said friend who was working on population genetics and needed the help formulating a mathematical equation to back up his work. So Hardy, happy to help out his good friend picked up his napkin wrote down the now famous equation and handed it over, no doubt to Punnett's amazement. It should be noted that Weinberg derived the same equation independently but I can bet that his story of how he came about this is no where near as great as Hardy's, who initially did not even want to be associated with the equation as compared to his other work is was far too simple.

Alfred Sturtevant: An undergraduate at the university of Columbia, working under the wonderfully brilliant and eccentric Thomas Hunt Morgan, the father of modern genetics. The reason I add him to this list is that although he was indeed a brilliant scientist in his own right he also has the greatest excuse I have ever heard (and would kill to be able to use) for not handing in his homework: I couldn't do it because I was too busy winning the noble prize for creating the very first chromosome map. How good is that?

Thomas Hunt Morgan: as mentioned above, Morgan is recognised as being the founding father of modern genetics, with his work on fruit flies (Drosophila melongaster) taking genetics in a whole new direction that Mendel himself could not have predicted. He was also what can only be described as a "mad scientist"; eccentric and reclusive, Morgan did not leave his lab (known as the fly room) for over 2 years, searching for that elusive mutant fly. He too one a noble prize was his work and went on to establish the Californian Institute of Technology, which itself produced 7 noble prize winners.

Barry Marshall: The most recent man of greatness on this list. His story represents what is so great about the Noble Prize; he was not a famous scientist, or indeed one of the elite, great minds but he did something extraordinary enough to catapult himself into this crowd. A doctor in Australia, specialising in gastrointestinal diseases, Marshall speculated that stomach ulcers, thought to have been caused solely due to bad diet and high stomach acidity, was in the majority of cases in fact caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Please realise that we are not talking about centuries ago but the 1990s. He applied for a research grant but was turned down and scoffed at by fellow medical professionals. But he never gave up and was determined to prove that his theory was correct. So, he concocted a liquid containing this bacterial species, drank an voila, he developed a stomach ulcer, thus proving that the bacteria did indeed cause the illness. He was finally vindicated in 2005 when he was awarded the Noble Prize

Science is full of great minds and people such as those mentioned above whose work although often unnoticeably, undoubtedly has impacted each and everyone of our lives. You may not know the names of those listed here but make no mistake we owe everything to these titans of humanity.
Posted on March 1st, 2009 at 05:45pm


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