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Physics envy


The birth of biology
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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One of the really… how shall I say, staggering, Darwin would have said, discoveries I made was that biology, the science of biology as we now know it, really is a very recent development. There wasn't any biology in the 18th century. There was anatomy and physiology in the medical schools, there was natural history, most of it either done for the sake of natural theology, for purposes of religion, or done just as a hobby. But biology as we now know it originated in a short 38-year period from 1828 to 1866, documented or indicated by the names of: Karl Ernst von Baer, embryology; Schwann and Schleiden, cytology; Helmholtz and Dupont Raymond, physiology; Claude Bernard, physiology; Darwin, 1859; and Mendel 1866. And all the foundations of modern biology were laid in that period. And that is very important because the philosophies of… of science usually go back to the scientific revolution which is the period from 1660 or 1650 to 1720 or so… something like that, I don't know the exact years that you would choose, and to the Enlightenment and so forth, but any… there really wasn't any real biology in that period.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: 18th century, 1828, 1866, 1859, 1660, 1650, 1720, Enlightenment, Charles Darwin, Karl Ernst von Baer, Theodor Schwann, Matthias Jakob Schleiden, Raymond Dupont, Hermann von Helmholtz, Claude Bernard, Gregor Mendel

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008