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Great Scientists and their Inventions

Carolus Linnaeus( 1707-1778)

carolus linnaeus

image source: wikimedia commons

Carolus Linnaeus is one of the giants of natural science. He devised the formal two-part naming system we use to classify all lifeforms.

A well-known example of his two-part system is the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex; another is our own species – Homo sapiens.

In fact, Linnaeus pushed the science of biology to new heights by describing and classifying our own human species in precisely the same way as he classified other lifeforms. Other people at that time demanded that humans must be regarded as a special case in biology, different from animals.

The Science

In the winter of 1730/31 Linnaeus continued working hard on botany in Uppsala. In particular, he had grown dissatisfied with the way plant species were classified. He began making notes about how he could improve this.

In 1732 he was awarded funding for an expedition to Lapland, in the far north of Sweden.

From May to October that year the 25 year-old botany lecturer traveled 1250 miles (2000 km) in Lapland, making observations of the native plants and birds. He also made geological notes.

On this journey he discovered about 100 new plants.

He wrote a book about Lapland’s plants called Flora Lapponica, describing his new discoveries. He also started using a two-part naming system – which would eventually become the Linnaean orbinomial system, used worldwide to name living things.

It also came to him that he could use his new system to name animals as well as plants.



Systema Naturae

In the Netherlands Linnaeus met Johan Frederik Gronovius, a Dutch botanist. He showed Gronovius his recent writings on the classification and naming of plants. Linnaeus had replaced some very lengthy plant names with logical, much shorter, two-part names.

He wanted to get the book published as quickly as possible. He contacted his friend Isaac Lawson, a Scottish doctor, and together Gronovius and Lawson paid for Linnaeus’s work to be published. And so in 1737 the first edition ofSystema Naturae (System of Nature) came to the world.

Over the years, Linnaeus continued to develop his ideas and add new species so that Systema Naturae grew in a period of about 30 years from 12 outsize pages in its first edition to 2400 pages in its twelfth edition. This was the first serious attempt ever made to document all of our planet’s species. It was a huge effort: Linnaeus took the apparently chaotic natural world and organized it, making it easier for everyone to grasp it and understand it.

The classification of lifeforms is called taxonomy. Linnaeus classified living things by looking for similarities.


Species Plantarum – Transforming Biology

In 1753, Linnaeus published his natural science masterpiece in two volumes and 1200 pages: Species Plantarum (Plant Species). In this work, he listed all of the plant species that had been discovered at that time – almost 6000 – and classified them into about 1000 appropriate genera. This enabled him to use two-part names for all plants throughout Species Plantarum – the first time all plants had been named in this way.


Other Notable Contributions

• Linnaeus modified the Celsius temperature scale into the form that we use today. The scale had been invented by his compatriot, Anders Celsius, who had said 0 °C was the boiling point of water and 100 °C was water’s freezing point. Linnaeus realized that it would be more useful if these values were reversed and persuaded the rest of the scientific world to follow his example.

• Linnaeus was the first person to place humans in the primate family and to describe bats as mammals rather than birds. Linnaeus did not categorize humans alongside apes with any idea of an evolutionary link. He did it with the same reasoning he used to categorize all life, which was similarities he identified between species.

• Linnaeus was one of the founders of the science of ecology – describing the relationship between living organisms and their environments.

• Linnaeus’s idea of going on expeditions to study nature and gather specimens inspired Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace to go on the expeditions that led to their theories of evolution by natural selection.

• Linnaeus invented index cards. He did this in response to his ever growing lists of species which required a cataloging method that was easily expandable and easy to reorganize.

Death

Carolus Linnaeus was knighted by the King of Sweden in 1761 and took the nobleman’s name of Carl von Linné.

He died at the age of 70, on 10 January, 1778, after suffering a stroke. He was survived by his wife Sara, and five children.


Quotes:

If tree dies, plant another in its place.

In natural sciences the basics of truth must be confirmed by observations.

A herbarium is better than any illustration; every botanist should make one.