Today In Science History – August 1 – Lamarckism

Jean Baptiste de Lamarck
Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) French zoologist and first theories of evolution.

August 1 is Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck’s birthday. He was more commonly known as simply Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck was the French biologist who developed the first theory of evolution called Lamarckism.

Lamarckism was a popular theory of evolution where life was not a fixed event. As an organism gained new characteristics due to changes in the environment and survived the change, it would pass on these characteristics to future generations. Lamarck called this principle soft inheritance. Another aspect of inheritance was the idea of use and disuse. An organism would lose characteristics it didn’t use anymore and develop ones that proved useful and were used more. For example, giraffes stretched their necks to gain access to leaves higher on a tree. Each generation would evolve longer necks to reach leaves at the tops of trees. These changes were thought to be caused by fluids in the body that drove the organism to adapt to its surroundings and evolve.

Another principle of Lamarckism was that organisms were driven to become more complex. Lamarck believed life spontaneously generated into simple organisms and evolved into the complex forms we see today. He also felt the simple organisms you see today were new forms of simple, recently generated life. Lamarck’s theories weren’t widely accepted during his lifetime, but they did start the discussion on evolution. Lamarckism fell out of vogue when Darwin came on the scene. Darwin and the later theories of Mendelian genetics have not completely replaced Lamarckism. Some scientists are applying the idea of soft inheritance to single celled organisms. Scientists have observed single celled organisms and prions develop new genetic structures apparently as a result of resistance to an environmental influence and then go on to pass that resistance on to future generations.

Other Notable Events on August 1

2004 – Philip Hauge Abelson died.

Philip Hauge Abelson
Philip Hauge Abelson (1913 – 2004). Wikimedia Commons

Abelson was an American chemist who proposed the gas diffusion process to separate uranium-235 and uranium-238 in uranium ore samples. This technique was adopted by the Manhattan Project to enrich the uranium needed for the atomic bomb.

He also co-discovered with Edwin McMillan the element neptunium. He found a substance that emitted beta particles when he bombarded samples of uranium with neutrons. The neutrons were absorbed by the uranium-238 atoms and became uranium-239. This unstable version of uranium decayed by beta decay into neptunium. McMillan helped isolate the new element to prove its existence.

After World War II, he wrote a paper describing the benefits of installing a nuclear reactor aboard Navy vessels to provide both propulsion and electricity in one package. His paper also pointed out how useful a nuclear submarine would serve as a missile platform.


1996 – Tadeus Reichstein died.

Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C chemical structure.
Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C chemical structure.

Reichstein was a Polish born Swiss chemist who shares the 1950 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Edward Calvin Kendall and Philip Showalter Hench for his independent discoveries concerning the hormones of the adrenal cortex and the isolation of cortisone. He also produced the first successful industrially synthesized ascorbic acid (vitamin C) by the Reichstein process.


1970 – Otto Heinrich Warburg died.

Otto Heinrich Warburg
Otto Heinrich Warburg (1883 – 1970) Credit: German Federal Archives 1931.

Warburg was a German biochemist who was awarded the 1931 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries into cellular respiration or how living cells take up oxygen. He identified the family of enzymes called cytochromes where the iron-containing heme group binds oxygen. He also isolated the first flavoprotein, flavine that participates in dehydrogenation reactions in cells.


1967 – Richard Kuhn died.

Richard Kuhn
Richard Kuhn (1900 – 1967) Credit: ETH Zürich

Kuhn was an Austrian-German biochemist who was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on carotenoids and vitamins. Carotenoids are the organic pigments in plant cells or created by algae or bacteria. Kuhn discovered, purified and determined the composition of eight of these compounds and purified them. He also isolated vitamins B6 and B12.


1945 – Douglas D. Osheroff was born.

Osheroff is an American physicist who shares the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics with David Lee and Robert C. Richardson for their discovery of the superfluidity state of helium-3. Superfluidity of helium describes the state liquid helium takes when cooled to nearly absolute zero when the viscosity of the liquid suddenly becomes zero.


1896 – William Robert Grove died.

William Robert Grove
William Robert Grove (1811 – 1896)

Grove was a British lawyer and amateur scientist who developed the Grove cell. The Grove cell is an electric cell with platinum and zinc electrodes in sulfuric acid separated in a porous ceramic pot. He also created the first fuel cell that combines hydrogen and oxygen and uses the reaction to produce electrical energy.

1889 – Walther Gerlach was born.

Gerlach was a German physicist who discovered the quantization of spin in a magnetic field with Otto Stern. The Stern-Gerlach experiment used a beam of silver atoms accelerated across a uniform magnetic field. Under the classical atomic theory, a detector should see a distribution of atoms deflected by a continuous distribution of spin angular momentum with definite maximum and minimum values. Gerlach and Stern discovered distinct discrete values.

1885 – George de Hevesy was born.

George de Hevesy
George de Hevesy (1885 – 1966). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hevesy was a Hungarian-Swedish chemist who was awarded the 1943 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of a technique to use radioisotopes to detect chemical processes in living systems. He prepared salt solutions using an isotope of lead (Pb212) and traced how plants absorbed the solution.

He also discovered the element hafnium with Dick Coster in 1923.

1870 – Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was born.

Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (1870 - 1932)
Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (1870 – 1932) Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ivanov was a Soviet biologist who developed a method of artificial insemination for domestic animals. He is also known for his work and research with hybrid animals.Ivanov was famous for his experiments attempting to create a human-ape hybrid.

Ivanov was famous for his experiments attempting to create a human-ape hybrid. He performed several experiments using human sperm to artificially inseminate female chimpanzees. All of these ended in failures. He later arranged to use ape sperm on human volunteers. Before he began this experiment, he was caught up in a purge of Soviet scientists. He was arrested and exiled to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.