December 8, 2017
Jan Ingenhousz’s 287th Birthday
From the mind of a Dutch scientist in the 18th century sprouted a flowering understanding of the secret life of plants. Jan Ingenhousz – born on this day in Breda in 1730 – is remembered as the inspired thinker who discovered the photosynthetic process.
Ingenhousz began studying medicine at the age of 16 and developed an interest in inoculation. He followed that passion to London, where he immunized hundreds of village people who were at risk for smallpox. The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa heard of this remarkable feat and sent for Ingenhousz to come to Vienna and inoculate the entire Habsburg family. In those days, inoculations consisted of pricking the skin with a needle that had been dipped into the pus of an infected person’s wound – not a very pleasant-sounding business! Ingenhousz’s mission was a success, and the Empress brought him on as the family’s doctor.
His interests, however, expanded beyond inoculation and even medicine. Among his other accomplishments were discoveries around energy generation, particle motion and of course, photosynthesis. Though it was already known that plants produced and absorbed gases, it was Ingenhousz who first noticed that oxygen was produced by leaves in sunlight, and carbon dioxide produced in darkness. He published these findings in 1779, significantly influencing further research on plant life in the centuries to follow.
In today’s Doodle, we celebrate the lasting contributions of this scientist to our understanding of the natural world. For those digging into their biology textbooks this school year, be sure to thank Jan Ingenhousz!