Scotland has long been a fertile breeding ground for the most dominant of scientific minds…
Some of the greatest Scientific minds have been born in Scotland.
Intrepid minds, explorers and botanists alike – the great Scottish Educational institutions have been a hub for innovation and research for the last four centuries, leading to some of the most groundbreaking discoveries of modern Plant Science.
Although we might prefer to look forward to the future rather than dwell on the past, it’s sometimes important to remember where our knowledge came from, rather than relegate the work of our predecessors to a time that is too often forgotten.
These four Scientists made major breakthroughs in their fields, without any of the technology that we take for granted today:
Robert Brown (1773-1858)
One of the foremost botanists of his time and the innovator of some truly groundbreaking techniques, this Scotsman was born in Montrose in 1773, the son of a Church minister. Although he initially intended on studying Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, he soon found himself drawn towards botany.
By the end of his illustrious career, he had pioneered the use of a microscope when studying plant life, which allowed him to make some of the earliest recorded descriptions of the cell structure of plants. He used these techniques to observe what would later be known as ‘Brownian motion‘.
Thomas Hopkirk (1785-1841)
One of the best known alumni from Glasgow University, Thomas enrolled in 1800. By 1817 he had founded the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow, a society of botanists that would go on to fund, design and build the Glasgow Botanic Gardens – one of the cities biggest attractions and areas of beauty.
Although Hopkirk left behind an impressive legacy in terms of his publications (The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication was often quoted by Charles Darwin), there is little known about his personal life. However, his impact can be seen in the buildings named after him at the University, as well as the Botanic Gardens.
Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865)
Hooker is known by many as one of the most successful Botanists of Scottish descent. His close friendship with Royal Society founder, Sir Joseph Banks, led to him documenting and studying many unique plant samples of the time, that had been taken from some of the earliest exploratory missions by James Cook.
After holding the post of Regius Professor of Botany at Glasgow University, he we went on to become the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew. During his tenure as Director he expanded the Gardens to over seven times their original size, this included overseeing the building of many glasshouses. After his death in 1865, his son succeeded him in the role.
Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)
No look at legendary Scottish scientists is complete without mentioning Alexander Fleming, a man who is frequently hailed as one of the greatest living Scots, alongside Robert Burns and even William Wallace. By studying enzymes and mould, Fleming (with the aid of other scientists) developed Penicillin, the antibiotic that would go on to cure thousands of diseases that had previously proved fatal to man.
The son of a Scottish farmer, Fleming’s scientific career was gifted to him through the grace of fate more than anything else. A sizeable inheritance from an uncle gave him the funds to move to London and study Medicine. Whilst there he had the opportunity to become an assistant to Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy who he would follow in his footsteps in later life.