Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Linnaeus Turns 300

Today is the three hundredth birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist who developed the Latin binominal nomenclature (genus, species) system still currently in use for naming living organisms. New Scientist reports that in honor of Linnaeus, his "old university, Uppsala, is awarding honorary Linnaeus doctorates to notable scientists such as primatologist Jane Goodall and DNA co-discoverer James Watson. London's Chelsea Flower Show next week will feature a Linnaeus tribute garden, including his signature flower, Linnaea borealis."

Also today, the NYTimes has a short article on Linnaeus, which includes some good background on his life and work. It notes some of Linnaeus' less well-known "firsts" - he came up with the idea of using Celsius thermometers with zero as water's freezing point and 100 as the boiling point (Celsius himself wanted it the other way round, apparently), and Linnaeus was also the first person to grow bananas in Europe successfully. The Times piece also notes Linnaeus' discovery of the fact that plants reproduce sexually: writing as an undergraduate, Linnaeus declared in a paper "Yes, love comes even to the plants."

In Uppsala today, celebrations included a memorial service, speeches, parades, flower displays and a meeting of Linnaeus descendants from around the world. The royal families of Sweden and Japan attended the memorial service at Uppsala Cathedral, according to the Russian newspaper Pravda.

More Linnaeus in the news today: a long and extremely interesting profile in The Independent, and a Wired piece by David Weinberger brilliantly titled "Order Is in the Eye of the Tagger."