Google Doodle for Mary Somerville: Woman on whom the word “scientist” was coined

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February 2, 2020 7:21 PM

Astronomer John Couch gained a lot of clues in his discovery of the planet Neptune from Mary Somerville's book.

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Google has dedicated a Google Doodle to honour Mary Somerville, Scottish scientist renowned for her groundbreaking science papers. Somerville has the distinction of being the first female author to be published in the Philosophical Transactions, the world’s oldest science publication that is active till today. February 2nd marks the date when in 1826 the UK’s National Science Academy — the Royal Society of London — read her papers on experimental physics.

Mary Somerville was born on December 26th, 1790, into a humble, but distinguished, family in Scotland’s Jedburgh, and her early years were spent in helping her mother in household chores and in the family garden. She was sent to a boarding school at the age of 10 to gain a proper education. And it was here that she learned from her art teacher how all fundamentals of painting could trace their roots to Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. She got herself a copy of the book and studied mathematics and astronomy with zeal. She went on to publish her own books and scientific papers after researching and learning independently.

Somerville’s book The Mechanism of the Heavens, released in 1831, shattered many myths prevalent in those times regarding the solar system. This laid the groundwork for her groundbreaking book – The Connection of the Physical Sciences, which became among the highest-selling science books of the 19th century after its release in 1834. Astronomer John Couch gained a lot of clues in his discovery of the planet Neptune from the third edition of her book that released in 1836.

A reviewer first coined the word “scientist” after reading about the underlying links between different sciences as revealed by Somerville in her book, Connection. In 1866, Somerville was the first person to sign the 1866 women’s suffrage petition, making a case for granting women the right to vote in elections.

In 2016, the Institute of Physics introduced the Mary Somerville Medal and Prize – an award for scientists who engage the public through her work, encouraging women in STEM fields.

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