Plant Scientist Highlights: Alexander von Humboldt

This month we will be highlighting Alexander von Humboldt, who lived from 1769-1859. While he wasn’t a classically trained plant scientist, he has had an enormous impact in our field, particularly in the dissemination of research to the public. Von Humboldt is most known for his expeditions to South and Central America where he studied everything from human-induced climate change to geomagnetism to mountain sickness and everything else in between. His work in geobiology has shaped the current field of ecology, and his documentation of plants has helped advance the fields of biology and botany. Alexander also focused on the “impression of the whole”, trying to understand what he was learning in the context of the environment around it, opposing the more traditional “tunnel vision” of the time.

Von Humboldt had such a passionate excitement for science that, at times, his friends and family worried about his health. He took what he learned and shared it with anyone he could. He tutored the German royal family, particularly imparting the importance of science, and published Cosmos (originally published as Kosmos), which was sold out in 2 months and was translated to every major European language. He also spent most of his fortune funding his own research and young career scientists. Von Humboldt is a lasting force to be reckoned with when it comes to enthusiasm and support for science.

For more information on Alexander von Humboldt and his work, check out “The Invention of of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf.

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