Marie Curie

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

1897 (Warsaw) – 1934 (Sancellemoz, France)

Pierre Curie was her husband but also her close collaborator, Joliot-Curie her daughter, and Joliot her son-in-law. Perrin was her next-door neighbour, close friend and professional colleague. Becquerel supervised her doctorate, and shared the Nobel Prize: Brillouin and Lippmann also taught her; she worked afterwards in Lippmann’s research lab. Langevin is popularly supposed to have had an affair with her; Borel and Poincaré (who also taught her) helped defend her. Valéry sat on a committee she chaired, Einstein was a long-term friend, Rutherford had been keen to meet her, and Rodin was visited in his studio.

Marie Curie knew…

Jędrzej Śniadecki

1768 (Żnin, Poland) – 1838 (Vilnius, Lithuania)

Śniadecki came up with a Polish terminology for chemistry, so that the subject could be taught in his native language, rather than Latin. The astronomer and mathematician Jan Śniadecki was his brother, and Domeyko one of his students. Forster was a university colleague in Vilnius; they were in conflict when Forster decided to break his contract in favour of an offer from Russia (the offer was withdrawn, but he left anyway). Information on Śniadecki is scarce in English; studying in Italy and Scotland, it seems very likely that he came into contact with Alessandro Volta, Luigi Spallanzani and Joseph Black, among others.

Jędrzej Śniadecki knew…

Christian Friedrich Schönbein

1799 (Metzingen, Germany) – 1866 (Baden-Baden)

Schönbein discovered ozone, developed more effective explosives, and like his friend (and patent lawyer) Grove, did pioneering work on fuel cells. Liebig and he met while sitting in on lectures at Erlangen; Schelling, met at the same time, became a lifelong friend. Froebel gave him work teaching, and he met his lifelong friends Faraday and Grove while working as a young schoolteacher outside London. In Paris, he attended Gay-Lussac’s and Thénard’s lectures and also met Biot, Dumas and Brongniart. Berzelius corresponded for 17 years, and Faraday for 26. De la Rive (another correspondent) and Oken were also good friends.

Robert Boyle

1627 (Lismore, Ireland) – 1691 (London)

Regarded as the founder of modern chemistry and a champion of empirical experimentation, Boyle was committed to the explainability of the universe on mechanical principles. Ussher was an early mentor. Boyle became central to the experimentalist circle around Wilkins (including Wren, Ward, Locke, Willis and Lower), the nucleus of the future Royal Society. Hooke (a friend) and later Papin were his assistants. Oldenburg was a natural ally (Boyle published through him), Hartlib a close friend. Leibniz met him on a London visit; Leeuwenhoek, Fatio, Bayle and Aubrey all corresponded. Locke and Newton spent long hours discussing mystical ideas with him.

Robert Boyle knew…

James Keir

James Kier

1735 (Edinburgh) – 1820 (West Bromwich, England)

Keir was a significant member of the group who kick-started the Industrial Revolution, and established the world’s first soap factory. He and Darwin, a close lifelong friend (he suggested helpful improvements to Darwin’s poetry), met as students in Edinburgh; through Darwin he met Wedgwood and other Lunar Society members. Among those who became good friends, he worked closely with Priestley, managed Boulton and Watt’s business (unpaid) while they were away, loved Small affectionately, and wrote a biography of Day. Black and Berthollet were among his correspondents. Davy described him as both amiable and great.

Torbern Bergman

Torbern Olaf Bergman;Torbern Olof Bergman

1735 (Katerineberg, Sweden) – 1784 (Medevi)

Bergman, who made important advances in the systematic analysis and chemical classification of minerals, and on stratification, is less widely-known than he might be, his work being published neither in Latin nor (for the most part) in English. He studied with and became a colleague of Linnaeus, whose ideas influenced him strongly. He followed his correspondent Priestley in making carbonated water, and was described by another correspondent, Werner, as cool-headed and sharp-minded. Guyton translated him into French, and Withering (for once) into English; Elhuyar, Gadolin and most notably Scheele were among his students.

Torbern Bergman knew…

William Cullen

1710 (Hamilton, Scotland) – 1790 (Edinburgh)

Cullen, a key Scottish Enlightenment figure and highly influential as a teacher of medicine and chemistry, gave the first demo of artificial refrigeration, and coined the term ‘neurosis’. Hunter was his apprentice and friend, living in his house for three years. Black (protégé, friend and colleague), Rush and Withering were among his students, and Smith a lifelong friend; Cullen advised him to ride at least 500 miles if he wanted to survive the next Scottish winter. Hutton was another close friend, and Pringle a warm correspondent. He saw his friend Hume on his deathbed. Johnson described him as “very entertaining.”

Herman Boerhaave

Hermann Boerhaave

1668 (Voorhout, Netherlands) – 1738 (Leiden)

The immensely influential Boerhaave established the practice of clinical teaching, and the institution of the teaching hospital. Such major figures as Linnaeus (who went on to become a student) and Voltaire came to visit him. Other students included Albinus (who went on to be recalled as a professional colleague), Musschenbroek, van Swieten, Haller, La Mettrie and Pringle. ‘sGravesande was a younger colleague. Fahrenheit visited and corresponded (Boerhaave was a pioneer of the clinical use of the thermometer); Sloane was another correspondent. Haller described Boerhaave as the teacher of all Europe.

Herman Boerhaave knew…

William Crookes

1832 (London) – 1919 (London)

Crookes discovered an element, and did important work on cathode rays and spectroscopy. He studied with Hofmann, but Faraday, Wheatstone and Stokes nudged him towards chemical physics (a practical experimenter, Stokes and Maxwell often providing theoretical support). Crookes got on well with Tesla (telling him to go home to the mountains or he’d have a breakdown). He had a difference of opinion with Dewar, corresponded with Mendeleev, and told Galton that none of his (Crookes’) ancestors had any interest in science. Becquerel, Curie and Edison were all friends. He first met Faraday (less gullible about spiritualism) at a séance.

Willard Gibbs

Josiah Willard Gibbs;J. Willard Gibbs

1839 (New Haven, Conn.) – 1903 (New Haven)

Gibbs helped found chemical thermodynamics, and did fundamental work on vector analysis (sparked by reading Maxwell), while his work in theoretical physics paved the way for quantum mechanics. Maxwell, one of the first to recognise Gibbs’ genius, later made and sent him a plaster model. Although Gibbs, self-contained, rarely travelled, his mailing-list of 300 prominent scientists included his correspondents Peirce, Rayleigh and Ostwald (who translated his work). In Germany he sat in on lectures by Kirchhoff, Helmholtz, Bunsen and Magnus (influences all); however it’s not known whether he actually met them.

Willard Gibbs knew…