Giants of Science Gregor Mendel

first_imgWhen setting out to pick the first subject of our new series on under-appreciated scientific greats, Gregor Mendel sprung instantly to mind. Plenty of people have revolutionized our understanding of the world, and plenty more have tried, but it was Mendel who best embodied the virtues of science. Mendel set out satisfy an impulse that seems to have come entirely from within, one that proves that in science, personal integrity and an in-born respect for the experimental method can be more powerful than any apple-catalyzed burst of Newtonian insight.Mendel’s work consumed him, and he pursued it with an exactitude that would (and does) put many a modern PhD to shame. Mendel displayed an all-consuming thirst for true knowledge about the world, and his intellectual rigor meant that only the most careful forms of inquiry could quench it. As a result, Mendel’s work eventually came to revolutionize the human self-concept, and continues to underpin high-level research today.At 11 years old, Johann Mendel already showed an aptitude for academics, and distinguished himself in the eyes of teachers. Though he was expected to one-day take over the family farm, Mendel’s less-than-wealthy family went to the relatively expensive length of sending him to secondary school in Troppau. At 18 years of age, specially trained in just beekeeping and farm labor, he enrolled in a two-year program in physics and theoretical philosophy at the University of Olomouc. Here he met Johann Nestler, whose work in understanding the science behind animal husbandry was already quite influential.Reports vary, but it seems that Mendel struggled at this point with bouts of depression, and took several leaves from his studies. He was a gifted student, but from the earliest reports we can see some basic dissatisfaction with the world around him, a wish to breach surface and get at the reality he could feel lurking beneath. Perhaps that’s why, when he graduated in 1843, Mendel disappointed his father by taking a new name, Gregor, and taking vows as an Augustinian monk.Mendel posing with his fellow monks at the Brno monasteryThe monastery provided a possible answer to the question he could not quite articulate: Why does there seem to be more to the world than we can see? Mendel pursued an answer to this question though his studies both religious and academic — though he was clearly a deeply religious man, one major motivation for joining the Order was the freedom it provided to indulge his scientific curiosity. And indulge it he did. Having educated himself not just in scientific knowledge but in science itself, the theoretical methodology that gives birth to such knowledge, Mendel threw himself into his new studies.Contrary to popular belief, Mendel was not some bespectacled oddball working in total isolation. He continued to reach out to the scientific community of the time, and even published several academic papers. None of them received the widespread acclaim they deserved, and his most famous discoveries were rejected by the establishment at the time. Working in obscurity (as opposed to isolation), Mendel set about satisfying his own standards of evidence, which were astronomically high, and creating one of the world’s most impressive examples of the power of human ingenuity.Next page: Mendel’s noble peas prize… 1 2 3last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *