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Great scientists

Charles Darwin

Darwin in about 1854Darwin in about 1854 Charles Darwin (1809–1882) was a British scientist whose work on evolution—the way living things change over generations—revolutionized scientific thinking. At the beginning of the 19th century, many people still believed the story of creation as told in the Bible. But scientists were already challenging this. Even Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), had suggested that living things changed or evolved. The discovery of fossils of long-extinct animals threw up new evidence. But how living things might have undergone changes over millions of years was still a mystery. Darwin’s most famous work, On the Origin of Species, first published in 1859, occupied many years of his life, and suggested a ground-breaking solution.

Darwin as a young manDarwin as a young man

Early life

Charles Darwin was the son of a wealthy doctor from Shrewsbury, the fifth of six children. From an early age he had a passion for collecting specimens of creatures. He was sent to boarding school, which he hated. In 1825, he went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. There, the zoology professor, Robert Grant, taught him how to make observations and to dissect specimens.

Darwin left Edinburgh without a degree, but his father sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study to become a clergyman. Once again, Darwin was distracted by his fascination for wildlife, and he befriended the professor of botany, John Henslow.

Voyage of the Beagle

The captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, was a pioneer in the science of meteorology and was the first to issue weather forecasts—mainly for use by ships at sea.

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