February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday (1809-1882) and this year I celebrated drinking my morning coffee in a glass cup engraved with my name and the occasion – Darwin Day 2007 where I gave a talk on Darwin at Rutgers University. Darwin of course provided massive evidence for evolution and proposed a mechanism, natural selection by which environments selected among variations (later called mutations) and over time this led to species divergence and change. February 15 is Galileo Galilei’s birthday (1581-1585). We honor him for his telescopic support for the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Copernicus. His observations of the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the sunspots on our sun, and the presence of mountains and craters on the moons made modern astronomy possible. February 16 is the birthday of Hugo de Vries (1848-1935). We honor him as a rediscoverer of Mendel’s laws on the transmission of hereditary traits. He also stimulated interest in mutations and attracted a new generation of geneticists to work in that field. February 19 is the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) whose heliocentric model of the solar system he first formulated as a privately circulated letter (the Commentariolus) and did not allow publication of his larger book until he was near death for fear of the repercussions of his ideas despite his being a priest. February 28 is the birthday of Linus Pauling (1901-1994) a noted chemist who received a Nobel prize for his work on the chemical bond, his recognition and description of sickle cell anemia as a “molecular disease,” and his activism to bring about nuclear weapons testing restrictions (for which he added a second Nobel prize).
Scientists of note are distributed across all twelve months. This is a particularly nice group of my favorite scientists.