Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Charles Wyville Thomson
A prominent Scottish naturalist, Wyville-Thomson was born at Bonsyde , Linlithgowshire, on March 5th, 1830, and was educated at Edinburgh University. In 1850 he was appointed lecturer in, and in 1851 professor of, botany at the University of Aberdeen. In 1853 he became professor of natural history in Queen's College, Cork. A year later he was nominated to the chair of mineralogy and geology at Queen's University of Belfast, and in 1860 was transferred to the chair of natural history at the same institution. In 1868 he assumed the duties of professor of botany at the Royal College of Science, Dublin, and finally in 1870 he received the natural history chair at the University of Edinburgh.
Wyville Thomson is remembered for his studies of the biological conditions of the deep seas. Being interested in crinoids, and prompted by the results of the dredgings of Michael Sars in the deep sea off the Norwegian coasts, he persuaded the Royal Navy to grant him use of HMS Lightning and HMS Porcupine for deep sea dredging expeditions in the summers of 1868 and 1869. They showed that animal life existed down to depths of 650 fathoms (1200m), that all marine invertebrate groups are present at this depth, and that deep-sea temperatures are not as constant as had been supposed, but vary considerably, and indicate oceanic circulation. These results were described in The Depths of the Sea, which he published in 1873.
The remarkable hydrographic and zoological results which Wyville Thomson had demonstrated, in addition to the growing demands of ocean telegraphy, soon led to the Royal Navy to grant use of HMS Challenger for a global expedition. Wyville Thomson was selected as chief scientist, and the ship sailed on December 23rd, 1872. A detailed description of the voyage is available on the Challenger expedition page.
The Challenger Expedition was deemed a great success, and on his return Wyville Thomson received a number of academic honors, as well as a knighthood. In 1877 he published two volumes, The Voyage of the Challenger in the Atlantic, a preliminary account of the results of the voyage. He spent the next two years working on administrative duties connected with the publication of the full monograph of the voyage. Wyville Thomson had a highly strung mentality, and his health was generally poor throughout his life. He found dealing with publishers over the requirements of publishing 50 fifty volumes of detailed illustration and scientific description enormously stressful. In 1879 he ceased to perform his university duties, gave up overseeing the reports of the expedition in 1881, took to his bed and died a broken man at Bonsyde on the 10th of March, 1882. The publishing was finally completed by his friend and colleague Sir John Murray.
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