Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Science Portal


Entries in Naples: Life, Death & Miracles dealing with science, technology, and the history of science:

plus 4 supplemental items below this index:
1. Anna Maria Morandi - wax sculptures of body parts
2. Alexander von Humboldt in Naples
3. Antikythera device
                           4. A ready-made movie set
                                                            5. Mary Somerville, Mistress of Science

  What's this? Click image.        

Academy of the Secrets (G.B.della Porta)
Antikythera Device (on this page, below)
Archaic units of measure
Bruno, Giordano
Buonanno, Alessandra (physicist)
Calabrian earthquake (1783) &
  Rebuilding Calabria After that Quake

Campanian Ignimbrite Eruption
    (alias, Archiflegrean volcano/caldera)
caves & karst areas
Cirillo, Domenico (botanist, doctor)
Circumvesuviana railway 
Coastal Caves of the Flegrean Fields
concrete, Roman
Dohrn, A., zoological station, aquarium
Early Modern Humans in Southern Italy
earthquake on Ischia (1883)
earthquakes in 1857, 1930, 1980
Mt. Etna-UNESCO World Heritage site

Eureka!—museum exhibit
The Fjord of Furore
The Flegrean Fields  
Fresnel, A.J. (and Fresnel lens)
Gauro, Mt.-volcanic crater
geology, main entry -then  (2)   (3)   (4) 
Geo-Paleontology Park & Lab (Pietraroja)
gullies of Puglia (Belvedere 'lama')
Homo Erectus (Aeserniensis) 
Homo Neanderthalensis
Humboldt, A. in Naples
iron, molten (used in Roman roads)
Kircher,  Mundus subterraneus & Naples

lighthouses in Naples
Lilio, the Gregorian calendar & the Castle
Majorana, Ettore
marine museums 
Marsili, active volcano
Mercalli, Giuseppe
Messina earthquake (1908)
Miranda-Manzolini (ceroplastics) (below this index)
Murmurations (flocking behavior) of birds
natural concrete and Pozzuoli
natural sciences in Naples (1735-1845)

Nobile, Umberto
observatory, Capodimonte
Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp
palm tree pest
photography (early, in Naples)
Physics Museum at University
Pietrarsa Railway Museum
Porzio & Enlightenment Medicine
Pozzuoli (ICDP drilling-2010)
Proud to be a troglodyte 
Purple Turd Gorge
Somerville, Mary
Strada, Gino, Dr. (EMERGENCY)
Subsoil of Naples, the (book)
Telesio (& the 'Scientific Method')
turtles (rescue center)
vaccinations in Bourbon Naples (1798)
Vesuvius, eruptions (recent) 
Vesuvius observatory
veterinary hospital 
volcanoes (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6) (7)
Votano, Lucia (physicist)
Whale of a Tale, A
What, Me Worry?
Whispering Galleries
wind energy in Campania

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  supplemental article #1 in the Science Portal      added 27 Feb 2020

ceroplastics, anatomical modeling

nna Morandi Manzolini (1714–1774)  -  This, too, is art.

The number of Italian artists, architects, and musicians who went north to work for Imperial Russia in the 17-&-1800s is astounding. You will find in these pages a section devoted to the architects and comments in the entries about composers such as Paisiello and Cimarosa who did the same thing. You could call it a "brain drain" but it really wasn't; the artists were well-paid and generally stayed long enough to spread some of their artistic wealth to the Tsars and Tsarinas (a few stayed longer) and came home happy they had gone.

Here is one such artist, a woman in a highly unusual profession for anyone, much less for a woman in the late 1700s. Catherine II of Russia  asked Anna Morandi Manzolini of the University of Bologna to come to Russia to lecture in anatomy and in the use of precise anatomical wax models in the medical profession. Manzolini was acknowledged to be the greatest anatomical wax modeler in Europe. The Czarina also made Manzolini a member of the Russian Royal Scientific Association.

Little Anna Morandi started out modestly, headed for the traditional domestic lifestyle that most young girls were groomed for. Her parents had the means to send her to a school where she studied art. She took to sketching and painting and did well. Along the way, she ran into her future in the form of Giovanni Manzolini, also a talented artist and aiming for the medical profession. They fell in love, became childhood sweethearts, and got married. She was 20 and he was 24. After five years of marriage, she was the mother of six children. He had become a professor of anatomy at the university of Bologna and due to his own natural artistic ability was one of the founders of ceroplastics, the art of using wax models to teach anatomy. It seemed to happen quite naturally; she simply learned everything he knew about crafting such models and worked alongside of him at the university as an assistant lecturer. Again, this was in an age when women didn't do such things. They could paint and did, write and did, make music and did. But in order to do what she did, Anna had to dissect cadavers so she could model the anatomy correctly. By her own count she dissected about one-thousand cadavers in the course of her career. Husband and wife worked as a team for years and their reputation for turning out quality spread. I have seen no estimate of the number of ceroplatic models they turned out together or she, by herself, after her husband died. My guess is several hundred, spread throughout Europe as their reputation grew.

Her works ranged from the simple but useful the model of the hands and the human ear, as shown here (l & r).

to the incredibly complex:

The text that accompanies this image on the website of the Science Museum in Bologna says:
Fetus with umbilical cord and placenta attached. Wax, 55 x 44 cm [c. 22 x 17 inches]. This is a full-term fetus in which part of the anterior abdominal wall has been cut away to show the origins of the umbilical vessels, continuing out to display the umbilical cord and the placenta on the right. A portion of the amniotic membrane has been sectioned to show the vascular network of the placenta.
Anna's husband died from TB in 1755 at age 45. She was left with little means of support. The University of Bologna had to bend the rules, but she now became Lecturer in Anatomy at the university, a prestigious position, under her own name. She kept at her ceroplastics and became the most sought-after such provider in Europe of these absolutely essential tools for medical schools. Her work became the archetype of such models and the forerunners of those used even today. She received offers from other universities but turned them down. She stayed in Bologna and held lectures on anatomy, not just to doctors but to curious grand tourists as well. She imparted expert knowledge of anatomy derived from years of experience. And she was full of stories of how she or she and her husband had, for example, discovered several previously unknown anatomical parts, including the termination of the oblique muscle of the eye. She was the first person to reproduce minute body parts in wax, including capillary vessels and nerves, and her work was so skillful that, by many accounts, onlookers found themselves asking "Is that a model or the real thing?"

She certainly didn't get rich. In 1769, five years before her death, she had to sell everything. She had spent every cent on her life's
her books, her tools, and whatever models she had kept. It all went. The gentleman who bought the collection promised he would take care of it and provided her with a monthly stipend to live on as well as a place to live. He apparently kept his word, because at least that collection has found its way back, after 250 years, to the Anatomical Museum of the University of Bologna. The museum, itself, has a
list of 60 of her works, very few of which (5 or 6) are actually on display. They have index cards with photos of many of the others. The items on this page are from their on-line display. It is not clear (at least to me) how many of these models still exist (a lot can happen to a clump of wax in 250 years!) and which ones are on display in Bologna or anywhere else, for that matter, perhaps in medical museums in places that bought them originally.

Anna did two models that are less anatomical than they are "human interest". One is a wax self-portrait in which she shows herself dissecting a brain (image, top right). The other is another
wax bust, posed in similar fashion, of her husband a tribute to her childhood sweetheart and her partner.

Anna Morandi Manzolini died in Bologna in 1774 at the age of 60.

English-language bibliography, sources:

Messbarger, Rebecca, The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010.

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  supplemental article #2 in the Science Portal      added 4 March 2021 

Alexander von Humboldt in Naples and Naples in Volcanology
by Luciano Mangiafico
(with Jeff Matthews)

Humboldt. Portrait by Joseph Stieler (1843).
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt
(1769-1859) was one of the great European polymaths (Jacks-of-all-trades and Masters of Most) in the natural sciences of the late 1700s and early 1800s. In my treatment of him here I deal with him as a geologist, specifically, a volcanologist on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. It was, as you may imagine, a good place to study volcanoes. Geologists like Italy because of the volcanoes and the great karst formations and caves in the Alps and in a few other places farther south.
              [karst: stalactites, stalagmites, etc., geologically termed "speleothems".]

He was in Naples for the first time in 1805 after an extended stay in the Americas, where he had gone volcano hunting, among other things, first in Central and South America and then in the U.S. where Thomas Jefferson welcomed and encouraged him. In his five years in the New World he did what he did best
everything. He explored, measured and described the languages, the people, the landscape, and flora and fauna of those lands. He climbed and studied volcanoes such as Cotopaxi, the second highest summit in Ecuador, at 5,897 m (19,347 ft) and one of the world's highest volcanoes.
Mt. Vesuvius, 1944 eruption. Photo
courtesy of Herman Chanowitz. Photo
restoration by Tana A. Churan-Davis.

When he came to Naples in 1805  it was with French scientist Joseph Guy-Lussac
(1778-1850) and Franz August O'Etzel (1783-1850). Also, back in Italy he had a chance to visit his older brother, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) in Rome. William became a prominent scholar in language and ethnolinguistics.

In Naples he and German geologist, Leopold von Buch
(1774-1853), planned studies of Vesuvius and of geology in general. These were not trivial studies by any means. These were basic to the study of the earth and as important in their day as the theory of plate tectonics one-hundred years later a "pillar"of modern geology. If you ask, What did they NOT know in 1795 about the earth? a lot. Where did the earth’s physical features even come from? what is a rock, anyway?

James Hutton
There were two theories. The first one came from German geologist, Abraham Werner
(1749-1817). He said the earth’s  physical features had formed when cooling and lowering of the seas had allowed dissolved matter to emerge and crystallize. Believers in his theory were called Neptunists, named for the Roman god of the seas. On the other side was Scotsman, James Hutton, (1726-97) (called "the father of modern geology") who thought the earth’s features had emerged from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and phenomena caused by pressures in the hot interior of our planet. Hutton’s followers were known as Plutonists, after the Roman god of the underworld. In the Alps and at Vesuvius Humboldt and his friends sought evidence to help settle the controversy. That is very basic stuff. And they could sit near Vesuvius in pleasant Naples and beat each other up over this great controversy, surrounded by coffee and rolls, and now by a thriving commercial rock and lava market that locals had set up to cater to commerce from the growing Grand Tourist trade, who all wanted tangible souvenirs of Italy! 
Painting by Sir Henry Raeburn (1776)

James Hutton (1726–1797) advanced the idea that the physical world's remote history can be inferred from evidence in present-day rocks. He studied features in the landscape and coastlines of his native Scottish lowlands, such as the Salisbury Crags or Siccar Point and developed the theory that geological features could not be static but underwent transformation over long periods of time. He argued, in agreement with many other early geologists, that the Earth could not be young. All this was, of course, in complete disagreement with Biblical accounts of Creation. Some consider that uniformitarianism should be a required first principle in scientific research. Other scientists disagree and say that nature is not absolutely uniform, even though it does exhibit certain regularities. Simply put, modern geology holds that "the present is the key to the past" and that geological events occur at the same rate now as they have always done, though many modern geologists no longer hold to a strict gradualism. His work was later refined but he was crucial to today's view that Earth's history was as a slow, gradual process, punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events.

Naples and Vesuvius were ideal. Vesuvius erupted frequently, was easy to climb, and was near an accessible large city, where other scientists and documents could be consulted. Nature was ready for them! On July 26, 1805, a few days after their arrival in Naples the earth shook from a massive earthquake. The epicenter was inland, but the Naples area suffered damage. Then, during the night of August 11-12 a tremendous noise broke the stillness and a jet of fiery rocks and ashes rose from the main crater of Vesuvius to a height of about 200 m/600 ft. Other mouths then opened on the flank of the volcano and five distinct rivers of lava came down from the eruption sources, one of which went all the way to the sea in the town of Torre del Greco. Humboldt couldn’t believe his luck. He and his friends went to study the eruption up close, going up three times (some sources say six times) during their stay in Naples.
(Terminology: magma is the hot silicate liquid pooled beneath the surface; when a volcano explodes and that material is forced onto the surface and starts to flow freely, it is called Iava.)

Humboldt learned what he could from the experience but was still bothered by a few things. He worried about the commercialization of the area. "Rock and lava dealers," he said, have taken over and would sell you anything just to get your money. That was not science. But even the science
well, he said in 1795, "Look at Vesuvius. We have written 200 papers about it in the last 150 years and it all amounts to little more than a laundry list of eruptions. There is very little of scientific value."  (cited in Rapisarda, below)

Bits and Pieces of Vesuvius
Whether you were a Grand Tourist and just wanted "something to take home" or a geologist
who wanted something to study, this is what you were looking for.
(comments below)





Comments:  "Bits and pieces" —small slabs of the volcano embedded with other smaller bits; solidified shreds of magma (called 'lava' when it is still hot and flowing. Maybe #3 might  cause the Neptunists and Plutonists to get testy with each other; #4 is a carefully prepared display box (in the collection of archaeologist and geologist Sir William Hamilton; #5 is unusual,  scientists have engraved the place and date, and, movingly, also tributes to other geologists, all put in with a stylus when the material was still warm and malleable (this image is filtered to bring out the text). Some of these samples are in the Berlin Museum of Natural History. It is not clear if any of them came directly from Humboldt, himself. His vast number of travel diaries are still being sorted and are currently being digitized.
Humboldt was primarily interested in studying and acquiring samples of volcanic "products", and in Naples there were several  important rock and mineral collections that Humboldt wanted to see. One of the most extensive belonged to Guglielmo  (William) Thomson (1760-1806), an English doctor who had moved to Naples in 1792 and set himself to the study of volcanoes. He was one of the 60-70 English scientists gathered around William Hamilton. (Thompson has truly "gone native", even legally changing his name to "Guglielmo"!) Humboldt also studied the collections of Duke Nicola Filomarino della Torre (1778-1842), reassembled after his late father’s collection was plundered and the duke and his brother killed during the Revolution of January 1799. (That lasted six months, was very brutal on both sides, and showed little respect for scientific rock and lava collections!)

At the end of August 1805 Humboldt left Naples for Rome and then set out for Berlin. He was back in Naples for a few days in late 1822 to study the eruption in Oct-Nov of that year. He had gone with his king, Frederick William III of Prussia
(1770–1840) to the Congress of Verona of Sep-Dec 1822 and took time off to go back to Naples. As usual, he got in as much research as possible.

What can you in the end say about Alexander von Humboldt in Naples? His dedication and energy were contagious. He was good for science in the city, but
what the city did to him was vital for his own reputation as a scientist. Here is where he started his shift to Plutonism. He helped settle one of those questions that then became a "pillar" of modern geology. Humboldt became a better geologist because of his time in Naples. Alexander von Humboldt died in 1858 in the city where he was born, Berlin. It was not yet the age of specialists physicists, chemists, 'thisists' and 'thatists'. That was coming, but for almost a century he was universally respected and revered as the Grand Old Man of Science. No scientist has so captured the imagination of the world, with the glorious exception of Albert Einstein.

1. De Ceglie, Rossella. Book Review of Marie-Noelle Bourguet, Le monde dans une carnet. Alexander von Humboldt en Italie (1805). Nuncius 34 
 pp. 207-210.  2019.

2. Rapisarda, Cettina. Lava memoriae deodati dolomieu. Alexander von Humboldts Gesteinsstudien in Neapel. HIN (International Review for Humboldt     Studies).
3. Repetto, Paolo. Humboldt Controcorrente. I quaderni di Altronovecento - Numero 9, 2018.
4. Surdich, Francesco. "The fortunes of A. von Humboldt in the Italian geographical culture of the XIX century." Bulletin of Environmental and Life Science, 2, pp. 42-55. 2020.
5. Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature. New York: Knopf: 2015.
[from jm-thanks to Peter Humphrey, geologist, my good friend, and a good friend to this website.]

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  supplemental article #3 in the Science Portal - added Mar 15, 2021

The Antiythera Device (or Mechanism), the World's Oldest Computer

A 2,000-year-old device often called the world's oldest "computer" has been recreated. The Antikythera Mechanism was found on a Roman-era shipwreck in Greece in 1901. It is named for Antikythera, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, between Crete and Peloponnese. (On the map, below, Crete is the large island 30 km/20 mi to the SE below Antikythera.) The island of Antikythera, is narrow, 10km/6 miles long with a port for occasional ferry traffic. There are only about 50 residents, who are joined during the summer by 300-400 others. Many come to dive on the site of the famous wreck.
The device is thought to have been used to predict eclipses and other astronomical events. Only a third of the device survived, leaving us wondering how it worked and what it looked like. The back of the device was solved by earlier research, but the complex gearing system at the front has remained a mystery. Researchers from University College in London think they have finally figured it out using 3D computer modelling. They have recreated the entire front panel and hope to build a full-scale replica of the Antikythera device using modern materials. In mid-March, 2021, they published a new display of the gear system that showed its fine details and complex parts (image).

"The Sun, Moon and planets are displayed in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance," the paper's lead
author, Professor Tony Freeth, said. "Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions on the mechanism". The device has been described as an astronomical calculator as well as the world's first analogue computer. It is made of bronze and has dozens of gears. The back cover features a description of the cosmos display, showing the motion of the five planets known at the time. But only 82 fragments - about a third of the device - have survived and have to be assembled. This meant scientists have had to piece together the full picture using X-Ray data.

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supplemental article #4 in the Science Portal - added Mar 15, 2021

xtrusive Igneous Rock - a ready-made movie set

Devils Tower is a butte  A butte was, countless ages ago, much larger and possibly part of a "concordant coastline", a range of elevated land along a sea. Today, Devils Tower is a strikingly symmetrical, awe-inspiring tower of igneous rock (that is, originally molten lava spewed from a volcano.
The National Park Service section on Devils Towers says:
"Although much of the Tower’s geologic story is agreed upon, theories differ on certain details. The simplest explanation is that Devils Tower is a stock— a small intrusive body formed by magma which cooled underground and was later exposed by erosion. Other ideas have suggested that Devils Tower is a volcanic plug or that it is the neck of an extinct volcano, but the limited evidence of volcanic activity (volcanic ash, lava flows, or volcanic debris) in the area creates doubt that the Tower was part of a volcanic system. It is possible that this material may simply have eroded away. The concept of erosion exposing the Tower is common to all of its modern formation theories  [empasis added]. Ironically, the erosion which exposed the Tower also erased the evidence needed to determine which theory of Devils Tower’s formation is the correct one."

But you can still enjoy it. This magnificent tower is in the U.S.A., in the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in north-eastern Wyoming. It rises above the Belle Fourche River and stands 265 meters (867 feet) from summit to base. The summit is 1,559 m (5,112 ft) above sea level. Devils Tower was the first national monument in the U.S., established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The monument has an area of 1,347 acres (545 hectares). The name "Devil's Tower" comes from 1875 when explorers misinterpreted a native name to mean "Bad God's Tower". All signs in that area omit the apostrophe. It is now simply "Devils Tower". The oldest rocks visible in the National Monument were laid down about 250 million years ago in the Triassic period of the Mezosoic era. That was the one before the Jurassic period, a term familiar to movie-goers.

Speaking of which, the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind used Devils Tower as a plot element -- the flat  summit was the runway for an alien star-ship landing on Earth in the climax of the film. That film caused a large increase in visitors and climbers to the monument. Ray Bradbury, famed science fiction writer and master story teller, called the film the "greatest science-fiction film ever made". When Ray Bradbury says something, I tend to listen, but I don't agree with his assessment. It was a fine film, but harmless, more of a fairy tale for adults. There was nothing in it that frightened me. I admit to liking dystopian films. "Blade Runner" still scares me. Even Bradbury's own Fahrenheit 451 (both his novel and the film) --as dystopian as they come-- scares me. We saw a real-life prequel in Nazi book-burnings.

So there are not many Devils Towers in the world, but there are a number of examples of extrusive igneous rock that are fascinating and inevitably draw comments such as "those blocks look like they were put in place -- that can't be natural." For example, "The Giant's Causeway" on the north coast of Northern Ireland
(image,left)--40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. The 40,000 tops of the columns create the illusion of a road surface --"The Giant's Causeway"-- like paving stones of a Roman road, cut and laid into place. But it's just exstrusive igneous rock doing what it does very well -- fool you. In Italy we have the Cyclopean Isles (Italian: Isole Ciclopi) off of Sicily, noted for their rows of basaltic columns piled one above another, some set back from others, staggered, looking like intentionally built terraces. They lie not far from Mount Etna off the eastern coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Formed about 500,000 years ago, the Cyclopean Isles are of volcanic origin and may at one time have been attached to Sicily. They all look like they were built. Certainly the Cyclopean Isles play a role in mythology and literature. Homer tells us when Ulysses and his crew on their Odyssey, fled from the one-eyed monsters, the Cyclopes, and escape back to their ship, when...
"The monster suddenly hoisted a boulder --far larger--
                                and heaved it, putting his weight behind it,
                                massive strength, and the boulder crashed close,
                                landing just in the wake of our own dark stern..."
                                          (transl. Robert Fagles)

You can see the site of all this action from Capo Mulini
  above: View of the Cyclopean Isles as seen from Capo Mulini

A few of other places in Italy that have the same extrusive igneous rock "constructed" look in Italy are the Alcantara River Gorges in Sicily; Lake Bolsena in Lazio; Cuccureddu de Zeppara in Sardinia; and Seiser Alm in South Tyrol.

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supplemental article #5 in the Science Portal - added May 26, 2023

Mary Somerville, Mistress of Science, in Naples
Luciano Mangiafico
with Jeff Matthews

There's a monument tomb to Mary Somerville in the old English cemetery in Naples
(image below). She died here in 1872. Like other Italian cities, Naples has a small cemetery for non-Catholics who died here in the city in the 19th century. (There's another one on the nearby isle of Capri, for example. The one in Naples is now a public park on Corso Garibaldi, halfway between the main train station and Piazza Carlo III. The mortal remains were removed in 1990, but nine prominent funerary monuments remain on the site. They really do add to the beauty of the place. Mary Somerville's monument is lovely. Her two daughters commissioned it in 1873 from a 19-year-old Calabrian sculptor, Francesco Jerace. It shows an older woman sitting on a chair and gazing into the distance, just as she did in her last years on the old Riviera di Chiaia. It's a valuable work of art, since Jerace went on to become well-known as the "Neapolitan Rodin". I like Jerace over Rodin, and I like to think that Mary Somerville would feel the same way. Everything I read about her makes me wish I had known her.
painting by Thomas Phillips, 1834                           

I don't know if her life was exciting and splendid to her while she lived it. But it is if you read her
let's say, one achievement after another. It's like reading about Leonardo da Vinci. A total polymath, a Jill of all trades and mistress of every one of them. Her maiden name was Fairfax, and she was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, in December 1780. Her father, a naval officer, thought women should learn about cooking, sewing and womanly things. She was a girl and thus had a limited formal education. The other stuff Latin, Greek, French, mathematics, geology, geography, astronomy and classic literature she did those on her own. Her husband didn't think much of that. They were married in 1804 and had two children. He died in 1807. She left London and went back to Scotland and resumed her mathematics, astronomy, and the rest.

She remarried in 1812 and this time lucked out. William Somerville (1771-1860) was an established medical doctor, who encouraged his wife’s studies, acted as her advisor and manager, and introduced her to the many intellectuals and scholars in his circle of friends. As they say: behind every great woman of science, there's a thirsty husband who's happy his wife has a brain, so he can go out with the guys for a few drinks. That circle of friends included:

  • Charles Babbage, at the time working on his Calculating Engine, the precursor of the modern computer;
  •  painter J.M.W. Turner;
  •  novelist Sir Walter Scott;
  • William Wallace, the brilliant mathematician, one of whose students was Mary Somerville; 
  •  Lord Henry Brougham, a British statesman who played a prominent role in the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act.

Mary shared her own rapidly increasing knowledge. She was a generous woman. She gave lessons in mathematics to Ada Gordon Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord George Byron. If you know something about computers, that will ring a bell Ada...Ada...yes...the first to see that Babbage's Calculating Engine had applications beyond pure calculation, and to have published the first algorithm to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, Ada Lovelace is called the first computer programmer. She met Charles Babbage through Mary Somerville. The girls were chatting over tea and quadratic equations. Science is, indeed, a great adventure.

Mary Somerville’s fame as a mathematician and a scientist of the first rank was evident early on. In 1826 inventor David Brewster called her "the most extraordinary woman in Europe". When Lord Brougham asked her to translate French polymath Pierre-Simon Laplace's, Mecanique Celeste, into English, she did such a fine job that she was elected to several learned societies and the British government granted her a pension. Her second book, On the Connection of the Physical Sciences (1834), popularized science and was a best-seller, leading historian of science William Whewell to actually coin the term "scientist" in his review of the book, so impressed was he by her "showing how detached branches have, in the history of science, been united by the discovery of general principles." That is the sign of the great polymath. They don't know it all, but they know it's all connected. In 1848 she published Physical Geography, where she stressed the mutual dependence between living organisms and nature; it became a university textbook for close to a century. Her fourth book, Molecular and Microscopic Science, came out in 1869 in two volumes and was another success.

Her life underwent a dramatic change of venue in the mid-1830s. Mary, her husband and two daughters from her first marriage moved to Italy, where the climate was better for her husband's frail health. They lived first in Rome and then in Florence, where her husband passed away in 1860. Then they lived in La Spezia until 1866. Before her husband’s death, the family had been all over north and central Italy and to Germany.

Sometime in 1866, Mary Somerville and her two daughters, Martha Charters and Mary Charlotte, moved to Naples, and spent their summers in the hills above Sorrento. Advanced years did not keep the scientist from her studies, and she kept up correspondence with scientists from Italy and elsewhere. At the age of 86, accompanied by her daughters, she climbed Mt. Vesuvius! It's a volcano and that's what you'd expect a scientist to do
climb it.  Also, in 1866, she was one of the signatories of John Stuart Mill's unsuccessful petition to the British House of Commons for female suffrage, and the first to sign his later petition on the same subject in 1868. She grew hard of hearing, but she still had a keen mind and dictated her memoirs to her daughter Martha, who edited and published them in 1873. She told her daughter, “Though far advanced in years, I take as lively an interest as ever in passing events. I regret that I shall not live to know the results of the expedition to determine the currents of the ocean, the distance of the earth from the sun determined by the transits of Venus, and the source of the most renowned of rivers, the discovery of which will immortalize the name of Dr Livingstone...”

What did she "believe", if anything? It's hard to say, but I am taken by something American astronomer, Maria Mitchell, said. Mitchell came along just a few years later and went to Europe in 1857 to see European astronomy facilities and, of course, to find Mary Somerville, by then the elderly stateswoman of science. Mitchell wrote:

"I could but admire Mrs. Somerville as a woman. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science had not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of wife and mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in those truths which figures will not prove. ‘I have no doubt,’ said she, in speaking of the heavenly bodies, ‘that in another state of existence we shall know more about these things.’

Mary Somerville died in her sleep on 29 November 1872, a month before her 92nd birthday. Her two daughters, who died  in 1875 and 1879,
respectively, joined her in the memorial tomb they had commissioned for her in the English Cemetery in Naples. In her obituary of December 2, 1872, The Morning Post wrote that “whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science.” Recognition of her role in science continues to this day. In 1879, seven years after her death, Somerville College was established at Oxford, an Arctic island and a crater on the moon are named for her, and her portrait even graces the £10 note of the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the few women besides royalty to appear on UK currency.

Things have changed since Somerville’s early life, says Dr Patricia Fara, the President of the British Society for the History of Science. She explained that when Somerville’s first scientific paper, on magnetism in the sun, was  published by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1826,
her husband had to present the paper for her. The Royal Society now has a marble bust of Mary Somerville on the premises, but she wouldn't have been allowed in the building when she wrote it.

Alexander Graham Bell, a supporter of women’s rights, wrote ironically to his wife on October 5, 1875, “Mrs. Mary Somerville was guilty of the most unladylike conduct in daring to write works on the Connection of the Physical Sciences. Why should any ambitious woman be allowed to invade man’s sacred domains?”

Selected References
1. Chapman, Allan. Mary Somerville: Pioneering Pragmatist. Astronomy and Geophysics,
Volume 57, Issue 2, April 2016.;
2. Secord, James. Mary Somerville’s Vision of Science. Physics Today 71 (1), 46–52 (January 2018);
3. Strickland, Elisabeth. Mary Fairfax Somerville, Queen of Science. Notices of the American
Mathematical Society, Vol. 64, No. 8 (September 2017), 929-931.;
4. Wikipedia. Mary Somerville.;
5. Somerville, Martha, editor. Personal Recollections of Mary Somerville. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1874.
7. A Bust of Mary Somerville in Vassar Encyclopedia at

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