Last summer marked the 200th birthday of Eunice Foote. The now somewhat better known women’s rights activist from the USA was one of the rare female researchers in the field of physical sciences in the 19th century. On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, Eunice Foote will be briefly introduced here.
In the middle of the 19th century, Eunice Foote demonstrated with a simple experiment that gas mixtures become hotter the more carbon dioxide (CO2) they contain when exposed to sunlight. Two glass flasks – one filled with normal air, the other only with CO2 – were placed in the sun. After a short time, the thermometers in both flasks indicated that the gas mixture had heated up to 37.8 degrees Celsius in normal air and 49 degrees Celsius in CO2.
Eunice Foote published her research results in an essay entitled “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” (The American Journal of Science and Arts, Vol. 22, No. 66 (November 1856), pp. 383-384), which is available in the Internet Archive.
More information on Eunice Foote:
- An article in the German daily newspaper TAZ (December 13, 2019);
- An article in the daily newspaper Tagesspiegel (July 17, 2019);
- A contribution from the history of science: Jackson Roland: Eunice Foote, John Tyndall and a question of priority. Notes & Records 74 (2020) 105–118. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2018.0066;
- Webpage by David Morrow;
- “A ‘Foote-Note’ on the Hidden History of Climate Science: Why You Have Never Heard of Eunice Foote” by John Perlin.
Another “Foote note” in the history of science is Rosalind Franklin, who would celebrate her 100th birthday this year. Her work formed an important basis for the determination of DNA structure. Her essay with Raymond Gosling, “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate” (Nature 171, 740-741 (1953). https://doi.org/10.1038/171740a0), appeared in the same journal issue as the famous paper by James Watson and Francis Crick on the double helix structure of DNA and showed for the first time a clear X-ray image of DNA.