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Who was Jan Ingenhousz? Scientist who discovered photosynthesis honoured with Google doodle; The Dutch scientist also developed a vaccination for smallpox.

Byline: Sophie Curtis

Photosynthesis is so essential to life on this planet that it's easy to forget we didn't even know about it 250 years ago.

The process of plants converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, using light as a catalyst, was first discovered by Dutch scientist Jan Ingenhousz in 1779.

Ingenhousz began studying medicine at the age of 16, and spent the first part of his career developing a vaccination for smallpox.

In the 1760s he travelled to London and on to Hertfordshire, where he immunised 700 village people in a successful effort to combat an epidemic.

This involved the fairly gruesome process of pricking the skin with a needle that had been dipped into the pus of an infected person's wound.

It worked, however, and after word of Ingenhousz's success spread, he was invited by the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa to inoculate her whole family.

Over the years, other scientific he turned his attention to other scientific pursuits including energy generation, particle motion and gaseous exchange in plants.

Alhough it was already known that plants produced and absorbed gases, it was Ingenhousz who first noticed that oxygen was produced by leaves in sunlight, and carbon dioxide produced in darkness.

This demonstrated that some of the mass of plants comes from the air, and not only the water and nutrients in the soil.

He published his findings in 1779, significantly influencing further research on plant life in the centuries to follow.

Today's Google doodle focuses on Ingenhousz's lasting contributions to our understanding of the natural world, on what would have been his 287th birthday.

The black-and-white cartoon depicts the scientist in a field, looking at a plant with the sun shining on it, and the chemical symbols for carbon dioxide (CO2) Oxygen (O2) water (H2O) and sugar (C6H12O6).


Credit: Google

Credit: Mirrorpix

Doctors in Manchester Town Hall vaccinating members of the public against smallpox on 15th January 1962.

Credit: SSPL

Engraving taken from 'Experiments Upon Vegetables, discovering their great power of purifying the common air in the sunshine, and of injuring it in the shade and at night' by Jan Ingenhousz, published in London in 1779.

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Title Annotation:Science
Publication:Daily Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2017
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