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Experimental Plant Biology Historical Book Collection

The department has a collection of historical titles devoted to experimental plant biology. We are lucky to have some of the most important books ever published in this field.

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It can be argued that Jean Senebier (1742-1809) did some of the most significant plant physiology experiments ever conducted. Senebier had the good fortune to be both wealthy and curious and to live in and near a city (Geneva) with a thriving scientific community. While engaged as a city librarian he conducted and published experiments showing that plants fix carbon dioxide. The experiments, published in the 1780s-1790s and summarized in 'Physiologie végétale (1800), largely explain how plants modify the atmosphere we and other organisms live in.

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Stephen Hales (1677-1761), a clergyman, conducted experiments on fluid movement in plants and animals. His celebrated 'Vegetable Staticks' (1727) describes many of these experiments in vivid detail and with sufficient quantitative information that they could be repeated today. Hales demonstrated that plants could move fluids against huge pressures laying the foundation of our knowledge of their vascular systems. Related to this he was a pioneer in understanding transpiration.

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Between them, Senebier, Hales and many other scientist represented in our collection, explained to us how plants control the gas composition of our atmosphere and how they contribute to the water cycle on earth. Their works make good reading even today. The importance of the foundations laid by these physiologists is likely to become even more clear as our climate changes and our population grows. Senebier and Hales remind us of how important curiosity and a good working environment are for scientific enquiry.

Curation: E.E. Farmer and R. Hofer.

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