Charles Darwin, widely considered as one of the greatest and most revolutionizing scientists in history, was the British naturalist who formulated the theory of evolution. Pre-Darwin, it was thought that each species of life on earth came individually and that none had ever changed its form. He confuted this notion and demonstrated from his research that evolution is the law of nature and all living things on earth have descended from common ancestors who lived millions of years ago. He proved that animals and plants have evolved in an orderly manner and keep on evolving even today.
Born at Shrewsbury in 1809, Darwin was raised by his eldest sister from the tender age of eight. Young Darwin had a passion for gathering up even insects and minerals and he used to experiment with them. When Darwin was 16, he joined Edinburg University to study medicine. However, he was too gentle and tender to become a proper physician. Anatomy, in particular, sickened him. He hated the surgical operations, because they had to be performed without any anesthetics at that time. This made Darwin a great failure as a medical student.
Darwin said goodbye to Edinburg in 1828 and sought admission in Cambridge to study Theology. There, he also disregarded his studies and was more interested in beetles than theology. He was lucky to attain his degree anyhow. At Cambridge, he managed to make valuable friends, even befriending the professors of botany and geology.
Contributions and Achievements:
Darwin got his big break in 1831. A naturalist was needed to travel along on a scientific expedition – a voyage around the world in the brigantine HMBS Beagle under the supervision of Captain Fits Roy. Luckily, some of his Cambridge fellows also recommended him for the place. The voyage took around five years.
Throughout this voyage, Darwin collected bones of extinct animals. He was curious about the relationship between the extinct animals and the existing ones. The unusual marine iguana, the tortoises and the finches on the Galapagos Islands in the pacific made him perplexed, since similar, yet rather distinct, forms of the same animals were found on separate islands. These observations led to his legendary ideas on evolution.
After the return, Darwin moved to London for a while and compiled an account of his travels. Darwin got married to his cousin Emma Wedgowood in 1839. The coupled moved to Downe House in Kent in 1844. There, Darwin got a letter from the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who had made similar observations about evolution separately. A collaborative report by Darwin and Wallace was published in 1858. Darwin publicized the theory of evolution in his famous book, “The Origin of Species by Natural Selection”, in 1859. The book, which asserted that all the varied forms of life on earth could, in the course of time, have evolved from a common ancestry, was a huge success. Darwin also commented that in the struggle for life, only the ‘fittest’ creatures would survive while others fail.
The book became controversial due to its conflict with the religious belief about the creation of the world. However, in later years, it was embraced by all biologists. Darwin’s another book, “The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication”, came out in 1868. It is considered to be his second most significant work. The book maintains that man, by selective breeding, could make rather different breeds of pigeons, dogs, and some species of plants also. His work also included “The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects”, “Insectivorous Plants”, “The Power of Movement in Plants”, “Descent of Man”, and “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms”.
Later Life and Death:
Charles Darwin died at 74 and he was buried in Westminster Abbey, fairly near to the tomb of Sir Issac Newton. Out of his 10 children, of whom seven survived him, four became prominent scientists. Three of his sons went on to become fellows of the Royal Society, just like their legendary father.