Mar 8, 2010

Edward Jenner and Joseph Lister, posted

British stamps (2010) featuring Edward Jenner and Joseph Lister
A few days ago, the UK postal service issued a new series of stamps featuring 10 eminent scientists to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. The image above shows two of the stamps, depicting Edward Jennner (1749-1823) and Joseph Lister (1827-1912) -- who are considered the 'fathers' of vaccination and antiseptic surgery, respectively. They both had a rough time trying to convince their fellow physicians to accept their proposed methods as good and useful practices. But they eventually succeeded, and millions of lives were saved.

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stampIt is noteworthy that Jenner was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1789 thanks to his research on cuckoos (the birds, not the clocks). He was a 'natural scientist' and studied a variety of issues ranging from fossils to animal behaviour, and from balloons to medicine. It was in 1796 when he carried out his famous experiments, showing that people could be protected against the deadly smallpox by inoculating them with cowpox (a mild, related disease). Although the basic rationale behind Jenner's technique was not novel (but this was not the reason why the Royal Society rejected his original report!), his careful studies and his tenacity were fundamental for a wide progressive adoption of vaccination. Now --two centuries later-- the world can celebrate the 30th anniversary of smallpox eradication. This deserves a stamp or two, doesn't it?

Lister centennary stamp (1965)Now, let's turn our look to Joseph Lister. He introduced phenol (carbolic acid) to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds. As a result, post-operative infections were greatly reduced, and many lives (and body parts that otherwise would be amputated) were saved. Because of these achievements, Lister was not only elected fellow but president of the Royal Society (between 1895 and 1900), and his name was given to a bacterium ...and a mouthwash (what an honour!).

Anyway, it seems that there was some kind of infectious hunger for 'small knowledge' at the Listers' house, as Joseph was not the only one interested in the microscopic world. His father, Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869), made crucial advances toward correcting image aberrations in microscopes (and he was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1832). After his work, the improved microscopes became powerful instruments, allowing more detailed observations of specimens and, hence, the birth of modern histology.

Now this may not come as a surprise to you, but (at least) two other members of the family were also elected fellows of the Royal Society. They were Arthur Lister (1830-1908, Joseph's brother) and Gulielma Lister (1860-1949, Arthur's daughter). Arthur and Gulielma became renowned botanists and mycologists, and world experts in mycetozoa (myxomycetes, slime molds). I'm wondering if they started by playing with J.J.'s old microscope? Gulielma's achievements are especially remarkable in a time (early 1900's) when very very few women were allowed to excel in science: she was a founding member of the British Mycological Society (and president in two occasions), as well as fellow, council member and vice-president of the Linnaean Society. Does anybody know of a stamp featuring Gulielma? Probably not (yet) but this could be a good topic for the next International Women's Day...

Further reading:

Stamps commemorating the Royal Society anniversary:
- Getting the Royal Society stamp of approval by Charlotte King. New Scientist, 25 Feb 2010. It includes large-size images of the 10 stamps.
- The Royal Society 350 Years, British Postal Museum & Archive.
- Science stamps mark the Royal Society's 350th anniversary, Royal Society, 24 Feb 2010.
- 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society, new Great Britain stamps, Norvic Philatelics. Includes interesting technical details and image credits, and a few special postmarks.

Edward Jenner and smallpox:
- Edward Jenner Museum, Gloucestershire, UK. Excellent website with plenty of information.
- Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination by Stefan Riedel, Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent) (2005) 18, 21–25.
- Edward Jenner (1749-1823), historical figures, BBC.
- Smallpox, World Health Organization.

Joseph Lister and his relatives:
- Joseph Lister: Surgery Transformed, a video produced by British Medical Journal Media.
- Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869), Pioneers in Optics. Science Optics & You, Molecular Expressions.
- Early Myxomycetologists (including Arthur and Gulielma Lister), Myxoweb.
- Gulielma Lister (1860-1949), biography, Wanstead Wildlife.
- Biography of Gulielma Lister (1860-1949), The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-Z. By Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey.

Microbiology (and other sciences) featured on stamps:
- Microscopy on stamps by Dave Walker, Microscopy-UK. Great article, together with the following one:
- Photomicrography on stamps by Dave Walker, Microscopy-UK.
- Physics-related stamps, compiled by Joachim Reinhardt. Mostly about physicists, but there are also a few other scientists, mathematicians and engineers (including Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke).
- Science and Technology on Stamps, A to Zee ("the web guide for collectors").
- Sci-Philately: a Selective History of Science on Stamps by Maiken Naylor, University at Buffalo Libraries.
- Medical Stamps,
- Filatelia Médica - Medical Stamps by Dr Tuoto.
- Pasteur on Stamps by Dr Tuoto.
- AIDS on Stamps.
- Malaria on Stamps Collection.
- Collect GB Stamps, resources for collecting British stamps. It has a good search tool.

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