What Did These Early Researchers Contribute to the History of Photosynthesis?

This is a partial account of the history of photosynthesis.

It covers the period from 1648 when Johann Baptista van Helmont’s Ortus Medicinae was published until about 1900 when the issue on the use of the term ‘photosynthesis’ finally subsided.

The telling is done by way of revisiting the works of selected contributors.

History of Photosynthesis
The light that enters this cave reveals spectacular scenery, the same light from the sun without which there is no photosynthesis in plants and the Earth would have been dark and lifeless

Partial List of Research Contributors to Photosynthesis

A partial list of persons who made significant contributions to the history of photosynthesis:

1. Johann Baptista van Helmont (1577-1644)

2. John Woodward (1665-1728)

3. Stephen Hales (1677-1761)

4. Charles Bonnet (1720–1793)

5. Joseph Black (1728–1799).

6. Joseph Priestley 

7. Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799)

8. Jean Sénébier (1742-1809)

9. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794)

10. Nicolas Thiodore de Saussure (1767-1845)

11. Pierre-Joseph Pelletier (1788-1842), Joseph-Bienaime Caventou (1795–1877) and René-Joachim-Henri Dutrochet (1776–1847)

12. Hugo von Mohl (1805–1872) and Julius Robert von Mayer (1814-1878)

13. Théodor Wilhelm Engelmann (1843 -1909)

14. Julius von Sachs (1832 -1897)

15. Charles Barnes (1858-1910) and Conway MacMillan (1867-1929)

The evolution of the history of photosynthesis did not stop with these men.

Researches have continued and is still continuing, and it seems now that man-made or artificial photosynthesis is rapidly becoming a reality.

Photosynthesis became a challenge and still remains so, and proved to become a wealthy cache of distinctions.

For their outstanding researches, many have been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize.

Ironically, the researchers whose names appear in the above list made their contributions prior to 1901, the birth of the Nobel Prize (Nobelprize.org 2012).

For a more comprehensive listing, particularly in relation to the history of photosynthesis in plants, readers are directed to the literature cited below, notably Discoveries in oxygenic photosynthesis (1727–2003): a perspective by Govindjee and Krogmann (2004).


(includes those cited in the subpages reviewing the contribution of specific researchers to the history of photosynthesis)

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  2. BOEDIJN KB. 1968. Plants of the World. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd. 312 p.
  3. CARDWELL D. 1995. The Norton History of Technology. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 178-180.
  4. COOPER A. 1999. Joseph Black, MD. Retrieved June 19, 2012 from http://www.chem.gla.ac.uk/~alanc/dept/black.htm.
  5. DEVLIN R. 1975. Plant Physiology. 3rd ed. New York, NY: 600 p.
  6. HOPKINS WG. 1999. Introduction to Plant Physiology. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 512 p.
  7. DONALDSON IML. 2009. The library copy of van Helmont’s Ortus Medicinae. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 39:280-1. Retrieved June 20, 2012 from http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/journal/issue/journal_39_3/ex_libris.pdf.
  8. DOYLE WP. 2011. Joseph Black (1728-1799). Retrieved June 19, 2012 from http://www.chem.ed.ac.uk/about/professors/black.html.
  9. EGERTON FN. 2008. A history of the ecological sciences, part 28: plant growth studies during the 1700s. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://esapubs.org/bulletin/current/history_list/history28.pdf.
  10. GEST H. 2002. Definition of photosynthesis: History of the word photosynthesis and evolution of its definition. Photosynthesis Research . 73: 7–10. Retrieved June 17, 2012 from http://nsm1.nsm.iup.edu/nuttle/Botany%20Spring%202011/3.%20Gest%20%282002%29%20 Photosynthesis%20Research%2073%207%20-%20History%20of%20phs%20research.pdf.
  11. GOVINDJEE. 2000. Milestones in photosynthesis research. Retrieved June 17, 2012 from http://www.life.illinois.edu/govindjee/2000_Govindjee_Milestones1.pdf
  12. GOVINDJEE, KROGMANN D. 2004. Discoveries in oxygenic photosynthesis (1727–2003): a perspective. Photosynthesis Research. 80: 15–57. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from  http://www.life.illinois.edu/govindjee/Part3/6_Govindjee_Krogmann.pdf.
  13. HART H. 2005. Brief papers: Nicolas Théodore de Saussure. Retrieved Feb. 10,2012 from http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/5/3/424.full.pdf.
  14. HOPKINS WG. 1999. Introduction to Plant Physiology. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 512 p.
  15. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BOTANY. 1985. Historical sketches 4: CO2-assimilation. J. Expt. Bot. (1985). Vol. 36(4):694-695. Retrieved June 28, 2012 from http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/4/694.extract.
  16. JOHNSTON HW. 1976. The biological and economic importance of algae. Part 4: the industrial culturing of algae. Tuatara. Vol. 22, Issue 2, June 1976. Retrieved Feb. 11, 2012 from http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bio22Tuat02-t1-body-d1.html.
  17. LIFE.ILLINOIS.EDU. n.d. Photosynthesis: the power plant and the chemical factory of life. Retrieved June 15, 2012 from http://www.life.illinois.edu/govindjee/photosynBook/Chapter1.pdf.
  18. MATTSON.CREIGHTON.EDU. n.d. Joseph Black. Retrieved June 13, 2012 from http://mattson.creighton.edu/History_Gas_Chemistry/Black.html.
  19. MAYNARD LA, LOOSLI JK, HINTZ HF, WARNER RG. 1980, Animal Nutrition. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. 1-8.
  20. MOORE R, CLARK WD, VODOPICH DS. 2003. Botany. 2nd ed. Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill. 919 p.
  21. MYERS RL. 2007. The 100 most important chemical compounds : a reference guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/23712570/29/Chlorophyll.
  22. NICKELSEN K. 2007. From leaves to molecules: botany and the development of photosynthesis research. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology. Vol. 12. Retrieved June 16, 2012 from http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/univerlag/2009/annals12_DGGTB.pdf.
  23. NOBELPRIZE.ORG. 2012. The Nobel Prizes- About. Retrieved June 18, 2012 from http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/nobelprize_info/.
  24. OLDER P. 2007. Some facts and some thoughts on the history of oxygen uptake and its measurement. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.cpxinternational.com/attachments/046_HistoryO2Uptake-coms.pdf.
  25. PRIESTLEY, J. 1774. Experiments and observations on different kinds of air. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29734/29734-h/29734-h.htm.
  26. PURDUE UNIVERSITY. 2011. Barnes, Charles Reid (1858-1910) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections. Retrieved June 17, 2012 from http://www4.lib.purdue.edu/archon321/index.php?p=creators/creator&id;=195.
  27. REDGROVE HS, REDGROVE LML. 1922. Joannes Baptista van Helmont: alchemist, physician and philosopher. London: William Rider & Son, Ltd. Retrieved June 19, 2012 from http://www30.us.archive.org/stream/joannesbaptistav00redg/joannesbaptistav00redg_djvu.txt.
  28. ROOK A (ed.). 1964. The Origins and Growth of Biology. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd. 403 p.
  29. SPOEHR HA. 1926. Photosynthesis. NY: The Chemical Catalog Company, Inc. Retrieved June 20, 2012 from http://www.archive.org/stream/photosynthesis00spoe/photosynthesis00spoe_djvu.txt.
  30. STAEHELIN LA. 2003. Chloroplast structure: from chlorophyll granules to supra-molecular architecture of thylakoid membranes. Photosynthesis Research. 76:185-196. Retrieved June 18, 2012 from http://www.life.illinois.edu/govindjee/Part2/16_Staehelin.pdf.
  31. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN. n.d. Stahl, Georg (1659-1734). In: From Alchemy to Chemistry:Five Hundred Years of Rare and Interesting Books. Retrieved June 9, 2012 from http://www.scs.illinois.edu/~mainzv/exhibit/stahl.htm.
  32. UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA. 2006. Department of Botany Records, 1893-1989. Retrieved June 17, 2012 from http://discover.lib.umn.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=umfa;cc=umfa;rgn=main;view=text;didno=uarc00892.
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Ben Bareja

Ben Bareja, the owner-founder-webmaster of CropsReview.com. This website was conceptualized primarily to serve as an e-library for reference purposes on the principles and practices in crop science, including basic botany. Read more here

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