Fw: Another Ernst Mayr obit (Harvard)
kampis at axelero.hu
Sat Feb 5 10:34:09 CET 2005
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Subject: Another Ernst Mayr obit (Harvard)
Ernst Mayr, giant among evolutionary biologists, dies at 100
Acclaimed advancer of Darwinism had been member of Harvard faculty since
By Steve Bradt FAS Communications
Ernst Mayr, the Harvard University evolutionary biologist who has been
Darwin of the 20th century," died yesterday morning (Feb. 3) at a
in Bedford, Mass. A member of the Harvard faculty for more than half a
century, he was
Mayr's death came after a brief illness, his family said.
Widely considered the world's most eminent evolutionary biologist and even
one of the
100 greatest scientists of all time, Mayr joined Harvard's Faculty of Arts
and Sciences in
1953 as Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and led Harvard's Museum of
Comparative Zoology from 1961 to 1970. He retired in 1975, assuming the
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology Emeritus.
"Professor Mayr's contributions to Harvard University, and to the field of
biology, were extraordinary by any measure," said William C. Kirby, Edith
Geisinger Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
"As a professor, museum director, benefactor to our library of comparative
leading mind of the 20th century, he shaped and articulated modern
biodiversity and related fields. With sadness, we note his passing; with
thank him for his legacy."
Mayr's work in the 1930s and 1940s, while a curator at the American Museum
History in New York, quickly established him as a central figure in the
evolutionary synthesis, the resurgence of evolutionary biology widely
regarded as one of
the most important scientific developments of the 20th century. He almost
handedly made the origin of species diversity the central question of
that it is today. He also pioneered the currently accepted definition of a
species: an interbreeding population that cannot breed with other groups.
Throughout his nearly 80-year career, as his research ranged throughout
taxonomy, zoogeography, evolution, systematics, and the history and
biology, Mayr maintained an unshakable faith in Darwin's theory of
"I'm an old-time fighter for Darwinism," he told the Harvard Gazette in a
"I say, 'Please tell me what is wrong with Darwinism. I can't see anything
Born July 5, 1904, in Kempten, Germany, Mayr earned a medical degree from
University of Greifswald in 1925. Descended from generations of doctors, he
his medical career and turned his attention to zoology, earning a Ph.D.
University of Berlin just 16 months later.
"I was curious about far places," he told the Harvard Alumni Bulletin in
decided that as an M.D, I should have but small chance of traveling."
His chance to do so came in 1927, at the International Zoological Congress
when he met Lord Rothschild, who had been seeking someone to travel to New
collect birds of paradise. Mayr jumped at the chance, and spent the next
and a half
years in the South Seas, seeking out populations of birds that, isolated
members of their species, had accumulated genetic differences.
"I did one thing after another that I had no business of doing, but I was
confident I could
do it and, by God, I was able to do it," Mayr told the New York Times in
describing his "appalling self-confidence" as a young scientist.
In his travels in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Mayr showed what
never quite succeeded in establishing: that new species arise from isolated
He published his findings in the 1942 book "Systematics and the Origin of
Mayr eventually authored or co-authored more than 20 books, including the
"Animal Species and Evolution" (1963) and "The Growth of Biological
and contributed to well over 600 papers published in peer-reviewed
Throughout his career, Mayr fought tirelessly to ensure biology's place in
the pantheon of
"true sciences," alongside physics, astronomy, and chemistry â a view not
many scientists as late as the 1960s. Driven by a lifelong interest in the
evolutionary biology, he also pioneered the study of the philosophy and
"Much as we know about the 'how' of human evolution, the 'why' is still a
he wrote in 1963, a theme still very much in evidence in his most recent
Among his many honors, Mayr captured the three prizes widely regarded as
crown" of biology: the Balzan Prize in 1983, the International Prize for
Biology in 1994,
and the Crafoord Prize in 1999. In accepting these awards, Mayr donated the
thousands of dollars in prize money to such organizations as Harvard's
Comparative Zoology and the Nature Conservancy. "The money is the least
part of the prize," he told the Harvard Gazette upon winning the Balzan
Mayr was also awarded the National Medal of Science in 1970.
Mayr's wife Margarete died in 1990 after 55 years of marriage. He is
survived by two
daughters, Christa Menzel of Simsbury, Conn., and Susanne Harrison of
five grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. Plans for a memorial
service on the
Harvard campus will be announced at a later date.
steve_bradt at harvard.edu
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