Fw: Another Ernst Mayr obit (Harvard)

Kampis 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
called "the
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
and Benjamin
Geisinger  Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
at Harvard.
"As  a professor, museum director, benefactor to our library of comparative
zoology,  and
leading  mind of the 20th century, he shaped and articulated modern
understanding of
biodiversity  and related fields. With sadness, we note his passing; with
gratitude, we
thank  him for his legacy."
Mayr's  work in the 1930s and 1940s, while a curator at the American Museum
of Natural
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
evolutionary  biology
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
philosophy of
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
1991  interview.
"I  say, 'Please tell me what is wrong with Darwinism. I can't see anything
wrong  with
Born  July 5, 1904, in Kempten, Germany, Mayr earned a medical degree from
University  of Greifswald in 1925. Descended from generations of doctors, he
broke off
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
1961, "and
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
in  Budapest,
when  he met Lord Rothschild, who had been seeking someone to travel to New
Guinea to
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
from fellow
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
Darwin had
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
seminal  texts
"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 — a view not
shared by
many  scientists as late as the 1960s. Driven by a lifelong interest in the
"why" of
evolutionary  biology, he also pioneered the study of the philosophy and
history of
"Much  as we know about the 'how' of human evolution, the 'why' is still a
great  puzzle,"
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
hundreds  of
thousands  of dollars in prize money to such organizations as Harvard's
Museum of
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
Bedford, Mass.,
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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