Agnes Arber was one of the most renowned botanists belonging to the 18th century. Her father was an artist and from him she gained the art of illustration which later on helped her in demonstrating the botanical works which she was involved in. She inculcated an interest in the subject of botany when she was in school and her scores were evident of her passion for the subject. She worked diligently and gained knowledge about the subject and even gained scholarship which helped her continue further studies in botany. Her encounter with the renowned botanist Ethel Sargent proved beneficial and Sargent provided her with the guidance which was required to enhance the qualities of Agnes as a botanist. She worked with Sargent in her laboratory which provided Arber with immense practical knowledge. She went to become an eminent botanist who did significant research work, which formed the base of many future developments in plant science. She focussed more on plant anatomy and morphology and even established a difference between pure morphology and applied morphology. Her work on floral structure has been an important development in the world of science. She has also made many contributions to the botanical science by her research work, revolving around monocotyledons
- Agnes was born to Henry Robertson and Agnes Lucy Turner on 23rd February, 1879, in London. She was the eldest of four children and her siblings were named Donald Struan Robertson, Margaret Robertson and Janet Robertson.She received education from ‘North London Collegiate School’, where she cultivated an interest for the subject of botany. Her first research work was published in her school magazine, in 1894.Following this she topped the botany paper in her class and earned a scholarship. During her school days she met plant morphologist Ethel Sargent, who later went on to become her guide in botany.She enrolled at the ‘University College’, London in 1897 and two years later, she completed B.Sc. Later, she joined the ‘Newnham College’ and earned a degree in Natural Sciences in 1902. She excelled as a student earning many awards and accolades.Career
- After completing her course at the ‘Newnham College’, she joined Ethel Sargent and for one year worked in her laboratory located in Reigate. There Sargent taught her to make plant specimens with the help of micro techniques, for microscopic evaluation.During 1902-03, she aided Sargent in the research involving seedling structure, and during the same time, this biologist penned her first paper entitled ‘Notes on the anatomy of Macrozamia heteromera’ which was published in ‘Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society’.She then became a holder of the ‘Quain Studentship’ in Biology at the ‘University College’, London. In 1905, she received her Doctorate of Science. During the years at this institute, she did research work on the group of plants which come under the gymnosperm category. She wrote many research papers about the morphology and anatomy of these plants.She relocated to Cambridge in the year 1909, and earned a place in the ‘Balfour Laboratory for Women’ under the ‘Newnham College’.In 1912, her first book ‘Herbals, their origin and evolution’ was published and the same year, the ‘Newnham College’ bestowed her with a Research Fellowship.Agnes did a research work involving morphology and anatomy of monocotyledon plants, and she had inked two books and several other papers involving her researches.In 1920, her book ‘Water Plants: A Study of Aquatic Angiosperms’ was printed which is a study of relativity about aquatic plants and in the book she evaluated the differences existing in various aquatic plants.Her book ‘The Monocotyledons’ was printed in 1925, which was initially started by Agnes’ mentor Ethel Sargent.She was engaged in research work at the ‘Balfour Laboratory for Women’ for a long period of time and continued to work there till the laboratory was shut down in 1927.This was followed by the establishment of a laboratory in her residence, where she carried on with her work until she shifted her interest from research to philosophical work.This eminent botanist wrote ten papers during 1930-42, which include her studies about the floral structure.She carried on her plant research and focussed on the plant family ‘Gramineae’. In 1934, her book ‘The Gramineae’ was published, where the author discussed about the vegetative and reproductive cycles of the grasses, cereals and bamboo, she also discussed the embryology and life cycles of these plants.This was her last published book. However, she wrote as many as ten research papers included in the collection ‘The Annals of Botany’, which followed the publication of her last book.In 1937, she penned study papers which dealt with her researches done during the past years and it became a significant part of morphological studies.Her last botanical work was printed in 1942, and after that she made a shift to philosophical and historical themes, owing to the problems related to maintenance of the laboratory.She wrote many historical works revolving around botanists such as John Ray, Nehemiah Grew, Marcello Malpighi and Sir Joseph Banks during the period 1942-45.In 1946, she published a translation work entitled Goethe's Botany’ which include translations of the renowned works of botanists Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ‘Metamorphosis of Plants’ and of Georg Christoph Tobler's ‘Die Natur’.The years from 1950 to 1957 saw the publication of her books ‘The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form’, ‘The Mind and The Eye’ and ‘The Manifold and the One’.Major Works
- In 1950, she penned the book entitled ‘The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form’ became one of the most renowned works of this remarkable plant morphologist. The book focusses on the transition from research to the establishment of a philosophy. In this book she introduces the ‘partial-shoot theory of the leaf’. The theory says that each component of a plant is either a shoot or a partial-shoot.Awards & Achievements
- In 1946, she was the ‘Fellow of the Royal Society’, and she was the first women botanist to be bestowed with this honour.The ‘Linnean Society of London’ honoured this learned researcher with the ‘Gold Medal.Personal Life & Legacy
- In 1909, she married Edward Alexander Newall Arber, who was a paleobotanist and the couple was blessed with a child named Muriel Agnes Arber.The family shifted to Cambridge and Agnes stayed there until her death on 22 March, 1960.
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