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Door 20: Four more geologists you didn’t know were geologists


Thanks for all the responses to our last ‘geologists you didn’t know…’ post – there were plenty more we never knew about! Here are some of them, plus a few more discoveries. If you have any others to share, do leave a comment below.



Leonardo_-_WGA147951. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Is there anything Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t do? Alongside being famous for painting, engineering, anatomy and various wacky inventions, Leonardo dabbled in geology. In, you know, his spare time.

He spent much time exploring the landscape of northern Italy, making notes on sediment, erosion, fossils, stratification….As with his other endeavours, he was way ahead of his time. After one such trip, he anticipated the law of superposition, noting that,

Cavern with ducks

Cavern with ducks

The stratified stones of the mountains are all layers of clay, deposited one above the other by the various floods of the rivers. . . In every concavity at the summit of the mountains we shall always find the divisions of strata in the rocks. ¹

Landscapes and geological formations turn up all over the place in Leonardo’s paintings, sketches and notebooks, and have a clear influence on his art.


NPG P1825; Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis) by Charles KingBeatrix Potter (1866-1943)

Beatrix Potter is best known for her children’s books, but she was an avid scientist in several fields. She studied botany, archaeology, taxonomy – almost all natural sciences but astronomy.

Thought geology wasn’t one of her primary areas of study, she was an avid collector of fossils; her artist’s eye appreciated them for their intricate beauty as much as their scientific interest. According to a biographer, she climbed Nanny Hill above the village of Troutbeck whilst on holiday in 1895, in order to collect coral fossils, which she later painted. When criticised for her indiscriminate collecting, she replied ‘I beg to state I intend to pick up everything I find which is not too heavy.’²

Sadly, geology appears to have frustrated Potter in the end; after a visit to the Natural History Museum she wondered whether ‘geology names the fossils or the fossils geology’, and after visiting a particularly unstable quarry, declared it was ‘better not to expect or worry much about geology…’

Goethe_(Stieler_1828)Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)

Thanks to Jesper Dramsch (@jesperdramsch) for pointing this one out – we had no idea Goethe was one of us!

A literary celebrity by his twenties, Goethe is probably best known for his Faust, a play depicting the German legend of the scholar who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge. His long and wide ranging career took in many other fields; politics, travel, literary criticism and science.

‘As to what I have done as a poet’ he says himself, ‘I take no pride in it… But that in my century I am the only person who knows the truth in the difficult science of colours – of that, I say, I am not a little proud, and here I have a consciousness of a superiority to many.’

His scientific interests were wide ranging too: anatomy, chemistry and the theory of colour. Alongside this, Goethe had the largest private collection of minerals in Europe, and had, by the time of his death, collected 17,800 rock samples – impressive by any geologist’s standards.

In geology, Goethe argued the case for Neptunism – the theory that the Earth’s crust formed by the precipitation of water. A theory largely disproved by the time of Goethe’s death, perhaps this is why his influence on the science is not what it might otherwise have been.


Sheldon Cooper

At last! After years of derogatory comments about our noble science, we have video evidence that Sheldon geologises! At least, for one night…



²Lear, Linda (2008). Beatrix Potter: The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Genius.

7 thoughts on “Door 20: Four more geologists you didn’t know were geologists

  1. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #27 | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Pingback: » What’s up? The Friday links (63)

  3. Pingback: » What’s up? The Friday links (64)

  4. Former U.S. Presidential candidate, Cabinet Member, and Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbitt (BA and MS degrees in geology)

  5. Pingback: Door 4 – more favourite fictional geologists! | Geological Society of London blog

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