Inventors, pioneers of progress

Eminent botanists, mathematicians, researchers and scientists have all helped to further mankind’s knowledge and comfort. Find out more about some of the world’s most pioneering minds.

With the magnificent view from the Australian embassy as a backdrop, members learnt about inventors both renowned and unknown.

Côte d’Ivoire, the USA, Mauritius, Italy, Latvia and France all presented the inventor who had made their mark on history.

LAURENT AKE ASSI, who died aged 82 in Abidjan, was one of the most important botanists of the 20th and 21st centuries in West Africa. Sometimes referred to as the ‘genius of the jungle’ or the ‘genius of the Ivorian forest’ and in large part self-taught, he spent his life studying, cataloguing and defending wild plants, including, most importantly, the rich flora of the forests of the Côte d’Ivoire. Gifted with an excellent memory, he served as a guide and translator for French botanists who wanted to start their own herbaria. He was an intern in France at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and the Sorbonne’s vegetation laboratory. At the request of Ivorian President Houphouêt-Boigny, he returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 1961 having received a doctorate. He taught a great many students and supervised several doctoral theses in botany. Ake Assi believed a herbarium should be treasured as part of a country’s history.

Born in Ohio, USA in 1839, JOSEPHINE GARIS COCHRANE is considered to have invented the dishwasher in 1886. She was very wealthy and spent large sums of money employing staff to wash her dishes. She dreamt of a machine that could accomplish the same task. She invented and patented the ground-breaking machine, which earned her a prize at the Chicago World Fair of 1893. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the dishwasher became widely used.

From Mauritius, the focus was less on inventors than on eminent French individuals who made important contributions to the island’s development.

During the French settlement of 1715 to 1860, the arrival of Governor MAHE de LA BOURDONNAIS heralded an era of French dominance in the Indian Ocean. He commissioned fortifications, a port and even sewers like those in Paris. Within a few years, the island of previously untapped potential had become a highly profitable colony.

Later, the botanist and member of several scientific academies PIERRE POIVRE collected a great number of spices and dozens of plant species. He promoted the cultivation of fruit trees and even proposed laws on the protection of the natural environment. He also designed the famous Jardin de Pamplemousses, the jewel in the island’s crown which houses giant water lilies and over 60 varieties of palm tree.

The Italian GALILEO was sentenced to death in 1633 but was formally rehabilitated in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. Chair of Mathematics at the University of Pisa, he laid the groundwork for the 17th century Scientific Revolution and was a leading light amongst contemporary researchers.

He studied the fall of bodies, discovering that the speed of the fall was not proportional to the body’s mass, and that therefore gravity must have a fixed value. He explored the solar system with his telescope, examining the surface of the moon, Jupiter’s satellites and solar flares. As a result of his experiments, he made brilliant contributions to the scientific work of Copernicus. He published work in which he claimed, in particular, that the moon’s surface was not smooth, but covered in mountains and craters. This provoked an influx of denunciations from the Church, who believed these discoveries to be contrary to Scripture. The main charge against him concerned his theory that the Earth and other planets revolved around the sun.

MINOX is a manufacturer of photographic equipment, renowned for its miniature cameras developed in Latvia in 1937. This invention changed the way in which military operations were conduction during the Second World War since the cameras were used in all kinds of espionage activities.

Having trained as a chemist, LOUIS PASTEUR was at the forefront of the most important scientific discoveries of the 19th century in the fields of biology, medicine and sanitation. His work can be split into three main periods.

Early on in his career, working in the field of biology, he developed a process for conserving and improving the quality of wine and beer and was elected to the Académie des Sciences. He studied molecules and looked into what happened to them during fermentation. He found that in order to avoid such degradation – useful when transporting goods over long distances – a substance needed be heated to 55 °C in a process we now call Pasteurisation. He was also interested in beer diseases.

Later, working on medicine, surgical procedures, microbiology and sanitation, Pasteur focused exclusively on researching contagious diseases affecting animals and humans. If the diseases were caused by microorganisms, Pasteur believed these must be identified and neutralised. He thus outlined the ideal conditions for sterilisation. He discovered vaccines against rabies in humans, anthrax in sheep and cholera in poultry. He was the first to immunise humans against rabies, a great step forward for humanity, which was followed by vaccinations against cholera, tetanus, diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough and polio.

Pasteur then decided to found a centre dedicated to rabies vaccination, which also served as a centre for teaching and research. Three years later, the Institut Pasteur was opened and today there are 33 Instituts Pasteur in 26 countries across the world.