Badass Scientist of the Week: Lynn Margulis
Lynn Margulis (1938–2011) was a world-renowned evolutionary biologist, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, a recipient of the National Medal of Science, and one of the most creative challengers of mainstream Darwinian thinking. She was born in Chicago, and after just two years of high school, she began studying at the University of Chicago. It was here that, aged 16, she met the famous Carl Sagan, whom she married two years later. After completing a Master’s degree in Genetics and Zoology and a PhD in Genetics, she and Sagan divorced, and Margulis moved to Boston to teach fulltime at Boston University, continue to research, and raise two children at the same time. It was at this time that she began to challenge what she called “ultra-Darwin orthodoxy”, downplaying the traditional natural selection idea of competition and instead suggesting that symbiosis is equally important feature—i.e., cooperation. Her idea was considered evolutionary heresy and her findings were rejected by 15 academic journals—as were her grant applications. One read: “Your research is crap. Don’t ever bother to apply again.” Margulis, however, continued to collect data and finally published her paper in 1967. Soon, data to support symbiosis accumulated and it became an orthodox theory, and Margulis came to be regarded as a respected researcher. Her expertise in microbes also led her to the British atmospheric chemist James Lovelock, with whom she developed the concept of “Gaia”, which proposes that the Earth is a self-regulating living ecosystem, all life locked in a symbiotic relationship. Margulis was committed to helping the public understand science, and she lectured, produced videos and reviews, and wrote a range of popular science books all throughout her life. She passed away at 73 following a stroke. Without creative, persistent rebels like her, science would never progress.