A group on the deviantart website, Domain of Darwin, had a “Celebrating the Heroes of Science” contest.
It was sadly poorly attended. I wonder if it was in part because the subject seemed so intimidating, but so interesting. Especially for artisan crafters. I love science, especially biology, but it generally doesn’t inform my crafts nearly as much as history or literature does. So for me it was a nice ‘reach’ experiment, though my final pieces fell short of what I wanted, it gave me something to build on.
The two ‘heroes of science’ whose work I decided to portray were Gregor Mendel, whose practical experiments with plants laid the groundwork for the rules of inheritance, and Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallography helped provide the breakthrough in the search for the molecular structure of DNA.
Gregor Mendel did experimentation into inheritance decades before science was aware of the existence of genes, let alone of DNA. His most famous experiments were with pea plants, so their variations are what I chose to represent in my piece.
By crossing true breeding pea plants, each with their own set of true breeding physical attributes, he was able to observe that nature of inheritance generation after generation. His first surprise was that traits didn’t blend. A tall plant crossed with a short plant did not result in a middle height plant. Instead it resulted in tall plants. In breeding that second generation there came another surprise. The short trait didn’t disappear. He discovered that a certain percentage of the progeny of this second generation were short, and that those short plants were true breeding. A much larger percentage of the generation were tall, some of them breeding true, while others continued to split according to the same division as their parents. With a great deal of patience, cross breeding, time and math, Mendel discerned that certain traits-for instance ‘tallness’ were dominant and could ‘overrule’ but not remove the trait of ‘shortness’ in peas. Traits could be shuffled but were immutable. (Mostly…)