Today’s Doodle honors the legacy of groundbreaking Scottish scientist Mary Somerville. On this day in 1826, one of Somerville’s experimental physics papers was read by the Royal Society of London, the UK’s National Science Academy. It became the first paper by a female author to be published in the prestigious Philosophical Transactions, the world’s oldest science publication, which is still active today.
Born in Jedburgh, Scotland, on December 26th, 1790, into a distinguished family of humble means, Sommerville spent her early years helping her mother with chores around the house and enjoying nature in the family garden. At the age of 10, her father returned from overseas and decided to send her to a boarding school for a proper education.
It was at boarding school that her art teacher explained how the fundamentals of painting could be traced back to Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. After acquiring a copy of the classic book, Somerville delved into teaching herself astronomy and mathematics. Following years of independent learning and research, she went on to publish her own scientific papers and books.
In 1831, Somerville’s The Mechanism of the Heavens revolutionized the existing understanding of the solar system. This highly-praised essay laid the groundwork for her breakthrough book, The Connection of the Physical Sciences (1834), which became among the best selling science books of the 19th century. Its third edition in 1836 provided the clues astronomer John Couch Adams needed to discover Neptune.
In Connection, Somerville revealed the underlying links between the different disciplines of physical science, on which a reviewer of the book first coined the word “scientist” to describe this multidisciplinary approach.
Not one to be pigeonholed, Somerville was also a vocal advocate for equal rights and the first person to sign the 1866 women’s suffrage petition.
In 2016, the Institute of Physics celebrated Sommerville’s innovative thinking, which paved the way for the ever-increasing number of women in STEM fields, by introducing the Mary Somerville Medal and Prize for scientists who engage the public through their work.
Meet the Scottish scientist, Mary Somerville on Google Arts & Culture. Find out how her expertise led her to become the joint first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Doodler Q&A with Alyssa Winans
Today’s Doodle was created by Doodler Alyssa Winans.
Below, she shares some thoughts on the making of the Doodle:
Q: Is there anything about Mary Somerville’s story that resonated with you?
A: I admire her voracious appetite for learning. It’s inspiring that she was so deeply interested in such a wide array of topics.
Q: What was your creative approach for this Doodle? Why did you choose this approach?
A: I wanted to focus on a range of subjects that she contributed to. Most of my sketches revolve around different ways of showing the breadth of her knowledge.
Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: I was especially inspired by how many books she wrote in a time when being a female writer was a challenge. I tried to sneak that into the art as well.
Q: Are there any technical tricks you used to create this Doodle that you can share with young artists?
A: I heavily relied on transparencies for the overlapping spheres in this Doodle! I think it helps give complexity and depth to an otherwise straightforward image.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from this Doodle?
A: I hope this Doodle will shine a light on Mary Somerville’s contributions, and people will feel inspired to explore a broad range of interests.
Early concepts and draft of the Doodle
Somerville focusing on different areas of study.
The final artwork includes a nod to Somerville’s contribution to Neptune’s discovery, as well as the Somerville Crater.