Science Poetry

Window of Opportunity

A wish for a summer extending;
A challenge with deadlines impending…
With projects in limbo,
A look out the window
Makes pliant, time seeming-unbending.  

This last July post builds on another line from literature to address some complexities with respect to academic life (and indeed, with respect to managing any schedule). 

I have had a chance to read Anna Quindlen’s Write for Your Life this summer and found it greatly rewarding.  Each chapter begins with a quote from another renowned writer, and it is one from Alice Munro that inspired this final summer essay:

“I can’t play bridge.  I don’t play tennis.  All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for.  But what there is time for is looking out the window.”  

Alice Munro, quoted in Anna Quindlen’s Write for Your Life  

This reflection on the value of an intentional pause struck a chord this week, as the list of autumn-term tasks began accumulating in earnest.

A wish for a summer extending; /
A challenge with deadlines impending…

The timing of summer has always been a challenge, since beginning my academic career.  The comically aspirational to-do list of May and June would require a “summer extending” to truly accomplish; it quickly crumbles into a set of a few must-complete tasks in late July, as the “deadlines impending” take back over. 

The past two academic years have made this contrast quite pronounced.  The constant adjustments and novel reinventions necessary in the time of the pandemic cause each semester to appear particularly daunting, in terms of teaching preparations.     

With projects in limbo, /
A look out the window…

Munro’s thoughtful quote commemorates the value of deliberate observation, a step welcome in any scholarly endeavor: famously the first step of the scientific method, it is crucially present in many other creative discussions, as well.  I’ve been fortunate to teach a course in the overlap of Chemistry and Art in past years, which involves learning an observational technique facilitated by our outstanding area art museum.  This technique separates “observation” out as a first step of engaging with an image or question, distinct from any subsequent interpretation, and focuses on the importance of “careful noticing” as a valuable skill in daily life.  

Taking even a short break to “look out the window,” to contemplate without expectation or assumption, can be a useful addition to the daily routine, often resolving questions or facilitating projects that would otherwise be on pause (“in limbo”).    

Makes pliant, time seeming-unbending.  

The last line of the poem leans heavily on punctuation to make its point within the structure of the limerick; I intend this line to be read as “this approach can help relieve would-be-strict time limits” rather than “this approach appears to calcify one’s previously-flexible time.”  Ideally, the comma placement achieves that! 

While the approaching school year appears daunting and “seeming-unbending,” with its myriad obstacles and unknowns, my hope is that I can find a few steps with which to add some breathing room and creativity into each day.

I’ve written before about how these posts provide a chance to look at chemistry through a lens with a different “focal length.”  On a similarly deliberation-themed note, I expect to start these posts back up as the semester begins: translating past Twitter poems as one concrete way to look through a different window, at least briefly and metaphorically, during the autumn.      

Science Poetry

Charted Waters

Water, water everywhere– 
A molecule abounding; 
Through Gen Chem, common starting point
For studies most compounding.  
Likewise, survey the lit’rature 
For role in tale familiar
With aqueous variety:
Some insights are distilled there.  

In the third of this month’s weekly essays, this poem’s first line echoes a phrase from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1834 work The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge was a Romantic poet who collaborated with chemist Humphry Davy to learn about science, using Davy’s public demonstrations to enhance Coleridge’s “stock of metaphors.”  (Another of my favorite Coleridge quotes, perhaps for another time, is his statement: “I shall attack Chemistry– like a shark.”)    

Unlike the last two essays, this post will not build directly on the theme of the referenced quote; instead, I’ve borrowed the memorable line to note water’s prevalence in contexts related to chemistry.

Water, water everywhere– /
A molecule abounding; /
Through Gen Chem, common starting point /
For studies most compounding. 

When I teach General Chemistry, water is typically my “example” molecule.  It is much more familiar to students than many other chemical species in terms of its molecular formula (H2O) and structure (the shape of a letter V), its physical phases (ice, liquid water, and steam), and its real-world behaviors (heating and cooling; phase changes such as freezing and boiling).

Since we often begin with water and build to less familiar chemical species, water is a “common starting point/ [f]or studies most compounding,” to use a perpetual chemical pun.   

Likewise, survey the lit’rature /
For role in tale familiar /

With aqueous variety…

This specific poem arises from the fact that a moment involving water (“aqueous variety”) in the plot of a novel that I read in elementary school (“tale familiar”) has had some interesting resonances in the decades since, in my educational path.

When I was a student learning chemistry, I often was distracted by where scientific definitions and symbols came from, before I could focus on the actual use of these precise terms to communicate regarding calculations and experimental findings. (Why was heat energy abbreviated with the letter Q? Why was R used for the gas constant? Neither seemed to make sense!)

As I progressed in my chemistry career, I gradually became aware of how these terms and notations accumulated over time via consensus in the scientific literature, and I try to at least address these verbal genealogies in passing, when I am teaching. (With the two cases cited above, for instance, these can be remembered a bit more easily when tracing them to terms expressing the quantity of heat energy and the ratio inherent in the gas constant, respectively.)

Sometimes, these etymologies are very compelling! The scientific disputes and disagreements that arise in defining a new chemical species or theory can be significant and rancorous, as scientists seek to find concurrence on these “strange terms for strange things.”

As I started learning more about such debates, I was strongly reminded of an excellent book I’d read long ago: Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious. The plot focuses on a kingdom wherein the Prime Minister is drafting a new dictionary. As he arrives at the words beginning with D, he realizes that no one agrees with him on the definition of “delicious,” because each person brings their own favorite food into consideration when defining said word. The disagreement among the citizens of the kingdom becomes more and more acrimonious until, as the story culminates on a hot summer day, everyone realizes that they can indeed agree on the definition of “delicious”: “a drink of cool water when you’re very, very thirsty.” Order is happily restored (at least until the Prime Minister reaches the letter G, and the malleable definition of “golden,” in the closing chapter…).

The pace at which the book’s definitional controversy quickly moves from seemingly trivial to massively contentious came to mind when I learned much later about some of the fascinating stories of the history of science (although rarely was accord achieved so neatly as in Babbitt’s novel!). It’s intriguing to note how water plays a central role in that memorable plotline, as well, and reflecting on that gave rise to this verse.

Some insights are distilled there.  

The poem winds down with another pun, building on the concept of distillation in laboratory and literary settings. Most chemistry textbooks do not discuss the “behind-the-scenes” narratives through which the definitions and discoveries outlined in their pages are derived, and these stories can often be particularly vivid.

Science Poetry

Collage Search

Rain umbrella, machine (sewing), 
On dissecting table, showing
Chance encounters: juxtaposing 
Combinations, spark-disclosing.  

This is the second of a set of July essays beginning from literary quotes and building to some ideas about chemistry.  In this case, I encountered the lines in question as part of a museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution several years ago.  As with last week’s post, it’s clearly taken a while for the ideas to crystallize into a more coherent poem and essay!  

Rain umbrella, machine (sewing), /
On dissecting table, showing /
Chance encounters…

I had the chance to attend the Hirschhorn’s outstanding exhibition “Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York” in November 2015.  Part of what was most impressive to me was how the exhibition portrayed and celebrated the creative process.  In addition to interactive displays and the fascinating Surrealist artwork itself, the museum referenced multiple famous quotes regarding creativity.  The two highlighted in this poem are from the work of Comte de Lautreamont (“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table”) and Max Ernst (“Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition”).  Both note the creative power arising from unexpected combinations and comparisons.     

juxtaposing / 
Combinations, spark-disclosing.  

I’ve been fortunate in past academic years to team-teach a seminar course about creativity in the sciences and humanities, and a main theme has been the importance of combinatorial creativity: how seemingly unrelated images or concepts or academic disciplines can create new ideas when considered in conjunction with one another (in other words, how “juxtaposing combinations [are] spark-disclosing,” to again paraphrase the literary lines above). 

One of our early discussions often focuses on the commonplace book, a type of book in which writers across the centuries collected images and ideas from other sources that they had found to be uniquely interesting.  Students often quickly link these to modern social media websites, with these sites’ comparable abilities to create records of seemingly randomized ideas and interests. It is interesting to contemplate how documenting these collections– whether in hard-copy or digital form– can help illustrate and preserve the creative process itself.  

Likewise, this summer, I’ve encountered multiple references to the collage art form, in which various disjointed visual images are assembled together to yield a new artwork.  I have read several references about and examples of the “collage essay,” in which disparate pieces are combined to form a cohesive composition of creative non-fiction, in an approach that has appealed to me long before I learned its name.

Moreover, what ultimately catalyzed this piece– via the process of moving from random notes to poem, and from poem to prose– was a association with chemistry.  As with anything involving combination, the parallels between the formation of compounds from their component elements are always interesting to consider (and worth several more essays on their own!).  For the purposes of this specific blog entry, though, I was struck earlier this summer by a thought-provoking quote from renowned chemist Roald Hoffmann, writing about the scientific communication process.  

Hoffman’s essay “Art in Science?” is anthologized in Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry.  It includes some pages from one of his many published journal articles, along with the handwritten manuscript pages that preceded them, describing in each case their content and what they represent.  He explains the ways in which experimental narratives and molecular sketches, along with multiple authors’ notes and explanations, combine throughout the scientific writing process, long before a set of experiments is formally typed up and recounted in a chemistry journal article:         

“Articles are the stock-in-trade of the professional scientist… On the basis of these articles my work is evaluated and I make a living. That explains circumstantially… the final printed pages. What about the manuscripts…? Clearly these are collages.”  

Roald Hoffmann, “Art in Science?

The processes by which these chemistry-centric collages spark their own new ideas follow more predictable paths, since the literature review of a journal article has many conventional rules and routines.  Further, the distinction between an artist’s individual effort and a research group’s scientific collaboration is evident, as well. However, it is intriguing to note how the combinatorial record preserving these “chance encounters” is again integral to observing and perpetuating the creative process, this time in a scientific field. That was the connection that ultimately led to this particular post… and a welcome chance to remember the 2015 visit, as museums are particularly auspicious places to encounter interesting juxtapositions, across all disciplines.  

Science Poetry

Rhetorical Devices

If raven’s like a writing desk,
The Table’s like a poem: 
Each metric organizing scheme;
Each elemental locum.  
Atomic number, meter strict,
With properties repeating– 
The metaphors will oft conflate:
Their parallels, intriguing.  

As with last summer, I hope to post a few more expansive essays during July, and I’ll begin here, in an attempt to maintain focus in another challenging season. Last year, my longer July pieces had been rather random, focusing for a few weeks on biographical stories and for a few others on more general discussions of teaching. This year, my goal is that each of these weekly July essays will begin with a previous line from literature and build to some themes from chemistry.

To that end, this poem hasn’t been posted on Twitter previously.  It is one that has taken shape, interestingly, in a few different steps through the past few years.  It doesn’t follow either of the two light-verse forms I use most often (the limerick or the double dactyl), perhaps due to this stepwise formation.

The beginning of the poem has been on my mind since Summer 2019, when I was working on entries for a writing contest I’ve referenced before, but the rest didn’t take on a rhymed structure until this year.      

If raven’s like a writing desk, /
The Table’s like a poem…

The first line here references The Hatter’s famous query in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”).  In the decades since, many have thought of creative and witty answers to the seemingly unanswerable question!  

For instance, in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, Thursday Next is a literary detective in an alternate universe awash in fictional allusions.  In stopping at a local bar named The Cheshire Cat, Thursday encounters the Hatter’s riddle as a greeting from the bartender; she responds, “Because Poe wrote on both.”       

Her inspired answer and the resulting imaginative link between furniture and poem came to mind when I was considering possible ideas for 2019’s Periodic Poetry celebration, given both the theme of the contest and the pun possible with chemistry’s most famous of tables. I was finally able to add a few more lines this year to finish the long-persistent thought.  

Each metric organizing scheme; /
Each elemental locum. / 
Atomic number, meter strict, /
With properties repeating
The metaphors will oft conflate… 

Lines 3 through 6 had been conceptually in mind for a while but took a while to find their verse form.  Eventually, I borrowed the end of line 4 from Latin, to find a reasonable rhyme for “poem” that could also serve, appropriately, as a placeholder.   (“Locum” is the Latin word for “place,” although I’m confident I’m overlooking multiple rules about case and declension from coursework many years ago!)      

I’ve written here before of how I’ve seen several interesting parallels between chemistry and poetry.  Here, I address one such specific similarity: between a poet’s fitting together the syllables of a poem written in a strict rhyming meter (“each metric organizing scheme”) and Dmitri Mendeleev’s use of patterns among the elements (“each elemental locum”) to organize the first version of the modern Periodic Table of the Elements (PTE). 

[My chem-professor-self hastens to acknowledge that Mendeleev used the two dimensions of repeating physical properties (columns) and increasing atomic weight (rows) in developing his original chart, while it is the current PTE that is organized by physical properties and atomic number, after an insight by another scientist, Henry Moseley.]

As noted above with “locum,” in writing these light-verse efforts, I often find myself assigning syllabic blanks until I can find an appropriate word or rhyme, an action that consistently reminds me of Mendeleev’s use of the eka elements in building his original table: leaving spaces for new, fitting elements yet to be discovered.

In both cases, the “properties repeating” ultimately yield the overall structure of interest, whether that structure is the poem or the PTE, and so the comparisons “oft conflate.”    

Their parallels, intriguing.  

The poem closes here with a simple acknowledgement of the interest I have in this interdisciplinary overlap, which has remained fascinating throughout these past three years, and which I hope to explore more directly over the next few weeks.

Science Poetry

Poetic Pause

“Through poetic April prolific,
In verses with vocab specific:
Each day’s iteration,
Chem communication,
With focus on rhyme scientific.”  

The 30 April 2021 limerick wound down another National Poetry Writing Month, and it seems a good place to pause for a few weeks at the end of this spring semester, as well.  

“Through poetic April prolific, /
In verses with vocab specific…”

The National Poetry Writing Month routine has continued to be a rewarding process since the first year I attempted it in 2019.  After many years of learning “vocab specific” as part of my chemistry training, it has been a fun challenge to turn those terms into more creative writing, hearing the metric feet inherent in the jargon.  This continued again in April 2022, and I will look forward to expanding on those verses here in the 22-23 academic year.    

“Each day’s iteration, /
Chem communication, /
With focus on rhyme scientific.”  

This is a bit of an oversimplification, as I note that not every poem from these April routines is truly chemistry- or science-focused; several focus on interdisciplinary overlaps, or springtime, or the unusual circumstances of these past few years.  However, the majority “focus on rhyme scientific,” and I’ve written elsewhere of the value of the iterative routine, in this way.  

As with last summer, I will take a few weeks off from these posts, then plan to spend some time in July on some more expansive essays and themes. 

Science Poetry

Wordplay in Three Acts

Test tubes and beakers and
Flasks volumetric;
Pipettes and burets and 
Stir bars magnetic.  
Mortars and pestles and
Stands with their rings–
These are a few of my favorite things.” 

“It’s not the chair (the most stable),
But other conformer, you’ll denote;
Write down, write down, 
Write down, write down
The cyclohexane form: boat.”  

Greenish-blue shade of patina
On copper’s once-brown surface,
Caused by air’s action:
Outward consistence 
Will change its color,
A redox instance…

The Twitter posts from 19 April 2021, 20 April 2021, and 21 April 2021 were all of a similar theme: using lyrics from a famous musical number to illustrate a chemistry-related concept.  Since the meaning of each is relatively one-note (ha), I’ll address them all briefly in a single post.  

Test tubes and beakers and
Flasks volumetric;
Pipettes and burets and 
Stir bars magnetic.  
Mortars and pestles and
Stands with their rings–
These are a few of my favorite things.” 

The first poem takes after the rhyme scheme and itemized format of “My Favorite Things,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.  It lists common pieces of lab equipment.  

It’s not the chair (the most stable),
But other conformer, you’ll denote;
Write down, write down, 
Write down, write down
The cyclohexane form: boat.”   

The second echoes the format of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls.  Many molecules exist as multiple conformers: they can twist and bend in three-dimensional space, and these different shapes differ in terms of their energies (and thus stabilities).  This poem highlights two of the many conformers available to the molecule cyclohexane: the chair and the boat, depending on how the cyclic molecule appears to bend.  Of these two, the boat is the less stable conformer.  (This particular verse has a long set-up for a brief punchline!)  

Greenish-blue shade of patina
On copper’s once-brown surface,
Caused by air’s action:
Outward consistence 
Will change its color,
A redox instance…”

The last mimics “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita.  It describes a redox reaction available to copper, which exists in its elemental form as an orangish-brown metal, but can be oxidized to what’s called a patina, adopting a greenish-blue color (as seen via the Statue of Liberty).  The “outward consistence” of a copper sample will thus look different after the “redox instance,” which is caused by “air’s action,” given the oxygen within. 

Science Poetry

Celestial Navigation

Katherine Johnson, 
As mathematician,
Will orbits apprise:
Gifts analytic and
Genius logistic
Facilitate NASA’s paths
To, through the skies.” 

The 18 April 2021 Twitter biography celebrated the life of mathematician and scientist Katherine Johnson (1918-2020).  Johnson was one of the first Black women to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and her multi-decade career there included support of multiple historic flights, including those of Alan Shepard and John Glenn.  

“Data-equatingly, /
Katherine Johnson, /
As mathematician, /
Will orbits apprise…”

Katherine Johnson was only 18 when she graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia State University, majoring in both mathematics and French. She began her career as a math teacher, but she is most well-known for her subsequent work at NASA as a “human computer” during the Space Race.  As such, she “data-equatingly” solved many complex calculations in support of mission launches, orbits, and re-entries.     

She would later note that her love of mathematics was there from childhood: “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

“Gifts analytic and /
Genius logistic /
Facilitate NASA’s paths /
To, through the skies.” 

The recent movie Hidden Figures told Johnson’s story, along with those of two of her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, during the time surrounding John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth in 1962; Glenn was the first American to complete an orbit.  

As recounted in that film, Glenn had asked that Johnson, specifically, verify the mathematical calculations surrounding his historic flight.  Johnson’s “gifts analytic and genius logistic” were central in this momentous step in American history.  Her career would continue with support of the Apollo moon landing and many other efforts until her retirement in 1986.  

Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.  NASA also recognized Johnson’s efforts, renaming a program in her honor and presenting her with one of their “Silver Snoopy” awards, an honor which is bestowed specifically by NASA astronauts for outstanding support of the space program.   

Science Poetry

Branching Statements

“Deducing, computing, 
Through science poetical…
A. Ada Lovelace’s 
Efforts accrue: 
Steps archetypical.  
Quests algorithmic;
Endeavors heuristic–
From her works, ensue.”

The 17 April 2021 Twitter biography described some of the myriad accomplishments of Countess Augusta Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), whose family tree is one of the most famously interdisciplinary in history.  

“Deducing, computing, /
Through science poetical… /
A. Ada Lovelace’s /
Efforts accrue:” 
Steps archetypical.”

Ada Lovelace’s father was poet Lord Byron, and her mother was mathematician Lady Byron.  While Lovelace is most famous for her work related to computer science, she also is noted for her discussions of the imagination needed to pursue science (the phrase “science poetical” is from her own writing).  Lovelace’s “efforts accrue[d]” in a wide variety of STEM fields throughout her life, as her path crossed with those of multiple scientists and academics in the 1800s.  (Interestingly, her tutor was Mary Somerville, whose own story was briefly told here via a similar essay a few weeks ago.)  

Lovelace is likely best-known for her collaboration with Charles Babbage, who designed the Analytical Engine, a precursor to the programmable computer.  Babbage asked Lovelace to translate an article related to his work from Italian to English: “Sketch of the Analytical Engine,” which had been written by Luigi Menabrea.  As part of this process, Lovelace published notes of her own; these notes are generally considered the first computer program (“steps archetypical”).    

“Quests algorithmic; /
Endeavors heuristic– /
From her works, ensue.”

Lovelace was able to imagine the wide array of possibilities that the Analytical Engine could accomplish, beyond arithmetic calculations alone to artistic applications, as well: a wide array of “quests algorithmic [and] endeavors heuristic.”  

Via an insightful comment that elegantly intertwined the artistic and analytic branches of her family tree, she stated: “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”  

Lovelace’s birthday is now commemorated as a holiday, celebrating women’s achievements in STEM, more generally. 

Science Poetry

Enzyme Catalysis

“Inventive, reflective—
Marie Maynard Daly 
Seeks routes mechanistic
For enzymes and cells;
Goals realizing while
Paths catalyzing for 
Students to follow 
Through future, as well.”

The 16 April 2021 Twitter biography briefly recounted the story of Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003), who was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the USA.     

“Inventive, reflective— / 
Marie Maynard Daly /
Seeks routes mechanistic /
For enzymes and cells…”

Marie Maynard Daly completed her undergraduate work at Queens College and her master’s degree at New York University.  She then attended Columbia University to earn her doctorate degree, and her thesis was entitled “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.”  Her dissertation research, completed in only three years, explored “routes mechanistic / [f]or enzymes,” as pancreatic amylase is an enzyme that can break down complex carbohydrates into glucose (sugar).  

Daly graduated from Columbia in 1947, then continued her biochemical research at multiple institutions: as a postdoctoral researcher at the Rockefeller Institute, then as a researcher and instructor at Columbia University, and ultimately as a faculty member at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she taught for more than 25 years.  Her insights were widespread: investigating protein synthesis and illustrating the harmful effects of cholesterol, among many other studies.    

“Goals realizing while / 
Paths catalyzing for /
Students to follow /
Through future, as well.”

A catalyst can speed the rate of a chemical reaction by lowering its activation energy: the energetic barrier that must be overcome for a reaction to proceed.  An enzyme is a catalyst for a biochemical reaction, specifically.

Daly established a scholarship at Queens College in memory of her father, who had also studied chemistry but was unable to complete his degree due to lack of financial support. These last few lines thus highlight the way in which Daly helped students along their paths to graduation, breaking down barriers: “paths catalyzing for / students to follow / through future, as well.”  

Science Poetry

Science Alliance

“The findings of Somerville, Mary:
Relating the sciences, varied.
Her knowledge, collecting;
The STEM fields, connecting,
In textbook most extraordinary.”

The 15 April 2021 Twitter biography noted the myriad accomplishments of Mary Somerville, an accomplished researcher who published On the Connection of the Physical Sciences in 1858.  

“The findings of Somerville, Mary: /
Relating the sciences, varied.” 

Mary Somerville (1780-1872) was a gifted scientist and author; she wrote articles and books related to astronomy, physics, and other varied STEM fields.    

“Her knowledge, collecting; /
The STEM fields, connecting, /
In textbook most extraordinary.”

While Somerville wrote many books, her most famous text is likely the one cited in the introduction to this post: On the Connection of the Physical SciencesIt deliberately examines links and connections between scientific topics: defying disciplinary barriers and thus anticipating many of the challenges that still persist in STEM today.  

The book discusses such varied and accessible topics as the moon’s orbit, the processes of photography, and the vibrations of strings involved in music, as well as the underlying scientific concepts, processes, and patterns beneath all of these.  Somerville writes in the book’s introduction: “Science, regarded as the pursuit of truth, must ever afford occupation of consummate interest, and subject of elevated meditation… Our knowledge of external objects is founded upon experience, which furnishes facts; the comparison of these facts establishes relations, from which the belief that like causes will produce like effects leads to general laws.”   

Given the wide range of her academic interests, Somerville was the first person to ever be described via the word “scientist”; this was a term coined by her contemporary William Whewell (1794-1866) in describing Somerville’s varied interests, since job titles such as “astronomer” or “mathematician” alone were disciplinarily insufficient.  (Like Somerville, Whewell was a widely interested researcher, and he gave many useful neologisms to both STEM and the humanities.)

Somerville’s “textbook most extraordinary” is available online via Project Gutenberg