Biography Archives - Eva Varga

April 15, 2017

In my Facebook newsfeed recently, a memory popped up highlighting a field trip we took part in years ago when we first began our homeschool journey. Our visit to Paleo Lands Institute in Eastern Oregon is one of our fondest homeschool experiences. When we visit the Field Museum in Chicago last week, we reflected on this trip as we marveled at the many specimens they had on display – the most impressive, of course, was SUE (pictured below).

The unveiling of her 67-million-year-old skeleton at The Field Museum made global headlines in May of 2000. As the largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found, she is considered to be the most famous fossil ever found. She measures 40.5 feet long from snout to tail and 13 feet tall at the hip.

Interesting fact: While SUE is frequently referred to as a “she,” scientists don’t actually know her sex.

Virtually all parts of SUE’s skeleton are preserved in great detail—even the surface of her bones. Scientists can actually see where muscles, tendons, and ligaments once attached. Not only are most of the bones undistorted from fossilization, but cross-sections of the bones show that even the cellular structure inside remains intact.

w/ Sue at the Field Museum, Chicago

If SUE is the most famous fossil, who then is regarded as the most renowned fossilist the world ever knew?  The answer is Mary Anning.

Despite the fact that Mary Anning’s life has been made the subject of several books and articles, comparatively little is known about her life, and many people were unaware of her contributions to paleontology in its early days as a scientific discipline. How can this be, you ask?


Mary Anning by B. J. DonneMary Anning was born on the 21st of May 1799 to Richard and Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, Southwest England. Mary grew up in a prime location to lead a life of fossil collecting. The marine fossil beds in the cliffs in this area remain today a huge source of fossils from the Jurassic period.

Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. At the age of 12, Mary Anning was to become one of the most famous popular palaeontologists, with her discovery of a complete Icthyosaur.

Interesting fact: Though she is now credited with the discovery, her brother had first found the specimen. Mary did find the majority of the remains and contribute significantly to the excavation work. Mary went on to find two more species of Ichtyosaur in her life.

In early 1821, Anning made her next big discovery with the finding of the first Plesiosaurus. She sent a drawing she made to the renowned George Curvier, who at first snubbed it as a fake. Upon further examination, he eventually reversed this statement finally giving Anning the respect she had deserved from the scientific community. This discovery is perhaps her most important find, from a scientific point of view.
Autograph letter concerning the discovery Wellcome L0022370
The majority of Mary’s finds ended up in museums and personal collections without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils. There are many factors contributing to this error: the lack of appropriate documentation of her special skills, her social status, and more importantly, her gender. Many scientists of the day could not believe that a young woman from such a deprived background could posses the knowledge and skills that she seemed to display.

For example, in 1824, Lady Harriet Sivester, the widow of the former Recorder of the City of London, wrote in her diary after visiting Mary Anning:

“. . . the extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved. . . It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

After her death on the 9th of March 1847, her unusual life story attracted the attention of scholars around the world. Her story was the inspiration for the 1908 tongue-twister “She sells seashells on the seashore” by Terry Sullivan and in 2010, one hundred and sixty-three years after her death, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

Bring it Home

➤ For younger students, explore the fun games and activities at BBC’s Primary History Famous People: Mary Anning.

➤ Read the article, “Mary Anning: The Fossilist as Exegete” by Thomas W. Goodhue in Endeavour Magazine, March 2005 issue

➤ Build upon your child’s interest in fossils and geology in an in-depth Earth sciences curriculum study.

Geology Rocks➤ Visit a local geology club in your area and inquire about getting started in collecting.

➤ Discover Ice Age Fossils at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles


Science MilestonesVisit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Interested in learning about others who were born in the month of January? Hop over to Birthday Lessons in March to read posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers.

May 27, 2015
Ecology Lessons with Rachel Carson @EvaVarga.netThis post contains affiliate links.

Marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, whose writing on pesticides helped to launch the modern environmental movement, was born on 27th of May in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Carson published her famous work Silent Spring in 1962 which documented the dangers of indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, especially on bird populations. Though its publication was met with strong opposition from the chemical industry, the scientific community largely supported her conclusions. Silent Spring also served as a rallying point for the young environment movement just gaining momentum at the time of its publication.

In nature nothing exists alone.

The book fueled public interest in environmental and public health issues and, within a few years, the Nixon Administration formed the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the EPA’s early work focused on issues raised by Carson’s work such as a 1972 law regulating pesticides and a US ban on the agricultural use of DDT.


Rachel CarsonRachel grew up in a tiny, wooden house with no electricity, heat or plumbing. As a young girl, she was fascinated with the outside world. She spent a great deal of time in the woods and beside streams learning the names of birds, insects, and flowers.

Rachel’s best friend was her mother, Maria Carson, with whom she enjoyed taking long walks with in their nearby woods. Maria had been a teacher before she married and she taught Rachel the names of plants, birds, insects, and animals they encountered. It didn’t take long before Rachel was able to identify dozens of wild things.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find resources of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

In Rachel’s second year of college, she took a biology course that sparked her interest in this area. She graduated from college with honors and decided to specialize in Marine Biology- the study of animal life in the ocean. In 1929, she won a full scholarship to John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland to obtain her graduate degree in this field of study.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins in 1932 (MA in Zoology), she began a career in the federal service as a scientist and editor and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition to the well known Silent Spring, she wrote several other articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, including “Help Your Child to Wonder,” (1956) and “Our Ever-Changing Shore” (1957). Woven throughout her writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly.

Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.

Rachel Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer. Her witness for the beauty and integrity of life continues to inspire new generations to protect the living world and all its creatures.

Ecology Lessons with Rachel Carson @EvaVarga.netBring It Home

With Rachel Carson as a guide, students can learn how environmental concerns affect their lives and community. High students should be encouraged to read Silent Spring. Middle school students may be more comfortable reading selected chapters; I recommend the first chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow,” which can be previewed online. [Tip: Do a search on the chapter title to find the full text, which is available from various sources.]

  • Read a biography:
  • Watch the compelling documentary film American Experience: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
  • Have the students write a short story about how they think the world will change in the next ten years.
  • Ask students how they perceive our oceans being polluted today and let them come up with ways we can contribute to the efforts of protecting our sea life.
  • Have students research the toxic effects of DDT on the body, where it might be used today, and what alternatives can be used in its place.
  • Ask students to make a booklet on ways to live that can reduce an individual’s impact on the environment. Examples of subjects include saving water, gardening, cleaning and maintenance around the house, your car, renewable energy, air pollution, and the environmentally aware consumer.
  • Interview a person who has lived in the community for 30 years or longer. Suggested questions might include:
    • How has our community’s environment changed over the time you have lived here?
    • What was the environment of our community like when you first lived here?
    • What changes made the greatest impact on the environment?
    • Have the changes been for the better? Why do you feel this way?
    • In retrospect, compare the benefits and detriments of the impact of people on the land.

What about us? Can we avoid the “silent spring” that Carson predicted? In the 53 years since Silent Spring first appeared, people have grown far more aware of our impact on the environment. But we still use many potentially deadly chemicals.”There remains, in this space-age universe,” wrote Rachel Carson, “the possibility that man’s way is not always best.” We would do well to remember her warning.

Science Milestones

February 8, 2015

Creating what is arguably the most iconic symbol ever seen in science, Dmitri Mendeleev was passionate about chemistry. He was also an educator and his deepest wish was to find a better way of organizing the subject. Mendeleev’s wish led to his discovery of the periodic law and his creation of the periodic table.



Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was born February 8, 1834 in Verkhnie Aremzyani, in the Russian province of Siberia. He was the youngest of at least 16 children. He first trained to be a teacher like his father, winning a place at his father’s old college. He continued his studies at St. Petersburg and graduated in 1856 with a master’s degree in chemistry. In 1863 Mendeleev was appointed to a professorship and in 1866 he succeeded to the Chair in the University.

Mendeleev is best known for his work on the periodic table; arranging the 63 known elements into a Periodic Table based on atomic mass, which he published in Principles of Chemistry in 1869. His first Periodic Table was compiled on the basis of arranging the elements in ascending order of atomic weight and grouping them by similarity of properties.  He predicted the existence and properties of new elements and pointed out accepted atomic weights that were in error. His table did not include any of the Noble Gases, however, which had not yet been discovered.

“In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

As new elements that he had predicted were discovered, Mendeleev’s fame and scientific reputation were solidified. In 1905, the British Royal Society gave him its highest honor, the Copley Medal. In the same year he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Element 101 is named Mendelevium in his honor. He died two years later of influenza.

mendeleevBring it Home

Science Milestones

To learn more about those born in the month of February, visit the iHomeschool Network’s Birthday Lessons.


March 1, 20141

On 8 Nov, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered an image projected far beyond the possible range of the cathode rays (now known as an electron beam) cast from his cathode ray generator. Further investigation showed that the rays were generated at the point of contact of the cathode ray beam on the interior of the vacuum tube, that they were not deflected by magnetic fields, and they penetrated many kinds of matter.

x-raysA week after his discovery, Röntgen took the very first picture using X-rays of his wife Anna Bertha’s hand. When she saw her skeleton she exclaimed “I have seen my death!”   The photograph electrified the general public and aroused great scientific interest in the new form of radiation. Röntgen named the new form of radiation X-radiation (X standing for “Unknown”), hence the term X-rays.



Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born on March 27, 1845.  He first attended the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich as a student of mechanical engineering and graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich in 1869.

Röntgen was married to Anna Bertha Ludwig and had one child, Josephine Bertha Ludwig.  Röntgen died on 10 February 1923 from carcinoma of the intestine. It is not believed his carcinoma was a result of his work with ionizing radiation because of the brief time he spent on those investigations, and because he was one of the few pioneers in the field who used protective lead shields routinely.

Like other contemporaries, Röntgen did not take patents out on his discoveries and donated the money for his Nobel prize to the University of Würzburg. Following World War I, he fell into bankruptcy, He spent his final years at his country home near Munich. In keeping with his will, all his personal and scientific correspondence were destroyed upon his death.

In honor of his accomplishments, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry named element 111, Roentgenium, a radioactive element with multiple unstable isotopes, after him in 2004.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Almost everything that we know about distant objects in the universe comes from studying the light that is emitted or reflected by them. The entire range of energies of light is called the electromagnetic spectrum. Arranged from high energy, short wavelength to low energy, long wavelength, the electromagnetic spectrum is divided into gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, optical (visible light), infrared, microwaves, and radio waves.  All electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed in space. Our eyes are sensitive only to a narrow band of electromagnetic radiation called visible light.  To learn more about the spectrum, NASA has a great website devoted to the Chandra X-ray Observatory with photographs and activities you can download for free.

In medicine, an x-ray is sometimes used to produce images of the structures inside the body. Because of their short wavelength, x-rays can pass through the body, but are absorbed in varying amounts depending on the density of the material they’re passing through. This is why bones appear white on x-ray images. They are the most dense, and therefore block the most x-rays from getting through; muscle and fat are less dense, and appear in varying shades of gray; the air in between is not very dense at all, and shows up black. X-rays are often used to quickly examine the bones and teeth. Sometimes a contrast medium—such as iodine or barium—is introduced to provide more detail in the chest and abdomen, as well. This substance blocks x-rays and shows up white on x-ray.

A computed tomography scan or CAT-scan uses x-rays to create images of the body. However, an x-ray and a CAT-scan show different types of information. An x-ray is a two-dimensional picture and a CAT-scan is three-dimensional. By imaging and looking at several three-dimensional slices of a body (like slices of bread) a doctor could not only tell if a tumor is present, but roughly how deep it is in the body.

Bring it Home

  • Visit your doctor or dentist and ask to see our own x-rays
  • Do a Google search of x-ray images and compare the skeletons of different animals
  • Obtain a set of old x-rays (with patients’ identifying information removed) and use it identify and label the skeletal system (large windows work well as light boxes)

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

To find out about more people born in March hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s March birthdays page.

March 1, 20145

The Bunsen Burner, is a common piece of laboratory equipment that produces a single open gas flame used for heating, sterilization, and combustion was invented by German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen on March 31, 1811. Working alongside his lab assistant, Peter Desaga, he designed a burner with a hot, sootless, non-luminous flame by mixing the gas with air in a controlled fashion before combustion. Bunsen burners are now used in laboratories all around the world. The device in use today safely burns a continuous stream of a flammable gas such as natural gas (generally methane) or a liquefied petroleum gas such as propane, butane, or a mixture of both.

bunsen burner

Subscribers to my newsletter will receive the download link to my Burning Sugar Lab (pictured above).


Robert BunsenRobert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen was born on March 30, 1811 at Göttingen in 1811, in what is now the state of Lower Saxony in Germany (though there are some documents stating the 31st). Bunsen was the youngest of four sons of the University’s chief librarian and professor of modern philology, Christian Bunsen. He investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861) with Gustav Kirchhoff. He also developed several gas-analytical methods, was a pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of organoarsenic chemistry.

Bunsen was one of the most universally admired scientists of his generation. A master teacher, he always conducted himself as a perfect gentleman, maintaining his distance from theoretical disputes. He much preferred to work quietly in his laboratory, continuing to enrich his science with useful discoveries. As a matter of principle he never took out a patent. He retired at the age of 78 and thereafter pursued his interests in geology and mineralogy. He died in Heidelberg at the age of 88.

Bring it Home

Upon reading about Eberhard von Bunsen and his invention, I really wanted an opportunity for my kiddos to experience using a Bunsen burner. However, as you can guess, a Bunsen Burner is not typically available to homeschool families unless you have access to a high school or college science lab. If this is a possibility for you and you are interested in learning how to use one safely, the video Introduction to the Bunsen Burner provides a great introduction. It also discusses typical lab applications and safety precautions.

As an alternative, there are many hands-on lab activities that can be done safely in your home with simply a candle or Sterno Cooking Fuels. Here are a few ideas that you may wish to explore at home.

    • Burning Sugar Lab – Observe the chemical changes that take place when sugar is exposed to heat
      Subscribers to my newsletter will receive the download link to my Burning Sugar Lab (pictured above)
    • Flame Photometry – Discovering the Emission Spectrum
    • Observe a Candle
      • What happens to the candle when you light it?
      • Can you prove that the candle needs oxygen in order to burn?
      • Can you prove that the candle produces carbon dioxide when it burns?
      • What happens when you hold a piece of glass in different parts of the flame? What do these results say about the process of burning wax in a candle?
      • Is it possible to light a candle without touching the flame directly to the wick? Why or why not?
      • Sketch and label the flame. What part of the flame is the hottest?
      • Design an inquiry experiment to compare different brands of commercial candles?

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

To find out about more people born in March hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s March birthdays page.

February 13, 20146

I have always been fascinated by history and have enjoyed interacting with volunteers at reenactments across the country – in Boston, Williamsburg, and closer to home at the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park in Astoria.  When we first started homeschooling, we even volunteered at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters. I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

Living Museum

Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time.  A year ago, I initiated a Living History / Wax Museum day for our local homeschool community.  Coordinating the event is easy – I simply posted a notice (with the guidelines described below) and reserved a room at the library for the day of the presentations.

Guidelines for Coordinating a Living History Museum

  • Participants in the Living Wax Museum were instructed to choose a famous historical person to research, prepare a research poster display, and develop a 2-3 minute speech (in first-person) that summarizes the life of the famous historical person.
  • The selected historical person must be someone who has done something significant in history, or has made a positive contribution to society.  The famous person can be someone who is still alive.
  • Participants create a costume, dress as the chosen person, and then assume the identity of the historical figure.
  • Participants dress in costume to portray their subject.  This costume should accurately convey information about the subject and the time period in which they lived.
  • Participants should create a display or backdrop of at least 22” x 28”.  The famous person’s name must be prominently displayed in large letters.  A minimum of 4 photographs should be included.  A timeline, map, and notable quotes are also highly suggested.  
  • Participants need NOT memorize their speech but are encouraged to do so.  The use of note cards is permitted.

The number of students who have taken part varies each year and many come only to observe the presentations.  Either way, it is a wonderful afternoon – providing the participants with experiences in research, writing, public speaking, and costume design.  Audience members are introduced to historical persons and time periods in a fun and innovative way.

In 2013, my daughter selected Marie Curie, a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.  This year, she chose Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse/social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, and as head of children’s section of Żegota, an underground resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw.

Last year, my son brought Snowshoe Thompson to life, the Norwegian-American immigrant and early resident of the Sierra Nevada region. He is considered the father of California skiing. This year, he introduced us to Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, the late Danish shipping magnate.

If you interested in learning more about our living history experiences, I encourage you to check out Homeschooling in 1880