UNDAUNTED: Ruth Patrick, Ph.D. (born 1907)
Even if she hadn't celebrated her 100th birthday in 2007, Dr. Ruth Patrick, one of the pioneers in the field of ecology, would deserve a place of honor among the explorer/scientists who have been members of the American Philosophical Society.
Patrick's field is limnology (the study of bodies of fresh water such as rivers and lakes) and her particular interest is diatoms, the microscopic unicellular organisms that live in both fresh and marine waters. In the 1940s, she did pioneering research that showed the importance of studying the variety of species in a river in order to determine the effects of pollution on river life. In 1947, she founded the Limnology Department at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in order to implement this approach to studying water pollution.
A woman working in a male-dominated field, she was in the vanguard of scientists introducing the concept of biodiversity. Today, when scientists talk about biodiversity as a key indicator of ecosystem health, they call it the "Patrick Principle."Images: (above, left) Maker unknown, Ruth Patrick at Microscope, n.d., The Academy of Natural Sciences, Ewell Sale Stewart Library; (above, right) Ruth Patrick, Catherwood Diatometer: Toilet Float Version, before 1951. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Ewell Sale Stewart Library