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Meet a Scientist Monday: Libbie Henrietta Hyman

Since we looked at marine invertebrates in the last post, let's look at a scientist who studied invertebrates today.

Have you ever heard of Libbie Henrietta Hyman? She has been called one the most influential comparative invertebrate zoologists of the 20th century, yet remains relatively unknown.

Libbie Henrietta Hyman was born in 1888. She grew up in poverty in Iowa, the daughter of immigrants. As with many scientists, as a child she was interested in nature. She learned all the names of local flowers by studying one of her brother's books. She also collected butterflies and moths. After graduating as valedictorian of her class, one of her teachers encouraged her to attend the University of Chicago. Libbie earned her BA in 1910 and then worked with Dr. Charles Manning Child to get her Ph.D. in 1915. Her thesis was titled, An Analysis of the Process of Regeneration in Certain Microdrilous Olicochaetes. During her early career, Hyman conducted experimental research on the developmental physiology of a host of invertebrates, including planaria and hydras. She remained at the University of Chicago until Dr. Child retired.

After his retirement, she decided to travel, finally settling in New York. She was given an office at the American Museum of Natural History, where she wrote her famous six-volume series, The Invertebrates. This series won her numerous honors. She downplayed her achievements, however, and said it was all due to her gift to extract and organize material in the literature.

In any case, Libbie Henrietta Hyman left a strong foundation for other invertebrate zoologists to build on.

For her short autobiography and a picture, see Libbie Henrietta Hyman at The National Academies Press, starting on page 103.

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