‘The most learned polymath of all time’ to be celebrated at conference

The Universities of Dundee and St Andrews will from tomorrow host a major conference celebrating D’Arcy Thompson, author of one of the most influential science books of the 20th century and an esteemed former professor at both institutions.

D’Arcy’s masterpiece ‘On Growth and Form’ has inspired scientists, artists and thinkers as diverse as Alan Turing, Richard Dawkins and Claude Lévi Strauss. The evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, referred to the book as being “the greatest work of prose in twentieth century science”, while Dawkins hailed its author as “the most learned polymath of all time”.

‘On Growth and Form’ was published 100 years ago this year, and the University of Dundee has organised a series of exhibitions, talks and other events to celebrate its centenary and pay tribute to D’Arcy’s genius.

The three-day interdisciplinary conference will be held at Dundee on Friday 13 and Sunday 15 October, and at St Andrews on Saturday 14. It will feature a range of presentations covering every aspect of D’Arcy’s own work and the various fields that it has influenced, including art, architecture, biology, design and mathematics.

The conference will also include visits to the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum (Dundee) and the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History (St Andrews). Most of D’Arcy’s surviving collections are held between the two museums.

Dundee’s curator of Museum Services Matthew Jarron, lead organiser of the centenary celebrations, said, “The centenary celebrations are a way of us showcasing D’Arcy’s huge international importance. We have an incredibly prestigious line-up of speakers for the conference, which brings together D’Arcy enthusiasts from around the globe, and representing the many fields he influenced.

“The programme aims to introduce D’Arcy’s amazing ideas and influence to as wide an audience as possible. I am sure he’d be delighted that his work continues to inspire new forms of creativity and discovery today.”

D’Arcy Thompson held the position of Professor of Natural History at University College, Dundee for 32 years. He then moved to the University of St Andrews in 1917 to take up the chair of Natural History and remained there for the last 31 years of his life.

‘On Growth and Form’ is considered to be a challenge to pure Darwinism by demonstrating the role of physical forces in determining morphogenesis, the process by which patterns and body structures are formed in plants and animals. It remains widely admired by artists, architects, biologists, designers and mathematicians among others.

More information about the centenary celebrations can be found at https://www.ongrowthandform.org/.


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