The Haldane Principle (no, not that one)

7 Oct

This post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer.

The Royal Society this week invited Professor Krishna Dronamraju, geneticist and former Nobel Peace Prize nominee, to give a talk on Professor J.B.S. Haldane (not to be confused with the politician Richard Haldane, he of the Haldane principle). J.B.S. Haldane was a great biochemist, holding a Readership in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge for ten years, but much more than that he was a polymath who “knew no boundaries”, in the words of Professor Dronamraju.

Haldane’s contributions to biochemistry, genetics and biochemistry are well documented. He also learnt German, French and other languages at a very young age, and was a very talented mathematician by the age of 10. Whilst an undergraduate at the University of Oxford he co-published papers on physiology with his father, before obtaining a degree… in Classics.

Professor Dronamraju was of the opinion that Haldane achieved so much, and contributed so many new theories, because he saw across the traditional scientific boundaries. Although we at the Biochemical Society would claim him as a biochemist, it was his diverse experimental and educational background – along with his talent and enquiring mind – which allowed him to elucidate links between evolution, biochemistry and mathematics, and other breakthroughs like the ‘malaria hypothesis’. If this unified view of science and mathematics was more widely understood, would more people appreciate these subjects as vital interdependent disciplines?


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