Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth (1860-1948) was a Scottish zoologist who combined natural history and mathematics to develop a new approach to evolution and the growth of living things. His work has been a great contribution to embryology, taxonomy, paleontology, and ecology.
He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1860, and attended Edinburgh Academy and the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. By age 19, had published papers on such topics as hydroid taxonomy and a Pleistocene fossil seal.
In 1884, Thompson was appointed professor of biology at University College in Dundee. He established a teaching museum of zoology there and, when the college merged with the University of St. Andrews in 1897, he became chair of natural history, a position he held until his death. In 1896, he represented Great Britain in a dispute with the United States over the fur seal fisheries in the Bering Sea. For his services, Thompson was awarded the title of Companion of the Order of Bath in 1898. From 1898 to 1939, he was scientific advisor to the Fishery Board of Scotland.
In the early 1900's, Thompson revolutionized the science of natural history by applying mathematics and physics to explain biological phenomena. In his book On Growth and Form (1917) he examined the development of form and structure in living things and how physical forces affect them. He noted how such things as the six-sided shape of cells in a bee honeycomb, the curve of a snail shell, and the spiral arrangement of seeds in a sunflower all follow mathematical principles. He also demonstrated how the trabeculae, or lattice-work, of calcium deposition in bone is aligned to most efficiently cope with the stresses placed on the bone. He illustrated this by comparing the metal cross structures of a hoisting crane with the internal structure of a femur.
Thompson was vice president of the Royal Society from 1931 to 1933, and from 1934 to 1939 was president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was knighted in 1937, and in 1946 was awarded the Darwin Medal.