Eunice Newton Foote: Discovering the Greenhouse Effect and Pioneering Women’s Rights
In today’s Google Doodle, we celebrate Eunice Newton Foote, a remarkable figure who not only made groundbreaking discoveries regarding the greenhouse effect but also played a crucial role in the women’s rights movement.
Unearthing the True Discoverer of the Greenhouse Effect
While physicist John Tyndall is often credited with the discovery of the greenhouse effect through his 1859 experiments on heat and air, amateur historian Raymond Sorenson revealed something intriguing in 2011. He came across a record of Foote’s work given at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 10th annual conference in 1856—two years before Tyndall’s tests began.
Foote’s Groundbreaking Experiments
Eunice Newton Foote’s report was not only the first record of a physics article by a female scientist but also a significant revelation of her experiments. She studied how tubes filled with different gases, including oxygen, air, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, responded to sunlight exposure. Foote concluded that “The highest effect of the sun’s rays I have found to be in carbonic acid gas,” primarily referring to carbon dioxide.
Understanding the Greenhouse Effect
When greenhouse gases present in a planet’s atmosphere capture some of the heat radiated from the planet’s surface, it causes it to accumulate.
Some of the solar radiation that the Earth absorbs is re-emitted as infrared radiation.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases absorb and reflect heat back to Earth, resulting in the greenhouse effect. Increased amounts of these gases in the atmosphere contribute to global warming and other environmental problems throughout time.
Foote’s Research on Greenhouse Gases
Foote made significant observations by comparing outdoor air temperatures with those of various gases when heated. Her experiments showed that carbon dioxide and water vapor heated up more than outdoor air.
Eunice Newton Foote’s Legacy
Born on this day in 1819 in Connecticut, Eunice Newton Foote was a trailblazer in her time. She attended the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 when she signed the Declaration of Sentiments, a significant document demanding social and legal equality for women.
Despite the prevailing exclusion of women from the scientific community, Foote tenaciously conducted experiments on her own. Placing mercury thermometers in glass cylinders, she discovered that the cylinder containing carbon dioxide experienced the most significant heating effect in the presence of sunlight. Foote’s pioneering research led her to be the first scientist to establish a link between rising carbon dioxide levels and atmospheric warming.
Unfortunately, Foote’s contributions remained relatively unknown for almost a century after her death in 1888. It was not until the twentieth century that women academics rediscovered and acknowledged her remarkable achievements. Foote’s published findings on the greenhouse effect paved the way for her second study on atmospheric static electricity and garnered attention, leading to further experiments and discoveries in climate science.
Today, we owe much of the advancement in climate science to the foundation laid by Eunice Newton Foote. Her revolutionary work on the greenhouse effect, as well as her commitment to women’s rights, have left an everlasting stamp on history, and her contributions continue to inspire and drive scientific advancement.