Nicolas Steno, the 17th century Danish father of geology, was honored Wednesday with a Google Doodle commemorating what would have been the genius' 374th birthday. Steno, whose name means rock in Danish, pioneered research in both anatomy and geology.
Born Jan. 11, 1638, in Copenhagen to a Lutheran goldsmith, he entered the University of Copenhagen in 1657 to study medicine. Following the completion of his studies in Denmark, Steno traveled around Europe to study anatomy under a number of famous professors, including Reinier de Graaf, Franciscus de le Boe Sylvius and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
Known best for his work in geology, Steno conducted a number of other important research studies that helped influence his most famous theory later in life. While in Amsterdam, Steno discovered the parotid salivary gland in dog, sheep and rabbit heads. In 1666, Steno conducted research on shark teeth, questioning the popular myth that their teeth were glossopetrae or tongue stones. At the time, some believed the teeth were stones that dropped from the sky while others thought fossils grew naturally in rocks. Steno developed a new theory, building on the work of Fabio Colonna, proving the difference in composition between glossopetrae, rocks and fossils, and the living sharks' teeth.
His studies on shark teeth led Steno to question how solids, like fossils, minerals and crystals, could be found inside one another in layers of rocks. Steno published crucial research in 1669 seeking to explain the phenomenon. The paper presenting his theory is called the Preliminary discourse to a dissertation on a solid body naturally contained with a solid.
The dissertation was crucial in addressing three principles now key in stratigraphy, a part of geology: the law of superposition, the principle of original horizontality and the principle of lateral continuity. Together these principles helped provide Steno with the groundwork for his theory to explain that the layers of rock, minerals, fossils and more help chronicle a timeline of different living creatures in diverse areas.
After dedicating his life to science, Steno turned to religion, becoming a Roman Catholic priest in 1675 and a bishop in 1677. He died at the age of 48 after spending the remainder of his life doing missionary work in Germany.
Watch the Google video with facts about Nicolas Steno: