TIL: The first scientist

Today I learned that the first person ever to be called a “scientist” was the Scottish … erm, scientist Mary Sommerville (1780–1872), who made discoveries across several fields of mathematics, physics, and astronomy, and was one of the first two women admitted to membership of the Royal Astronomical Society.

It was the fact that she was both a woman and a polymath that led to the need for a new word. She clearly wasn’t a “man of science”, as was the common description; nor did she fall into the accepted classes such as geologist or chemist, since she contributed to all these fields and more. So William Whewell, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the person who had introduced one of Sommerville’s books to the university’s maths curriculum, decided to unify all these specific classes into the new general category of scientist. (He also introduced the terms physicist and linguistics.)