Attenborough tribute to geologist

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Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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Sir David Attenborough has unveiled a green plaque for the man known as “the father of English geology”.

William Smith created the first ever nationwide geological map 200 years ago, which is described as “the map that changed the world”.

Smith (1769-1839) was the first to recognise that individual fossil varieties relate to different layers of rock.

He travelled 100,000 miles around the country in 15 years to create a map which would show how rock layers slope underground, in order to predict where coal could be found. This knowledge proved valuable during the industrial revolution.

Sir David, who is himself a trained geologist, described Smith as one of his geological heroes.

He said: “If you spoke to people down there and asked them if they knew this country pretty well invented geology, what would they say? They would say, I am sure, ‘no’.”

A rare first edition copy of Smith’s brightly coloured map of 1815 was recently discovered in the Geological Society’s archives, after being lost for over 40 years.

Sir David added: “Smith was not only a great scientist, he was also had insights which were invaluable to the basis of the industrial revolution.

“What we are celebrating here is a truly remarkable man.”

Asked whether Britain does enough to remember its scientific heritage, Sir David said: “It can never do enough, but I think it does better than many other countries.

“I think the plaque system is a good way of doing it, and I welcome it, I think it’s a nice characteristic of London.”

John Henry, chair of the Geological Society’s History of Geology Group, said: “Smith’s importance to the history of our science cannot be overstated.

“His map helped shape the economic and scientific development of Britain, and had a profound effect on future geological mapping.”

The story of the map’s creation was described by Simon Winchester in his 2001 book The Map That Changed The World. A year long programme of events is planned to celebrate the map’s bicentenary at the Geological Society.

Cllr Robert Davis, deputy leader of Westminster City Council, said: “William Smith was the father of English Geology.

“His innovative thinking and his important ‘map that changed the world’ is the yard stick by which all other work in this field has been measured by ever since.

“Geological surveys across the world owe a huge debt to his work.

“We are delighted to recognise all these achievements, and more, with one of our green plaques.”

The plaque was unveiled at Smith’s former home at 15 Buckingham Street, near Trafalgar Square.

Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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