Biography of J.B.S. Haldane

The Scottish geneticist Professor John Haldane (1892-1964) at University College London


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J.B.S. Haldane was an evolutionary biologist who made many contributions to the field of evolution.

Dates: Born November 5, 1892 - Died December 1, 1964

Early Life and Education

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (Jack, for short) was born on November 5, 1892, in Oxford, England to Louisa Kathleen Trotter and John Scott Haldane. The Haldane family was well off and valued education beginning at an early age. Jack's father was a well-known psychologist in Oxford and as an eight-year-old child, Jack started studying the discipline with his father and assisted him in his work. He also learned genetics by breeding guinea pigs as a child.

Jack's formal schooling was done at Eton College and New College at Oxford. He obtained his M.A. in 1914. Soon after, Haldane enlisted in the British Army and served during World War I.

Personal Life

After returning from the war, Haldane began teaching at the University of Cambridge in 1922. In 1924 he met Charlotte Franken Burghes. She was a reporter for a local publication and was married at the time that they met. She ended up divorcing her husband so she could marry Jack, almost costing him his teaching position at Cambridge for the controversy. The couple married in 1925 after her divorce was final.

Haldane took a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley in 1932, but returned to London in 1934 to spend the majority of the rest of his teaching career at the University of London. In 1946, Jack and Charlotte separated in 1942 and finally divorced in 1945 so he could marry Dr. Helen Spurway. In 1956, the Haldanes moved to India to teach and study there.

Jack was openly atheist as he said that was how he conducted his experiments. He felt it wasn't fair to assume no God would interfere with the experiments he conducted, so he could not reconcile having a personal belief in any god. He often used himself as a test subject. Jack allegedly would perform dangerous experiments, such as drinking hydrochloric acid to test the effects on muscle control.

Career and Accomplishments

Jack Haldane excelled in the field of mathematics. He spent most of his teaching and research career interested in the mathematical side of genetics and particularly how enzymes worked. In 1925, Jack published his work with G.E. Briggs about enzymes that included the Briggs-Haldane equation. This equation took a previously published equation by Victor Henri and helped reinterpret how enzyme kinetics worked.

Haldane also published many works on population genetics, again utilizing mathematics to support his ideas. He used his mathematical equations to support Charles Darwin's idea of Natural Selection. This led to Jack helping to contribute to the Modern Synthesis of the Theory of Evolution. He was able to link Natural Selection to Gregor Mendel's genetics using mathematics. This proved to be an invaluable addition to the many pieces of evidence that helped support the Theory of Evolution. Darwin himself did not have the privilege of knowing about genetics, so a quantitative way to measure how a population evolved was a major breakthrough at the time.

Haldane's work brought a new understanding and renewed support of the Theory of Evolution by quantifying the theory. By using quantifiable data, he made the observations by Darwin and others verifiable. This allowed other scientists across the world to use their own data in support of the new Modern Synthesis of the Theory of Evolution linking genetics and evolution.

Jack Haldane died December 1, 1964, after a bout with cancer.

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Scoville, Heather. "Biography of J.B.S. Haldane." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Scoville, Heather. (2021, July 30). Biography of J.B.S. Haldane. Retrieved from Scoville, Heather. "Biography of J.B.S. Haldane." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).

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