Did you know that Jan Ingenhousz was born today in 1730? He was a Dutch biologist and botanist best known for discovering photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process plants use to convert light energy into chemical energy. Ingenhousz’s experiments showed that under light the green parts of a plant generate bubbles of gas, but when in the shade those parts of the plant stop making this gas. He eventually identified the gas as oxygen, which we now know is created during the photosynthesis process.
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Jan Ingenhousz was also a physician. He traveled to England to study how to inoculate people against small pox. Empress Maria Theresa of the Austrian Empire had heard about the success of inoculation, but physicians in Austria did not support that practice. Ingenhousz was asked to travel to Austria to inoculate the Royal Family. The procedure was a success, and Ingenhousz became the empress’ court physician.
Benjamin Franklin was in Ingenhousz’s travelling party as Ingenhousz travelled through northern England. Later, Ingenhousz kept up a correspondence with Benjamin Franklin and discussed his research on electricity, heat transfer, and chemistry.
Jan Ingenhousz also studied and corresponded with Henry Cavendish and Joseph Priestley.
During his experiments, Jan Ingenhousz also found that plants give off carbon dioxide when in the dark and that the amount of oxygen produced while in light is more than the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the dark. From this he speculated that some of the mass of a plant comes from air, not only from soil.
Jan Ingenhousz also discovered that plants also have cellular respiration, like animals.