10 facts you didn't know about Nature

By: Laura Graham-Clare, Mon Mar 25 2019
Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

With the 150th Anniversary of Nature on the horizon in November 2019, our archivist and in-house-historian, Alysoun Sanders, has been exploring our archive and discovered some interesting, fun and significant highlights that you may not have know about one of the oldest scientific journals in the world!  

1) Nature was initially published at a loss. Science historian Roy Macleod has estimated that the four pages given over to advertisements would have accounted for only half the annual costs of producing the magazine and that there were in fact probably less than 200 subscribers in Nature's first year.

2) There have only been 8 Chief Editors of Nature, 4 of whom have been knighted:

  1. Sir Norman Lockyer 1869-1919  (Knighted 1897)
  2. Sir Richard Gregory 1919-1938  (Knighted 1919)
  3. A J V Gale, L J F Brimble joint editors 1938-1961
  4. L J F Brimble 1961-1965
  5. Sir John Maddox  1966-1973 1980 – 1995  (Knighted 1994)
  6. David Davies  1973-1980
  7. Sir Philip Campbell 1995 - 2018  (Knighted 2015)
  8. Magdalena Skipper 2018 - present   

3) In 1873, Nature reported the death of a wasp. The wasp was the pet of Sir John Lubbock, a regular contributor to Nature (including a book review in the first issue) and who also wrote 39 books for Macmillan, including On the Origin & Metamorphoses of Insects in 1874, part of the Macmillan Nature series, where said wasp’s adventures may also appear! 


Death of a Wasp

4) The first woman to be published by Nature was Elizabeth Brown, Astronomer (1830-1899). She specialised in solar observation, particularly sunspots and solar eclipses.  Elizabeth was involved in organising the formation of the British Astronomical Association (1890) which accepted women members from the start. Her first article ‘The Recent Aurora’ was published on 5th October 1882.

5) Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and also of mathematical books published by Macmillan, had 3 contributions in Nature:

6) In 1961, about 2,500 communications of new research results were published in Nature from 65 different countries from Argentina to Yugoslavia. This figure includes only research communications and does not include main articles, general reports, books reviews and so forth.

7) The 5,000th issue of Nature was published on 28th August 1965.  

8) Mary Berners-Lee (mother of Tim), said to be the "grandmother of the web", answered an advertisement in Nature that read "Mathematicians wanted to work on a digital computer". She spent 2 days researching what a digital computer was then applied for, and succeeded in getting the job. (www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/23/mary-lee-berners-lee-obituary)

9) The Nature podcast was launched in 2007 and in 2013 celebrated broadcast of the 300th podcast with on average 40-50,000 downloads per week.

10) Nature is mentioned in H G Wells classic story The First Men in the Moon published by Macmillan in 1904. Referring to the main character Cavor and his proposal for Cavorite (to cut off the gravitational attraction of the earth), "If he made it, it would go down to posterity as Cavorite or Cavorine, and he would be made an FRS and his portrait given away as a scientific worthy with Nature, and things like that." p.24-25.

You can read the editorial on the history of Nature in 150 years here

Stay tuned throughout 2019; we’ll be sharing content, stories, interviews and insights from across Nature – not just looking back, but looking at where we are now; our incredible staff, the communities we serve; and the future.

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Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Laura Graham-Clare is Head of Community Content, based in London. Working between our publishing, sales and marketing teams, she is focused on thought leadership trends, content creation, and developing insights and information resources for staff, librarians, researchers and information professionals.