Deodat de Dolomieu and the Love for Rocks

Déodat de Dolomieu

On June 23, 1750, French geologist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu was born. He is best known for his field research in mineralogy. The mineral and the rock dolomite and the largest summital crater on the Piton de la Fournaise volcano were named after him.

Déodat de Dolomieu grew up in the Alps of southeastern France and showed early interest in his surrounding nature. However, he started a military career when he was only 12 years old and even fought a duel, killing a fellow member of the Maltese Order in later years. Soon, the young Dolomieu became known as highly attracted to women, especially among the nobility. He was made a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and played a significant role in the intellectual progress of France. De Dolomieu spent much of his time collecting minerals and visiting mining areas and categorizing geological data across Europe. He had a great interest in volcanoes, but was soon convinced, that water played a major role in shaping the surface of the Earth through a series of prehistoric, catastrophic events.

During one of his voyages to the Alps of TyrolDe Dolomieu discovered a calcareous rock which, unlike limestone, did not effervesce with weak hydrochloric acid. The geologist published his findings in the French science magazine “Journal de Physique” in 1791 and one year later, the rock was given the name dolomite by the Swiss chemist Nicolas-Théodore de Saussure. Still, De Dolomieu was not the first to describe the mineral, earlier descriptions came from Linnaeus, who was the first to note the fact that this rock resembled limestone but does not effervesce with dilute acid. In the meantime, Dolomieu advanced in rank in the Knights of Malta and was promoted to Commander in 1780. In the same year, he retired from active military service, partly due to the fact that his liberal political leanings which were unpopular among the conservative nobility, ruling the Order. From then on, De Dolomieu devoted all his life to science and traveling.

Around 1795De Dolomieu accepted the position of Professor of Natural Sciences at the École Centrale Paris and started to write the mineralogical section of the Encyclopédie Méthodique. In the following year, he was appointed Inspector of Mines and Professor at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, where his portrait is still displayed in the library. His extensive mineral collection is today housed at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris. Only three years after his career as professor started, De Dolomieu had developed a great international reputation and he was considered as one of the most important geologists of his time.

Napoleon Bonaparte, whom De Dolomieu supported since the beginning of the French Revolution, invited the scientist to join the expedition accompanying Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt, as part of the natural history and physics section of the Institut d’Égypte. Unfortunately for him, De Dolomieu fell ill and was forced to return home, but when his ship got caught in a heavy storm, he sought refuge in Italy, where he was then considered a prisoner of war. The imprisonment of a world-famous scientist, under such bad conditions, was abhorrent to the intellectual community of Europe. He was released in 1801 and immediately intended to resume his scientific studies, but due to heavy illnesses resulting from the imprisonment, Déodat de Dolomieu died on 28 November of the same year.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by John merriman, who talks about Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Revolution, that highly influenced Deodat de Dolomieu thoughout his lifetime.

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