Texas Tech University

The female scientist who discovered the greenhouse effect never got the credit she deserved

Akshat Rathi

May 18, 2018

World Economic Forum - John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, is usually recognized as the first person to prove the greenhouse-gas effect. But some of the credit should have gone to Eunice Foote, an American scientist, who, save a few mentions, remains largely unknown today.

Foote's paper demonstrated the interactions of the sun's rays on different gases through a series of experiments using an air pump, four thermometers, and two glass cylinders. First, Foote placed two thermometers in each cylinder and, using the air pump, removed the air from one cylinder and condensed it in the other. Allowing both cylinders to reach the same temperature, she then placed the cylinders with their thermometers in the sun to measure temperature variance once heated and under various states of moisture. She repeated this process with hydrogen, common air, and CO2, all heated after being exposed to the sun.

In 1856, Foote submitted her results to the Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Unlike most scientific societies of the time, the AAAS actually permitted female members, but it would not give them the title of professional or fellow. It meant Foote could submit her results but not present them, according to the Smithsonian. But there's no proof that such a policy was in effect, contends Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University.

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