Jeanne Barret, biodiversity pioneer and first circumnavigator

The first woman to circumnavigate the globe was Jeanne Baré, sometimes spelled Barret or Baret, on an expedition headed by Louis Antoine de Bougainville on the ships, La Boudeuse and Étoile, from 1766-1769. She was disguised as a man.

She was born in poverty in a small village in Saône-et-Loire in 1740. Unusually, for that period she learnt to read and write and became governess to the son of a widowed doctor and botanist, Dr Philibert Commerson.

Jeanne Baré, dressed as a sailor, in a portrait from 1817, made after her death | Photo: Wikimedia, Public Domain

He was attracted by this unusually bright and talented young woman and taught her botany. She soon became his assistant, and more than likely his lover, and they moved to Paris where he was chosen to accompany the explorer and French admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his expedition around the world. Bougainville, himself, is regarded as the 14th navigator, and the first Frenchman to sail around the world. Dr Commerson’s mission was to observe, collect and classify plants.

At that time women were not allowed to spend even one night on one of the King’s boats, let alone several months, but Commerson refused to leave her behind. He persuaded Bougainville to allow him to take a servant with him; none other than Jeanne, aged 26, with cut hair, a band compressing her breasts and wearing trousers.

Everywhere they went they collected plants. Near to Rio de Janeiro they discovered a flowering, vine-like shrub, they called Bougainvillea, after the ship’s captain.

the bougainvillea flower, a plant discovered by Jeanne Barret and Philibert Commerson in Brazil and named in honor of the initiator of their great adventure. | Gardenandhouse via Wikimedia Commons

It appears there were suspicions about the sex of Commerson’s servant, called Jean Baré, but nobody could believe that a woman would work as physically hard as “he” did.

However, according to Bougainville’s journal her sex was finally revealed when they arrived at Tahiti: “As soon as Baré stepped onto the soil, the Tahitians surrounded her, calling out that she was a woman and that they wanted to give her the honours of the Island.”

Following that, when the voyage arrived at Mauritius, called then the Isle de France, it was perhaps convenient that Commerson and his “assistant” stayed on at the invitation of fellow botanist, Pierre Poivre. Commerson died on the island but Jeanne Baré continued her studies of the local flora.

She later married a soldier and returned to France, which meant she had at last completed her tour of the world.

In 1785 she was awarded a pension of 200 livres, a year by the Ministry of Marine, on the recommendation of Bougainville, who recognised her great courage and achievement and the document granting her the money describes her as an extraordinary woman. More recently, in 2012 a flower – discovered in South America by University of Utah biologist, Eric Tepe – was named Solanum baretiae in her honour.

Did you know: world’s first ‘automobile’ was French

The first motorised land vehicle and ancestor of the modern car was invented in France and had its first outing in 1770

The vehicle was driven by steam and created by an army engineer, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who was born in 1725 and died in 1804.

There had already been research into the use of steam for driving machinery, but up until then it had only been used for stationary devices.

Cugnot’s vehicle was designed to transport canons or other military equipment and it was called a fardier à vapeur as a fardier was the name given to massive two-wheeled horse-drawn carts used for transporting very heavy equipment.

The fardier à vapeur was made up of three parts:

  • a wooden chassis with three wheels;
  • a two-cylinder motor over the front wheel; and
  • a huge boiler at the front of the contraption.

He first made a small-scale model in 1769 with promising results. The second full-scale vehicle, was completed in 1770. It was designed to move forward on its own, with no animal traction – unheard of at the time – at a speed of 4km/h. It could also go backwards and could carry five tonnes.

In November 1770, it was tested out at Vanves in Paris and though it did move forward a few metres, its progress came abruptly to an end, because it ran into a wall. This was perhaps another of its claims to fame: the first car accident.

The fardier à vapeur was extremely cumbersome, difficult to manoeuvre and had no satisfactory brakes. Also it literally, very quickly, ran out of steam.

Up until then Mr Cugnot had been backed by Louis XV’s War Minister, Duc de Choiseul. But the Minister fell into disgrace and was dismissed, which also meant Cugnot had to abandon his project.

His wagon remained stationary, in the ancient military depot, the Arsenal de Paris, for over thirty years before it was taken into safekeeping by the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1802, where it is still on show to the public at their museum in the 3rd arrondissement in Paris.

In 2004, at the bi-centennial anniversary of the death of Cugnot at the town of his birthplace of Void-Vacon, Meuse, the mayor, André Jannot suggested to a local engineer that he organise the construction of a modern replica.

In 2007, the Ecole des Arts et Métiers-Paristech put its students to work on the project, which took three years to complete. In September 2010 it took to the road… and it worked, proving it was a viable prototype. Since then the association which looks after it, Le Fardier de Cugnot, often takes it out for demonstrations and you can see it in action online here

Nicéphore Niépce, first Photographer 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (7 March 1765 – 5 July 1833), is a French inventor, usually credited as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in that field. Niépce developed heliography, a technique he used to create the world’s oldest surviving product of a photographic process: a print made from a photoengraved printing plate in 1825. In 1826 or 1827, he used a primitive camera to produce the oldest surviving photograph of a real-world scene. Among Niépce’s other inventions was the Pyréolophore, the world’s first internal combustion engine, which he conceived, created, and developed with his older brother Claude Niépce.
Niépce is born in Chalon-sur-Saône (Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy-Franche Comté region)

Ceci n’est qu’un essai bien imparfait, mais avec beaucoup de patience et de  travail on peut faire de grandes choses.”

Nicéphore Niépce

1816-1818 — Niépce’s first Experiments

Towards the Invention of Photography

In 1816, a year before the pyreolophore patent runs out, Claude goes to Paris, then to England in 1817, trying to make work the engine invention .
Nicephore starts by himself new research on an idea that has obsessed him for many years : making permanent on a support through a compound the images seen at the back of camerae obscurae .
Until then , these boxes with a lens adapted on a hole , projecting on the back an inverted image of the outside view , had only been used as a drawing aid.

The first world negative (non fixed)

For his first experiments , Nicéphore Niépce positioned at the back of a camera obscura sheets of silver salts coated paper, known to blacken with daylight . In may 1816 he produced the first image of nature : a view from a window . It was a negative and the image vanished because in broad daylight the coated paper becomes completely black . He calls these images “retinas”.

Principle of the invention of photography

In March 1817, Niépce decidedly took up his research on making images again. While reading chemistry treatises, he focused his attention on the resin of Gaïacum extracted from a coniferous tree. This yellow resin becomes green when exposed to day-light. What made it particularly interesting is that it loses its solubility in alcohol. Niépce understood that thanks to this property it was easy to see the difference between the modified and the intact resin, thus fix the image.
At first he got rather good results experimenting directly with sun-light, but failed when using a camera obscura. He did not know that only U-V rays were active on this resin and that they were filtered by his camera obscura lens. In 1818, next to fixing images, he also developed a keen interest for the dandy horse (ancestor of the bicycle without pedals) and got a lot of attention riding the roads of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes on his “velocipede”.

1825-1829 — Invention of Photography

In 1824, he put lithographic stones, coated with bitumen, at the back of a camera obscura and obtained for the first time ever a fixed image of a landscape. This required an extremely long exposure time, in broad daylight, for a few days. Starting in 1825, he regularly used copper as a base, then tin in 1826, while also realising etched images.

In 1827, Niépce went to England, where he found his brother dying, without any improvements to the engine at hand. He realised then that they would never get any profit from this invention into which they had invested so much hope. After having vainly tried to get the attention of the Royal Society as to his reproduction process of images, called heliography, Niépce returned to France and relentlessly worked on improving his invention. In 1828, he found a new method that led to superior quality images with half-tones. Using polished silver as a base and letting iodine vapours interact with the bitumen image, he obtained genuine photographs in black and white on a metal plate. The preciseness of these images was amazing for the time. The exposure time was still many days in broad sunlight.

Principle and Technique of Heliography with the Camera Obscura

The photosensitive agent is bitumen of Judea, which is a sort of natural tar known from ancient times. People in antiquity used to collect it from the Dead Sea surface (in the Greek Asphaltite lake), where it kept surfacing continually from the bottom of the sea. It was used by the Egyptians to embalm mummies, to caulk ships or even to make terrace works in Babylon. In the 19th century, people already knew how to extract this tar from bituminous rocks, and as a matter of fact the bitumen used by Niépce did not come from Judea anymore.

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Gustave Eiffel : a passionate engineer

An engineer by training, Eiffel founded and developed a company specializing in metal structural work, whose crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower. He devoted the last thirty years of his life to his experimental research.

Born in Dijon in 1832, he graduated from the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1855, the same year that Paris hosted the first World’s Fair.

He spent several years in the South West of France, where he supervised work on the great railway bridge in Bordeaux, and afterwards he set up in his own right in 1864 as a “constructor”, that is, as a business specializing in metal structural work.

His outstanding career as a constructor was marked by work on the Porto viaduct over the river Douro in 1876, the Garabit viaduct in 1884, Pest railway station in Hungary, the dome of the Nice observatory, and the ingenious structure of the Statue of Liberty. It culminated in 1889 with the Eiffel Tower. This date marks the end of his career as an entrepreneur.

The Garabit Viaduct (Viaduc de Garabit in French) is a railway arch bridge spanning the Truyère, near Ruynes-en-Margeride, Cantal, France, in the mountainous Massif Central region

An International heritage

Eiffel built hundreds of metal structures of all kinds all around the world.

Bridges, and in particular railway bridges, were his favourite field of work, but he also won renown for his metal structural work and industrial installations. His career was marked by a large number of fine buildings, among which two of the most outstanding are the twin edifices of the Porto viaduct and the Garabit viaduct in the Cantal region of France. Equally outstanding are certain other structures in which the pure inventiveness of Eiffel’s company was allowed free rein, such as the “portable” bridges sold around the world in “kits”, the ingenious structure of the Statue of Liberty in New York, and of course the Eiffel Tower itself.

The Maria Pia Bridge (in Portuguese Ponte de D. Maria Pia, commonly known as Ponte de Dona Maria Pia) is a railway bridge built in 1877 by Gustave Eiffel

Panama: A colossal… and disastrous project

In 1887 Eiffel agreed to build the locks of the Panama canal, an immense undertaking badly managed by Ferdinand De Lesseps, which ended in the biggest financial scandal of the century.

This was the biggest contract in his entire career in business, and also the one with the greatest risk. Given the risk he faced, he was granted major financial advantages and solid guarantees, which allowed him to collect his profit as soon as the work was begun.

Despite the care which Eiffel took in the project, the liquidation of the canal construction company, Compagnie du Canal, on February 4 1889, led to his own indictment for fraud alongside De Lesseps and his son, and to a sentence of two years in prison and a fine of 2000 francs, even though nothing could really be blamed on him personally.

With his honour and dignity severely compromised, he withdrew from business. The ruling was later to be annulled by the highest appeal court, the Cour de Cassation, liberating him of all obligations concerning the accusations, which put an end to any further court action against him.

Returning to his roots: scientific research

In retirement following the Panama scandal, Eiffel devoted the final thirty years of his life to a fruitful career as a scientist.

First of all he set himself to finding a practical application for the Tower, which had only been built to stand for twenty years. He employed it in wind resistance experiments, as a meteorological observation post, and above all as a giant aerial mast for the new science of radio broadcasting.

He collected meteorological data at posts installed in his various properties, and at the same time pursued his research into aerodynamics, building a wind tunnel right at the foot of the Tower, and then a second and much larger one on Rue Boileau in Paris, in 1909. This latter wind tunnel is still in service. He died on December 27, 1923 at the age of 91.

Many famous people were born or lived in the region

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is a region with a strong scientific and industrial culture. Many famous people were born or lived in the region, often the origin of a powerful industry.

Some examples:

  • Adolphe and Eugène Schneider, appointed head of the company “Schneider frères et Cie métallurgiste du Creusot” in 1936
  • Armand Peugeot, born in Valentigney in 1849, industrial
  • Auguste and Louis Lumière, born in 1862 and 1864 in Besançon, inventors in the fields of photography and cinema
  • Colette, born in 1873 in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, writer
  • Claude Lorius, born in 1932 in Besançon, glaciologist
  • Claudie Haigneré, born in 1953 in Creusot, doctor, biologist and astronaut
  • Eugène Péclet, born in 1793 in Besançon, physicist
  • Frédéric Japy, born in 1749 near Montbéliard, in Beaucourt, clockmaker
  • Gustave Eiffel, born in Dijon in 1832, engineer-builder
  • Hilaire de Chardonnet, born in Besançon in 1839, scientific and industrial engineer, inventor of artificial silk
  • Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, born in 1768 in Auxerre, mathematician and physicist
  • Lazare Carno, born in Nolay in 1753, mathematician, physicist, general and French politician
  • Louis Vuiton, born in 1821 in Chabouilla in the Jura, engineer designer
  • Nicéphore Niepce, born in 1765 in Chalon-sur-Saône, inventor of photography
  • Louis Pasteur, born in Dole in 1822, biologist
  • Pierre Vernier, born in 1580 in Ornans, mathematician
  • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, born in 1809 in Besançon, sociologist and philosopher
  • Paul Bert, born in 1833 in Auxerre, doctor, physiologist and politician
  • Paul-Emile Victor, born in the Jura in 1907, polar explorer
  • Sébastien Vauban, born in 1633 in Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret, architect and engineer
  • Victor Hugo, born in Besançon in 1802, novelist
  • and many others …..

Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist whose work changed medicine

Louis Pasteur is born on 27 December 1822, in Dole, Jura (Franche Comté)

Louis Pasteur, a qualified chemist, is behind the most important scientific revolutions of the 19th century in the fields of biology, agriculture, medicine and hygiene. Beginning his research on crystallography, he soon embarked on a journey filled with discoveries which led him to develop the rabies vaccine.

Louis Pasteur’s life was filled with revolutionary discoveries and also marked by a number of events that likely fueled his desire to understand the diseases of his time. A tireless and dedicated scientist, he traveled extensively throughout France to prove his theories and solve agricultural and industrial problems caused by infectious diseases.


“Chance favors invention only for minds prepared for discoveries by patient study and persevering efforts.”

Louis Pasteur



In 1847 Louis Pasteur, a young chemist freshly graduated from the prestigious Ecole normale supérieure, set to work on the problem posed by German physicist Eilhard Mitscherlich, namely, why do sodium ammonium paratartrate and tartrate – two seemingly identical chemical substances – affect polarized light differently ?


Louis Pasteur’s work raised a new set of research questions, such as ” Where do fermentation agents come from ? ” and ” Do they originate from germs similar to themselves or do they appear spontaneously as explained by the spontaneous generation theory ?


Between the age of 55 and 65 Louis Pasteur developed microbiology, applying it to medicine and surgery. Having established that diseases were caused by microorganisms, he then sought to identify and find a means of fighting them. His finest accomplishment was rabies.


The Institut Pasteur is named after its illustrious founder and owes much to this scientific genius. Yet its story is also linked to the lives and discoveries of many other scientists, all inspired by the humanist ideals of Louis Pasteur, whose scientific breakthroughs have benefited people’s health worldwide.

The Institut Pasteur is a private, non-profit foundation officially recognized for charitable status, just as Louis Pasteur himself wanted.

Established by decree on June 4, 1887, the Institut Pasteur was opened on November 14, 1888 following Louis Pasteur’s successful international appeal for funds. He now had the facilities to extend vaccination against rabies, continue research on infectious diseases and share the resulting knowledge.

That’s a Fact – Louis Pasteur from Institute for Creation Research on Vimeo.