Robert Brown: Cell Theory, Inventions & Discoveries

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  • 0:04 Robert Brown
  • 0:50 Cell Theory
  • 2:05 Discoveries and Contributions
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

There are so many scientists that have helped us to better understand the world around us. We are going to discuss the discoveries and contributions of one such scientist by the name of Robert Brown.

Robert Brown

We owe so much of what we know about our world to the study of scientists who have worked hard over past and current centuries. One of these scientists is Robert Brown, a Scottish born, brilliant scientist during the early 1800s who conducted studies in England and Australia.

Robert Brown was a regarded botanist
Picture of Robert Brown

Robert Brown focused most of his studies in the field of botany, which is the study of plants. He eventually focused even deeper in the field of botany by studying in the field of palynology, which is the study of living and fossilized plant pollen, spores, and microscopic plankton. Mr. Brown also conducted studies in paleobotany, or the study of the evolution of plants through geologic history to confirm the fossil record. It's time to look at his contributions to science and our world.

Cell Theory

During the time of Robert Brown conducting studies, there were many scientists seeking to understand more about what makes up plants and animals. Several scientists realized that there were cells present in both plants and animals, but they did not know the functions of most cells or what was inside of the cells.

Well, Brown was studying and breeding plants. He knew that it took pollen grains in order to create new plants. While watching the process of pollen grains fertilizing a plant, he noticed that there were ovals inside the plant cells and the pollen was moving in and out of the ovals. He realized that the ovals were of great importance to the cells and called them the nucleus of the cell. The nucleus, as we clearly know now, is like the brain of the cell that contains DNA and directs everything that takes place in the cell.

Brown named and discovered the function of the nucleus
Diagram of a plant cell showing the nucleus

Through Brown's studies, he was able to recognize that the nucleus of the plant cells was necessary for fertilization and subsequent embryonic development to occur. Brown published his research findings and gave speeches. His discovery of the nucleus and its role helped to put together the cell theory, which states that all living organisms are composed of cells, and cells come from pre-existing cells. Brown's discovery helped to confirm the second half of the cell theory.

Discoveries and Contributions

Brown had even more discoveries beyond the nucleus. Early on in his career, Robert was collecting and viewing different plant specimens and came upon one that had not been previously identified. He had discovered a new species of grass that became known as Alopecurus alpinus.

A handful of plants discovered by Robert Brown. The third from the left is Alopecurus alpinus
Picture of plants discovered by Robert Brown

The discovery of that plant was the first of many. As a matter of fact, Brown would ultimately discover and help to name over 2,000 new species of plants during his time of studying in Australia. He also collected over 3,400 different species of plants to include the 2,000 new ones that he discovered.

Brown thought the way plants were classified was not accurate and too strict, so he identified and classified plants differently from how some other scientists classify plants. He published his way of identifying plants, and it gained wide acceptance because it supported an already proposed classification system known as the 'natural system'. This contribution added several new genera and families of plants to the natural classification system.

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