This Google Doodle Honors A Female Pioneer

by Melissah Yang

With an eye for science and art, Anna Atkins was unlike any woman of her time. That's why Google honored Atkins, a British photographer and botanist, with a Doodle that replaced its homepage logo on Monday. The Google Doodle, whose background is colored a steel blue while white leaves in the shape of the tech giant's moniker lay on top, is inspired by Atkins' 1843 work Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, which is widely considered the first book to include photographs as illustrations.

Atkins was born on March 16, 1799 (Monday would have been Atkins' 216th birthday). She was exposed to science at a young age because her father, John George Children, was a scientist who belonged to a royal society of British Museum scientists. One member, chemist John Herschel, invented the precursor to cyanotypes, or sun-printing, that Atkins would later use.

Cyanotypes are photographic images that are created by exposing chemically treated paper to light in order to create permanent images or, in other words, photographs. The process turns the paper a dark blue and creates a negative image. Cyanotypes were previously used to create "blueprints" of architectural designs, until Atkins realized they could create realistic and detailed images of plants.

Atkins self-published her pioneering book, which included handwritten captions for each of her prints. It was a private collection of images, and few copies were produced. Today, less than 20 copies are thought to exist. Most are held at museums or institutions, such as the British Library in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Some copies have been purchased in auction for up to £229,000, or nearly $340,000, according to The Independent.

Atkins would produce other volumes to her groundbreaking book, and by 1854, she would have documented photographic impressions of all of the British Isles' algae, according to The Washington Post. Atkins died of paralysis, rheumatism and exhaustion in 1871 at the age of 72.

Who would have known that those glossy coffee table books should pay an homage to a botanist with a penchant for photography? That's what makes Google Doodles so much fun. They're a great way to find out about people from the past whose influence is still felt today. Past Google Doodle honorees have also included American astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, Australian short fiction writer Katherine Mansfield, and Austrian psychoanalyst Anna Freud (Sigmund Freud's sixth and last child).

Images: Google