Indexed on: 22 Jun '01Published on: 22 Jun '01Published in: Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety
Botany is usually considered to be the gentlest of sciences with botanists being regarded as people who study relatively safe specimens, compared with, for example, anthropologists or microbiologists. However, botanists have their moments, particularly when collecting new species. The great botanists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries risked their lives in collecting and bringing back species, which we now take for granted, and Robert Brown was one of these adventurers, a young Scot who accompanied Sir Joseph Banks to New Holland. It was not, however, for his adventurous lifestyle that Brown is remembered but for his startling observation of the movements of pollen grains on a microscope slide. He noted that the pollen grains were in perpetual agitated motion, without purpose or direction but full of energy. This motion, called Brownian motion, arises from the movement of molecules, and Brownian motion is the term that has been applied to much of healthcare, including many screening programmes, which have in the past been marked more by the amount of energy and activity than by a clear sense of direction or positive achievement.