James Lovelock—creator of the Gaia theory positing that the Earth and everything on it is part of a single organism—died on Tuesday at 103-years-old. A pioneering ecologist, Lovelock's research had a significant impact on current thinking around climate change, fossil fuels, and pollution. The Electron Capture Detector he invented in 1957 was a game-changing technology for measuring human-made toxins in the environment. From the New York Times:
But Dr. Lovelock may be most widely known for his Gaia theory — that Earth functioned, as he put it, as a "living organism" that is able to "regulate its temperature and chemistry at a comfortable steady state."
…The hypothesis might never have gained credibility and moved to the scientific mainstream without the contributions of Lynn Margulis, an eminent American microbiologist. In the early 1970s and in the decades afterward, she collaborated with Dr. Lovelock on specific research to support the notion.
Since then a number of scientific meetings about the Gaia theory have been held, including one at George Mason University in 2006, and hundreds of papers on aspects of it have been published. Mr. Lovelock's theory of a self-regulating Earth has been viewed as central to understanding the causes and consequences of global warming.