Women Rock Science

Meet Jeanne Villepreux-Power – The Inventor of the Aquarium


This is Jeanne Villepreux-Power, dressmaker, marine biologist and inventor of the Aquarium. Jeanne was born in France in 1794 and by the age of 22 had found fame and fortune crafting gowns for European royalty. At 24 she moved to Sicily where she became increasingly interested in the flora and fauna on the island, she studied and observed them carefully. However, she met a major roadblock - How could she conduct a controlled study of marine wildlife when they live all the way out in the water? So, Jeanne decided to bring the marine wildlife to the lab. She invented the aquarium. This wondrous invention allows us to hold marine wildlife in controlled environments, suitable for testing, observing and holding as pets.


Jeanne actually invented 3 types of aquarium; a glass one that sits indoors which resembles our modern aquarium, a glass one that is surrounded by a cage and then submerged in the sea or the ocean and a cage which would be filled (usually with large molluscs) and then submerged. Using her aquarium she was the first to discover that Argonauts produce their own shell and she discovered how they did it. She published her findings in 1839 and continued to research the flora and fauna of Sicily writing two books on the subject.


An Argonaut (also called Paper Nautilus)

Jeanne was a very celebrated scientist and was a member of the most prestigious societies. She was the only female member of Catania’s Academy of Natural Sciences and a member of the London Zoological society. She has a crater on Venus named after her and 19th century palaeontologist Richard Owen called her the “mother of aquariophily”. In 1843 the cargo ship transporting her works from Paris to London Sank. Jeanne lost all her works, records and drawings. After this incident she discontinued her research forever.


Jeanie Villepreux-Power by Anne-Lan

This post is with special thanks to Claude Arnal who undertook extensive research in order to bring this information to light.

Sources: The Malacological Society of London, Anne-Lan, Epigenesys, Britannia

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