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William Henry Lang

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William Henry Lang

William Henry Lang
Born 12 May 1874
Withyham, Sussex
Died 29 August 1960(1960-08-29) (aged 86)
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Botany
Institutions University of Manchester
University of Glasgow
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Known for research into the nature of Psilophyton and discovery of sporangium on the prothallus of ferns
Notable awards Royal Medal (1931), Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

William Henry Lang FRS[1] (12 May 1874–29 August 1960) was a British botanist. The son of Thomas Lang, a medical practitioner, Lang was educated at Dennistoun public school in Glasgow before being accepted into the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with a Bsc (Hons) in botany and zoology in 1894. He qualified for medicine in 1895 but never became a practicing doctor; thanks to his own enthusiasm and the encouragement of his teacher Frederick Orpen Bower he instead became a professional botanist.[2] His first research was on the structure of ferns, something Bower was apparently an authority on, and Lang soon followed him in that regard. He moved to study at the Jodrell Laboratory on a Robert Donaldson scholarship in 1895, where he focused on the apomixis of ferns, and discovered a sporangium on the prothallus of a fern at a time when biologists were exploring alternate means of reproduction in plants.[2]

In 1899 he travelled to Sri Lanka and Malaya to study tropical cryptogams and collect samples, returning to Britain in 1902, when became a lecturer at the University of Glasgow; while there he worked closely with D. T. Gwynne-Vaughan] and Bower, with the three of them being known as the "triumvirate".[2] After Gwynne-Vaughan's death in 1915[3] he studied preserved plant remnants in Aberdeen, making great insights into the nature of Psilophyton, which until then had been neglected.[2] In 1900 he was awarded a Doctor of Science degree by the University of Glasgow, and when the Barker chair of cryptogamic botany was created at the University of Manchester Lang was the first choice.[2] He took up his duties in 1909 and married his cousin, Elsa Valentine, the following year.

In 1911 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society[1] and was awarded a Royal Medal in 1931 for 'his work on the anatomy and morphology of the fern-like fossils of the Old Red Sandstone.'[4] In 1932 he received an LLD from the University of Glasgow, followed by a similar award from Manchester in 1942. He was also a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. After his retirement he moved to Westfield due to his wife's ill health' she died in 1959, and he followed barely a year later on 29 August 1960.[2]


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