1838 in science
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- Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel makes the first accurate measurement of distance to a star, 61 Cygni, using parallax. Thomas Henderson (Alpha Centauri) and Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (Vega) announce their measurements using parallax shortly afterwards.
- Claude Servais Mathias Pouillet makes the first quantitative measurements of the heat emitted by the Sun.
- Peter Andreas Hansen publishes a revision of the lunar theory, Fundamenta nova investigationis orbitae verae quam luna perlustrat.
- January 10 – John Gould reports to the Zoological Society of London that bird specimens brought by Charles Darwin from the Galápagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, "gross-bills" and finches are in fact "a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar" as to form "an entirely new group, containing 12 species", an important step in the inception of Darwin's theory.
- May 9 – Royal Agricultural Society of England established.
- Proteins discovered by Gerardus Johannes Mulder and named by Jöns Jakob Berzelius.
- Matthias Schleiden discovers that all living plant tissue is composed of cells.
- Andrew Smith begins publication of Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa.
- Bulat steel alloy developed by Pavel Petrovich Anosov.
- Electrotyping is invented by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia.
- August 18 – The United States Exploring Expedition under U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes sets sail for a four-year circumnavigation westabout.
- In Australia, Charles Sturt proves that the Hume and Murray are the same river.
- Augustus De Morgan introduces the term 'mathematical induction'.
- S. D. Poisson publishes Recherches sur la probabilité des jugements en matière criminelle et en matière civile, containing his work on probability theory and introducing Poisson distribution.
- Jean Esquirol publishes Des maladies mentales considerées sous le rapport médicale, hygiènique et médico-legal in Paris. This includes the first description of what will later become known as Down syndrome.
- John Gorrie experiments with cooling the hospital wards of malarial patients in Apalachicola, Florida.
- January 6 – Samuel Morse first publicly demonstrates the electrical telegraph.
- April 4–22 – The paddle steamer SS Sirius (1837) makes the Transatlantic Crossing to New York from Cork, Ireland, in eighteen days, though not using steam continuously.
- April 8–23 – Isambard Kingdom Brunel's paddle steamer SS Great Western (1838) makes the Transatlantic Crossing to New York from Avonmouth, England, in fifteen days, inaugurating a regular steamship service.
- Liverpool-built barque Ironsides becomes the first large ocean-going iron ship.
- William Barnett obtains a United Kingdom patent for an internal combustion engine, the first with compression of the gas/air mixture in the cylinder.
- David Bruce, Jr., invents the Pivotal Typecaster, which replaces hand typecasting in printing.
- The first screw-pile lighthouse is built by Alexander Mitchell on Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary.
- David Brewster originates the stereoscope.
- A statue of English chemist and physicist John Dalton (in marble by Sir Francis Chantrey) is erected in Manchester during the scientist's lifetime.
- January 5 – Camille Jordan (died 1922), mathematician.
- January 29 – Edward Morley (died 1923), chemist.
- February 18 – Ernst Mach (died 1916), physicist.
- March 3 – George William Hill (died 1914), astronomer.
- March 12 – William Perkin (died 1907), chemist.
- March 15 – Alice Cunningham Fletcher (died 1923), American ethnologist, anthropologist, and social scientist.
- April 8 – Ferdinand von Zeppelin (died 1917), founder of the Zeppelin airship company.
- April 16 – Ernest Solvay (died 1922), chemist.
- April 18 – Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran (died 1912), French chemist.
- April 21 – John Muir (died 1914), naturalist.
- May 6 - Alexandra Smirnoff (died 1913), pomologist.
- June 4 – John Grigg (died 1920), astronomer.
- August 6 – George James Symons (died 1900), meteorologist.
- March 16 – Nathaniel Bowditch (born 1773), mathematician.
- July 5 – Jean Marc Gaspard Itard (born 1774), otorhinolaryngologist.
- August 21 – Adelbert von Chamisso (born 1781), botanist.
- September 27 – Bernard Courtois (born 1777), chemist.
- Sulloway, F. J. (1982). "The Beagle collections of Darwin's finches (Geospizinae)" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History (Zoology). 43 (2): 49–94. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-16.
- Sulloway, F. J. (1982). "Darwin and his finches: the evolution of a legend" (PDF). Journal of the History of Biology. 15: 1–53. doi:10.1007/BF00132004.
- Mulder, G. J. (1838). "Over Proteine en hare Verbindingen en Ontledingsproducten". Natuur- en scheikundig Archief. 6: 87–162.
- Vickery, Hubert Bradford (1950). "The Origin of the Word Protein". Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 22 (5): 387–93. PMC 2598953. PMID 15413335.
- Heinrich, Herbert (December 1938). "The Discovery of Galvanoplasty and Electrotyping" (PDF). Journal of Chemical Education. 15: 565–575. Bibcode:1938JChEd..15..565H. doi:10.1021/ed015p565. Retrieved 2012-06-21.[permanent dead link]
- Crilly, Tony (2007). 50 Mathematical Ideas you really need to know. London: Quercus. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-84724-008-8.
- "Down's syndrome". Whonamedit?. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
- Burke, James (1978). Connections. London: Macmillan. p. 239. ISBN 0-333-24827-9.
- "Steamship Curaçao". Archived from the original on 24 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-02-02.
- "Icons, a portrait of England 1820-1840". Archived from the original on 22 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
- Grantham, John (1859). On Iron Ship Building (2nd ed.). London: Lockwood. pp. 13–14.
- Patent No. 7615, Obtaining motive power from inflammable gases by compression and explosion.
- Clerk, Dugald (1897). Gas and Oil Engines. London: Longman Green & Co.