EB Harvey
c. 1929

Ethel Browne came to the MBL in 1907 while a graduate student. She was completing her PhD at Columbia with Thomas Hunt Morgan and cytologist Edmund Beecher Wilson. In 1916 she married Edmund Harvey, another MBL scientist. For nearly sixty years, she spent almost every summer at the MBL studying germ cells, fertilization, and cleavage especially in sea urchins, using traditional microscopical equipment and methods.

Harvey was an accomplished scientist at a time when opportunities for women were limited. She valued the MBL as a place to explore her ideas with other biologists. In 1950, Harvey became the second woman elected to the MBL board of trustees.

sea urchins
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Sea urchins

In 1936 she tried out the new tool, the Harvey-Loomis “optical centrifuge” designed by her husband along with engineer Alfred Loomis. This allowed her to “spin” the nuclei out of sea urchin eggs. She then induced cleavage of the remaining yolk. The following year, many American press outlets sensationalized her “creation of life without parents.”

nuclei HoverTouch to magnify
Separation of nuclei from the sea urchin egg in “optical centrifuge”
optical centrifuge
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Optical centrifuge
cell_harvey HoverTouch to magnify
Electron micrograph of A. punctulata cell

In 1942, RCA Fellow Thomas F. Anderson brought a loaned RCA Type B electron microscope to the MBL, offering demonstrations. That summer, Harvey and Anderson carried out an electron microscopy study of the fertilization membrane in Arbacia punctulata, the Atlantic purple sea urchin. It was apparently another decade before electron microscopes returned to the MBL.

1. Still Image: "Ethel Browne Harvey", 6/11/2012, https://hdl.handle.net/1912/16775. 

2. Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:GFNMS - purple urchins (27703864430).jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:GFNMS_-_purple_urchins_(27703864430).jpg&oldid=536021082 (accessed October 11, 2021).

3. Harvey, Ethel Browne. 1936. “Parthenogenetic merogony or cleavage without nuclei in Arbacia punctulata.” The Biological Bulletin 71(1), pp.101–121. Page 105, Photograph 1.

4. B & L Centrifuge Microscope (after Harvey Loomis) Bausch & Lomb. 1934. The Collecting Net 9(74): 80.

5. Harvey, Ethel Browne and Thomas F. Anderson. 1943. “The Spermatozoon and Fertilization Membrane of Arabcia puntulata as Shown by the Electron Microscope.” The Biological Bulletin 85: 151–156. Plate II, Figure 4.