Emil Racoviţă

Emil Racoviţă (November 15, 1868 – November 17, 1947) was a Romanian biologist, zoologist, speleologist and explorer of Antarctica. He is worldwide known as the founder of Biospeology.

Emil Racoviţă was born in Iaşi (Moldavia) to the Racoviţă family of Moldavian boyars (noblemen), whose ancestors had ascended the throne of the country during the 18th century. He started his education in Iaşi, where he had Ion Creangă as a teacher, and continued his secondary education at the "Institutele Unite" high school, taking his baccalauréat in 1886. He then studied law at the University of Paris, obtaining a law degree in 1889. But he did not pursue a law career, instead turning to the natural sciences. His mentor was zoologist and biologist Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, a professor at the Sorbonne and at the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. Racoviţă earned a B.S. degree in 1891, and a Ph.D. degree in 1896.

As a promising young scientist, Racoviţă was selected to be part of an international team that started out on a research expedition to Antarctica, aboard the ship Belgica. On 16 August 1897, under the aegis of the Royal Society of Geography in Brussels, Belgium, the Belgica, left the port of Antwerp, setting sail for the South. It was the ship that gave its name to the whole expedition. The 19 members of the team were of various nationalities, a rare thing for that time. The first mate of the vessel was Roald Amundsen (who was to conquer the South Pole in 1911). The team left the deck of the ship 22 times, in order to collect scientific data, to make investigations and experiments. Racoviţă was the first researcher to collect botanical and zoological samples from areas beyond the Antarctic Circle.
Belgica made the first daily meteorological recordings and measurements in Antarctica, every hour, for a whole year. The scientists also collected information on oceanic currents and terrestrial magnetism, with as many as 10 volumes of scientific conclusions being published at the end of the expedition, which was considered a success. Belgica returned to Europe in 1899.
Racoviţă’s diary, published in 1899, makes mention of the difficulties that the team-members had to endure. The results of his research were published in 1900, under the title La vie des animaux et des plantes dans l’Antarctique ("The life of animals and plants in Antarctica"). A year after his return, Racoviţă was appointed director of the Banyuls-sur-Mer resort and editor of the review Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale.

Emil Racoviţă continued his research, contributing to speleology and exploring over 1,400 caves in France, Spain, Algeria, Italy, and Slovenia. He is considered to be, together with René Jeannel, one of the founders of biospeleology. In 1919, Racoviţă became head of the Biology Department at the Upper Dacia University (now the Babeş-Bolyai University) in Cluj. He founded the world's first Speleological Institute here. In 1920, he became a member of the Romanian Academy, and remained a major figure of scientific life in Romania until his death.

In 2006, the first Romanian Antarctic exploration station was named Law-Racoviţă.