Proclaimed the "Nestor" of American science in 1892, James Dwight Dana fulfilled many roles. Explorer, researcher, and teacher, he wrote extensively in the fields of mineralogy and geology and edited, for almost half a century, the nation's most significant scientific publication, the American Journal of Science.
Dana demonstrated his scientific interests while still a young boy growing up in Utica, New York. By his early teens, he had become an inveterate collector of natural objects, encouraged in the study of natural history by the progressive atmosphere of Utica High School under the administration of Dr. Charles Bartlett. Stimulated by Dr. Fay Edgerton, whose place Asa Gray took in 1832, the young Dana was encouraged to pursue his scientific interests and especially his field studies.
In 1830 Dana entered Yale, where his aptitudes attracted the attention of Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Natural History and founder of the American Journal of Science (sometimes called Silliman's Journal), who quickly took the young student under his wing. Upon graduation in 1833, with Silliman's help, Dana was appointed an instructor in mathematics on the naval ship Delaware, which was scheduled to cruise the Mediterranean. On this cruise he began his real career as a geologist and mineralogist, devoting many of his spare hours to the study of crystallography and devising a new system of symbols for crystal planes. Out of this trip came his first paper, a descriptive article on the condition of Mount Vesuvius, which Silliman published in 1834.
Returning to America in 1834, Dana faced a situation common to many aspiring scientists in the early years of the nineteenth century --the lack of professional employment opportunities; but--like Asa Gray and others--his overwhelming commitment to his interests and his energetic temperament--which in later years would keep him