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Gerrit van Iterson

Gerrit van Iterson Jr. was born on 19 August 1878 in Roermond. He studied from 1897 till 1901 in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Polytechnic School in Delft. In addition to the regular curriculum he followed to extra courses through which he came into contact with two Delft professors: M.W. Beijerinck, the founder of modern microbiology, and H. Behrens who taught the course microchemistry. In 1902 Van Iterson became an assistant of Beijerinck.

Six years later he graduated cum laude on his thesis on phyllotaxis, with Beijerink as his promoter. Van Iterson’s thesis had a strong mathematical character. He proposed a packing theory for the position of leafs. In his thesis he derived a ‘Van Iterson chart’ that displays the divergence of the phyllotaxis system by given distances. Because Beijerinck had high expectations of Van Iterson, he used his influence and made sure that Van Iterson became a professor in microscopic anatomy in Delft (1907).

Van Iterson got space in Beijerincks laboratory to give his lectures. He was also allowed to use the garden and the plants in it for his research. The lectures of Van Iterson became increasingly popular and the space in Beijerincks laboratory became soon too small. Therefore, Van Iterson got his private room in the summer of 1908. This house also contained a garden which was made suitable for growing the plants which where necessary for his teaching and research. Van Iterson preferred crops that were used in the technique and with this he laid the foundation of a study which he later called ‘technical botany’. Also this building and garden became too small for the study Van Iterson had in mind. He argued therefore strongly, barely one year later, to get his own laboratory specifically equipped for his profession. The permission to build a new laboratory and associated garden was constantly postponed, and when he got a new garden there were a lot of problems regarding the land.

But in 1917 Van Iterson was finally founder of the Cultural Garden for Technical Crops, now known as the Botanical Garden TU Delft. He was involved in the layout of the garden and used the garden for his research. He was in charge of the Botanical Garden till he retired in 1948. He died on 4 January 1972 in Wassenaar. The Botanic Garden became less popular and in the 80s there is even the idea to use the land for the construction of new buildings. The collection of tropical product built by Van Iterson went to the Technical Exhibition Centre, now Technical Museum, of the University. In 1988, the collection split, the zoological specimens were transferred to the National Museum of Natural History, now museum Naturalis in Leiden, and the specimens of the tropicals products remained in Delft. The Botanical Garden is a lot smaller now than it used to be.