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Edward Forbes was a distinguished British naturalist, born in 1815. His accomplishments included the curatorship of the museum of the Geological Society of London and the professorship of botany at Kings College. In November 1844 he resigned the curatorship of the Geological Society, and became palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain. In 1841 he sailed with the British Survey on the Beacon, charting the waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, where he was able to dredge for samples from the deepest waters examined to date.

After these explorations, Forbes developed his theory that below 300 fathoms the mysterious dark depths of the seas was a baren lifeless area and he named this the Azoic (lifeless) zone. His theory was accepted by the public and assumed the status of fact. In 1853 he fulfilled a long-cherished wish with his appointment to the professorship of natural history in the university of Edinburgh, made vacant by the death of his and Darwin's mentor Professor Jameson. But soon after taking on the professorship, he died suddenly, aged 39. Despite his many contributions to science and great status in the scientific community, he is best remembered for his misguided Azoic theory.

Forbes was followed in the Edinburgh Chair by Charles Wyville-Thomson, who strongly disputed the Azoic theory and became determined to disprove it. And so the stage was set for the Challenger's historic voyage.