E.A. Birge, one of the pioneers of limnology (the study of inland waters), can take much of the credit for this claim. According to Steve Carpenter MS’76, PhD’79, the director of UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology, the science of limnology started simultaneously around 1880 with the work of E.A. Birge at the University of Wisconsin and F.A. Forel in Switzerland.
Initially, Birge worked on Lake Mendota and other Madison lakes before expanding to other North American bodies of water. He was the first of many renowned freshwater scientists at the UW, and a good number of them taught classes or did research using Lake Mendota. Faculty and students from other departments also used the lake extensively for research and teaching.
As a result, data from Lake Mendota appear in most of the world’s limnology textbooks, and many scientific papers have been published on the lake as well. This widespread prominence in the research literature and in teaching materials led to the assertion that Lake Mendota is the most
studied lake in the world.