The history of science is full of people who made lasting contributions to the field of human knowledge during their lifetimes. But some scientists’ accomplishments stand above the rest. In a field where we all stand on the shoulders of giants, here are the five tallest giants of them all.
Wait, Aristotle? The old dead Greek guy? The guy who wrote about what makes plays good? It’s true that Aristotle is most famous in popular culture for being a philosopher and commentator on the arts (as well as being a student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great), but his work covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from metaphysics, to art, to the sciences. And when it came to the sciences, Aristotle’s ideas and methods were well ahead of his contemporaries, so much so that they formed the basis of scientific study and knowledge in the West for centuries after his death. Many of his ideas are dated now, but their influence on the history of scientific research is too big to ignore.
Marie Curie was a pioneer of science in more ways than one. The winner of two Nobel prizes (for Physics and Chemistry, in 1903 and 1911, respectively), Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel, the only woman to have won the award in multiple fields, and to this day is the only person to have won in multiple science categories. Curie’s field of expertise was radiation, and she was responsible for discovering the way to capture radioactive isotopes, and for the identification of the elements radium and polonium. She also pioneered the practice of radiology, and used mobile radiography centers to treat French soldiers during World War 1.
English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution provided an explanation for the origin of humanity and the development of natural life that still provides the basis of natural sciences, biology, and zoology to this day. His postulation that all life descended from common ancestors and then developed through natural selection was a groundbreaking revelation during its day, and today is the foundation for a significant portion of scientific research being conducted in the natural sciences.
The man whose surname is now a synonym for “genius” was always going to find a place on this list. Einstein’s theories of relativity transformed our understanding of the universe and how the elements that make it up, from matter to energy to the forces that act upon them, work. To this day, his E=mc2 is still the most famous equation in the world.
Newton is one of the most famous scientists ever to have existed, and yet many people still don’t know the full range of his contributions to human knowledge. Newton’s laws of motion are still one of the absolute pillars of scientific study, and his research into gravity alone justifies continued respect. But his work doesn’t stop there. Newton’s other contributions to science include but are not limited to: confirming the heliocentric model of the solar system, formulating an empirical law of cooling, studying the speed of sound, and contributing multiple equations and theories to the field of mathematics.
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