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Unsung Heroes, Obscure Scientists

There are some names, in science, which nearly everyone knows: James Watson; Francis Crick; Albert Einstein; Charles Darwin; Isaac Newton; Stephen Hawking; and Galileo Galilei. Some may know more. A very few (and I hope you're not one of them) may know fewer. In any case, it's safe to say that in most discussions on science, these men (it always seems to be men) will sooner or later be mentioned.

In response to a recent thread called Sixty Years of British Science Innovation (see it here), which got us thinking about British scientific achievements and landmarks, I think it might be good to provide a little corner of where less well-known achievements can be appreciated, regardless of nationality, gender, or time in history. After all, while the landscape of history is dotted with the occasional mountainous achievement reaching right up to the sky, why don't we take time out to look at the smaller monuments - hills, valleys, plains, perhaps even an obscure rock that's a distinctive shape - and see how they contributed to the landscape?

Maybe it was one of the Ancient Greeks like Euclid, who formulated the five axioms of 2D geometry, or like Anaximander, who conducted the first known scientific experiment.

Maybe it was an Italian Classical figure like Jacopo Berengario de Carpi, whose work on human anatomy was instrumental in undermining Galen's erroneous theories of the body.

Maybe it was a scholar from the Golden Age of Islam, like Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, whose work on the camera obscura led him to discover that light entered the eye and was not, as the Greeks had supposed, beamed out of it.

Maybe it was a more recent geological achievement, like Inge Lehmann's, when she not only put forwards her argument that the Earth's core had inner and outer layers, but did so in a paper using the shortest title in scientific history (P').

Or maybe it was someone reasonably well known but yet underappreciated, like Nikola Tesla, whose creativity and efforts to bring about AC electricity in a national grid tend to be overshadowed by his more eccentric fall from grace later in life.

This is only a very short list, as I imagine there may well be hundreds of individuals whose work shaped science as we know it today.

So while we're taking a walk around the scientific landscape, what places would you recommend? Is there an obscure scientist with possibly an even more obscure achievement that you'd like us to see? A well-known landmark seen from a different view? An amazing coincidence? Something just plain weird? Perhaps even a few unsung heroes whose songs need to be heard more often?



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