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← Unsung Heroes, Obscure Scientists

Unsung Heroes, Obscure Scientists - Comments

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

Here are a few examples from me:
* Emmy Noether, leading theoretical physicist, noted for her contributions to Lagrangian mechanics, abstract algebra, relativity etc.
* Edward Jenner, inventor of vaccines.
* Norman Borlaug, who made agriculture so much more efficient we've been able to feed billions because of him.

I'd like to discuss also an example of someone who, although famous, isn't famous as a scientist, even though retrospectively that might be what she would have preferred us to remember her for.

While everyone's heard of Beatrix Potter, no-one seems to know that, before she turned to literature, her passion was science (anything but astronomy), especially botany & mycology, the science of fungi. Her skill in drawing diagrams was core to the reproducibility of her findings in the days before microscopes' images could be photographed; to this day, her diagrams are referred to in some quarters when identifying fungal species. She couldn't present her 1897 findings to the Linnean Society (another scientist did it for her) because of a male-only attendance rule. Disheartened, she eventually left science. The Society issued a posthumous apology in 1997

Tue, 05 Jun 2012 21:25:38 UTC | #945764

ShadowMind's Avatar Comment 2 by ShadowMind

Eratosthenes, a Greek scientist/mathematician/everything who measured the circumference of the Earth to within 2%. In 200BC.
Fibonacci (Leonardo Pisano), an Italian mathematician, who was instrumental in introducing Arabic numerals into Europe in 1202AD, opening the door to scientific and mathematical advances unimaginable with the Roman numerals up until then.
Eric Laithwaite, a British engineer who developed the linear induction motor and MAGLEV in the 1960s; and who had many controversial ideas about both gyroscopes and moths.

Tue, 05 Jun 2012 21:30:11 UTC | #945765

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 3 by All About Meme

In no particular order (and I hope mathematicians are allowed):

1) Thomas Willis, the founder of neurology. Carl Zimmer tells his story in Soul Made Flesh, and here is a video lecture about him from the Stanford School of Medicine.

2) Rosalind Franklin -- her data made Watson and Crick famous. She almost defines the phrase "unsung hero".

2) Jacobi and Abel -- mathematicians who made breakthroughs in the theory of elliptic functions. Abel died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.

3) Cardano and Bombelli, for the discovery of complex numbers. "Cardano solved the equation x(10-x)=40, finding the answer to be 5 plus or minus √-15. Although he found that this was the answer, he greatly disliked imaginary numbers. He said that work with them would be, “as subtle as it would be useless”, and referred to working with them as “mental torture.” (Many here will identify with this sentiment.)

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 02:58:46 UTC | #945795

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 4 by Jos Gibbons

Cardano's contribution is actually a little greater than that. When complex numbers were first introduced to solve quadratic equations which provably lack real roots, most mathematicians preferred instead to say that non-real complex numbers don't exist & there aren't any roots for those quadratics. But when Cardano found a way to solve cubic equations, he showed you sometimes have to temporarily use complex numbers to find the roots of a cubic, even if it has three real roots. This casus irreducibilis (follow the link to find out what "sometimes" means) made the rejection of complex numbers indefensible.

(NB: Part of the reason mathematicians disliked the square roots of negative numbers was disliking negative numbers themselves; in those days, for example, they'd argue x²+5x+6=0 also has no roots, whereas we'd say it has two roots, which are both negative. The casus irreducibilis occurs even in some cases with three positive roots.)

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 06:48:41 UTC | #945815

veggiemanuk's Avatar Comment 5 by veggiemanuk

OP, '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.'

Nicola Tesla?, oh dear me. When are people going to stop believing everything they read about this man?

Nicola Tesla is NOT underappreciated, if anything he has become (through no fault of his own) a joke to those who have taken the time to read between the lines in everything that has been attributed to this guy.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 07:57:06 UTC | #945821

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 6 by VrijVlinder

Countess Ada of Lovelace, Analyst, Metaphysician, and Founder of Scientific Computing

Born: London, England, December 10, 1815

Died: London, England, November 27, 1852

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 09:42:40 UTC | #945832

veggiemanuk's Avatar Comment 7 by veggiemanuk

As an example of the over enthusiasm for Nicola Tesla, here's the website, claiming that Tesla "INVENTED" AC current.

The list of inventions attributed to the man seems to grow each year as his religious followers dream up more things to praise him for.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 10:14:47 UTC | #945836

MPhillips_1991's Avatar Comment 8 by MPhillips_1991

Aristarchus of Samos

An ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician who, with brilliant insight, discovered that the Earth was not at the centre of the solar system and that each of the planets in the solar system orbit around the Sun.

This was not recognised as a scientific proof until 1800 years later when Copernicus would revive the theory of heliocentrism and Kepler and Newton would provide theoretical explanations based on physical laws - Kepler's laws for the motion of the planets and Newtons laws on gravitational attraction and dynamics.

Tim Berners-Lee

If we're in the business of posting a comments, concerning the unsung heroes of science, on the World Wide Web, how about a mention for it's creator.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 12:39:37 UTC | #945856

antcowan's Avatar Comment 10 by antcowan

Comment 7 by veggiemanuk :

As an example of the over enthusiasm for Nicola Tesla, here's the website, claiming that Tesla "INVENTED" AC current.

The list of inventions attributed to the man seems to grow each year as his religious followers dream up more things to praise him for.

It might be hard to believe but yes Tesla did do all of those things, he may have a few notable failures such as wireless power but i don't know any new things that have been attributed to him in recent years

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 16:09:02 UTC | #945894

bluebird's Avatar Comment 11 by bluebird

...Beatrix Potter

Monday I just happened to thumb through the spring edition of Country Garden. To my surprise and delight, it featured an article, 'Beatrix Potter-A Gardener at Heart'. She liked simple, no fuss flowers.

I nominate the turn-of-the-century British women concerned and outraged over fur and feathers for fashion -they coalesced into the RSPB. I believe this may have influenced U.S. women to form similiar groups.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 16:15:24 UTC | #945899

Faithhead's Avatar Comment 12 by Faithhead

James Black's discovery of the first Beta Blockers and first H2 antagonists rival any achievements in drug discovery and medicine in my opinion. Both cimetidine and propranolol went on to be the worlds best selling drugs and have reduced things like ulcers to relatively trivial conditions and made conditions like angina and high blood pressure manageable conditions.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 16:25:38 UTC | #945904

Roedy's Avatar Comment 13 by Roedy

I don't remember this man's name, but I read about this when I was 14. He simply grew a tree in a tub, carefully weighing the inputs. Then he weighed the entire tree, then burned it and weighed the ashes.

The results blew minds. It was such a simple experiment. He discovered that there must be something like CO2 as a building block. I think even today most people would not properly predict what happens.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 17:28:19 UTC | #945920

brighterstill's Avatar Comment 14 by brighterstill

William Smith, who first noticed continuity of geologic strata and produced the first geological map of Britain and paved the way for stratigraphy and paleontology.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 17:38:38 UTC | #945922

ricke's Avatar Comment 15 by ricke

How about visiting the works of Pratto and Sidanius (Social Domination Theory) and Altemyer (Right Wing Authoritarians)? The dynamic between "Double Highs" and Right Wing Authoritarians explains a lot about religion and belief systems. I personally think it explains more than meme theory. Cheers, Rick

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 17:38:58 UTC | #945923

Quine's Avatar Comment 16 by Quine

Re Comment 13 by Roedy, were you thinking of Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier?

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 18:24:49 UTC | #945925

Quine's Avatar Comment 17 by Quine

Three more women you should know about:

Hypatia of Alexandria

Rosalind Franklin did the crystallography for DNA structure discovery.

Hedy Lamarr co-inventor of an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 18:38:27 UTC | #945926

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 18 by All About Meme

Comment 17 by Quine

Rosalind Franklin did the crystallography for DNA structure discovery.

Yes, her praises simply cannot be sung too many times.


Wed, 06 Jun 2012 19:14:39 UTC | #945931

Quine's Avatar Comment 19 by Quine

Re Comment 18 by All About Meme, indeed. Sorry I missed her in your post.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 19:20:41 UTC | #945932

Roedy's Avatar Comment 20 by Roedy

I don't think it was Lavoisier. The image I have is some non-aristocratic Dutch or German guy doing this in a fairly rustic home. I don't he was part of the scientific establishment, sort of a home hobbyist, who did the experiment not to prove anything, just to see what would happen. I tried googling for a fair while trying to find the experiment, but no joy. It was in a wonderful book I won as a prize, a set of famous biological experiments. I can't remember what the book was called either.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 19:30:39 UTC | #945937

bluebird's Avatar Comment 21 by bluebird

Hedy Lamarr

That's HEDLEY!!

On a serious note, just found out that Ray Bradbury has died :(

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 20:04:32 UTC | #945945

Corylus's Avatar Comment 22 by Corylus

No mention of Lise Meitner yet?

Admittedly that is more about "overlooked" than "obscure" though.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 20:37:37 UTC | #945954

RDfan's Avatar Comment 23 by RDfan

A similar thread was started some time ago on RDFRS called Those Happy Few: Unsung Heroes of Reason, Science and Math.

You may want to go there too for some awesome recommendations!

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 03:15:57 UTC | #946031

Random Jerk's Avatar Comment 24 by Random Jerk

This really has to deal with the history of Science. I suggest folks here to watch the BBC documentaries Chemistry A Volatile History, BBC Electricity Shock and Awe(not sure of the exact name) and The History of Science. You get to know lots of unsung scientific heroes.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 09:22:57 UTC | #946083

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 25 by Jonathan Dore

Roedy is thinking of Jan Baptist van Helmont.

In a similar area of work, John Ray is a major figure in the early history of botany: he really laid the foundations for the principles of plant taxonomy, about a century before Linnaeus.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 12:54:04 UTC | #946131

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 26 by Jonathan Dore

Not unknown but always worth remembering:

Humphry Davy: best known today for his safety lamp (a great lifesaver for miners), but a giant of early chemistry: discovered 6 new elements.

John Dalton: laid the modern foundations for atomic theory.

Not a scientist but an electrical engineer of genius, often unfairly overlooked: William Sturgeon, inventor of both the electromagnet and of the commutator, the latter of which in turn is the essential innovation in both a practical electric motor and (when powered in reverse) AC electricity generation. Virtually all industrial electricity generation today (whatever the ultimate energy source) is based on it.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 13:09:40 UTC | #946135

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 27 by aquilacane

Maybe it is someone who reached Darwin's conclusions 100, 200, 300 years before him but never bothered to write it down.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 15:32:34 UTC | #946157

Mark Ribbands's Avatar Comment 28 by Mark Ribbands

Comment 27 by aquilacane Maybe it is someone who reached Darwin's conclusions 100, 200, 300 years before him but never bothered to write it down.

Good point.

Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus had most of it. He composed a family motto: ‘E conchia omnia.’

‘Everything from shells.’ Meaning there’s a common ancestor to all organic life.

Erasmus had his motto engraved not only, quite correctly, on his stationery; but also on his carriage doors. The latter rather strident approach remained until it upset his local curate.

Nothing, as they say, is new.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 21:52:31 UTC | #946219

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 29 by Mr DArcy

Jocelyn Bell (of pulsar fame). Her boss, Anthony Hewish, got the Nobel Prize for what she discovered!

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 13:42:52 UTC | #946330

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 30 by VrijVlinder

Willard Myron Allen gynecologist obstetrician Discoverer and Isolator of Progensterone 1930

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 20:22:54 UTC | #946405