He lived at a time when formal scientific training was scant and there was no system for referring to living things. The 18th century was also a time when European explorers were fanning out across the globe, finding ever more plants and animals new to science. He intended the simple Latin two-word construction for each plant as a kind of shorthand, an easy way to remember what it was.
The names moved quickly from the margins of a single book to the center of botany, and then all of biology. Linnaeus started a revolution, but it was an unintentional one. Today we regard Linnaeus as the father of taxonomy, which is used to sort the entire living world into evolutionary hierarchies, or family trees. But the systematic Swede was mostly interested in naming things rather than ordering them, an emphasis that arrived the next century with Charles Darwin.
But his naming system, so simple and adaptable, remains. Linnaeus gave us a system so we could talk about the natural world. But no one mentioned Rosalind Franklin — arguably the greatest snub of the 20th century.
The British-born Franklin was a firebrand, a perfectionist who worked in isolation. Franklin was also a brilliant chemist and a master of X-ray crystallography, an imaging technique that reveals the molecular structure of matter based on the pattern of scattered X-ray beams. Her early research into the microstructures of carbon and graphite are still cited, but her work with DNA was the most significant — and it may have won three men a Nobel. But in , in the prime of her career, she developed ovarian cancer — perhaps due to her extensive X-ray work. Franklin continued working in the lab until her death in at age Isaac Asimov — Asimov was my gateway into science fiction, then science, then everything else.
A trained biochemist, the Russian-born New Yorker wrote prolifically, producing over books, not all science-related: Of the 10 Dewey Decimal categories, he has books in nine. Richard Feynman — Feynman played a part in most of the highlights of 20th-century physics. In , he joined the Manhattan Project. As part of the space shuttle Challenger disaster investigation, he explained the problems to the public in easily understandable terms, his trademark.
Feynman was also famously irreverent, and his books pack lessons I live by. FitzRoy founded the U. But after losing his fortunes, suffering from depression and poor health, and facing fierce criticism of his forecasting system, he slit his throat in Jean-Baptiste Lamarck — Lamarck may be remembered as a failure today, but to me, he represents an important step forward for evolutionary thinking. Before he suggested that species could change over time in the early 19th century, no one took the concept of evolution seriously.
Lucretius 99 B. My path to the first-century B. Instead, she married rich. She also fought to make her alma mater more accessible to women, leading to an all-female dormitory, allowing more women to enroll. A champion of the national parks enough right there to make him a hero to me!
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Rolf O. As the wolf population has nearly disappeared and moose numbers have climbed, patience and emotional investment like his are crucial in the quest to learn how nature works. Marie Tharp — I love maps. So did geologist and cartographer Tharp. In the midth century, before women were permitted aboard research vessels, Tharp explored the oceans from her desk at Columbia University.
With the seafloor — then thought to be nearly flat — her canvas, and raw data her inks, she revealed a landscape of mountain ranges and deep trenches. Her keen eye also spotted the first hints of plate tectonics at work beneath the waves. Science needs to get out of the lab and into the public eye. Over the past hundred years or so, these scientists have made it their mission. Sean M. Carroll — : The physicist and one-time Discover blogger has developed a following among space enthusiasts through his lectures, television appearances and books, including The Particle at the End of the Universe, on the Higgs boson.
Rachel Carson — : With her book Silent Spring , the biologist energized a nascent environmental movement. In , Discover named Silent Spring among the top 25 science books of all time.
Medicine in the 20th century
Richard Dawkins — : The biologist, a charismatic speaker, first gained public notoriety in with his book The Selfish Gene , one of his many works on evolution. Stephen Jay Gould — : In , the paleontologist Gould was a guest on The Simpson s, a testament to his broad appeal. Among scientists, Gould was controversial for his idea of evolution unfolding in fits and starts rather than in a continuum.
His posthumously published A Sand County Almanac is a cornerstone of modern environmentalism. Bill Nye — : What should an engineer and part-time stand-up comedian do with his life? For Nye, the answer was to become a science communicator. Oliver Sacks — : The neurologist began as a medical researcher, but found his calling in clinical practice and as a chronicler of strange medical maladies, most famously in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Sagan brought the wonder of the universe to the public in a way that had never happened before.
His subsequent works have filled many a bookshelf with provocative discussions of biodiversity, philosophy and the animals he has studied most closely: ants. As science progresses, so does the roll call of new voices serving as bridges between lab and layman. Here are some of our favorite emerging science stars:.
Pythagoras: Math's Mystery Man Memories of middle or high school geometry invariably include an instructor drawing right triangles on a blackboard to explain the Pythagorean theorem. Carl Linnaeus: Say His Name s It started in Sweden: a functional, user-friendly innovation that took over the world, bringing order to chaos. Our Personal Favorites Isaac Asimov — Asimov was my gateway into science fiction, then science, then everything else. Making Science Popular. Science Stars: The Next Generation As science progresses, so does the roll call of new voices serving as bridges between lab and layman.
Here are some of our favorite emerging science stars: British physicist Brian Cox became a household name in the U. Neuroscientist Carl Hart debunks anti-science myths supporting misguided drug policies via various media, including his memoir High Price. From the Amazon forest to the dissecting table, YouTube star and naturalist Emily Graslie brings viewers into the guts of the natural world, often literally. When not talking dinosaurs or head transplants on Australian radio, molecular biologist Upulie Divisekera coordinates RealScientists , a rotating Twitter account for science outreach.
Female Broadcast Pioneers
Mixing pop culture and chemistry, analytical chemist Raychelle Burks demystifies the molecules behind poisons, dyes and even Game of Thrones via video, podcast and blog. You might also like. How Old Are Saturn's Rings? Could We Travel Through a Wormhole? Do Probiotics Really Work? Flex your cortex with Discover. We notice that innovation may be less personalized than we assume.
Our Influential Americans survey was all about specific people who made a difference, though in some cases—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King—the difference they made was to persuade large groups to work toward a common end. In this survey, it is remarkable how few world-changing breakthroughs can be tied directly to a single, heroic, Nobel Prize—worthy innovator. We learn, finally, why technology breeds optimism, which may be the most significant part of this exercise.
Popular culture often lionizes the stars of discovery and invention. A century ago, this meant the Wright brothers, Edison, and the auto pioneers; in the Eisenhower years, Jonas Salk and Wernher von Braun; and in the past generation, first Bill Gates and then Steve Jobs.
The Man who Invented the Twentieth Century: Nikola Tesla, Forgotten Genius of Electricity
For each writer or thinker or government leader who has enthusiastically welcomed whatever changes technology might bring, there has been a counterpart warning of its dangers. For our era, the major problems that technology has helped cause, and that faster innovation may or may not correct, are environmental, demographic, and socioeconomic. I found it notable that the technologists I spoke with volunteered lists of innovation-enhanced perils.
Please stop to think about this: Outside of the sciences and technology, and apart from the legacies created in each family, humanity is struggling today for a sense of cumulative achievement.
Music, architecture, literature, the fine arts—these and other manifestations of world culture continually change, without necessarily improving. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, versus whoever is the best-selling author in Moscow right now?
The original, elegant Penn Station, versus its warehouse-like replacement? A central question for technologists is whether innovation in the material and productive realms can be sustained—or whether we might, on the contrary, already be entering another of the long, stagnant eras that have marked much of human history, including the ones after times of rapid advance. The argument that a slowdown might happen, and that it would be harmful if it did, takes three main forms.
The first is historical. Some societies have closed themselves off and stopped inventing altogether: notably China after its preeminence in the Ming era, and much of the Arab Islamic world starting just before the European Renaissance. By failing to move forward, they inevitably moved backward relative to their rivals and to the environmental and economic threats they faced. If the social and intellectual climate for innovation sours, what has happened before can happen again. The second draws from the visible slowdown in the pace of solutions that technology offers to fundamental problems.
Between and , life expectancy nearly doubled in the United States, thanks to the combined effects of antibiotics, immunization, and public-health measures. Since then, it has only crept up. Between and , improvements in cars, roads, airplanes, and even railroads made travel faster, cheaper, safer, and more comfortable. Since then, travel in the developed world has improved slowly at best. Crop yields per acre doubled within a generation of the green revolution but have not doubled again.
The third and broadest form of the argument is that a slowdown in, say, crop yields or travel time is part of a general pattern of what economists call diminishing marginal returns.