Throughout the centuries,there have been many scientific discoveries that have changed the world for the better. There have also been quite a few that have changed the world for the worse. Some are well-noted and immediately come to mind when one is asked to name the ten most important scientific discoveries of all time, but there are other profound discoveries that are more subtle in nature – ones that are easily overlooked, regardless of the tremendous impact they may have had on the world.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of what I believe to be the ten most important scientific discoveries of all time. Perhaps my choices will match up with yours, or maybe they will be vastly different. Please feel free to compare the two and let me know your thoughts!
My Top Ten List of the World’s Most Important Scientific Discoveries
(What a mouthful!)
1. Electricity – Without it, we would be left in the dark. We would not have computers, no microwaves, and say goodbye to your TV and radio. Our society is hugely dependent upon electricity to fuel the lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed to. It was good old Benjamin Franklin, who first brought us this wonderful scientific discovery, through his curious desire to fly kites in a rainstorm. After growing up with my parents telling me I couldn’t fly kites in the yard, due to all the power lines, I have to wonder how Ben got away with such mischief. Oh wait… Never mind.
2. Penicillin – I’ll admit, I really have to wonder what kind of person discovers mold on their bread and suddenly gets a notion that it just might heal disease? I mean, I’ve found mold on my bread before, but all I thought was “Eww,” not “Wow! This could cure cancer!” The only thing that I can imagine is that maybe Alexander Flemming accidental a bit into a sandwich, one day, and then immediately spat it out again, loudly declaring, “Eww, that tastes awful! That tastes like…medicine!” Or did the penicillin come first? That’s as troublesome a question as the one about the chicken. No, the chicken and egg, not the one crossing the road.
We do have Alexander Flemming to thank for this discovery back in 1928 (penicillin, not really bad jokes), when he forgot to clean up his workstation before going on holiday. When he returned, he discovered that fungus had grown on the cultures he’d been looking at and that the bacteria perished in the vicinity of these cultures. So we have to thank Mr. Flemming for being less than tidy, and special thanks also to Howard Florey and Boris Chain for isolating and purifying penicillin, helping us to use it as an antibiotic. In all seriousness, penicillin has helped to treat many diseases, hence why it quickly comes to mind when I think of the world’s most important scientific discoveries.
3. Gunpowder – Credit for the invention of gunpowder goes clear back to ninth century Chinese alchemists. Ever since its invention, it has been used for the purposes of hunting, warfare, entertainment, and even helped to give birth to rocket science. While not always used for the best of things, it must certainly be included as one of the world’s most profound scientific discoveries – without it, we would never have been able to develop the technology to eventually put man into space.
4. Anatomy – There’s one in every family and I’m pretty sure Andreas Vesalius was considered about as black as sheep as they come, with his penchant for carving up cadavers. However, because of his strange hobbies and idea to read a book about it, we actually know what a liver is and where it’s located in the body. As one can guess, it’s very beneficial to know, so they don’t start sticking things up your nose, while looking for your gallbladder. Important to note, however, is that the study of anatomy can be traced clear back to an ancient Egyptian papyrus, created around 1600 BC. While Aristotle and Greek Physicians, Herophilus and Erasistratus, all studied various forms of anatomy during the 3rd and 4th century, it wasn’t until 1543 that Vesalius created a modern text that didn’t rely upon 1000 year-old studies and misconceptions.
5. The Laws of Heredity – It was an ancient monk, named Gregor Mendel, whom I credit with another of the 10 most important scientific discoveries – The Laws of Heredity. This smoke was the first to note that certain traits could be passed down a family line, from parents to offspring. I’m sure you’ve heard the whole green pea, yellow pea, wrinkled pea, smooth pea discussion. Because of Gregor Mendel, we’ve not only been able to establish why the redheaded kid the family is not necessarily the milkman’s son, but we’ve also been able to improve our crops and livestock, allowing us to produce better quality food sources to feed the masses.
6. Plastic – In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt would discover a way to produce a substance that would revolutionize the known world. Plastic. Today, we have plastic chairs, plastic bags, plastic in our cars and even plastic reefs, slowly taking over our oceans. As if plastic wasn’t already wonderful enough, when we’re done with our plastic, we can melt it all down and remake it into new plastic things – like new recycled furniture!
Ironically, the first plastics were invented as an ulterior to using shellac – a product that was produced by Asian beetles. So, today, there are millions of jobs involving the production of plastic, as well as jobs that put this product into use… and millions of little Asian beetles living on welfare.
7. Photosynthesis – No, I’m not talking about the discount film development at your local CVS. I’m talking about the amazing scientific discovery, first made by English theologian, philosopher and mouse torturer, Joseph Priestly. Priestly discovered that if he isolated air beneath an inverted jar, then burned a candle within it, the candle would burn out very rapidly. Further testing discovered that a mouse, place within a similar jar, would also “damage” the amount of air within. He would then go on to show, how the amount of air they had been taken by the mouse, could then be restored by a plant.
In 1778, court physician to the Austrian Empress, Jan Ingenhousz, would repeat Priestly’s experiments and learn that it was the influence of sunlight upon the plant that would restore the air used by said mouse. In time, it would also be learned that plants consumed carbon dioxide and released oxygen – and we would have hope for New York City and L.A. again!
8. Computers – It’s impossible to credit any one person with the creation of computers, as the modern day computer has evolved from numerous devices, dating clear back to 150 BC. One must admit however, the profound affect that the scientific discoveries leading into this device have had upon the world. Today, because of computers, our lives are (supposedly) more organized and efficient. We have an unlimited source of information at our fingertips and we have achieved a form of global communication that was unheard of as recently as 20 years ago. We’ve also opened the door to let porn into every household as well, but we won’t mention that. Oops. Outside voice.
9. Wheel – Was it a scientific discovery, an accident, or a profound invention? The world may never know. We might not know which Joe Schmoe caveman first invented/discovered/tripped over the wheel but it simply must be noted in a list of greatest discoveries. It changed our world profoundly and cannot be ignored. Ugh.
10. Invisibility Cloak – I remember this from back in my Dungeons and Dragons days! Sounding like it came straight off of James’ Bond’s wish list or out of the pages of the latest Harry Potter novel, the invisibility cloak has become reality. Mind you, I imagine this will turn out to be one of those less-than-better things for the most part, it does have a romantic sound to it. While I have to say that I do believe the invisibility cloak is one of the ten most important scientific discoveries in the world, I also find it to be one of the scariest – It’s just one of those things where you shake your head and mutter, “Nothing good will come of this.”
So there you have it – My top ten list of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries. Have you thought up your own list? I know that, even as I wrote this, I came up with so many other ideas – it was really difficult to limit myself. Hopefully this list got your brain working on some other ideas as well!
History texts and teachers throughout my life.
http://science.howstuffworks.com/invisibility-cloak.htm – How the Invisibility Cloak Works
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer – General information about how computers came into being.
http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Photosynthesis – The Study of Photosynthesis described
http://www.becomehealthynow.com/article/anatom/703 – What is Anatomy?
http://science.discovery.com/brink/top-ten/accidental-inventions/inventions-01.html – Penicillin and how it came to be.
http://science.discovery.com/brink/top-ten/accidental-inventions/inventions-05.html – The Birth of Plastic