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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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< 20 Oct | 22 Oct >
OCTOBER 21 – BIRTHS – Scientists born on October 21st
  Ronald E. McNair
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1950; died 28 Jan 1986 at age 35.
Ronald E(rwin) McNair was an American physicist and astronaut who was the second African American to fly in space.He had been fascinated by space since childhood, when as early as in elementary school he talked about the Sputnik satellite. McNair was nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics, including chemical and high-pressure lasers. In 1978, he was one of 35 applicants selected from a pool of 10,000 for NASA's space shuttle program. He was assigned as a mission specialist on the Feb 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger, during which he orbited the earth 122 times. Sadly, on his second trip, on the morning of 28 Jan 1986, McNair with six other crew members died in an explosion shortly after launching aboard the Challenger.
  Samuel W. Alderson
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1914; died 11 Feb 2005 at age 90.
American physicist and engineer who invented the crash-test dummy used to test the safety of cars, parachutes and other devices. From the 1930's, when safety of cars during a crash was tested, cadavers had been used. When he started a company in 1952, Alderson Research Laboratories, which designed an anthropomorphic dummy, the first application was for testing jet ejection seats. In 1968, he produced a dummy (called the V.I.P.) built specifically for automotive testing with built-in instruments for collecting data. It had articulated joints with dimensions and weight distribution like an average adult man. His company later also made medical phantoms for simulations such as synthetic wounds that oozed mock blood.«
  Martin Gardner
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1914; died 22 May 2010 at age 95.  quotes button quotes
American science writer who, for 25 years, wrote the highly popular “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American. Though not an academic, nor having ever formally studied maths or science, he wrote widely and prolifically on both subjects, in such popular books as The Ambidextrous Universe and The Relativity Explosion. Since childhood, he was fascinated by magic, so one of his first books was Mathematics, Magic and Mystery (1956), about the maths of popular magic tricks. His interests grew wider and deeper. By age 42,  he wrote his first column for Scientific American, and for many years thereafter popularized mathematics by highlighting puzzles that were elegantly understandable. He both inspired professionals and enchanted young readers to take an interest in mathematics.«
book icon Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, by Martin Gardner, Persi Diaconis, James Randi. - book suggestion.
booklist icon Booklist for Martin Gardner.
  William A. Mitchell
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1911; died 26 Jul 2004 at age 92.  quotes button quotes
American food scientist who invented Pop Rocks candy, Cool Whip, the orange drink mix Tang, and quick-set Jell-O Gelatin. He developed a tapioca substitute during WW II since tapioca itself was limited in supply. For 35 years, he worked worked as a chemist for General Foods Corp, and held more than 70 patents. Pop Rocks exploding candy was patented in 1956, but not marketed until 1975. Its novelty quickly caught the public's attention. It was an accidental discovery while experimenting to produce an instant soft drink. It is a hard candy manufactured by pressurizing carbon dioxide at 600 psi in a candy syrup at 150 °C. When cooled and solidified it traps small pockets of carbon dioxide that “explode” in a person's mouth.
  Oswald Avery
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1877; died 20 Feb 1955 at age 77.  quotes button quotes
Oswald Theodore Avery was a Canadian-American biochemist and immunologist whose research on pneumococcus bacteria made him one of the founders of immunochemistry. His research laid the groundwork for modern genetics and molecular biology. Avery spent most of his research life at Rockefeller Institute where he made important contributions to the understanding of the pneumococcus organism, a particularly virulent bacterium that caused lobar pneumonia. Prior to Avery's work, genetic material was assumed to be protein. At age 67, Avery made his most important discovery when he proved conclusively that DNA from the nucleus of the cell is the genetic material, in a seminal 1944 paper co-authored by Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty.
book icon Oswald Avery and the Story of DNA, by Vesta-Nadine Severs and Jim Whiting. - book suggestion.
  Alfred Bernhard Nobel
Thumbnail - Alfred Bernhard Nobel
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1833; died 10 Dec 1896 at age 63.  quotes button quotes
Swedish chemist and inventor who invented dynamite and other, more powerful explosives. An explosives expert like his father, in 1866 he invented a safe and manageable form of nitroglycerin he called dynamite, and later, smokeless gunpowder and (1875) gelignite. He helped to create an industrial empire manufacturing many of his other inventions. Nobel amassed a huge fortune, much of which he left in a fund to endow the annual prizes that bear his name. First awarded in 1901, these prizes were for achievements in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The sixth prize, for economics, was instituted in his honour in 1969.
book icon Alfred Nobel: A Biography, by Kenne Fant. - book suggestion.
  Hermann Hellriegel
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1831; died 24 Sep 1895 at age 63.
German chemist who directed agricultural research at the Bernburg experimental Station in Prussia concerned with determining optimum conditions for growing sugar beets, the primary source of sugar. He made the important discovery of the fixation of nitrogen by certain legumes which took converted nitrogen from the air into a form in the soil accessible for organic assimilation by plants. He identified that it was due to the symbiotic action of soil bacteria in nodules on the roots of the legumes. This improvement of the soil provided particular advantage in the annual rotation of grain crops (which used up nitrogen in the soil) with legumes like beans, peas and clover (which restored nitrogen to the soil).«
book icon The World's Greatest Fix: a History of Nitrogen and Agriculture, by G.J. Leigh. - book suggestion.
  Enrico Betti
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1823; died 11 Aug 1892 at age 68.
Italian mathematician who is noted for his contributions to algebra and topology. His early work is in the area of equations and algebra. He wrote the first rigorous exposition of the theory of equations, previously given without proofs, developed by the noted French mathematician Évariste Galois (1811-32). Betti extended and gave proofs relating to the algebraic concepts of Galois, published in several works from 1851. Betti thus made an important contribution to the transition from classical to modern algebra. He was the first to give a proof that the Galois group is closed under multiplication. Betti also wrote a pioneering memoir on topology, the study of surfaces and space. Betti did important work in theoretical physics, in particular in potential theory and elasticity.
  George Combe
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1788; died 14 Aug 1858 at age 69.
Scottish lawyer who turned to the promotion of phrenology and published several works on the subject. He followed Franz Josef Gall in Paris. Gall was a French physician who identified a number of areas on the surface of the head that he linked with specific localizations of cerebral functions and the underlying attributes of the human personality. Combe established the first infant school in Edinburgh and gave evening lectures. He studied the criminal classes and lunatic asylums wishing to reform them. Andrew Combe, physiologist, was his younger brother.« [Image right: Diagram of the Craniometer from Elements of Phrenology, by Combe, 1834.]
  Henry Miller Shreve
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1785; died 6 Mar 1851 at age 65.
American steamboat designer and builder who helped develop the commercial potential of the inland waterways of the Mississippi River system. Within a few years of Robert Fulton's successful steamboat experiment (1807), Shreve had built his own, the Enterprise (1813), which made the first complete upriver trip from New Orleans to Pittsburgh. He fought legal battles against Fulton's monopoly on river routes. By 1821, Shreve addressed the need to make navigation safer by clearing the river of obstructions. He created snag-boats with a jaw-like bow able to pull up snags (tree trunks), and put them through a sawmill on their deck. Shreve's work was a major contribution to the great era of steamboat traffic prior to the Civil War.«
  William Shippen Jr.
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1736; died 11 Jul 1808 at age 71.
American physician who was the first systematic teacher of anatomy, surgery, and obstetrics in the U.S. In addition to pictures and casts of the human body, he was also one of the first to use dissected human bodies in the teaching of anatomy in America. This aroused the animosity of the populace - his dissecting rooms were mobbed on several occasions, and once he narrowly escaped with his life - but his courses were very successful, and the number of students increased year by year. He lectured on both anatomy and midwifery. In 1762 he established the first American maternity hospital in Philadelphia.
  Georg Ernst Stahl
Thumbnail - Georg Ernst Stahl
baby icon  Born 21 Oct 1660; died 14 May 1734 at age 73.  quotes button quotes
German physician and chemist, who developed the phlogiston theory of combustion and of such related biological processes as respiration, fermentation, and decay. Combustible objects, he said, were rich in phlogiston, and during combustion is lost. The remaining ash, now having no phlogiston, could no longer burn.The theory dominated chemical thought for almost a century. He extended the idea to the rusting of metals: metal had phlogiston, rust did not. Air was only indirectly involved in his idea of combustion. It was a carrier of phlogiston, as when charcoal burns phlogiston could be transferred to a metal ore which then converts to metal. At times, Stahl believed in alchemy and animism, though he had rational views on mental disease.


Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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< 20 Oct | 22 Oct >
OCTOBER 21 – DEATHS – Scientists died on October 21st
  Jesse L. Greenstein
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 2002 at age 93 (born 15 Oct 1909).  quotes button quotes
Jesse Leonard Greenstein was an American astronomer who co-discovered quasars. His interest in astronomy began at age 8 when his grandfather gave him a brass telescope. By age 16, he was a student at Harvard University. After earning his Ph.D.(1937), he joined the Yerkes Observatory under Otto Struve. Thereafter, he spent most of his career at the California Institute of Technology. He measured the composition of stars, through which he found less heavy elements in the stars of globular clusters, thus proving they are younger than our Sun. In 1963, he and Maarten Schmidt were the first to interpret the red shift of quasars and correctly describe their nature as compact, very distant and thus very old objects. With Louis Henyey he designed and constructed a new spectrograph and wide-view camera to improve astronomical observations.«
  John T. Scopes
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1970 at age 70 (born 3 Aug 1900).  quotes button quotes
John Thomas Scopes was an American teacher and geologist whose was the defendent in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial (10 Jul 1925). The trial was to challenge the constitutionality of the Butler Act, a Tennesee law signed 21 Mar 1925 to prohibit the teaching of evolution in the state's schools. He took a job at Tennessee high-school in Spring 1924, teaching algebra, chemistry and physics for one year. Then, although he wasn't sure he had actually done any teaching of evolution, nevertheless, at the urging of businessmen wanting publicity for Dayton, Tennessee, he agreed to stand trial in a test case funded by the American Civil Liberties Union. Although the trial jury voted guilty, on appeal, the verdict was thrown out on a technicality. After the trial Scopes earned a master's degree in geology, and went to work for the Gulf Oil Co., and later United Gas Corp.«
book icon Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes, by John Scopes. - book suggestion.
booklist icon Booklist for Scopes Monkey Trial.
  Ejnar Hertzsprung
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1967 at age 94 (born 8 Oct 1873).  quotes button quotes
Danish astronomer who classified types of stars by relating their surface temperature (or colour) to their absolute brightness. A few years later Henry Russell illustrated this relationship graphically in what is now known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which has become fundamental to the study of stellar evolution. In 1913 he established the luminosity scale of Cepheid variable stars.
  James Henry Greathead
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1896 at age 52 (born 6 Aug 1844).
English civil engineer, born in South Africa, who improved tunneling shield methods which he applied during construction of the London Underground. The technique was originated by Marc Brunel and subsequently modified by Peter W. Barlow as a smaller shield of circular cross section. Having learned its use from Barlow, Greathouse utilised the shield with his own further improvements to complete the Tower Subway (1869) under the River Thames near the Tower of London. He adopted screw jacks to push the shield forward while the tunnel behind it was lined with cast-iron rings, and pioneered the use of compressed air to prevent flooding during the lining installation. His statue beside the Royal Exchange was erected in 1994.«
  Jacques Babinet
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1872 at age 78 (born 5 Mar 1794).
French physicist who was the first to proposed the definition of the unit of length in terms of the wavelength of a spectral line. The red line in the spectrum of cadmium was chosen, and the angstrom was redefined as a fraction of this value.. He established a principle in diffraction theory (1837) that is named after him. The Babinet compensator was his invention to measure the polarization of light.«
  Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1862 at age 79 (born 8 Jun 1783).
(1st Baronet) British physiologist and surgeon whose name is applied to certain diseases of the bones and joints. As one of the outstanding surgeons of 19th-century London, he opposed the prevailing practice of indiscriminate amputation, always trying to save the limb instead. He pioneered the surgery of varicose veins. In 1814, he described synovitis in the knee joint. In his book Pathological and Surgical Observations on the Diseases of the Joints (1818), he traced the beginnings of disease in the different tissues that form a joint and to give an exact value to the symptom of pain as evidence of organic disease. This work led to conservative measures in the treatment of diseases of the joints, with a consequent reduction in the number of amputations and the saving of many limbs and lives. In 1843 a tuberculous abscess in the head of the tibia, Brodie's abscess. He lectured on hysterical pain. Brodie's knee came to refer to a condition of stiff knees frequently observed in hysterical patients. From research with animals, he disproved the chemical theory of animal heat, which held that respiration was the immediate source of heat production.
  Alberto Fortis
gravestone icon  Died 21 Oct 1803 at age 62 (born 11 Oct 1741).  quotes button quotes
Italian geologist.

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< 20 Oct | 22 Oct >
OCTOBER 21 – EVENTS – Science events on October 21st
  SI unit redefinition proposal
calendar icon   In 2011, a resolution to consider the future revision of the definition of SI units was considered by the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) in Sèvres, France. It still required final approval, and implementation would not be before 2014. In the “New SI” an “explicit-constant” formulation would apply to four of the SI base units. Thus the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole, would be redefined in terms of invariants of nature; the new definitions will be based on fixed numerical values of the Planck constant (h), the elementary charge (e), the Boltzmann constant (k), and the Avogadro constant (NA), respectively. Most notably, for the first time, the kilogram would no longer be defined by the international protype, a specific metal object and its possible subtle variation in mass.« [Image right: The international protype kilogram, as kept in the Pavillon de Breteuil, Paris, has changed by 50-micrograms since 1889.]
  Bubble boy marrow transplant
calendar icon   In 1983, David, the “the boy in the bubble,” underwent a bone marrow transplant operation in the hope that it could help him develop the immunity he had lacked all his life. He was born with a genetic disease, severe combined immune deficiency, (SCID). Thus,  David Vetter spent his life protected, but isolated, in a sterile plastic “bubble.” The hope was that the bone marrow from his sister (four years older) would stimulate the growth of his immune system. The marrow was treated to cleanse it of germs, and was transferred in a fluid through a vein into David's bloodstream. Sadly an undetected Epstein Barr virus remained in it despite the treatment. By New Year's Day, he had a temperature of 99.5°F, indicating the onset of illness. Less than two months later, he died of Burkitt's lymphoma..«
book icon The American Experience: The Boy in the Bubble (DVD), by PBS. - book suggestion.
  Nobel Prizes
calendar icon   In 1976, the United States made a clean sweep of the Nobel Prizes, winning or sharing awards in chemistry, physics, medicine, economics, and literature. (No peace prize was awarded.)
  Trimline telephone
calendar icon   In 1963, the first residential Trimline telephone in the U.S. was placed in service by the Michigan Bell Telephone Company. It was made available to all its customers throughout the company's service area on 2 Aug 1965 for an optional $1 monthly extra charge. The dial and a hang-up button were no longer on a remote base, but instead integrated into the handpiece, midway between the microphone and speaker. A call could thus be dialled from the handpiece alone, which was more convenient in the kitchen or while in bed. It was dramatically different in style from earlier telephones, developed with the industrial design firm Henry Dreyfuss Associates. In 1977, Fortune magazine selected it as one of the country's 25 best-designed products.«
  Photoelectric cell
calendar icon   In 1925, the photocell device was given its first U.S. public demonstration. It was shown by the Westinghouse Electric and Mfg Co at the Electrical Show at Grand Central Palace in New York. The photocell was used to count objects by acting as a sensor as each object passed through and interrupted a beam of light. The device was also utilized as a sensor to detect when a person approached a door, which opened as a circuit was activated.«
  Radiotelephone
Thumbnail - Radiotelephone
NAA 1922
(source)
calendar icon   In 1915, the first experimental transatlantic radiotelephone speech communication was made. Taking advantage of the recently developed vacuum-tube transmitters and receivers, AT&T conducted radiotelephony tests from NAA, the U.S. Navy station in Arlington. B. Webb of AT&T in Arlington, VA.Virginia talks to Lt. Col. Ferries of the French Government using relay points in Canada and at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.His voice was heard as far away as Honolulu, HI., which clearly showed how advanced the vacuum-tube equipment was, since the "somewhat over 10 miles" (16-km) range of Fessenden's groundbreaking alternator-transmitter tests (1906). President Vail announced that AT&T was planning to add radiotelephone links to the Bell system.
  Air liquefaction machinery
Thumbnail - Air liquefaction machinery
1932
(source)
calendar icon   In 1895, liquid air for refrigeration and other purposes largely produced by machinery, invented by Carl Linde, was reported.
book icon Linde: History of a Technology Corporation, 1879-2004, by Hans-Liudger Dienel. - book suggestion.
booklist icon Booklist for Carl von Linde.
  Lightbulb demonstration
calendar icon   In 1879, Thomas A. Edison successfully demonstrated the first durable and commercially practical electric light bulb at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This model lasted 40 hours before burning out. The idea of electric lighting was not new; several people had worked on and even developed forms of electric lighting. However, nothing had been developed that was practical for home use. The difficulty was finding a suitable material for the filament. He tested over 6,000 vegetable growths (baywood, boxwood, hickory, cedar, flax, bamboo) as filament material. After one and a half years of work, after spending $40,000, and performing 1,200 experiments, success was achieved when an incandescent lamp with a filament of carbonized sewing thread.
  Fowler plough patent
Thumbnail - Fowler plough patent
Fowler
(source)
calendar icon   In 1852, a Royal Letters Patent (No.480) was given to John Fowler of Temple Gate, Bristol for “Improvements in Machinery for Draining Land.” This is believed to be his first patent for steam cultivation of the land. In 1847 he had joined an engineering firm manufacturing locomotives and colliery winding equipment. While on company business in Ireland, he saw the results of the great potato famine. Driven by his Quaker beliefs, he returned to England determined to mechanise land drainage. His first patent was for a horse-drawn drainage plough. The Mole Drainage Plough he displayed at the great exhibition of 1851 won national awards, and helped the Irish peasants drain their peat bogs. Shortly thereafter, he applied steam power to the task. [Image: right: balance plough model]  read more button more
  Portland cement
calendar icon   In 1824, in Yorkshire, England, Joseph Aspdin, a stone mason, patented Portland cement, made by burning finely pulverized lime and clay at high temperatures in kilns (UK patent No. 5022). Thus Aspdin had made a manufactured counterpart to natural or Roman cement - a crude formulation of lime and volcanic ash used as early as 27 BC. Aspdin produced a hydraulic cement that would harden with the addition of water. He named his invention "Portland cement" not only to distinguish it from Roman cement, but also as a marketing tool: concrete made from his new cement resembled a highly prized building stone quarried on the Isle of Portland off the British coast. Like flour in a fruit cake, cement glues aggregate (sand or gravel) together to make a "rock" (concrete).  read more button more
  USS Constitution launched
calendar icon   In 1797, the USS Constiution - nicknamed "Old Ironsides" - was launched in Boston, Mass. The oak-wood hulled, three-masted frigate was one of several 44-gun frigates authorized by Congress in 1794 to protect commerce at sea. The vessel was designed by for the U.S. Navy by Joshua Humphreys and built by George Claghorn. Its copper sheathing protecting the hull was manufactured by Paul Revere, along with the copper spikes and bolts securing the planks. In the over 200 years since it was built the USS Constiution has been refitted and restored, and it remains active in the U.S. Navy as a "ship of state." With its crew of 55 modern-day sailors, it remains the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.«

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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton