Portal:History of science

The History of Science Portal

The history of science covers the development of science from ancient times to the present. It encompasses all three major branches of science: natural, social, and formal.

The earliest roots of science can be traced to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in around 3000 to 1200 BCE. Their contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and medicine entered and shaped Greek natural philosophy of classical antiquity, whereby formal attempts were made to provide explanations of events in the physical world based on natural causes. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, knowledge of Greek conceptions of the world deteriorated in Latin-speaking Western Europe during the early centuries (400 to 1000 CE) of the Middle Ages, but continued to thrive in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire. Aided by translations of Greek texts, the Hellenistic worldview was preserved and absorbed into the Arabic-speaking Muslim world during the Islamic Golden Age. The recovery and assimilation of Greek works and Islamic inquiries into Western Europe from the 10th to 13th century revived the learning of natural philosophy in the West.

Natural philosophy was transformed during the Scientific Revolution in 16th- to 17th-century Europe, as new ideas and discoveries departed from previous Greek conceptions and traditions. The New Science that emerged was more mechanistic in its worldview, more integrated with mathematics, and more reliable and open as its knowledge was based on a newly defined scientific method. More "revolutions" in subsequent centuries soon followed. The chemical revolution of the 18th century, for instance, introduced new quantitative methods and measurements for chemistry. In the 19th century, new perspectives regarding the conservation of energy, age of the Earth, and evolution came into focus. And in the 20th century, new discoveries in genetics and physics laid the foundations for new subdisciplines such as molecular biology and particle physics. Moreover, industrial and military concerns as well as the increasing complexity of new research endeavors soon ushered in the era of "big science," particularly after the Second World War. (Full article...)

Selected article -

The history of science and technology in the Indian subcontinent begins with prehistoric human activity in the Indus Valley Civilization to early states and empires. Following independence, science and technology in the Republic of India has included automobile engineering, information technology, communications as well as space, polar, and nuclear sciences. (Full article...)
List of selected articles

Selected image

Kepler-world.jpg

The world map from Johannes Kepler's Rudolphine Tables (1627), incorporating many of the new discoveries of the Age of Exploration.

Did you know

...that the travel narrative The Malay Archipelago, by biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, was used by the novelist Joseph Conrad as a source for his novel Lord Jim?

...that the seventeenth century philosophers René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz, along with their Empiricist contemporary Thomas Hobbes all formulated definitions of conatus, an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself?

...that according to the controversial Hockney-Falco thesis, the rise of realism in Renaissance art, such as Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (pictured), was largely due to the use of curved mirrors and other optical aids?

Selected Biography -

Head and shoulders of smiling man in suit and tie with round dark-rimmed glasses. This is a detail from the picture below.
James Bryant Conant in 1932

James Bryant Conant (March 26, 1893 – February 11, 1978) was an American chemist, a transformative President of Harvard University, and the first U.S. Ambassador to West Germany. Conant obtained a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Harvard in 1916. During World War I he served in the U.S. Army, working on the development of poison gases, especially Lewisite. He became an assistant professor of chemistry at Harvard in 1919 and the Sheldon Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry in 1929. He researched the physical structures of natural products, particularly chlorophyll, and he was one of the first to explore the sometimes complex relationship between chemical equilibrium and the reaction rate of chemical processes. He studied the biochemistry of oxyhemoglobin providing insight into the disease methemoglobinemia, helped to explain the structure of chlorophyll, and contributed important insights that underlie modern theories of acid-base chemistry.

In 1933, Conant became the President of Harvard University with a reformist agenda that involved dispensing with a number of customs, including class rankings and the requirement for Latin classes. He abolished athletic scholarships, and instituted an "up or out" policy, under which scholars who were not promoted were terminated. His egalitarian vision of education required a diversified student body, and he promoted the adoption of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and co-educational classes. During his presidency, women were admitted to Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School for the first time. (Full article...)
List of selected biographies

Selected anniversaries


February 3:
  • 1737 - Death of Tommaso Ceva, Italian Mathematician (b. 1648)
  • 1817 - Birth of Achille Ernest Oscar Joseph Delesse, French geologist (d. 1881)
  • 1832 - Death of George Crabbe, English naturalist (b. 1754)
  • 1905 - Birth of Arne Beurling, American mathematician(d. 1986)
  • 1929 - Death of Agner Krarup Erlang, Danish scientist (b. 1878)
  • 1966 - The unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft makes the first controlled rocket-assisted landing on the Moon
  • 1985 - Death of Frank Oppenheimer, American physicist (b. 1912)

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Media files used on this page

Crab Nebula.jpg
This is a mosaic image, one of the largest ever taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, of the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event in 1054 CE, as did, almost certainly, Native Americans.

The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen. The rapidly spinning neutron star embedded in the center of the nebula is the dynamo powering the nebula's eerie interior bluish glow. The blue light comes from electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around magnetic field lines from the neutron star. The neutron star, like a lighthouse, ejects twin beams of radiation that appear to pulse 30 times a second due to the neutron star's rotation. A neutron star is the crushed ultra-dense core of the exploded star.

The Crab Nebula derived its name from its appearance in a drawing made by Irish astronomer Lord Rosse in 1844, using a 36-inch telescope. When viewed by Hubble, as well as by large ground-based telescopes such as the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the Crab Nebula takes on a more detailed appearance that yields clues into the spectacular demise of a star, 6,500 light-years away.

The newly composed image was assembled from 24 individual Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 exposures taken in October 1999, January 2000, and December 2000. The colors in the image indicate the different elements that were expelled during the explosion. Blue in the filaments in the outer part of the nebula represents neutral oxygen, green is singly-ionized sulfur, and red indicates doubly-ionized oxygen.
WHO Rod.svg
The rod of Asclepius as depicted in the WHO logo.
Telecom-icon.svg
Icon for telecommunications
Almagest 1.jpeg
Picture of George Trebizond's Latin translation (ca. 1451) of Almagest.
Boyle air pump.jpg
Drawing of Robert Boyle's air pump
NewtonsPrincipia.jpg
Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
Khayyam-paper-1stpage.png
The first page of an untitled manuscript by Khayyam
Linecons big-star.svg
Author/Creator: Designmodo http://www.designmodo.com/, Licence: CC BY 3.0
Linecons by Designmodo
Mansur1911.jpg
Drawing of the human nervous system with the pairs of nerves in different colors of ink from the manuscript of Mansur ibn Ilyas, Tashrih-i badan-i insan [Anatomy of the Human Body], National Library of Medicine, MS P 19, folio 11b.
Gilbert De Magnete Illo044.jpg

Illustration from De Magnete, etc. by William Gilbert (1600, translated 1900), showing

iron wires standing on a terrella
A Quince Tree, a Cypress Tree, and a Sumac Tree in Zakariya al-Qazwini's Wonders of Creation.jpg
A Quince Tree, a Cypress Tree, and a Sumac Tree in Zakariya al-Qazwini's Wonders of Creation
JKepler.jpg
Portrait of Johannes Kepler.
Four Classical Elements in Burning Log.svg
Author/Creator: Chiswick Chap, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
The four classical elements (fire, air, water, earth) of Empedocles and Aristotle illustrated with a burning log. The log releases all four elements as it is destroyed.
Lunar eclipse al-Biruni.jpg
Illustration of different phases of the moon, from manuscript of the Kitab al-Tafhim by Al-Biruni (973-1048).
Map of expansion of Caliphate.svg
Age of the Caliphs
  Expansion under Muhammad, 622-632
  Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphate, 632-661
  Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750
Shows modern borders.
Banu musa mechanical.jpg
Original illustration of a self trimming lamp discussed in the treatise on Mechanical Devices of Ahmad ibn Musa ibn Shakir. Drawing can be found in the "Granger Collection" located in New York.
Sceptical chymist 1661 Boyle Title page AQ18 (3).jpg
Title page from The sceptical chymist : or Chymico-physical doubts and paradoxes, touching the spagyrist's principles commonly call'd hypostatical, as they are wont to be propos'd and defended by the generality of alchymists. Whereunto is praemis'd part of another discourse relating to the same subject / by the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. by Robert Boyle, 1627-1691. London : Printed by J. Cadwell for J. Crooke, 1661. Robert Boyle directed his skepticism at the gaggle of common chemists who hawked medicines and deliberately obfuscated their writings. But he worked untiringly on the problem of transmutation and believed there was an alchemical elite who could instruct him. This book is in part an attempt to silence the former and prompt the latter to reveal themselves.
Nuvola apps edu science.svg
Author/Creator: David Vignoni / ICON KING, Licence: LGPL
Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x / GNOME 2.
Hazan.png
Cropped version of the frontispiece of Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia, depicting Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen)
William Harvey ( 1578-1657) Venenbild.jpg
William Harvey (1578-1657) Image from Harvey's Exercitatio, showing that the blood circulated. When a vein was blocked with a tourniquet, it swelled up, the blood unable to escape back towards the heart.
Piri reis world map 01.jpg
Map of the world by Ottoman admiral Piri Reis, drawn in 1513. Only half of the original map survives and is held at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. The map synthesizes information from twenty maps, including one drawn by Christopher Columbus of the New World
Darkgreen flag waving.svg
Author/Creator: TristanBomb, Licence: CC0
A dark green flag.
Nuvola apps display.png
Author/Creator: David Vignoni / ICON KING, Licence: LGPL
Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.
Tusi couple.jpg
Tusi couple - 13th century CE sketch by Nasir al-Din Tusi. Generates a linear motion as a sum of two circular motions. Invented for Tusi's planetary model.
TabulaRogeriana upside-down.jpg
A 1929 copy with names translittered into Latin script of the 1154 Arabic Tabula Rogeriana, upside-down with north oriented up
Ricci Guangqi 2.jpg
Author/Creator: Kircher, Athanasius, 1602-1680., Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangqi From La Chine d'Athanase Kirchere de la Compagnie de Jesus: illustre de plusieurs monuments tant sacres que profanes, Amsterdam, 1670. Plate facing p. 201.

(Translation of: Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu China monumentis ... Amstelodami, 1667).

Digital Scan from Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Digital Library.
Stylised atom with three Bohr model orbits and stylised nucleus.svg
Author/Creator:

SVG by Indolences.

Recoloring and ironing out some glitches done by Rainer Klute., Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
Stylised atom. Blue dots are electrons, red dots are protons and black dots are neutrons.
Nuvola apps edu mathematics-p.svg
Author/Creator: David Vignoni (original icon); Flamurai (SVG convertion), Licence: GPL
Square root of x formula. Symbol of mathematics.
Letter Luenna Louvre AO4238.jpg
Letter sent by the high-priest Lu’enna to the king of Lagash (maybe Urukagina), informing him of his son's death in combat. w:Clay tablet, c. 2400 BC, found in Telloh (ancient Girsu).
Gresham College from Record of RS.jpg
View from above of Gresham College, London, as it was in the eighteenth century
PeuerbachSuperioribus2.png

Model for the Three Superior Planets and Venus from Georg von Peuerbach, Theoricae novae planetarum.
Image enhanced for legibility.
The abbreviations in the center of the diagram read:

  • C[entrum] æquantis (Center of the equant)
  • C[entrum] deferentis (Center of the deferent)
  • C[entrum] mundi (Center of the world)
Al-Jahiz - pages from Kitaab al Hayawaan 3.jpg
Page from the Book of Animals by African Arab naturalist and evolutionist al Jahiz.
Abbasids850.png
Author/Creator: Gabagool, Licence: CC BY 3.0
Map of the Abbasid Caliphate at its greatest extent, c. 850. (Partially based on Atlas of World History (2007) - Progress of Islam, map)
Antikythera mechanism.svg
This is an SVG version of the schematic for the Antikythera mechanism based on the file:Meccanismo_di_Antikytera.jpg
Image-Al-Kitāb al-muḫtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-ğabr wa-l-muqābala.jpg
صفحه‌ای از کتاب المختصر فی حساب الجبر والمقابله اثر خوارزمی
Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg
This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch have been confirmed as author died before 1939 according to the official date listed by the NPG.
Vesalius Fabrica p190.jpg
Vesalius' Fabrica contains many detailed drawings of human dissections, some of them in allegorical poses.
Guericke Sulfur globe.jpg
Figure V and VI from Ottonis De Guericke Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica De Vacuo Spatio, Amstelodami: Janssonius, 1672, p. 148, showing Guericke's experiments with the sulfur globe.
Johannes-kepler-tabulae-rudolphinae-google-arts-culture.jpg
Frontispiece of the Rudolphine Tables: Tabulae Rudolphinae: quibus astronomicae ... by Johannes Kepler (1571–1630).
C Puzzle.png
Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
EscherichiaColi NIAID.jpg
Escherichia coli: Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.
QtubIronPillar.JPG
The iron pillar in the Qutb complex near Delhi, India.
Galileo manuscript.png
This is an image of a draft letter written by Galileo Galilei in August 1609 to Leonardo Donato, Doxe de Venexia, and currently held in the University of Michigan Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library's Special Collections. The University of Michigan states the following about its history:

"In 1609 [Galileo] received a description of a telescope which had been developed the year before in the Dutch town of Middelburg by an optician, one Jan Lippershey. Applying his knowledge of optical science, Galileo built such a glass or telescope for himself, and in the draft letter shown above offers his new "occhiale" to the Doge of Venice for use in warfare. The final letter, revised from this draft, was sent on August 24, 1609. It is in the State Archives in Venice.

The lower part of this sheet shows the use to which Galileo put this optical device: as he viewed the skies on successive evenings in January, 1610, he noted his first observations of the planet Jupiter and four of Jupiter's moons."

This item is cataloged in the collections as:

  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
  • Draft of a letter to Leonardo Donato, Doge of Venice.
  • Circa August, 1609. Gift of Tracy W. McGregor, 1938.

According to Scientific American, when it was donated it was known to be a draft of the letter in the Venice State Archives, but the significance and meaning of the material on the lower half was unrecognized. Only in the late 1970s was it determined that these "doodles" in fact depict the positions of the Galilean moons on the nights in early January when Galileo first observed them, thus proving that this document contains the original notes he took on the nights he made his observations. (See Scientific American article, Date late 70s or early 80s.)

The University of Michigan translates the upper half thus:

"Most Serene Prince.

Galileo Galilei most humbly prostrates himself before Your Highness, watching carefully, and with all spirit of willingness, not only to satisfy what concerns the reading of mathematics in the study of Padua, but to write of having decided to present to Your Highness a telescope that will be a great help in maritime and land enterprises. I assure you I shall keep this new invention a great secret and show it only to Your Highness. The telescope was made for the most accurate study of distances. This telescope has the advantage of discovering the ships of the enemy two hours before they can be seen with the natural vision and to distinguish the number and quality of the ships and to judge their strength and be ready to chase them, to fight them, or to flee from them; or, in the open country to see all details and to distinguish every movement and preparation."
Napier's Bones.JPG
Author/Creator: Kim Traynor, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
An ivory set of Napier's Bones from around 1650. An exhibit in the National Museum of Scotland.
Clipboard.svg
Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: GPL
Savery-engine.jpg
Savery Steam Engine, 1698
James Conant 1932.jpg
1932 Press Photo Professor James Bryant Conant, Winner William Nichols Medal
Rough diamond.jpg
Nearly octahedral diamond crystal in matrix.
Complex adaptive system.svg
Author/Creator: , Licence: CC0
A way of modeling a Complex Adaptive System. A system with high adaptive capacity exerts complex adaptive behavior in a changing environment.
Astrolabe-Persian-18C.jpg
Author/Creator: Andrew Dunn, Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
An 18th Century Persian astrolabe – maker unknown. The points of the curved spikes on the front rete plate, mark the positions of the brightest stars. The name of each star being labeled at the base of each spike. The back plate, or mater is engraved with projected coordinate lines. From the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge.
Avicenna Expounding Pharmacy to his Pupils Wellcome L0008688.jpg
Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: CC BY 4.0

Avicenna expounding pharmacy to his pupils, from the 15th century "Great Cannon of Avicenna"

General Collections
Keywords: avicenna; gcp; slide 377