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Science Trivia

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Listed are interesting scientific discoveries and events I found surfing the web. 

These people molded our understanding.  It is amazing how old, or new, some of these ideas are.


Year Scientist Age of Earth etc.

Notes on Discovery or Theory

372-287 BC



Student of Plato and Aristotle and the next great teacher

Father of Taxonomy - first systematic listing of botany including plants brought back by followers of Alexander the Great

Proved the Atlantic Ocean flowed into the Mediterranean Sea

His ideas dominated science until the Scientific Revolution


Meng Xi Bi Tan



Hypothesized that land was formed by erosion and sedimentation, then was uplifted above the ocean

Discovered that compasses do not point to true north




The end of Medieval times and the beginning of The Renaissance period of Europe.


Johann Gutenberg


introduction of the first printing press


Leonardo da Vinci


deduces that fossil shells are on mountains because the land rose out of the sea.

1543 Nicolaus Copernicus  

First modern theory of the solar system (Earth not the center)

Scientific Revolution began

The book was band until the publisher changed statements that referred to the ideas as certain instead of theory


Georg Agricola


First systematic book on mining, smelting, wind energy, hydrodynamic power, ore extraction

1571-1630 Johannes Kepler 3992 BC

Laws of planetary motion 1606-1619


Galileo Galilei


Invented the thermometer in 1606

Father of modern theories of astronomy, physics, and science

published his first telescopic observations and discovers Jupiter's larger moons 1610

first observed sunspots in 1611

Says the Catholic church is wrong and Copernicus right 1616 and sentenced to house arrest 1633

First test for the speed of light 1638


Francis Bacon


Proposed a method of developing philosophy using inductive reasoning instead of deductive reasoning = scientific method

Facts must be behind any law and a philosopher must free his mind of false notions.

"a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion"

Noticed how continents of Africa, South America, Antarctica, and Australia fit together like puzzle pieces.  see Plate Tectonics


William Oughtred


invention of the slide rule


Nicolas Steno


Anatomy - showed that contracting muscles changed shape but not volume by using geometry

1667 - determined "tongue stones" found in rocks were ancient shark teeth not that they fell from the sky or grew there.  He argued that compositional differences were altered by the the current idea of corpuscular theory of matter

1669 - Described how minerals could form inside of other rocks.  Steno's Law: for any kind of crystal the face angles will be the same.   Defined the principles of stratigraphy (how strata is formed).

Principles that made possible geologic time scales - rock layers are laid down in succession with older rocks under younger rocks. 


Blaise Pascal


First calculator invented

1644 John Lightfoot First day on the equinox 9:00 A.M. September 3298 B.C.

Used Biblical genealogies for the creation of the world

1643-1727 Sir Isaac Newton 4000 BC

Used mathematics to prove that motion, one Earth or by planets, are governed by the same natural laws

1650 James Ussher First day on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.

Used Biblical genealogies, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean histories for the creation of the world

1705 Edmund Halley  

Realized that the comet was a recurring object orbiting the sun, not an atmospheric phenomena


Carolus Linnaeus


Father of Taxonomy

We still use his system to name, rank, and classify plants animals and minerals


Jean-Etienne Guettard


Wrote on the distribution of minerals and rock, noted erosion of mountains by rain, first to recognize former volcanoes.


Georges-Louis Leclerc,

Comte de Buffon

75,000 year old Earth

Wrote an encyclopedia on all known natural history to date.

Noted regions have distinct plants and animals, that climate changes may have contributed to the spread.  First to conclude that species have improved or degenerated since creation.

By estimating the time it would take for a molten planet to cool


Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


Wrote a series of flora of France. Buffon had him appointed to the Paris National History Museum

He believed in unchanging species until he studied mollusks (he coined the word invertebrate).  The evidence made him realize that transmutations happed over time.

"Law of Use and Disuse" - function precedes form - adaptation

"Inheritance of Acquired Traits" but he believed a non-genetic trait could be passed on to children


James Burnett,

Lord Monboddo


First to associate humans with primates: common ancestor

Developing tools, social structures, and language as an adaptive response to environment: adapt to survive

Understood selective breading

Believed Adam & Eve story as an allegory


Abraham Werner


1774 - first modern book on descriptive mineralogy

Proposed the theory of Neptunism - rocks formed from crystallization of minerals in the early Earth's oceans.  Receding ocean levels exposed the land.  Currently only sedimentary rocks fit this description.

Precursor to creationism.


Nicolas Desmarest


Recognize former volcanoes as a series of ancient events, rocks had changed due to weathering, the origin of valleys


James Hutton

Earth is much older than 4004 BC

First modern geologist

Earth must be much older than 4004 BC because mountains erode and sediments turn to stone then rise up to become dry land

late 1700's

Nicholas Steno


First geological time scale had 4 periods.  Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary

Rock layers are laid down in succession and represent separate slices of time


Georges Cuvier & Alexandre Brongniart

Earth is much older than 4004 BC

Cuvier discovered fossil elephant bones in Paris.  They proposed a theory of stratigraphic succession similar to William Smith's


William Smith


Father of English Geology

As a coal miner, he observed that strata was found in the same relative positions and could be identified by the fossils it contained.

As a canal surveyor and map maker, he drew the first geologic map, showing the strata of England and Wales




A series of detailed maps of European strata and fossils formulated the geological periods we use today. 


Charles Lyell

240 million year old Earth

By estimating the life of fossils of marine mollusks.

Advocate of Uniformitarianism instead of Catastrophism

First to divided Tertiary rocks into three Epochs

Close friend of Charles Darwin, helped to arrange the co-publication of the theory with Alfred Russel Wallace.

Never fully accepted natural selection as driving evolution because it was too slow


Adam Sedgwick


One of the first modern geologists.

Proposed the Devonian and Cambrian periods

Opposed evolution and the book by Chambers - he believed in a succession of Divine Creative acts throughout a long history -

Man is separate from animals


Robert Chambers


Book - Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

A working theory tying together many peoples' theories using "natural laws" (some true some not) instead of miracles.  Lamarck had been publicly discredited for belief in non-genetic traits being passed on to offspring.  So Chambers published the book anonymously.

Simple to complex changes (with Caucasian man as ultimate) but realized there is a "shifting as well as advance" (now called extinction)

Transmutation (now called evolution) everything current developed from earlier forms, planets, minerals, plants, animals, man

Believed God set up the process of Natural Laws but did not constantly fiddle with it. An omnipotent creator, who was always with the creation, would know it would succeed.


Alfred Russel Wallace


A naturalist who went in search of evidence to prove Robert Chambers' theories.

1853 - Realized geographical barriers separate closely related species.

1858 - co-author with Darwin on the paper that describes natural selection

1867-1878 - with Jenner Weir - theory that conspicuous coloration could be used as a warning to predators - Darwin preferred coloration as only for sexual selection

1889 - book defending natural selection

Early environmentalist and socialist


Charles Darwin


Geological student and friend of Adam Sedgwick

Observations while on the Beagle supported Uniformitarianism of Charles Lyell's

1837 - first - role of earthworms in the formation of soil

1938 - his first thoughts on natural selection theory

1839 - book Voyage of the Beagle

1858 - co-author with Alfred Wallace on the paper that describes natural selection

1859 - book On the Origin of Species

mid 1800's

James Hall &

James D. Dana


Two geologists studying the Appalachian Mountains

Developed the Geosynclinal theory that explained the origin of mountain ranges.  Accepted until the mid 1960's when replaced with Plate Tectonics.


Henri Becquerel


discovered radioactivity

1897 William Thomson, Baron Kelvin Between 20 and 400 million year old Earth

Leader in the physical sciences - helped unify the discipline of modern physics.

Developed the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature measurement

By estimating the time it would take for a molten planet to cool using improved calculations

1901 John Joly Between 90 and 100 million year old Earth

by calculating the rate salt is delivered to oceans


George Darwin & Joly


Realized that radioactivity allowed the Earth and Sun an internal heat source.

Geologist had argued for a much older Earth than 100 million years for generations.

1905 1907 Ernest Rutherford & Bertram Boltwood up to 1.3 billion year old rocks

Devised the technique to use radioactive decay to determine the age of rocks and minerals.


Frank B. Taylor


Proposed the concept of "Continental drift" thinking continents were dragged towards the equator by lunar gravity.  He proposed the Himalayan and Alps mountain ranges formed with an increased activity during the Cretaceous.


Alfred Wegener


German meteorologist

Revolutionary book, On the Origin of Continents and Oceans, proposed drifting continents where all the worlds land masses were once joined in a super-continent named Pangaea (meaning "all lands"). 

First to use the phrase "continental drift" in a thesis, but could not provide a realistic mechanism.  Scientific community thought drift was ridiculous.  Not excepted until the 1960's.  This became the theory of Plate Tectonics.

He also went against poplar belief in stating that lunar craters are the result of impacts not volcanism.


Emile Argand


Swiss geologist

Believed the Himalayan Mountains range resulted from a collision between India and Asia

1929 Edwin Hubble 2 billion year old universe

Using the Hubble constant of a uniformly expanding universe

1947 George Garnow universe expansion started 2-3 billion years ago

Using the Hubble constant of a uniformly expanding universe but thought "recent" data made it older.

1952 Bart Jan Bok Galactic clusters 1 to 10 billion years old

Estimated age of galactic clusters.

1963 & 1965 Tuzo Wilson  

Canadian geologist - first to propose the theory of Hotspot volcanism

Added the third kind of plate movement, horizontal slip

1971 W. Jason Morgan   Proposed a source for hotspot volcanism as deep inside the mantle, possibly at the core.  The rise and current of the super hot magma is the mechanics behind plate tectonics.

instruments able to measure the movement of continents, volcanoes, glaciers

Photos of asteroids hitting the moon.

1999 NASA 12 billion year old universe

Using Hubble constant to estimate age of very distant stars

2002 Hubble Space Telescope 13-14 billion year old universe

Estimated age of the oldest white dwarfs thought to have been stars 1 billion years after the Big Bang

2003 Krauss & Chaboyer 11.5 to 20 billion year old universe Estimated age of the oldest star clusters.
~2008 British Geological Survey  

One Geology project.  First searchable data base for global geological features.  To have all the geological maps in one location, accessible by all. 


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