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The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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How Radiation Works

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Around Roughly 1900 to the 1930s
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Almost Immediately, The Curie’s Knowledge Was Shared Publicly
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Marie & Pierre Curie

Both Pierre & Marie Curie made some of the greatest discoveries ever, mostly within the world of radiation. Sadly, both were drastically affected by their exposure, dying far younger than they should. Pierre died several years before Marie, but while both were alive together they discovered the elements Polonium & Radium. They’d also win a Nobel Prize for their work. Their studies on radiation went on for decades together but Curie worked for a long time without her husband too.

Her groundbreaking work in radiation led to another Nobel Prize, making her the first woman to ever become a two-time winner of the award. Among the discoveries Pierre and Marie found was that radiation could kill cancer cells. Pierre and Marie never patented anything they did together, allowing their discoveries or inventions to be used by anyone who needed it. Marie kept to this after Pierre passed, as she made the first mobile radiography units for use during World War I. We still use a form of this today, and Marie never patented the design. Both were responsible for some of the greatest discoveries in this world and aided the medical community, as well as other scientific fields for years to come.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Evolution

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1790s To 1860s
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Evolution Became Known, Mostly Accepted Science By The Mid-1900s
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Ancient Greeks

Once known as the “Theory of Evolution,” we now know it largely as a fact. Two men are most responsible for bringing evolutionary knowledge to the world. That is Alfred Russel Wallace and the infamous Charles Darwin. Both men had their theories and discoveries in the field. They came largely to the same conclusions with their work in the end. Yet neither man worked with the other on evolutionary science, funny enough. In the world of evolution, “only the strong survive.”

This means that a species must develop key traits for survival, which will only improve and/or expand for several generations. Both men were able to tell us how humanity formed and how life came to be. Clearly, this has to be among the greatest discoveries in history. Science Sensei has written extensively about Evolution in the past. If you’d like to read pretty much anything one needs to know about the field, check out our article on it.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Antibiotics & Antivirals

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Late 1800s Through The 2000s
  • Discovery Put Into Action: The 1910s To 1940s
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Alexander Fleming, Gertrude Elion

Every antibiotic we see in the medical community today would likely not be present if not for the very first that was accidentally created/discovered by Dr. Alexander Fleming. The story goes that the Biologist was working with some Staphylococci in an effort to learn more about it and how it could be fought. He was using the fungus, Penicillin sp, at the time. Yet not with the Staph. Rather, it was simply close to it. Fleming accidentally left one of the Staph sectors exposed and the Penicillin apparently got on it, killing the Staph. He used this knowledge to create a drug that could potentially kill possible infections in humans. He’d manage to do so, releasing Penicillin and potentially saving billions of lives worldwide.

Antibiotics do not actually get rid of infections in the human body, however. For humans, they help us with the symptoms of the infection while our body removes the infection itself. This same knowledge applies to Antivirals too. There have been experimental versions of antivirals for years, but they did not ramp up until the 1980s. The originals were for treating Herpes, HIV/AIDs, and other STDs. Today, we have some that treat the flu among other viruses. Yet they have a long way to go to be as effective as antibiotics are on infections. Yet they work the same way, effectively helping with symptoms while the body rids itself of the virus.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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HIV Virus Is The Cause Of AIDS

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Between 1983 & 1984
  • Discovery Put Into Action: By 1985
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Luc Montagnier & Robert Gallo

While we all connect HIV & AIDS today like it’s nothing…many people might forget that we did not always know the two were connected. In fact, for years we could not seem to treat AIDS because we did not really understand how it came to be. That was before the mid-1980s when France’s Luc Montagnier and the United States’ Robert Gallo made a major discovery. Through vast testing, the two men discovered the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was the ultimate cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome(AIDS).

This affects your body by destroying the immune system, making it next to impossible for your body to fight off any infections or disease as it should. What Montagnier & Gallo discovered was literally life-altering for millions of people affected by HIV. We can do blood tests to determine if someone has HIV. If they test positive, doctors can give them proper things to do to take precautions for themselves and avoid the spread of the disease. Today, we have drugs that help to keep the two under control with many still working on a cure for it. This is one of the greatest discoveries ever, as we’ve now been able to limit the spread…saving potentially millions of lives.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Painkillers

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Roughly 5,000 BCE
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Almost Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Ancient Greeks & Chinese

Painkillers in some form have been around for thousands of years. A lot of our early knowledge regarding painkillers comes from a few specific areas, Ancient Greece & Ancient China. Originally, painkillers were truly only in use for surgical procedures. Keep in mind, that they could not put people to sleep back then. This was when the Poppy Plant came into play, allowing them to create Opium. The Ancient Greeks would use it to help with surgical pains yet abuse of Opium was not really as common.

It was not until the 1500s and beyond that we would see the recreational use of Opium and major abuse issues regarding it along with other painkillers. Today, Opium is not commonly in play. Yet we have dozens of painkiller types that, in America, are over-the-counter or require a prescription. Abuse has also been lessened the last number of years due to Pain Management doctors, cutting abuse of pharmaceutical drugs immensely in the U.S. However, in spite of the problems they cause….it is clear that this is one of mankind’s greatest discoveries. Being able to treat pain is incredibly useful.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Human Anatomy

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Between 3,000 BCE to 1900s AD
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Ancient Greeks & Chinese, Hippocrates, Galen, Andreas Vesalius

Human Anatomy has been a major topic for mankind since the world can remember. Yet the biggest issue is that a lot of problems came into play. People were not being opened up and examined, and those that did open people up were not sharing a lot of those results. That was until the great doctor, Hippocrates, began opening people up for surgical procedures. He’d do so out of theories he had regarding the body, which he was right and wrong about.

Some of his surgical procedures are still in play today. Of course, we should thank several others for their work and discoveries. Galen, in spite of how wrong he was…also had some good ideas. Yet the man who likely changed the came the most is Andreas Vesalius. Not only did he prove several concepts of Hippocrates by opening up the human body, but he also disproved the ideology of Galen & Aristotle before him. By fully examining the body, Vesalius changed the game. Today, we know some of our biggest anatomical facts due to Andreas’ work. Clearly, human anatomy knowledge is one of mankind’s greatest discoveries ever!

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Pasteurization

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1860s
  • Discovery Put Into Action: 1862
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Louis Pasteur

French Chemist & Biologist Louis Pasteur made one of the greatest discoveries in world history that we still use today. He was working with dairy products and wanted to figure out how to remove some of the things that made them intolerable for people as well as why they go bad so quickly. This was when he went into his lab and figured out how to stop the problem. He found that water and specific packaged or unpackaged foods could be treated with heat to completely destroy harmful pathogens.

His concept killed bad bacteria and ultimately extended the shelf life of several items. From here, we can eliminate the risk of disease but not kill the harmful bacterial spores. Therefore, one must apply the second round of heat. Upon doing this, numerous products (mostly dairy), are now safe to eat or drink for a long time after their shelf-life. Milk and Fruit Juice, for example, are safe to drink for life! Yet they might not taste great after a while. Louis would reference his concept as Pasteurization. We still employ it today, as it is one of the greatest discoveries ever!

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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DNA

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1860s to 1950s
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Knowledge Was Passed On Almost Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Friedrich Miescher, Phoebus Levene & Erwin Chargaff, James Watson & Francis Crick

Not only does DNA help people in the medical world, but people apply it to Criminal Justice too. The value of DNA is not possible to measure. Let’s just say not only is it one of the greatest discoveries in world history….it is quite literally life-altering for us to know about today. There is a mixed history regarding when it was discovered. DNA itself was first identified by a Swiss Chemist named Friedrich Miescher sometime in the 1860s. Yet he did not dive into major testing on it. Two others came along after to do far more, Phoebus Levene & Erwin Chargaff.

They discovered the DNA molecule, especially its primary chemical components along with how and why they joined with each other. Two other men discovered one of the biggest parts of DNA in the 1950s. American biologist James Watson & and English biologist Francis Crick used the work of their previous biologists in DNA to find the most well-known parts of DNA today. Upon further testing, they found out the DNA molecule exists in the now-iconic form of a three-dimensional double helix. Clearly, this is one of the greatest discoveries in history, and has allowed us to do so much!

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Immunization (Vaccines)

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 10th Century, 1880-1885, 1922, 1933, 1952, 2006
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately Upon Discovery
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Albert Calmette, Camille Guerin, Edward Jenner, David Smith, Ian Frazier

Immunization concepts date back thousands of years. Ancient cultures used to isolate men, women, and children that were sick from other people. They might be visited by doctors/medicine men, or they might not. Once people died from something, they were often burned in hopes they would not spread disease. People would burn some entire villages down. That was until the Ancient Chinese would form ways to help in the 10 Century regarding Smallpox. Yet, a smallpox vaccine would not come into play until 1976 due to Edward Jenner. Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine for Cholera in 1880, Anthrax in 1881, and Rabies in 1885.

Meanwhile, Albert Calmette & Camille Green discovered a way to cure Tuberculosis by developing a vaccine with the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Vaccine in 1922. Calmette discovered on his own a way to treat snakebites, developing the first anti-venom. Jonas Salk, together with Thomas Francis, were both able to discover a way to limit the spreading of Influenza in 1933. Salk then developed a vaccine for Polio, essentially eradicating the disease in 1952. David Smith then made a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza, which often gave infants pneumonia and meningitis. Finally, Ian Frazier discovered ways to make vaccines for cervical cancer, genital warts, and anogenital cancers in 2006.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Communication (Writing & Speaking)

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: ??? to 20,000 B.C. For Speaking, Roughly 3,500 to 3,000 For Writing
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Unknown For Speaking, Someone From Urak For Writing

Discovering how to communicate with your fellow man is something we have been capable of for a long time. However, it is uncertain how long we’ve had languages where many understood what was being said or signaled. Many believe this dates back to at least 20,000 B.C. at the latest. However, while we did make drawings that were supposedly present to communicate specific material to people, actual written language would take several thousands of years to develop.

The first known written language was Cuneiform, which was developed somewhere between 3,500 to 3,000 B.C. It seems to have been formed by someone from the Sumerian City of Urak. Everyone in the Mesopotamian area used it from the Sumerians to the Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Hatti, Hittites, Assyrians, and Hurrians. It was the main language used in the territory until roughly 100 B.C. Yet other written languages were present for years.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Fire

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Over 1 Million Years Ago
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately 
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Unknown Homo Erectus Species

“Fire” has been around for millions of years, but humans did not discover its use of it immediately. In fact, Homo Sapiens did not discover fire at all. It is said that we can date fire being used to cook food as far back as 1 million years ago, which means Homo Sapiens would not have been present at the time. Rather, we were the Homo Erectus species at the time. It was widespread in use 50 to 100,000 years ago for cooking food and staying warm, along with keeping predators away from us.

With the ability to control fire, we were able to grow and eventually combine small tribes into larger ones as time passed. This revolutionary change is likely what ultimately separated humans from the rest of the Hominina family. This is important to reference, as mankind would not be in the place we’re in today without the discovery and control of fire. It is not just one of the greatest discoveries ever… it is the officially greatest, full stop!

EVEN MORE OF THE GREATEST DISCOVERIES THAT CHANGED SCIENCE FOREVER

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Gene Editing (CRISPR)

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1990s 
  • Discovery Put Into Action: By 2015
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans, Oliver Smithies, Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Feng Zhang

Genome or Gene Editing is one of the world’s greatest discoveries that we’re now trying to perfect with new technology on a consistent basis. Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans, and Oliver Smithies used a form of gene-targeting, which used embryonic stem cells on mice to perform Homologous recombination. Essentially it recombines genetics, allowing one to alter genes and put them back into working order. It won them the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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While gene-editing was initially discovered in the 1990s, then impressive things happened within the community, it would not become a prominent area until around 2012 when something known as CRISPR-Case9 was developed. We now just refer to it as CRISPR, but using the gene-editing discovery, American scientist Jennifer Doudna & French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier developed the technology. We can now alter genes, possibly allowing for some amazing changes in humanity.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Astronomy

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Between 5,000 to 2,000 B.C.
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately 
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Eratosthenes, Claudius Ptolemy, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, Galileo Galilei, Giovanni Cassini, Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, Edmond Halley, Charles Messier, Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Henrietta Swann Leavitt, William Herschel, Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, Frank Drake, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking

We should first reference that Astrology and Astronomy are not the same things. However, they used to be heavily connected and you could claim they were the same thing for centuries. Yet we eventually separated from this to create two different fields. A lot of people are to thank for Astronomy today, especially as it began to enter the world of Astrophysics. It seems that the major change and separation happened in the late B.C. era and by the ADs, Astronomy was a huge scientific field.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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That is where you see the likes of Newton, Halley, Kepler, Hubble, Hawking, and Einstein come into play. To them, anything related to space overall as well as a lot of the things having to do with the planet was connected to Astronomy. In the original meaning, Astronomy was merely the study of the stars. This clearly expanded and allowed us to see some of the most critical things related to life, how we’re here, what keeps us here, plus much much more.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Probability & Statistics

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: The 16th Century Roughly, But Forms Of Both Go Back To Ancient Greece
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: [Probability]Blaise Pascal, Pierre de Fermat, Christiaan Huygens, Jakob Bernoulli, Abraham de Moivre, Pierre de Laplace, A. Kolmogorov [Statistics] Al-Khalil, Ibn Adlan, Giovanni Villani, Karl Pearson, Francis Galton, William Sealy Gosset, Roger Cotes, Tobias Mayer, Roger Joseph Boscovich, William Playfair, Florence Nightingale, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, Ronald Fisher, Egon Pearson, Jerzy Neyman, Charles Spearman

Several people contributed to both Probability & Statistics. While the two are both different forms of mathematics, they are essentially something that goes beyond math itself. Since they can be applied to so many things on a specific level, they are key to numerous areas of science, politics, and much more. They are not the exact same thing, but they work very well together which is why they are often looped.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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You need probability to make a lot of statistical analysis work, so they must be connected a lot. That said, they were discovered at different points. Probability would not come about until the 17th Century officially while Statistics, as we know them today, was not discovered until the 19th Century. Their co-mingling has led to several advancements in numerous areas, and it’s all thanks to the people we referenced above. Clearly, these are some of the greatest discoveries ever.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Biology

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Between 384–322 B.C.
  • Discovery Put Into Action: By The Late B.C. Era
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Ancient Greeks, Ancient Egyptians, Aristotle

Biology, in the way we know it today, is a natural science that studies life and all living organisms. This includes their molecular structure, physical structure, physiological mechanisms, chemical processes, and overall development/evolution. In Biology, the cell is the basic unit of life, genes, and all known things that allowed for the creation & evolution of all species. While Ancient Greeks & Egyptians were the first to do any studies on numerous areas of Biology, they did not invent it.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Rather, the person most responsible for the invention of Biology is the great teacher himself, Aristotle. He began writing about Biology in the 300s B.C. era. His first write-up on Biological material was his book on the History of Animals. In it, he focused on biological causation and the diversity of life in general. His work would, obviously, be added to extensively over the next few thousand years. Yet without him, a lot of our initial biological knowledge might have taken far longer to come along.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Mechanics (Early Engineering)

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 8,000 to 5,000 B.C.
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Aristotle, Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo da Vinci, Heron of Alexandria, Issac Newton, Richard Arkwright, Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Nikola Tesla, Karl Benz, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, Zhang Heng

Mechanics of any kind date back thousands of years, all the way to some of the first Ancient Societies. Some first cities like Jericho were completely invested in mechanics. In fact, Jericho’s historic wall had sections where you had to lower a portion so people could get in and out. That takes a level of mechanical or engineering knowledge. While they were huge in the field, several other Ancient societies were too. Most notably, the Ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Mechanics and early engineering are connected heavily to physics, which is an area of study with numerous amazing scientists involved. Yet those who truly stood out in mechanics overall include the likes of Aristotle, Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo da Vinci, Heron of Alexandria, Issac Newton, Richard Arkwright, as well as numerous inventors of some of our most notable tech. Galileo, Kepler, Einstein, and so many others helped us even perfect the industry to what we see today.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Optics

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Early 11th Century
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Almost Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Kitab al-manazir, Albert Einstein, Issac Newton, Michael Faraday, Hermann von Helmholtz, Roger Bacon, Joseph Priestley, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Joseph Lister, Peter Barlow, Lord Ralyeigh

When you hear about “optics,” many think of it as what we see. But rather, it is from the realm of physics and has to do with the behavior and properties of light itself, as well as its interaction with matter & the construction of instruments used to detect it. Specifically, optics target the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. Of course, light is connected to electromagnetic waves, therefore, it is connected to electromagnetic radiation such as x-rays, microwaves, and radio waves.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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We utilize optical knowledge to develop scopes for guns, eyeglasses, and even cameras. We figured out a long time ago how light operates with other properties like crystal and even glass. Due to this, we are able to make devices that, in a way, manipulate light to give us things we view other things through. However, lasers are also born from optics knowledge as they too have to use some form of light to operate. From the non-lethal light version to those used in surgeries, all optic-connected.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Linguistics

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: Roughly, the 19th Century
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Most Work In The Field Began By The 1970s/80s
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Noam Chomsky

Some might assume that Linguistics is as old as writing or discussion, yet it’s not. However, it is one of our greatest discoveries and essentially inventions. Linguistics happens to be the study of language, full stop. Yet this study involves a lot of things, such as language form, meaning, and context. It also involves the analysis of how language is used in social, anthropological, historical, and political sectors. It is especially concerned with how language influences others.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Traditionally, a specific Linguist would study how humans interact by observing the relationship between sound and the meaning behind it. Linguistic knowledge has given us critical information regarding these connections, such as the field of semantics, sarcasm, and the principle discipline of pragmatics. Then you have theoretical linguists who try to understand patterns and structures that allow them to describe something specific. Such as a person’s true belief versus a lie.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Economics

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1776
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Almost Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Ancient Greeks & Egyptians, Adam Smith

Economics is truly a huge field and likely one of our greatest discoveries ever. Unlike others on this list, it is connected to the world of social science rather than natural science. It involves the study of how people interact with value overall. That includes production, distribution, and even consumption of goods and services. Economists tend to study how the behavior and interactions of economic agents & economics in general connect.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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This can involve the larger world of economics (Macroeconomics) such as how the world handles trade, tariffs, GDP, labor, land, capital, inflation, economic growth, etc. Meanwhile, in Microeconomics, you’ll study the household, firms, buying and selling, etc. It was Adam Smith, the Father of Capitalism, that truly helped us separate Economics as its own thing. While the Ancient Greeks & Egyptians understood the basics of it, Smith was truly the pioneer of what we connect to economics today.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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White Light Spectrum Is A Mixture Of Distinct Colored Rays

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1666
  • Discovery Put Into Action: It took over 100 more years
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Issac Newton

People often miss the fact that a lot of major inventions and discoveries came out of the greatest discoveries ever by Issac Newton. He found that the white light spectrum is a mixture of distinct colored rays. We know that might seem like gibberish, but this is what it means. Using a prism, Newton was able to find that the red light deviated consistently less than the violet light, which is pretty big.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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It meant that when white light passes through something transparent (such as air), into another (such as glass), light components are deflected for the first time all based on color. The same occurs when they reemerge. That, in turn, makes colored light rays from red to violet. From this, Newton developed the White Light Spectrum, which consists of the colors red, orange, green, blue, & violet. In spite of his work, Newton did not know why it did this. Thomas Young would come into play 100 years later to give us the answer.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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New Form Of Stainless Steel & Electromagnetic Induction Discovered By The Same Man

  • Year(s) Officially Discovered: 1820 & 1831 Respectively
  • Discovery Put Into Action: Almost Immediately
  • Team/Person Behind The Discovery: Michael Faraday & James Stoddart (only for the steel)

Michael Faraday is one of the world’s greatest inventors, yet he also discovered a lot of important things too. One of the first he along with James Stoddart found was massive. The two discovered that alloying iron with chromium will produce a form of stainless steel that is resistant to oxidizing elements (basically, rust). This was huge and became a staple for several knives and other cutlery that we use today both outdoors and indoors. That’s along with a wide variety of other things too.

The Greatest Discoveries that Changed Science Forever
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Alone, Faraday found that the production of an electromotive force across an electric conductor will change the magnetic field. This became known as electromagnetic induction and helped to give rise to numerous machines that Faraday would later be credited with creating. Moreover, his work pioneered what we see in mechanics and engineering, as this helped us form motors. Basically, all travel we know today is thanks to Faraday’s work. Clearly, these are some of the greatest discoveries of all time.

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