Top 10 Influential Scientists You’ve Probably Never Heard Of


Scientists like Einstein or Newton are well-known, and for good reason, but there are many others who have fallen out of our collective memory, relegated to the dustbin of history. Each one of the scientists on this list is almost universally recognized as a major contributor to their field of study, if not the originator, but they are no longer commonly known, even though they were greatly recognized for their efforts during their lives.

10. Guy de Chauliac (1300-1368)


Often referred to as the “Father of Surgery,” Guy de Chauliac was an eminent French surgeon during the 1300’s. His treatise Chirurgia Magna, one of the first complete books on surgery, was written in 1363 and became the industry standard until the 1700’s. The work detailed many operations, including some of the first for hernias and cataracts, which were not treated by surgeons to that time. In addition, Chauliac was one of the first doctors to recognize the two different plagues affecting Europe at the time, staying in Avignon to study the illnesses and patients. Chauliac was also a huge proponent of the need for surgeons to be highly educated, especially in regards to the human anatomy. In the latter half of his life, he was the personal physician of three consecutive Popes.

9. Robert Koch (1843-1910)


Considered to be one of the founding fathers of bacteriology, along with Louis Pasteur and Ferdinand Cohn, German-born Robert Koch was recognized for his work with a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905. Curious from birth, he was said to have taught himself how to read by the age of five. In his thirties, he discovered the anthrax disease cycle, and the bacteria which caused tuberculosis and cholera. Koch also came up with rules for controlling cholera epidemics, many of which are still in use today. In addition, he provided a lot of the work on combating other diseases, such as typhus, East Coast cattle fever, and malaria.

8. Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680)


Originally planning to be a doctor, Dutch-born Jan Swammerdam decided to switch his focus to microscopical studies instead, namely insects. Before the change, he was a renowned scientist, the first to determine the presence of red blood cells and the mechanism for penile erection. Afterwards, Swammerdam became an expert in insects, classifying them into four distinct categories, three of which are used to this day. He was also the first man to demonstrate that the four stages of development insects go through are of the same insect, and not four different ones. He published two books about his entomological work, A General History of Insects and The Bible of Nature, with the latter being recognized as one of the greatest works of microscopic research in history.

7. Georges Cuvier (1769-1832)


Considered to be the man who founded vertebrate paleontology, French scientist Georges Cuvier also established the fact of the extinction of past lifeforms, an idea which was quite controversial at the time, as many of his contemporaries felt God would not allow a creature He designed to be wiped from the Earth. He was also vital in establishing French universities when he served as the imperial inspector of public instruction. However, Cuvier denied evolution, stating each species of animal was designed with a specific purpose in mind, which caused a rift between him and some of his closer colleagues. He published a number of books, which were well-received and popular. In one of them, Cuvier also put forth the theory of catastrophism, which posits that new species are created after the Earth goes through a massive cataclysmic event.

6. Roger Joseph Boscovich (1711-1787)


The first man to put forth a reasoned description of atomic theory, Croatian-born mathematician and physicist Roger Joseph Boscovich beat modern theories by over 100 years. Not only that, he was a leader in the field of geodesy, the scientific field concerned with the shape and size of the Earth. Boscovich is also credited with inventing or perfecting various scientific instruments. Among the first scientists to accept Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, he wrote a number of papers on the subject. Lastly, Boscovich was also a man tasked with fixing various structural problems, including reinforcing the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica and repairing fissures in the Milan Cathedral.

5. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873)


Credited with publishing the first book of modern oceanography, American Matthew Fontaine Maury was a man of many talents. Known as “the pathfinder of the sea,” he was also the founder of world meteorology. In addition, Maury also played a big role in the construction of the first Trans-Atlantic cable. Originally enlisted in the US Navy, he was injured and forced into a desk job, which enabled him to devote his life to the study of the seas. Maury was also an accomplished cartographer and astronomer. When the American Civil War broke out, he sided with the Confederacy, and invented the first electrically controlled submarine mine, along with acting as a diplomat for the Southern states. Once the war was over, Maury became a professor of meteorology at Virginia Military Institute.

4. Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782)


The son of a famous mathematician, with many other mathematicians in his family, Swiss-born Daniel Bernoulli began studying philosophy and logic at Basel University when he was only 13. At the age of 25, Bernoulli received a personal invitation from Empress Catherine I of Russia to become the professor of mathematics at the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg. While there, he did most of his work on hydrodynamics, which culminated in the publishing of his book Hydrodynamica in 1738. The book outlined the principle, which still bears his name, of conservation of energy in flowing fluids. In addition, Bernoulli’s work on the conservation of energy is used to design the wings of planes. After publishing his book, he turned back to medicine and physiology until his death.

3. J. Marion Sims (1813-1883)


Considered by many to be the “father of gynecology,” J. Marion Sims is easily the most controversial person on this list. Renowned for his surgical skills, he was the first man to successfully operate and fix a vesicovaginal fistula, a common side effect of childbirth in which a hole is torn between a woman’s bladder and her vagina. The reason Sims is a controversial figure is that he used slaves as guinea pigs, operating on one of them as many as 30 times, often without anesthesia. It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s, when America went through an upheaval about racial equality, that Sims’ legacy was brought into question. His reputation has since been tarnished heavily.

2. William Gilbert (1544-1603)


English-born William Gilbert was originally a doctor, even serving as Queen Elizabeth I’s personal physician. He is best known father of electricity and magnetism, having pioneered the work in both fields. Three years before his death, Gilbert published his seminal work De Magnete (“On the Magnet,”) which detailed much of his work on electrical and magnetic phenomena. His book’s biggest contributions were the comparison of a magnet’s polarity to the Earth’s and the difference between magnetism and static electricity. He is also said to have invented the term “electricity.” Galileo later used much of Gilbert’s work when developing his idea that the Earth is not the center of the Universe.

1. George Boole (1815-1864)


An English mathematician and logician, George Boole is best known for inventing what is known as Boolean logic, or Boolean algebra, which later became the basis of the computer and related technologies like the telephone. Aside from a few years of lessons from his father and university, Boole taught himself everything about mathematics. He published a number of books and papers on mathematics and logic throughout his life, most of which were well-received. In addition to his research, Boole was also a dedicated teacher, even opening his own school.

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