Looking back at 1,000 years of discovery
We asked leading scientists and academics from a wide range of
*Clocks map the universe Margaret Geller is a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a professor of astronomy at Harvard University.Skip to next paragraph
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Technological Advances 1. Accurate clocks. Without accurate clocks we cannot map the earth or the universe. One might say that clocks enable us to write our address in the universe. They are also crucial for computing, communications devices, and a long list of other technologies.
2. Printing press. The printing press made broad dissemination of knowledge possible. It ultimately made information accessible to the poor as well as to the rich.
3. Steam engine. Invention of the steam engine led to the Industrial Revolution. It underlies the development of factories, and it made mass- produced goods possible. It also brought a new era in transportation.
4. The transistor. A 20th-century consequence of the understanding of quantum mechanics, the transistor was critical for the revolution in computing and communications we are now experiencing. I suspect that its impact on society will only increase.
Scientific Advances 5. Biological evolution. Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, their predecessors, and followers provided the fundamental understanding of the development of life on Earth. It provides a large portion of the answer to the question: Where do we come from? Although the mechanisms of evolution are not yet completely understood, the fossil record provides abundant evidence for the theory.
6. Germ theory. The germ theory was the first important step toward understanding bacterial and viral diseases. It was the basis for early public-health measures and vaccines.
7. Newtonian mechanics. Isaac Newton laid out a theory for understanding the general motions of objects and the first understanding of gravity. From bridge building to motions of objects in the solar system, Newtonian mechanics are the underpinnings. Newtonian mechanics are an important element in understanding our place in the universe.
8. Understanding of electricity and magnetism (Maxwell's equations). As in nearly all branches of science, many people contributed to the understanding of electricity and magnetism. Power generation, electrification, and a host of devices we use every day come from this understanding. Electricity and magnetism are important for understanding light. In fact, Maxwell's equations were an important part of the impetus for Einstein's development of special relativity in the 20th century.
9. Quantum mechanics. This field of 20th-century physics explains the structure of atoms, the nature of light, and the interactions between light and matter. On the practical side, the development of quantum mechanics has led to advances in chemistry, the understanding of materials, and the development of devices such as the transistor and CCDs (charge-coupled devices) in video cameras. On the purely theoretical side, quantum mechanics expanded our view of the universe to the physics of the very small.
10. The periodic table. This table of the elements is a shorthand way of writing down many of the fundamentals of chemistry. Even without an understanding of quantum mechanics, the periodic table "predicts" the way atoms combine to form molecules. Although it predates quantum mechanics, the arrangement of elements in the periodic table corresponds to the arrangement of electrons in atoms.
*Power of the printing press Lord Porter, a Nobel Laureate of chemistry, is professor and chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London; emeritus professor of chemistry of the Royal Institution of Great Britain Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Imperial College.
1. Printing. The first mass communication.
2. Electric power. Electric motor and the electric light.
3. Radio. Including television and direction finding.
4. Photography. The cinema.
5. Flight of heavier-than-air machines.
6. Antibiotics such as penicillin.
7. Semiconductors, calculators, and the computer.
8. The laser. The source of coherent light.
9. Structure of DNA. The basis of life.
10. Genetic Engineering. Biological manipulation.
*'Language of modern science'
John Bahcall is professor of physics at The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. 1. The discovery of calculus provided the language of modern science.
2. The Copernican revolution removed man and the earth from the center of the universe.
3. Newton's theory of gravitation revealed the macroscopic world as understandable and describable quantitatively.