Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) Polish astronomer, and founder of modern astronomy. Writer of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in 1542. Rejected the cosmology of Aristotle and Ptolemy, in which the sun was a planet revolving around the earth Proposed multiple centers of gravity in the universe Proposed a heliocentric theory, with the planets revolving around the sun In launching the his revolution, Copernicus displaced earth from the center of the universe and ascribed motion to it. No longer seeing man at a fixed point, he argued against powerful and ancient theological objections that God had placed man in a position of dominion at the heart of all creation. Pleading eloquently for freedom of thought, he began a shift of consciousness in which science challenged dogma in explaining man's role in the cosmos, and paved the way for . . .
Galileo Galilei (1561-1642) Italian astronomer and physicist, first to use the newly invented telescope. Campaigned against prevailing Aristotelian physics. Discovered the laws of falling bodies Discovered four satellites of Jupiter and numerous fixed stars Argued that sunspots and ocean tides could only be explained by a moving or rotating earth As Galileo pursued calculations that moved him closer to Copernican thinking, he faced strong theological objections. Denounced from the pulpit and condemned by the Inquisition, his books were banned and he he was sentenced to lifelong house arrest after publically recanting his views. Convinced that both the Bible and nature were correct, he held that the book of nature was written in mathematical characters and could only be deciphered by mathematics.
Issac Newton (1642-1727) English natural philospher and mathematician, author of the Principia (Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica,1687) Invented calculus Set forth the theory of universal gravitation Discovered the three laws of motion, concerning inertia, momentum, and opposite reactions Newton used calculus throughout the Principia to explain the universal nature of gravity. Like Galileo, he conceived of the universe as a mathematical phenomenon, and traced action within the universe to the collisions of solid, billiard-ball-like particles. The resulting mechanical determinism seemed to support fatalism, driving a further wedge between humanity and divinity. Deeply interested in theology, however, he considered God to be the cause of all natural phenomena, a position similar that of . . .
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-born Swiss-American theoretical physicist. Won 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. Put forth special theory of relativity (E = mc2) Laid out a general theory of relativity Sought a ``unified field'' theory to combine gravitation and quantum mechanics
Einstein took the Newtonian laws of motion and explained what happened to them at speeds approaching the speed of light. His conception of the universe as a four-dimensional flat space-time, and of the interrelationship of mass to energy and space to time, opened up a surprising and counter-intuitive world in which motion was relative to the observer. Never comfortable with quantum mechanics, he continued to search for a unified field theory in which laws of physics would have geometrical significance.
Max Planck (1858-1947) 1918 Nobel Prize winning German physicist whose fundamental quantum theory, along with Einstein's theory of relativity, ushered physics into the modern era. The Planck Constant governs the accuracy with which different properties can be measured simultaneously.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962) Danish physicist who adapted the quantum theory to atomic structure. Proposed the complementary principle to explain apparent paradoxes which arise on comparing the wave and particle approaches to describing subatomic particles. Awarded 1922 Nobel physics prize.
Erwin Schr"odinger (1887-1961) Austrian-born Irish physicist and philosopher of science. Shared 1933 Nobel physics prize with Paul Dirac. Known for his work on the wave theory of matter, which is of fundamental importance in studying quantum mechanics.
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) German mathematical physicist who is generally regarded as the father of quantum mechanics. His famous uncertainty principle (1927) overturned traditional physics, its implications going far beyond the study of the atom. Awarded 1932 Nobel Prize for Physics.