There are so, so many discoveries and inventions that are truly remarkable and ought to be celebrated. Sadly, for many, the scientists behind them have been swallowed up over time. Here is a list of seven underrated scientists that you should get to know*.
Charles Babbage (b.1791- d.1871)
In today’s day and age, this man deserves to be more famous than he is. That computer you use every day? Well, that’s thanks to this guy. This is the man who laid the groundwork for digital programmable computers. He was credited with the first mechanical computer that eventually evolved to become your Macbook Air.
Alfred Russel Wallace (b.1823- d.1913)
Most people are familiar with Charles Darwin, but did you know that it was Wallace’s independent theories on evolution through natural selection that prompted Darwin to publish The Origin of Species? Talk about being snuffed out by your contemporaries!
Al-Khwarizmi (c.780- 850)
The Islamic Golden Age brought about an enormous influx and growth of knowledge in the natural sciences. This Persian astronomer, mathematician and geographer is one of the fathers of algebra. In fact, the word algebra is taken from his working out (a great reason to always show your working out!), and the word algorithm is derived from his name in Latin!
Caroline Hershel (b.1750- d.1848)
This German astronomer (and aspiring singer) has a comet, asteroid, and moon crater named after her. Together with her brother William Herschel, the pair discovered over 2400 astronomical objects over a course of 20 years. I think that’s pretty darn impressive!
Mary Anning (b. 1799- d.1847)
The lisp-generating tongue twister “she sells seashells on the seashore” you learnt in primary school was written about this woman. Anning was the first recognised female palaeontologist and lived as a real-life Dr Alan Grant (Jurassic Park), collecting fossils and entire skeletons of dinosaurs!
Srinivasa Ramanujan (b.1887- d.1920)
In his short life of 32 years, this Indian mathematician failed college twice but independently compiled nearly 3,900 mathematical identities and equations. It was said he only concentrated on math and as a result flunked his other subjects. You might have seen the 2015 film The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Dev Patel, well that’s based on this guy.
Henry Cavendish (b.1731- d.1810)
If you’ve never heard of this man, he probably would have preferred it that way. Cavendish, though a British jack-of-all-science, was a shy man who was terrified of talking to women. Rumour has it that he added a back staircase to his house to avoid his housekeeper! Perhaps due to his limited social appearances, he was able to turn his attention to research. In this space, he discovered hydrogen, identified the composition of atmospheric air, the synthesis of water, laws for electrical attraction/repulsion, and perhaps what he is most regarded for- measuring the Earth’s density.
*Honourable mention to Nikolas Tesla and Carl Sagan who, despite their many contributions to modern day science, are already quite well regarded. If you’re in science or engineering and don’t know who these people are, do yourself a favour and Google them!