Timeline

So you wanted some names after all? Well, here are a few, with their best-known accomplishments, in chronological order.

1543 Nicolaus Copernicus (Germany) proposes heliocentric theory of universe (just before his death, so avoiding the church’s (f)ire)
c. 1570-1600 Tycho Brahe (Denmark) makes astronomical measurements which will be used by his assistant, Johannes Kepler.
1605

Johannes Kepler (Germany) shows that planets move around the Sun in elliptical orbits

1609 Galileo Galilei (Italy) observes moons of Jupiter, studied laws of motion
1665 Robert Hooke (England) coins the term “cell”
c. 1670 Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (Netherlands) first observes microorganisms with his handcrafted microscope
1687 Isaac Newton (England) publishes Principia Mathematica, containing his laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation
1785 James Hutton (Scotland) proposes geological cycles
1791 Luigi Galvani (Italy) discovers bioelectricity
1824 Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (France) founds the science of thermodynamics with his studies on heat engines
1839 Theodor Schwann (Germany) states the cell theory, that all living things are composed of cells.
1859 Charles Darwin (England) publishes “On the origin of species”, proposing evolution by natural selection
1861 James Clark Maxwell (Scotland) publishes the equations of electromagnetism; later, shows that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as electromagnetic waves
1865 Gregor Mendel (Moravia) presents first paper on rules of heredity.
c. 1890 Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Spain) discovers definitive evidence for neuron theory, that the brain Is made up of discrete neurons, and explains their form and function.
c. 1890 Ludwig Boltzmann (Austria) shows statistical significance of entropy
1896 Henri Becquerel (France) discovers radioactivity
1905 Albert Einstein (Germany) publishes papers on photoelectric effect (which would give rise to quantum mechanics) and special relativity; in 1915, theory of gravity (general relativity)
1912 Alfred Wegener (Germany) publishes theory of continental drift; it would be accepted only in the 1960s as the theory of plate tectonics
1924 Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (Austria) publishes the exclusion principle, stating that no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state; would become the basis of solid-state physics and transistors
1926 Erwin Schrödinger (Austria) publishes the wave equation, the central equation of quantum mechanics
1927 Werner Heisenberg (Germany) publishes the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics
1953 Francis Crick (Great Britain) and James Watson (USA) use Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction photos to understand the structure of DNA
1964 Arnold Penzias and Robert Wilson discover cosmic background radiation
1979 Alan Guth (USA) develops idea of cosmic inflation

Since those times, science has become bigger and more expensive, so single names do not stand out so much any more. For instance, the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN in 2012 involved thousands of people, far too many to include in this table – or on the list of Nobel Prize winners (which is limited to three living people)!

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"L'univers et moi/The universe and I" by John O'Neall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.