Minds that Mattered: 40 Surprising Facts About Famous Scientists

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1Howard Florey

Howard Florey

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but never tried to make an antibiotic out of it. It was not until a decade later that a man named Howard Florey found Fleming's little-known paper and realized the mold's potential. Florey's work is estimated to have saved up to 200 million lives.

2. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was able to view his obituary before he died due to a news-outlet mishap. Due to all the horrible things he read about himself, including being called "the merchant of death", he decided to dedicate his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize.

3. Nikola Tesla once paid an overdue hotel bill with a model of his "death beam", warning hotel staff to never open it. After his death in 1943, the box was pried open and found to contain nothing but harmless old electrical components.

4. Albert Einstein once received a letter from a girl lamenting that she couldn't be a scientist because of her gender. He responded, "I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it."

5. Scientist John von Neumann (1903-1957) could by the age of 6, divide two 8 digit numbers in his head and converse in ancient Greek. He published over 150 papers during his lifetime and is considered by many to be among the most intelligent humans to have ever lived.

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The French philosopher and mathematician Descartes was hired as a tutor by the Queen of Sweden, who insisted on philosophy lessons at 5 in the morning. Within a year of walking through the Swedish cold every morning, Descartes caught pneumonia and died.

7. Leo Szilard conceived the nuclear chain reaction, the nuclear reactor, and wrote the letter suggesting the Manhattan Project, which Einstein signed. After being diagnosed with bladder cancer, he designed his own radiation therapy which led to a full recovery.

8. Neil deGrasse Tyson has declined every interview since 1993 that has had his racial identity as the premise: "That then becomes the point of people’s understanding of me, rather than the astrophysics. So it’s a failed educational step for that to be the case."

9. Nikola Tesla openly expressed disgust for overweight people. Once, he fired his secretary solely because of her weight.

10. Marie Curie's lab papers from the 1890's are still radioactive. They are stored in lead-lined boxes and one must don protective gear to see them.

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11Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton set out the colors of the rainbow we memorize today. However, he originally didn't include orange or indigo. He only added them later because of his occult belief that there must be 7 separate colors, just like there are 7 notes in a musical scale and 7 days of the week.

12. Albert Einstein was stopped so much in public, he would frequently reply, “Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”

13. In 1974, primatologist Jane Goodall observed a social rift in a community of chimpanzees, which turned into a violent 4-year civil war for territory. The war involved kidnapping, rape, and murder. This changed her perception of the chimpanzees and the phenomenon is now known as the “Gombe Chimpanzee War.”

14. Henry Moseley, the scientist that pioneered the concept of the atomic number, volunteered for combat duty in World War 1 and was killed by a Turkish sniper. As a result of his death, scientists were later prevented from enlisting in the military.

15. When scientist Robert Goddard created the first liquid-fueled rocket and published his work in 1919, he was ridiculed for his belief that man could reach the moon. The New York Times even mocked his understanding of basic physics. They later published a correction the day after the launch of Apollo 11.

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16J.J. Thomson

J.J. Thomson

J.J. Thomson won the Nobel in Physics (1906) when he showed electrons were particles. His son George Paget Thomson won it in 1937 for showing that electrons are waves.

17. Nikola Tesla used to feed pigeons, bringing injured ones into his hotel room to nurse them back to health. One-time he spent over $2,000 to fix a pigeon’s broken wing and leg, including building a device to comfortably support her, so that her bones could heal.

18. In 2014, scientist and mountaineer John All fell into a 70-foot deep crevasse in Nepal. He broke 15 bones and was bleeding internally but miraculously survived and was able to document his climb out.

19. 18th-century zoologist Carl Linnaeus used to attend mass with his dog Pompe. Linnaeus always left after an hour, regardless of whether the sermon was finished, and when he was sick Pompe would arrive at the service alone, stay for the customary hour, and depart.

20. 350 years ago, Robert Boyle wrote down a 'to-do list' of fantastical things he hoped science would one-day accomplish. We are over halfway there.

21Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday, one of the foremost experimenters of his time, declined a knighthood, believing that it was against the word of the Bible to pursue worldly reward. He stated that he preferred to remain "plain Mr. Faraday to the end."

22. Schrödinger did not believe in the possibility of a cat being simultaneously both dead and alive. His thought experiment was meant to criticize the absurdity of the existing view of quantum mechanics.

23. French mathematician Évariste Galois died in a duel. A day before his duel, he published all his work because he didn't think he would survive. The next day he died at the age of 20 from a bullet to his gut.

24. In 1900, a German mathematician named David Hilbert outlined a list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics that he hoped would be solved in the 20th century. As of 2018, only 12 have been answered.

25. After Wernher von Braun's first V2 rocket was used in combat, he was quoted as saying "the rocket worked perfectly, except for landing on the wrong planet."

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