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Science Milestones - Facts that Changed our Understanding of Nature

This page is intended to give you advices about some great readings in Science. Starting from the fundamental up to more advanced subjects here are the Milestones of any advancement in Mankind understanding of Nature and Our Universe and how those discoveries affected our life. I am a Theoretical Physicist so the list could be influenced by my tastes and from what I consider most important. You are adviced!

Clearly it's impossible to cover all the subjects in one post so the list should be taken not as definitive but always in progress. Very much appreciated would be your suggestions.

Any cited milestone would report the original paper, if available somewhere, and some readings to study in deep the subject or some readings outreach if the original paper is too technical.

I apologize if I forget some fundamental facts or discoveries, but as I wrote before, it's a matter of tastes and the list is in progress, you can suggest!

So let's start.

The 13 Discoveries that Changed our Understanding of Nature

How I said before now the number is 13, but it could change! Everytime I remember some fundamental facts I would be glad to update the # of listed works. Also I want your suggestions. So please leave your advices in comments.

#1 - The Solar System: From Ptolemaic to the Copernican system

solar system
In 1543, while on his deathbed, Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus published his theory that the Sun is a motionless body at the center of the solar system, with the planets revolving around it. Before the Copernicum system was introduced, astronomers believed the Earth was at the center of the universe according to Ptolemaic Theory.

  • To understand the difference between the 2 systems any so called "Physicist" should read the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican. It is a classic reading that show how the foundations of the newtonian physics did were created. And the good thing is this is a suitable book for everyone from the layman to the PHD, easy to read, requires nothing more than basic mathematical concepts and imagination.

#2 - Gravity

newtonian gravity
Isaac Newton, mathematician and physicist, is considered the greatest scientist of all time. Among his many discoveries, the most important is probably his law of universal gravitation. In 1664, Newton figured out that gravity is the force that draws objects toward each other. It explained why things fall down and why the planets orbit around the Sun. It is famous the anecdote according to he saw an apple fall down from the tree and he got the inspiration.

#3 - Electricity

Now we cannot imagine our life without electricity. Electricity discovery and its utilization have really change the World. Michael Faraday made two big discoveries that changed our lives. In 1821, he discovered that when a wire carrying an electric current is placed next to a single magnetic pole, the wire will rotate. This led to the development of the electric motor. Ten years later, he became the first person to produce an electric current by moving a wire through a magnetic field. Faraday's experiment created the first generator, the forerunner of the huge generators that produce electricity.
Talking of Electricity how to forget Maxwell J. C. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon.

#4 - Evolution

When Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, came up with the theory of evolution in 1859, he changed our idea of how life on earth developed. Darwin argued that all organisms evolve, but the right word is not evolve but change, very slowly over time. These changes are adaptations that allow a species to survive in its environment. These adaptations happen by chance. If a species doesn't adapt, it may become extinct. He called this process natural selection or the survival of the fittest.
  • On the origin of species. This is the anniversary edition of the Origin of Species and it is one of the best editions available and a highly recommended book, especially for students and newcomers in Darwin's world. A must read.
  • If you do not know so much of Evolution here it is an enjoyable reading for non Scientists: The Theory of Evolution: What It Is, Where It Came From, and Why It Works by Cynthia Mills. The author shows here her ability to summarize so much information into an enjoyable read. It is a great book for an introductory course, as it is such a concise overview of theories leading up to Darwin's and continuing to new theories. The last quarter of the book is dedicated to the  newer theories. The rich bibliography gives also new material to read.

#5 - Bacteria

Before French chemist Louis Pasteur began experimenting with bacteria in the 1860s, people did not know what caused disease. He not only discovered that disease came from microorganisms, but he also realized that bacteria could be killed by heat and disinfectant. This idea caused doctors to wash their hands and sterilize their instruments, which has saved millions of lives.
  • Pasteur and Modern Science. This is Dubos's classic biography of Louis Pasteur, originally published in 1960 and for several years out of print is once again made available in this new and expanded hardcover edition. The original work has been enlarged by more than forty illustrations and tables, a new biographical sketch of Dubos, a glossary of technical terms and a chronological outline of Pasteur's career. The book's enduring appeal is a tribute both to its subject and to its author.

#6 - The Theory of Relativity

einstein relativity
Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which was published in 1905, explains the relationships between speed, time and distance. The theory states that the speed of light always remains the same—186,000 miles/second (300,000 km/second) regardless of how fast someone or something is moving toward or away from it. This theory became the foundation for much of modern sciences.
  • Who better than Einstein himself can explain Relativity? Even Special than General. Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. After completing the final version of his general theory of relativity in November 1915, Albert Einstein wrote a book about relativity for a popular audience. His intention was "to give an exact insight into the theory of relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics." The book remains one of the most lucid explanations of the special and general theories ever written. In the early 1920s alone, it was translated into ten languages, and fifteen editions in the original German appeared over the course of Einstein's lifetime. This new edition of Einstein's celebrated book features an authoritative English translation of the text along with an introduction and a reading companion by Hanoch Gutfreund and Jurgen Renn that examines the evolution of Einstein's thinking and casts his ideas in a broader present-day context.

#7 - The Big Bang Theory

the big bang theory
How did the Universe come into existence? Many Scientists believe that it happened about 13.7
billion years ago with a massive explosion, called the Big Bang. In 1927, Georges Lemaître proposed the Big Bang theory of the birth of the Universe. The theory says that all the matter in the Universe was originally compressed into a tiny dot. In a fraction of a second, the dot expanded, and all the matter instantly filled what is now our universe. The event marked the beginning of time. Scientific observations seem to confirm the theory. How the expansion of the Universe occurred is now under study and many theories have raised. The most accredited is Inflation but it brings some Cosmological intrinsic paradoxes that are difficult to digest. Literature about Big Bang is boundless but here are some hints.
  • Georges Lemaître: Life, Science and Legacy: 395. The papers presented in this book examine in detail the historical, cosmological, philosophical and theological issues surrounding the development of the Big Bang theory from its beginnings in the pioneering work of Lemaître through to the modern day.This book offers the best account in English of Lemaître’s life and work.
  • A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes. This is a Classical informative book written by the famous Scientist Stephen Hawking. A must read! Most people know that Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but after reading this book, one develops a respect for his other talents as well. Most noticeable is Stephen Hawking's ability to make very complicated ideas seem quite clear through good explanations, clear comparisons to real life events, and a soft humor.

#8 - Penicillin

fleming penicillin
Antibiotics are powerful drugs that kill dangerous bacteria in our bodies that make us sick. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, which he grew in his lab using mold and fungi. Without antibiotics, infections like strep throat could be deadly. A great advancement for Medicine!
  • Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution. This is an excellent history of the long road to the use of penicillin for treating infectious diseases. The book provides interesting background about Fleming, his family, his career, and his personality that impacted his discovery of penicillin and influenced his attempts to isolate the drug in sufficient quantities for animal and clinical testing.

#9 - DNA

On February 28, 1953, James Watson of the United States and Francis Crick of England made one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. The two scientists found the double-helix structure of DNA. It’s made up of two strands that twist around each other and have an almost endless variety of chemical patterns that create instructions for the human body to follow. Our genes are made of DNA and determine how things like what color hair and eyes we’ll have. In 1962, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for this work. The discovery has helped doctors understand diseases and may someday prevent some illnesses like heart disease and cancer.
  • Francis Crick and James Watson: And the Building Blocks of Life. The names of James Watson and Francis Crick are bound together forever because the scientific discovery they made was truly a joint enterprise. As Edward Edelson reveals in this intriguing biography, Watson and Crick were the first to describe the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the molecule that carries our genes and determines everything from the color of our eyes to the shape of our fingernails. Even though Watson and Crick's collaboration lasted only a few years, their achievement was enough to tie their names together forever in the history of science and to establish a firm footing for what was then a radical new branch of science: molecular biology. In doing so, they paved the way for the early detection of genetic diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, and for new scientific leaps such as animal cloning.

#10 - Periodic Table of The Elements

the periodic table of elements
The Periodic Table is based on the 1869 Periodic Law proposed by Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev. He had noticed that, when arranged by atomic weight, the chemical elements lined up to form groups with similar properties. He was able to use this to predict the existence of undiscovered elements and note errors in atomic weights. In 1913, Henry Moseley of England confirmed that the table could be made more accurate by arranging the elements by atomic number, which is the number of protons in an atom of the element.
  • Here I can just advice a visual exploration of the periodic table of the elements The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. The Periodic Table is huge and intricate and seen to be a thing for only Scientists to worry about. This book allows all to have access to what the symbols and two-letter Scrabble words that everyone thinks must be cheating actually mean and also where we can encounter them in everyday life. From Batteries to Toothpaste, Einsteinium to toy cars, it's truly awe-inspiring to find out how many of these elements we really know in other forms. The Author allows us to see materials in their stunning raw form and then tells us their history, discovery and where they are used. This is the coffee table book of the Science world but also an amazing collection by a man that is passionate about how the materials featured make up the world around us and wanting to make this accessible to a wider audience.

#11 - X-Rays

Wilhelm Roentgen, a German physicist, discovered X-rays in 1895. X-rays go right through some substances, like flesh and wood, but are stopped by others, such as bones and lead. This allows them to be used to see broken bones or explosives inside suitcases, which makes them useful for doctors and security officers. For this discovery, Roentgen was awarded the first-ever Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
  • The Mystery of a New Kind of Rays: The Story of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen and His Discovery of X-Rays. A German scientist, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, is the main character in this book. His experimental expertise was the key element in his successful science career. When he saw something unusual as he pursued one of his experiments, he investigated to learn more. Long before Roentgen discovered x-rays many other scientists around the world had seen unusual effects, including fogging of film or electrical changes, effects that they never followed up and that later proved to have resulted from x-rays. So many scientists had the opportunity to discover x-rays. Roentgen was the only one who persisted. He learned much about these new rays, and, even though he had some misgivings about his conclusions about a new kind of rays, accepted the challenge to inform fellow scientists about his discovery. His discovery was the start of many new ideas that changed the world perception of science – and changed the lives of Roentgen and his wife Bertha. Roentgen’s story is inspiring and unusual, in that he had to overcome many obstacles on his long journey to become a recognized scientist and teacher. Even after he had earned his doctorate in physics his unusual education path to an advanced degree presented problems. He persisted; his story may inspire the reader not to give up in the pursuit of a goal.

#12 - Quantum Theory

quantum theory
Danish physicist Niels Bohr is considered one of the most important figures in modern physics. He won a 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research on the structure of an atom and for his work in the development of the quantum theory. Although he help develop the atomic bomb, he frequently promoted the use of atomic power for peaceful purposes.
  • Quantum Physics For Dummies. Quantum Physics For Dummies helps make quantum physics understandable and accessible. From what quantum physics can do for the world to understanding hydrogen atoms, readers will get complete coverage of the subject, along with numerous examples to help them tackle the tough equations. Coverage includes: The Schrodinger Equation and its Applications - The Foundations of Quantum Physics - Vector Notation - Spin - Scattering Theory, Angular Momentum, and more

#13 - The Man on The Moon

earth seen by moon
This is not a discovery but a giant achievement for Mankind. I want to mention it to remember how far can lead the determination of Man up to achieve to sail alien and unknown worlds. The pics of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin represented for the first and unique time until today the entire Human species walking together and in peace toward a goal thought impossible but came true!
  • A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. The race to the moon was won spectacularly by Apollo 11 on 20 July 1969. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their 'giant step' across a ghostly lunar landscape, they were watched by some 600 million people on Earth 250,000 miles away. 'A Man on the Moon' is the definitive account of the heroic Apollo programme: from the tragedy of the fire in Apollo 1 during a simulated launch, through the euphoria of the first moonwalk, to the discoveries made by the first scientist in space aboard Apollo 17. Drawing on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with the astronauts and team, this is the story of the twentieth century's greatest human achievement, minute-by-minute, in the words of those who were there.


Probably I forgot to cite some fundamental fact in science advancements, and you are encouraged to suggest. If you find any mistake please also tell me. Do not forget to click over the images to see them in fullscreen and lightbox.

If you arrived at the conclusions you deserve my compliments since the post is various and extremely long. But if you liked it please consider to share it on your social channels.

Do you know any fundamental milestone in science advancements?

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