Most Influential People in Science, Medicine and Mathematics in Recorded History

by Jonathan Hobratsch

The following are list of influential thinkers from world history in the areas of science, medicine and mathematics. Everyone listed is a candidate for inclusion for my eventual list of top 100 most influential people of all time. Others could be added to this list at some point. 

To be considered one of the most influential people in world history, a person must obviously have done three things: a) done something to significantly and permanently alter the world, b) left an influence that is still greatly felt in 2016, and c) the influence must be directly or indirectly worldwide, and not just regional or national. 

Please let me know if I am missing someone from this list and/or if I am missing something from my criteria for inclusion. Here is the list below:

Pythagoras (c.570bc-c.495bc) for the Pythagorean theorem

Hippocrates (c.460bc-c.370bc) is the “Father of Western Medicine.” He founded the Hippocratic School of Medicine, which made the study of medicine a distinct field of science.

Gan De (c.390bc-c.320bc) first known astronomer to compile a star catalogue.

Euclid (c.330bc-c.270bc) is the “Father of Geometry.” He founded Euclidean geometry. He also wrote the single most influential mathematical textbook in history.

Archimedes (c.287bc-c.212bc) anticipated modern calculus and analysis. He founded hydrostatics and statics. He is credited with the invention of the screw, block and pully system and the principles of the lever.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c.780-c.850) introduced the decimal positional number system to the Western world, which had originated several hundred years before in India.

Shen Kuo (1031-1095) described the magnetic needle compass for navigation and discovered the concept of true north. He was also the first to propose the concept of gradual climate change.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) for laying down the principals of algebra. He created the theory of proportions in geometry. He also wrote poetry, which is still popular today.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) formulated that the Sun was at the center of solar system, rather than the Earth. In economics, he also came up with the quantity theory of money, which stated that the money supply is has a direct and proportional relationship with the price level of goods.

Paracelsus (1493-1541) founded toxicology

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) the developer of modern human anatomy.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) proposed that the stars were distant suns with their own planets and that the universe was infinite and without a center.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is the “Father of Observational Astronomy.” He confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered several of Jupiter’s moons, observed and analyzed sunspots. He is arguably the most well-known champion of heliocentrism.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) for his laws of planetary motion.

William Harvey (1578-1657) first to discover and detail the circulation of the blood.

Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) invented the barometer.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) invented the mechanical calculator. He plays a chief role in probability theory and in projective geometry.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) for Boyle’s Law, which describes the relationship between absolute pressure and gas.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) is the “father of microbiology.” He was the first to observe and analyze microorganisms.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) laid the foundation for classical mechanics, developed the field of optics and was one of the two independent inventors of calculus. He formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation. He also built the first practical refracting telescope.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is one of the two independent inventors of calculus. He also refined the binary system, which is currently used in computers.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is the father of modern taxonomy for his formalization of binomial nomenclature.

Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) came up with the concept of the mathematical function. He also made numerous major contributions to about every branch of mathematics.

John Mitchell (1724-1793) is the first scientist to propose the existence of black holes.

Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is the “Father of Modern Chemistry.” He discovered the role that oxygen plays in combustion. He also recognized and named oxygen and hydrogen. He changed chemistry from a qualitative to a quantitative science.

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) invented the electric battery and discovered methane.

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is the “Father of Immunology” for his creation of the smallpox vaccine, the world’ first vaccine.

John Dalton (1766-1844) developed modern atomic theory.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) created the field of biogeography.

Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) is considered the greatest mathematician since ancient history. Among his many contributions was the belief that geometry could be non-Euclidean, which freed up later scientists and mathematicians to make discoveries without being tied down by the belief that all geometry must follow Euclidian principals.

Charles Babbage (1791-1871) originated the concept of the programmable computer.

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) for his laws of induction, which predict how a magnetic field will interact with an electric circuit to produce an electromotive force.

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) is the first to propose the ice age theory.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) for his contributions to the theory of evolution. He came up with the concept of natural selection.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) created the first algorithm to be carried out by Charles Babbage’s machine. As such, she is considered the first computer programmer.

James Prescott Joule (1818-1889) laid the foundation for the law of conservation of energy.

William T. G. Morton (1819-1868) for using inhaled ether as an anesthesia.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1912) is the founder of modern nursing.

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) the founder of the science of genetics.

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) is the “Father of Microbiology.” He was crucial to the development of immunization,. He also disproved the theory of spontaneous generation. He also invented the process called Pasteurization, which kills bacteria in liquid food.

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) is the “Father of Modern Surgery” for his pioneering work in antiseptic surgery.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which brought together electricity, magnetism and light as part of the same phenomena.

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) invented dynamite. The Nobel Prize is named after him.

Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) formulated the periodic table of chemical elements.

Robert Koch (1843-1910) is the founder of modern bacteriology.

Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923) discovered X-Rays.

Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered radioactivity.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is the father of psychoanalysis.

Max Planck (1858-1947) is the originator of quantum theory.

Fritz Haber (1864-1938) the “father of chemical warfare.”

Marie Curie (1867-1934) is the pioneering researcher and developer of the theory of radioactivity. She is also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) is the “father of nuclear physics.” He discovered the radioactive half-life and differentiated alpha radiation from beta radiation.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) founded analytical psychology.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) for developing the general theory of relativity, which is the current description of gravitation in modern physics. . He is also known for the special theory of relativity, which addresses space and time.

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) for the discovery of penicillin.

Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) proposed the Big Bang Theory.

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) created the world’s first nuclear reactor.

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) for the creation of quantum mechanics.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) contributed greatly to almost every field of science, mathematics and logic. He was the developer of modern game theory and one of the originators of quantum logic.

Gregory Pincus (1903-1967) and Min Chueh Chang (1908-1991) for their invention, the combined oral contraceptive pill.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), James Watson (1928) and Francis Crick (1916-2004) for discovering the structure of DNA.

Ian Wilmut (1944) and Keith Campbell (1954-2012) for cloning the first mammal.

Francis Collins (1950) and Craig Venter (1946) for sequencing the human genome.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Alfred Corn says:

    I would add Gregor Mendel (pioneer in genetics) , Louis Daguerre and Henry F. Talbot (pioneers in photography), T.A. Edison (electricity tech) and Guglielmo Marconi (radio transmission).


    1. historymonocle says:

      Those are all good suggestions. Most of those will be included on my next list on inventors.


  2. I forgot about Von Neumann until you reminded me. Check out the Wikipedia article on the RAND Corporation. His picture is displayed prominently in relation associated scholars.

    Also, it has been proposed that he was the model for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

    Anyway, great post!

    I misread Joni Mitchell and Gan Dhi 🙂 G’uh G’uh G’uh

    Liked by 1 person

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