Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong was an American astronaut who became the first human to walk on the moon. At age 20, Armstrong served in the Korean War, where he flew 78 combat missions. He received an Air Medal and two Gold Stars. In 1955, he graduated from Purdue University with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

After getting a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering, Armstrong became a civilian test pilot for NACA (later NASA) at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Armstrong tested high-speed airplanes and reached an altitude of 207,500 feet and a speed of 3,989 miles per hour (mach 5.74). In 1962, NASA selected Armstrong to be an astronaut. He served as the backup command pilot for the Gemini 5 mission in 1965. He was the backup command pilot for the Gemini 11 mission in 1966. He also served as commander of the backup crew for the Apollo 8 lunar orbital mission in 1968. In 1969, Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. After landing his lunar module on the surface of the moon, Armstrong exited and became the first person in world history to set foot on the moon. Upon setting foot on the moon, Armstrong uttered the timeless quote “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong’s landing was the source of great pride for the United States in their never ending space race with the Soviet Union. Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Joseph Priestley

(1733–1804). A clergyman who at one time was driven from his home because of his liberal politics, Joseph Priestley is remembered principally for his contributions to science. For his best-known accomplishment—the discovery of oxygen—he must share the credit with the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who is believed to have made the same discovery somewhat earlier. Priestley announced his find, however, to the French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Lavoisier, realizing that Priestley had isolated an important new element, named it and demonstrated its role in combustion

Priestley was born on March 13, 1733, near Leeds, Yorkshire, England. He studied for the ministry at Daventry Academy in Northamptonshire, but his unorthodox religious ideas made it easier for him to make his living as a teacher than as a clergyman. He taught at Warrington Academy in Lancashire, where his emphasis on practical education contributed greatly to the school’s success.

In addition to his discovery of oxygen and other gases, Priestley studied electricity and optics. His belief in personal liberty led him to support the French Revolution. He and his family had settled in Birmingham in 1779, but opposition to his unpopular views forced them to leave there in 1791. Three years later he and his wife left England to join their sons in the United States. They settled in Northumberland, Pa., where Priestley died on Feb. 6, 1804.

Alessandro Volta

Born in Como, Italy, into a noble family, Count Volta was a physicist and pioneer in the study of electricity. “Volt,” named after Count Volta, is a measurement of electricity. Count Volta also made discoveries in electrostatics, meteorology and pneumatics. His most famous invention, however, is the first battery.

The idea came from Luigi Galvani, an anatomist. Galvani was dissecting a frog when the frog’s leg began to twitch. Galvani thought was because of some type of electrical action in the vicinity, such as lightening. Volta tried to duplicate the experiment, and he did on a clear day when there was no lightening.

Through experimentation, Volta realized that the two different metal objects holding the frog leg might be the source of the action. Over a period of several years he worked out that the wet muscle tissue conducted a current between the two different type of metals. Volta modified this effect to produce the first continuous flow of electric current. Around 1800, he invented a wet battery called a Voltaic Pile.

The Voltaic Pile consisted of discs of copper and zinc separated by discs of paper or cardboard (soaked in salt water). Attached to the top and bottom of this “Pile” was a copper wire. When Volta closed the circuit, electricity flowed through the pile.

Volta’s battery was later refined by other scientists, and the French emperor, Napoleon, made Volta a “Count” for his discovery.

Lise Meitner

Lise grew up in Austria, and wanted to be a scientist. In Austria, though, few women were allowed into universities. Despite this, Lise became the first woman to graduate with a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Vienna. She moved to Berlin, Germany so she could be near more scientists, and studied atoms (tiny particles that make up every element) with Dr. Otto Hahn. They studied together for 30 years, and discovered a new element, protactinium. Because Lise was Jewish, she was forced to move to Sweden in order to escape Nazi Germany. She then worked in the Nobel Physics Institute. Dr. Hahn contacted her about a strange reaction he noticed during experiments with uranium atoms, and Lise discovered that tremendous energy could be released when atoms were split. Dr. Lise Meitner told others of her discovery of “nuclear fission”. This discovery was used in weapons, but also in more useful purposes, such as power and medicine.

Henry Cavendish

Henry Cavendish (October 10, 1731 – February 24, 1810) was a British scientist.

The grandson of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire, he attended Cambridge from 1749 to 1753 but left without taking a degree. He inherited a large fortune which enabled him to pursue his scientific studies, most of which remained unpublished during his lifetime.

He is generally credited with having discovered hydrogen, since he had described the density of ‘inflammable air’, which formed water on combustion, in a paper “On Factitious Airs” that appeared in 1766. Antoine Lavoisier later reproduced his experiment and gave the element its name.

Cavendish is also credited with one of the earliest accurate calculations of the mass of the earth. He used a torsion balance to measure the gravitational attraction between lead spheres in 1798, from which he calculated Newton’s gravitational constant, ‘G’, which he used to calculate the earth’s mass.

He was silent and solitary, viewed as somewhat eccentric, and formed no close personal relationships outside his family.

He left a large estate on his death which was used to endow the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in 1871.

Sir Christopher Cockerell

Sir Christopher Cockerell was one of the most amazing inventors of the 20th Century.

He invented lots of different things, but he will be best remembered for inventing the hovercraft.

Born in 1910 near Cambridge, Sir Christopher’s interest in science was encouraged at Gresham’s School at Holt in Norfolk.

He studied engineering at Cambridge University, and joined Marconi as a wireless engineer in 1935.

He made 36 inventions for the company, for which he was paid £10 each. In 1950 he left Marconi and bought a boat building/hire business on the Norfolk Broads. Baked beans and fireworks he used a baked beans’ can and a firework in an early attempt to prove that a vehicle could float on air.

He finally proved that it was possible on Oulton Broad near Lowestoft in the early 1950s. The first commercial vessel crossed the channel in 1959. Hovercrafts are now used all over the world and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in north Norfolk has one of only two hovercrafts in the UK, for sea rescue. Cockerell had to fight for years to get any financial recognition and he believed inventors often got a raw deal.

Sir Christopher Cockerell passed away on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the hovercraft, June 1st 1999.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is a British commercial spaceflight company within the Virgin Group which hopes to develop commercial spacecraft and provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions, and orbital launches of small satellites. Further in the future, Virgin Galactic plans to provide orbital human spaceflights as well. The company also hopes to develop an orbital launch vehicle. SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s development spacecraft, is air launched from beneath a carrier aeroplane known as White Knight Two.

Daniel Rutherford

Born in Edinburgh, Rutherford was the son of John Rutherford a professor of medicine. Daniel spent his early years as a student in Edinburgh University.

As a student of Edinburgh University, Rutherford was a pupil of Joseph Black. Black was studying the properties of carbon dioxide. In one of his experiments, he discovered that when a candle burned in an enclosed place, it left behind a residue of carbon dioxide. And when this carbon dioxide was absorbed using chemicals, he discovered there was still some other gas remaining. It was then Rutherford who conducted experiments to try to identify this mysterious new gas.

Rutherford was keen on find out more about this gas. So he trapped a mouse in a confined place. When the air ran out the mouse died. Rutherford then burnt a candle in the remaining air. Once the flame also died out, he burnt a piece of phosphorous in the container till it stopped burning. This air was then passed through a solution that absorbed the remaining carbon dioxide. Rutherford had removed oxygen and carbon dioxide from this air mixture. He named the remaining, isolated gas as noxious air or phlogisticated air. He believed that this gas was given out by the mouse while breathing. Today we call the same gas Nitrogen.

Studies on Nitrogen were conducted in the same period by other scientists such as Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Henry Cavendish, Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier. Rutherford went on to contribute in the field of atomic structure and radioactivity. At the age of 37, Rutherford became the Regius Professor of Botany in Edinburgh. This was followed by him becoming the keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard was born into a wealthy German family, and received an education in a convent. Convents or abbeys were some of the only places women could receive formal education during the Dark Ages. Hildegard studied Latin, religion, and music. She became the abbess (leader) of her abbey. Hildegard wrote natural history books as well as medical books, and was the first person to write about the need to boil drinking water for sanitation. Hildegard also taught religion and medicine, and she emphasized the importance of exercise and diet. She is the first woman whose scientific writings still exist today.

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most influential scientists of all time. He came up with numerous theories and contributed ideas to many different fields including physics, mathematics and philosophy.

Born in England, Isaac Newton was a highly influential physicist, astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, alchemist and theologian.  In 1687, Newton published Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, what is widely regarded to be one of the important books in the history of science. In it he describes universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, concepts that remained at the forefront of science for centuries after.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation describes the gravitational attraction between bodies with mass, the earth and moon for example.

Newton’s three laws of motion relate the forces acting on a body to its motion. The first is the law of inertia, it states that ‘every object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force’. The second is commonly stated as ‘force equals mass times acceleration’, or F = ma. The third and final law is commonly known as ‘to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’.

Other significant work by Newton includes the principles of conservation related to momentum and angular momentum, the refraction of light, an empirical law of cooling, the building of the first practical telescope and much more.

Newton was known to have said that his work on formulating a theory of gravitation was inspired by watching an apple fall from a tree. A story well publicised to this very day.

Leonardo Di Vinci

The term “Renaissance man” comes from fifteenth-century Italy and refers to the idea of a person with knowledge and skills in a number of different areas. Perhaps, no single individual defines the idea of a Renaissance man better than Leonardo da Vinci – an artist, scientist, architect, engineer and inventor.

Though Leonardo da Vinci may be most famous for his works as an artist, he actually spent quite a bit more time working on his endeavors in science and technology. Of course, his detailed sketches and distinct artistry played a large role in his inventions, and his sketchbooks later provided evidence that da Vinci had envisioned many ideas long before the technology to build them actually existed.

One of the most prolific inventors in history, Leonardo da Vinci dreamed up inventions and innovations across a variety of fields. Whether designing weapons of war, flying machines, water systems or work tools, da Vinci the inventor (much like da Vinci the artist) was never afraid to look beyond traditional thinking or dream big.

Louis Pasteur

Hundreds of years ago, people knew little about diseases or why they got sick. Sometimes people thought sickness was caused by evil spirits or spells. Illness might occur when the planets lined up or if a person had sinned. People believed bad blood might also cause illness. Doctors used a lot of odd remedies. Sometimes they put leeches on a patient’s body. The leeches sucked out the bad blood. At other times, a doctor might cut open the skull to let evil spirits out of the brain. Hot pokers were inserted in the body to treat illness. No wonder most people didn’t get better.

Louis Pasteur was a scientist who was born in France in 1822. Some scientists had discovered that germs actually cause many illnesses, but most people didn’t believe this idea. Pasteur proved that germs can cause milk to sour or juice to become wine. He proved that germs can make people sick too.

Louis was an average student, but he liked to draw and paint.  He later received a doctorate and became a chemistry professor at colleges in France. He did research on germs in food and drinks.

He discovered that if you heat milk, you can kill the germs in it. This process is known as pasteurization. It makes many of our foods safer today.  Louis Pasteur invented vaccines for cholera, anthrax, small pox and rabies.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison invented early versions of your cell phone, digital camera and is even responsible for the movies you watch. He also invented the electric light bulb. Imagine how different life was before his inventions. The only way families could communicate with each other was through letters, which could take weeks or even months to arrive. For light, people used candles or oil lamps, which were smoky and messy.

Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio.  Edison’s inventions and improvements on already invented equipment let people live more comfortably. His inventions provided entertainment. The telegraph let people send messages quickly. In war time or emergencies, telegraphs saved lives. When the Titanic sunk in the Atlantic Ocean, a telegraph alerted rescuers to the disaster. But Edison wasn’t always a brilliant inventor.  He was a busy, curious boy who got into trouble at school. His teacher called him “addled,” which means slow or dim. Edison’s mother was frustrated with the school. She knew her son could learn. She decided to teach him at home instead. Her ideas worked. Before long, she had taught Edison everything she knew. He started reading books from the library and teaching himself.  Edison’s mother let him set up a chemistry lab in the basement, which made his father very nervous.

James Watts

James Watts

James Watt was a Scottish engineer and inventor and one of the most important contributors to the Industrial Revolution. He is best known for making major improvements to the steam engine.

Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland in 1736. He was good at engineering and mathematics and on leaving school he made and repaired scientific and astronomical instruments.  In the late 1750s he began to experiment with steam, even though he had never seen a working steam engine.

In 1769 he took out a patent for a new condensing chamber.  Watt built a steam engine which used 75 percent less fuel than previous models. It was first used to pump water from mines and then replaced all other steam engines.

In the late 1760s, Watt worked with the inventor John Roebuck and then an engineer, Matthew Boulton. They made steam engines for canals, coal mines and paper, cotton and flour mills.

Watt became very rich and continued to invent things, including a working machine for copying medallions and sculptures.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford is most famous for starting up the Ford Motor Company. Ford is still one of the world’s largest makers of cars. Ford was a pioneer in manufacturing using the assembly line. This enabled his company to manufacture cars on a large scale at a cheap price. For the first time, cars were affordable for the average American family.

Henry grew up in Greenfield Township, Michigan. His father was a farmer and wanted Henry to take over the family farm, but Henry had no interest in farming. He was much more interested in machines and building things. He left home at the age of 16 and went to Detroit to become an apprentice machinist. Ford had two brothers and two sisters.

It is often stated that Henry Ford invented the assembly line. This is where a large number of products are made one step at a time as they pass down a line. Using an assembly line allows for the mass production of products at a cheaper price than trying to build an entire product one at a time. What Henry Ford did was apply this concept to the automobile and perfect it for the mass production of cars at a much lower price than current production methods. Ford’s work in using and streamlining the assembly line was an example of just how powerful an assembly line could be in mass producing products.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie grew up in Warsaw, Poland where she was born on November 7, 1867. Her birth name was Maria Sklodowska. Her parents were both teachers.   Growing up the child of two teachers, Marie was taught to read and write early.

After graduating from high school, Marie wanted to attend a university, but this wasn’t something that young women did in Poland in the 1800s. The university was for men. However, there was a famous university in Paris, France called the Sorbonne that women could attend. Marie did not have the money to go there, but agreed to work to help pay for her sister Bronislawa to go to school in France, if she would help Marie after she graduated.

In 1894 Marie met Pierre Curie. Like Marie, he was a scientist and the two of them fell in love. They married a year later and soon had their first child, a daughter named Irene.

Marie became fascinated by rays that were recently discovered by scientists Wilhelm Roentgen and Henri Becquerel. Roentgen discovered X-rays and Becquerel had found rays given off by an element called uranium. Marie began to do experiments.

One day Marie was examining a material called pitchblende. She expected there to be a few rays from the uranium in pitchblende, but instead Marie found a lot of rays. She soon realized that there must be a new, undiscovered element in pitchblende.

Marie and her husband spent many hours in the science lab investigating pitchblende and the new element. They eventually figured out that there were two new elements in pitchblende. They had discovered two new elements for the periodic table!

Marie named one of the elements polonium after her homeland Poland. She named the other radium, because it gave off such strong rays. The Curies came up with the term “radioactivity” to describe elements that emitted strong rays.

In 1903, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Marie and Pierre Curie as well as Henri Becquerel for their work in radiation. Marie became the first woman to be awarded the prize.

In 1911 Marie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the two elements, polonium and radium. She was the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes. Marie became very famous. Scientists came from around the world to study radioactivity with Marie. Soon doctors found that radiology could help with curing cancer.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was a modern day Renaissance Man. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin excelled in many areas including science, inventing, politics, writing, music, and diplomacy. He is one of the founding fathers of the United States of America and is often called the “First American”.

Benjamin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. His father was a candle maker. Ben stopped going to school when he was 10 and starting working as an apprentice for his brother as printer when he was 12. He gained most of this education by reading a lot of books.

As if being a prolific writer and a major player in the founding of the United States wasn’t enough, Ben Franklin still found time to be a prominent inventor and scientist.

Benjamin Franklin is most famous for his experiments with electricity. He did many experiments to prove that lightning is in fact electricity. This led to his invention of the lighting rod, which helps to keep buildings safe from lighting.

Other inventions by Ben Franklin include bifocals (a type of glasses), the Franklin stove, an odometer for a carriage, and the glass harmonica. In science he studied and made discoveries in the area of electricity, cooling, meteorology, printing, and the wave theory of light.

Michael Faraday

Well regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time, Michael Faraday was a British physicist and chemist whose combined expertise led to the development of many of today’s common technologies.

Michael Faraday was born in England in 1791.   His work on electrochemistry and electromagnetism laid the foundation for many areas of science. He formed the basis of the electromagnetic field concept in physics, discovered the laws of electrolysis, invented electromagnetic rotary devices that were vital in the creation of electric motors and played a key role in the development of electricity for use in technology.

Not limited to physics and electromagnetism, Faraday also invented a simple Bunsen burner, coined terms such as electrode, cathode, anode and ion, discovered benzene and investigated the nature of chlorine.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web.

Timothy John Berners Lee was born on 8 June 1955 and grew up in London. He studied physics at Oxford University and became a software engineer.

In 1980, while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, he first described the concept of a global system, based on the concept of ‘hypertext’, that would allow researchers anywhere to share information. He also built a prototype called ‘Enquire’.

In 1984, Berners Lee’s returned to CERN, which was also home to a major European Internet node. In 1989, Berners Lee published a paper called ‘Information Management: A Proposal’ in which he married up hypertext with the Internet, to create a system for sharing and distributing information not just within a company, but globally. He named it the World Wide Web.

He also created the first web browser and editor. The world’s first website,, was launched on 6 August 1991. It explained the World Wide Web concept and gave users an introduction to getting started with their own websites.

In 1994, Berners Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at the Laboratory of Computer Science (LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. He has served as director of the consortium since then. He also works as a senior research scientist at LCS which has now become the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Sally Ride

Sally went to Stanford University, where she studied physics (laws of nature and universe). One day, Sally saw an ad in a school newspaper from N.A.S.A. (the National Aeronautics Space Administration), looking for future astronauts. Sally applied and was accepted. After a long time practicing, in 1983, Sally became the first woman astronaut to orbit Earth in space. She experienced weightlessness and even grew an inch because her spine was not compressed by gravity as it is on Earth. While in space, she performed many experiments, which help people to learn how to adapt to life in space.