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Portal:History of science

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The History of Science Portal

The history of science covers the development of science from ancient times to the present. It encompass all three major branches of science: natural, social, and formal.

The earliest roots of science can be traced to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in around 3000 to 1200 BCE. Their contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and medicine entered and shaped Greek natural philosophy of classical antiquity, whereby formal attempts were made to provide explanations of events in the physical world based on natural causes. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, knowledge of Greek conceptions of the world deteriorated in Latin-speaking Western Europe during the early centuries (400 to 1000 CE) of the Middle Ages, but continued to thrive in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire. Aided by translations of Greek texts, the Hellenistic worldview was preserved and absorbed into the Arabic-speaking Muslim world during the Islamic Golden Age. The recovery and assimilation of Greek works and Islamic inquiries into Western Europe from the 10th to 13th century revived the learning of natural philosophy in the West.

Natural philosophy was transformed during the Scientific Revolution in 16th- to 17th-century Europe, as new ideas and discoveries departed from previous Greek conceptions and traditions. The New Science that emerged was more mechanistic in its worldview, more integrated with mathematics, and more reliable and open as its knowledge was based on a newly defined scientific method. More "revolutions" in subsequent centuries soon followed. The chemical revolution of the 18th century, for instance, introduced new quantitative methods and measurements for chemistry. In the 19th century, new perspectives regarding the conservation of energy, age of the Earth, and evolution came into focus. And in the 20th century, new discoveries in genetics and physics laid the foundations for new subdisciplines such as molecular biology and particle physics. Moreover, industrial and military concerns as well as the increasing complexity of new research endeavors soon ushered in the era of " big science," particularly after the Second World War. ( Full article...)

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A 17th century illustration of the Hypothesis Tychonica from Hevelius' Selenographia, 1647 page 163, whereby the Sun, Moon, and sphere of stars orbit the Earth, while the five known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) orbit the Sun.

The Tychonic system (or Tychonian system) is a model of the Universe published by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century, which combines what he saw as the mathematical benefits of the Copernican system with the philosophical and "physical" benefits of the Ptolemaic system. The model may have been inspired by Valentin Naboth and Paul Wittich, a Silesian mathematician and astronomer. A similar model was implicit in the calculations a century earlier by Nilakantha Somayaji of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics.

It is conceptually a geocentric model: the Earth is at the centre of the universe, the Sun and Moon and the stars revolve around the Earth, and the other five planets revolve around the Sun.

At the same time, the motions of the planets are mathematically equivalent to the motions in Copernicus' heliocentric system under a simple coordinate transformation, so that, as long as no force law is postulated to explain why the planets move as described, there is no mathematical reason to prefer either the Tychonic or the Copernican system. ( Full article...)
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Durer astronomer.jpg

An engraving by Albrecht Dürer, from the title page of the Masha'allah ibn Atharī's astronomy treatise De scientia motus orbis (Latin version with engraving, 1504). As in many medieval illustrations, the compass here is an icon of religion as well as science, in reference to God as the architect of creation.

Did you know

...that in the history of paleontology, very few naturalists before the 17th century recognized fossils as the remains of living organisms?

...that on January 17, 2007, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved to "5 minutes from midnight" in part because of global climate change?

...that in 1835, Caroline Herschel and Mary Fairfax Somerville became the first women scientists to be elected to the Royal Astronomical Society?

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B & W photo/bust portrait of Edward Drinker Cope, paleontologist, c. 1985, in middle age with grey hair, mustache and chin puff; wearing a dark coat, soft bow tie and a slight smile.

Edward Drinker Cope (July 28, 1840 – April 12, 1897) was an American paleontologist, comparative anatomist, herpetologist, and ichthyologist. Born to a wealthy Quaker family, Cope distinguished himself as a child prodigy interested in science; he published his first scientific paper at the age of 19. Though his father tried to raise Cope as a gentleman farmer, he eventually acquiesced to his son's scientific aspirations. Cope married his cousin and had one child; the family moved from Philadelphia to Haddonfield, New Jersey, although Cope would maintain a residence and museum in Philadelphia in his later years.

Cope had little formal scientific training, and he eschewed a teaching position for field work. He made regular trips to the American West, prospecting in the 1870s and 1880s, often as a member of United States Geological Survey teams. A personal feud between Cope and paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh led to a period of intense fossil-finding competition now known as the Bone Wars. Cope's financial fortunes soured after failed mining ventures in the 1880s, forcing him to sell off much of his fossil collection. He experienced a resurgence in his career toward the end of his life before dying on April 12, 1897. ( Full article...)
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