The Scientific Revolution (1550-1700)

Key People

Francis Bacon  -  Bacon (1561-1626) was one of the great philosophers of the Scientific Revolution. His thoughts on logic and ethics in science and his ideas on the cooperation and interaction of the various fields of science, presented in his work Novum Organum, have remained influential in the scientific world to this day.
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli  -  Borelli (1608-1679) was the foremost thinker of the era on human mechanics. His 1680 work, On the Motion of Animals, is widely recognized as the greatest early triumph of the application of mechanics to the human organism.
Robert Boyle  -  Boyle (1627-1691), a successful physicist at Oxford college, worked with his colleague Robert Hooke to discern the properties of the air, experimenting with air pressure and the composition of the atmosphere. Boyle proved that only a part of the air is used in respiration and combustion, and is thus credited with the discovery of oxygen. Boyle's further work touched on the beginnings of the study of matter on the atomic scale.
Tycho Brahe  -  Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was a great astronomical observer, and made accurate and long-term records of his observations, from which he derived his view of the structure of the solar system, in which the moon and sun orbited the Earth and the remaining planets orbited the sun. While incorrect, his scheme was as viable by the knowledge of the time as was that of Nicolas Copernicus.
Otto Brunfels  -  A German, in 1530 Brunfels (1488-1534) was the first to produce a major work on plants. However, he fell victim to a blunder made by many botanists of the time. In reverence for the ancients, whose botanical studies were widely revered, in his study he attempted to compare his findings to those of the Greeks and Romans. The differences in plant life produced by the variation in geography meant that comparison was futile, and confusion resulted in the field of botany, clouding the work of many of Brunfels' immediate followers.
Giordano Bruno  -  A renegade Italian monk, Bruno (1548-1600) published three works--The Ash-Wednesday Supper,On Cause, Principle, and Unity, and On the Infinite Universe and its Worlds--in which he laid out his philosophy that the universe was of infinite size, and that the Earth, sun, and planets were all moving constantly within it, and were by no means located at its center.
Nicolas Copernicus  -  Copernicus (1473-1543) was an avid student of astronomy, and in 1543 published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. In this treatise, he presented the heliocentric theory, which rested on the revolutionary notion that the Earth orbited the sun.
Rene Descartes  -  Descartes (1596-1650) was one of the greatest minds of the Scientific Revolution. The inventor of deductive reasoning, Descartes was a failure as a practical scientist, but a success as a mathematician, uniting number and form in his work Geometry, which described how the motion of a point could be mapped graphically by comparing its position to planes of reference.
Leonard Fuchs  -  A Botanist of the sixteenth century, Fuchs (1501-1566) produced a guide to collecting medical plants that is considered a landmark in the history of natural observation. His woodcut prints are the most beautiful and accurate of the period.
Galen  -  An ancient Greek physician, Galen's (129-199) work was the centerpiece of traditional biology and anatomy that had lasted through the Middle Ages.
Galileo Galilei  -  Galileo (1564-1642) was the most successful scientist of the Scientific Revolution, save only Isaac Newton. He studied physics, specifically the laws of gravity and motion, and invented the telescope and microscope. Galileo eventually combined his laws of physics with the observations he made with his telescope to defend the heliocentric Copernican view of the universe and refute the Aristotelian system in his 1630 masterwork, Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World. Upon its publication, he was censored by the Catholic Church and sentenced to house arrest in 1633, where he remained until his death in 1642. Read the SparkNote on Galileo.
Samuel Hartlib  -  Hartlib (1600-1662), a London scientist and socialite, first conceived of the creation of the Royal Society of London, and was instrumental in its eventual founding in 1662.
William Harvey  -  Through dissection, Harvey (1578-1657) was the first to demonstrate that the circulation of blood through the human body is continuous, rather than consisting of different types circulating through the veins and arteries, as had been previously assumed by the ancient Greek physician, Galen.
Johannes Kepler  -  Kepler (1571-1630) studied the orbits of the planets and sought to discern some grand scheme that defined the structure of the universe according to simple geometry. Though he was unable to do accomplish his goal, he did come up with the laws of planetary motion, which explained the orbital properties of planets, and factored extensively into Isaac Newton's later work. Read the SparkNotes on Newton and Kepler.
Edme Mariotte  -  A botanist of the seventeenth century, Edme Mariotte (1620-1684) sought to explain sap pressure in plants by describing a mechanism by which plants permit the entrance but not the exit of liquid.
Marcello Malpighi  -  A well known microscopist, Malpighi (1628-1694) studied insects in depth and developed a theory of plant circulation which, though flawed, inspired interest in the field. Malpighi's studies were immortalized when his name was given to the main excretory organ of arthropods, the malpighian tubules.
John Napier  -  In 1594, John Napier(1550-1617) invented the mathematical tool of logarithms. He spent the next 20 years of his life developing his theory and computing an extensive table of logarithms to aid in calculation. In 1614, he published Description of the Marvelous Canon of Logarithms, which contained the fruits of these labors.
Isaac Newton  -  Perhaps the most influential scientist of all time, Newton (1642-1727) took the current theories on astronomy a step further and formulated an accurate comprehensive model of the workings of the universe based on the law of universal gravitation. Newton explained his theories in the 1687 revolutionary work Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica, often called simply the Principia. This work also went along way toward developing calculus. Read the SparkNote on Newton.
Ptolemy  -  An ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician, Ptolemy's geocentric views on the structure of the universe dominated astronomy until the Scientific Revolution.
Santorio Santorio  -  Santorio (1561-1636) was one of the first to apply the evolving physical philosophy of the Scientific Revolution to animal biology. His experiments laid the groundwork for the study of metabolism and the physical and chemical processes of the human body.
Simon Stevin  -  Stevin (1548-1620) worked with geometry during the late sixteenth century, applying it to the physics of incline planes and the hydrostatic surface tension of water. Additionally, he introduced the decimal system of representing fractions, an advance which greatly eased the task of calculation.
Franciscus Sylvius  -  One of the earliest chemical biologists, Sylvius (1614-1672) introduced the idea of chemical affinity to explain the human body's use of salts. He and his followers contributed greatly to the study of digestion and body fluids.
Evangelista Torricelli  -  Torricelli (1608-1647) invented the barometer, to measure air pressure, in 1643. This was a large step in the understanding of the properties of air, and the basic structure of the barometer remains the same today. A unit of pressure, called a Torr, is named after him.
Jan Baptist van Helmont  -  Van Helmont (1580-1644) was an alchemist who largely abided by the accepted truths of the Middle Ages, but in many ways broke from the past and moved forward. He experimented on the role of water in the growth of plants, claiming that plants drew all of their substance from water. He also demonstrated that gases, though they commonly appeared quite similar, could be quite different in character. In fact, van Helmont invented the word "gas." Read the SparkNote on Gases.
Andreas Vesalius  -  As a student and professor in Belgium and Paris, Vesalius (1514-1564) was educated in the anatomical works and theories of the ancient Greek physician Galen, whose views on anatomy had long been the standard in Europe. Vesalius questioned Galen's authority, and published On the Fabric of the Human Body in 1543. It is considered the first great modern work of science, and the foundation of modern biology.
Francois Viete  -  Viete (1540-1603) was one of the first to use letters to represent unknown numbers. In 1591, he invented analytical trigonometry using this algebraic method.
Otto von Guericke  -  In 1656, Otto von Guericke (1602-1686) invented the air pump, and did the first experiments with vacuums. In the process he demonstrated many of the properties of gases, such as the (until then) disputed claim that they did, in fact, have weight.
John Wallis  -  Wallis' work, Arithmetica Infinitum, published in 1655, set the stage for the invention and development of differential calculus: this work went on to be one of Isaac Newton's major influences. Wallis (1616-1703) was the first mathematician to apply mathematics to the operation of the tides, and also invented the symbol used to denote infinity.