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Improvement Quotes (36 quotes)

A person by study must try to disengage the subject from useless matter, and to seize on points capable of improvement. ... When subjects are viewed through the mists of prejudice, useful truths may escape.
In An Essay on Aërial Navigation, With Some Observations on Ships (1844), 80.
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Arguably the greatest technological triumph of the century has been the public-health system, which is sophisticated preventive and investigative medicine organized around mostly low- and medium-tech equipment; ... fully half of us are alive today because of the improvements.
In Visions of Technology (1999), 22.
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Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience.
In How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom (2007), 4.
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Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a wash-tub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.
Speaking to a committee considering a new Copyright Bill (6 Dec 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain's Speeches? (1910), 320. An andiron is a metal bar, used in a pair, as a stand for logs in a fireplace. The Copyright Bill proposed to give authors, artists and musicians copyright for the term of his life and for 50 years thereafter. John Philip Sousa spoke for the musicians.
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Frequently, I have been asked if an experiment I have planned is pure or applied science; to me it is more important to know if the experiment will yield new and probably enduring knowledge about nature. If it is likely to yield such knowledge, it is, in my opinion, good fundamental research; and this is more important than whether the motivation is purely aesthetic satisfaction on the part of the experimenter on the one hand or the improvement of the stability of a high-power transistor on the other.
Quoted in Richard R. Nelson, 'The Link Between Science and Invention: The Case of the Transistor,' The Rate and Direction of the Inventive Activity (1962). In Daniel S. Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science (1999), 32, footnote.
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From the physician, as emphatically the student of Nature, is expected not only an inquiry into cause, but an investigation of the whole empire of Nature and a determination of the applicability of every species of knowledge to the improvement of his art.
In 'An Inquiry, Analogical and Experimental, into the Different Electrical conditions of Arterial and Venous Blood', New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal (1853-4), 10, 584-602 & 738-757. As cited in George B. Roth, 'Dr. John Gorrie—Inventor of Artificial Ice and Mechanical Refrigeration', The Scientific Monthly (May 1936) 42 No. 5, 464-469.
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I had gone on a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the Green [of Glasgow] by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street—had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection water if I used a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an outlet could be got at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air. ... I had not walked further than the Golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
[In Robert Hart's words, a recollection of the description of Watt's moment of inspiration, in May 1765, for improving Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.]
In Robert Hart, 'Reminiscences of James Watt' (read 2 Nov 1857), Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1859), Vol. 1, 1. Note that these are not the verbatim words of James Watt, but are only a recollection of them by Robert Hart, who is quoting as best he can from memory of a conversation he and his brother had with James Watt that took place over 43 years previously. In his Reminiscences, Hart explains, “I have accordingly thrown together the following brief narrative:— As these meetings took place forty-three years since, many observations that were made at the time may have escaped me at present; yet, when the same subjects are touched on, I have as distinct recollection of his treatment of them as if it were yesterday.”
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I have no patience with attempts to identify science with measurement, which is but one of its tools, or with any definition of the scientist which would exclude a Darwin, a Pasteur or a Kekulé. The scientist is a practical man and his are practical aims. He does not seek the ultimate but the proximate. He does not speak of the last analysis but rather of the next approximation. His are not those beautiful structures so delicately designed that a single flaw may cause the collapse of the whole. The scientist builds slowly and with a gross but solid kind of masonry. If dissatisfied with any of his work, even if it be near the very foundations, he can replace that part without damage to the remainder. On the whole, he is satisfied with his work, for while science may never be wholly right it certainly is never wholly wrong; and it seems to be improving from decade to decade.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 6-7.
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If the Commission is to enquire into the conditions “to be observed,” it is to be presumed that they will give the result of their enquiries; or, in other words, that they will lay down, or at least suggest, “rules” and “conditions to be (hereafter) observed” in the construction of bridges, or, in other words, embarrass and shackle the progress of improvement to-morrow by recording and registering as law the prejudices or errors of to-day.
[Objecting to any interference by the State with the freedom of civil engineers in the conduct of their professional work.]
Letter (13 Mar 1848) to the Royal Commission on the Application of Iron in Railway Structures. Collected in The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer (1870), 487. The above verbatim quote may be the original source of the following statement as seen in books and on the web without citation: “I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for his latter form, and suspects it may be a synopsis, rather than a verbatim quote. If you know of such a primary source, please inform Webmaster.
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If the Weismann idea triumphs, it will be in a sense a triumph of fatalism; for, according to it, while we may indefinitely improve the forces of our education and surroundings, and this civilizing nurture will improve the individuals of each generation, its actual effects will not be cumulative as regards the race itself, but only as regards the environment of the race; each new generation must start de novo, receiving no increment of the moral and intellectual advance made during the lifetime of its predecessors. It would follow that one deep, almost instinctive motive for a higher life would be removed if the race were only superficially benefited by its nurture, and the only possible channel of actual improvement were in the selection of the fittest chains of race plasma.
'The Present Problem of Heredity', The Atlantic Monthly (1891), 57, 363.
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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Increased knowledge of heredity means increased power of control over the living thing, and as we come to understand more and more the architecture of the plant or animal we realize what can and what cannot be done towards modification or improvement.
Reginald C. Punnett, in article 'Mendelism', from Hugh Chisholm (ed.) The Encyclopćdia Britannica (1911), Vol. 18, 120.
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Indians walk softly and hurt the landscape hardly more than the birds and squirrels, and their brush and bark huts last hardly longer than those of wood rats, while their more enduring monuments, excepting those wrought on the forests by the fires they made to improve their hunting grounds, vanish in a few centuries.
John Muir
In My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), 73. Based on Muir's original journals and sketches of his 1869 stay in the Sierra.
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It be urged that the wild and uncultivated tree, hitherto yielding sour and bitter fruit only, can never be made to yield better; yet we know that the grafting art implants a new tree on the savage stock, producing what is most estimable in kind and degree. Education, in like manner, engrafts a new man on the native stock, and improves what in his nature was vicious and perverse into qualities of virtue and social worth.
From paper 'Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Fix the Site of the University of Virginia', included in Annual Report of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for the Fiscal Year Ending May 31, 1879 (1879), 10. Collected in Commonwealth of Virginia, Annual Reports of Officers, Boards, and Institutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the Year Ending September 30, 1879 (1879).
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It is not, indeed, strange that the Greeks and Romans should not have carried ... any ... experimental science, so far as it has been carried in our time; for the experimental sciences are generally in a state of progression. They were better understood in the seventeenth century than in the sixteenth, and in the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth. But this constant improvement, this natural growth of knowledge, will not altogether account for the immense superiority of the modern writers. The difference is a difference not in degree, but of kind. It is not merely that new principles have been discovered, but that new faculties seem to be exerted. It is not that at one time the human intellect should have made but small progress, and at another time have advanced far; but that at one time it should have been stationary, and at another time constantly proceeding. In taste and imagination, in the graces of style, in the arts of persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the ancients were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves on subjects which required pure demonstration.
History (May 1828). In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 36.
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It seems very strange ... that in the course of the world's history so obvious an improvement should never have been adopted. ... The next generation of Britishers would be the better for having had this extra hour of daylight in their childhood.
As quoted in David Prerau, Seize the Daylight: The Curious And Contentious Story of Daylight (2006).
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Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship.
Lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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My scientific work is motivated by an irresistible longing to understand the secrets of nature and by no other feeling. My love for justice and striving to contribute towards the improvement of human conditions are quite independent from my scientific interests.
In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein, the Human Side: New Glipses from his Archives (1971) 18. In Vladimir Burdyuzha, The Future of Life and the Future of Our Civilization (2006), 374.
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Physiology is the basis of all medical improvement and in precise proportion as our survey of it becomes more accurate and extended, it is rendered more solid.
In 'An Inquiry, Analogical and Experimental, into the Different Electrical conditions of Arterial and Venous Blood', New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal (1853-4), 10, 584-602 & 738-757. As cited in George B. Roth, 'Dr. John Gorrie—Inventor of Artificial Ice and Mechanical Refrigeration', The Scientific Monthly (May 1936) 42 No. 5, 464-469.
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Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 82.
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Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work.
The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World's Most Famous Seer (1993), 66.
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The business of their weekly Meetings shall be, To order, take account, consider, and discourse of Philosophical Experiments, and Observations: to read, hear, and discourse upon Letters, Reports, and other Papers containing Philosophical matters, as also to view, and discourse upon the productions and rarities of Nature, and Art: and to consider what to deduce from them, or how they may be improv'd for use, or discovery.
'An Abstract of the Statutes of the Royal Society', in Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (1667), 145.
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The Fundamental Regulator Paradox ... The task of a regulator is to eliminate variation, but this variation is the ultimate source of information about the quality of its work. Therefore, the better the job a regulator does the less information it gets about how to improve.
In Gerald M. Weinberg and Daniela Weinberg, The Design of Stable Systems (1979), 250. As quoted in John R. Wilson, Evaluation of Human Work (2005), 220.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions. As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second-an angle which may be represented as that which a pin's head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet or observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverrier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4.
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Theories cannot claim to be indestructible. They are only the plough which the ploughman uses to draw his furrow and which he has every right to discard for another one, of improved design, after the harvest. To be this ploughman, to see my labours result in the furtherance of scientific progress, was the height of my ambition, and now the Swedish Academy of Sciences has come, at this harvest, to add the most brilliant of crowns.
'The Method of Direct Hydrogenation by Catalysis', Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1912). Noble Lectures in Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 230-1.
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Thinking consists in envisaging, realizing structural features and structural requirements; proceeding in accordance with, and determined by, these requirements; thereby changing the situation in the direction of structural improvements.
In Productive Thinking (1959), 235.
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This example illustrates the differences in the effects which may be produced by research in pure or applied science. A research on the lines of applied science would doubtless have led to improvement and development of the older methods—the research in pure science has given us an entirely new and much more powerful method. In fact, research in applied science leads to reforms, research in pure science leads to revolutions, and revolutions, whether political or industrial, are exceedingly profitable things if you are on the winning side.
In Lord Rayleigh, The Life of Sir J. J. Thomson (1943), 199
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Thus died Negro Tom [Thomas Fuller], this untaught arithmetician, this untutored scholar. Had his opportunities of improvement been equal to those of thousands of his fellow-men, neither the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Science at Paris, nor even a Newton himself need have been ashamed to acknowledge him a brother in science.
[Thomas Fuller (1710-1790), although enslaved from Africa at age 14, was an arithmetical prodigy. He was known as the Virginia Calculator because of his exceptional ability with arithmetic calculations. His intellectual accomplishments were related by Dr. Benjamin Rush in a letter read to the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.]
Obituary
From obituary in the Boston Columbian Centinal (29 Dec 1790), 14, No. 31. In George Washington Williams, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 (1882), Vol. 1, 400
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Until now, physical theories have been regarded as merely models with approximately describe the reality of nature. As the models improve, so the fit between theory and reality gets closer. Some physicists are now claiming that supergravity is the reality, that the model and the real world are in mathematically perfect accord.
Superforce (1985), 149.
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We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.
Ends and Means: an Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into Methods Employed for their Realization (1937), 310.
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We create our future, by well improving present opportunities: however few and small they be.
Quoted, without citation, in front matter to T. A. Edison Foundation, Lewis Howard Latimer: A Black Inventor: a Biography and Related Experiments You Can Do (1973). Also in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and ‎Alan Steinberg, Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement (), 219, cited only as from “an essay he wrote to inspire others.” If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Whereas there is nothing more necessary for promoting the improvement of Philosophical Matters, than the communicating to such, as apply their Studies and Endeavours that way, such things as are discovered or put in practice by others; it is therefore thought fit to employ the Press, as the most proper way to gratifie those, whose engagement in such Studies, and delight in the advancement of Learning and profitable Discoveries, doth entitle them to the knowledge of what this Kingdom, or other parts of the World, do, from time to time, afford as well of the progress of the Studies, Labours, and attempts of the Curious and learned in things of this kind, as of their compleat Discoveries and performances: To the end, that such Productions being clearly and truly communicated, desires after solid and usefull knowledge may be further entertained, ingenious Endeavours and Undertakings cherished, and those, addicted to and conversant in such matters, may be invited and encouraged to search, try, and find out new things, impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving Natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophical Arts, and Sciences. All for the Glory of God, the Honour and Advantage of these Kingdoms, and the Universal Good of Mankind.
'Introduction', Philosophical Transactions (1665), 1, 1-2.
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Without an acquaintance with chemistry, the statesman must remain a stranger to the true vital interests of the state, to the means of its organic development and improvement; ... The highest economic or material interests of a country, the increased and more profitable production of food for man and animals, ... are most closely linked with the advancement and diffusion of the natural sciences, especially of chemistry.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 3rd edn., 19.
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[A]s you know, scientific education is fabulously neglected … This is an evil that is inherited, passed on from generation to generation. The majority of educated persons are not interested in science, and are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. Many believe—in their complete ignorance of what science really is—that it has mainly the ancillary task of inventing new machinery, or helping to invent it, for improving our conditions of life. They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. If persons with this outlook decide upon the curriculum of our children, the result is necessarily such as I have just described it.
Opening remarks of the second of four public lectures for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at University College, Dublin (Feb 1950), The Practical Achievements of Science Tending to Obliterate its True Import', collected in Science and Humanism: Physics in Our Time (1951). Reprinted in 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (1996), 113.
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[Modern science] passed through a long period of uncertainty and inconclusive experiment, but as the instrumental aids to research improved, and the results of observation accumulated, phantoms of the imagination were exorcised, idols of the cave were shattered, trustworthy materials were obtained for logical treatment, and hypotheses by long and careful trial were converted into theories.
In The Present Relations of Science and Religion (1913, 2004), 3
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton