Throughout history, there have been many scientific discoveries and inventions that have vastly changed the world. However, the people behind these discoveries don’t always receive recognition, and as the years tick by, their name sometimes become lost to history.
To keep their memory alive and celebrate their valuable discoveries, we compiled a list of four of the most underrated scientists of all time.
The discovery and study of DNA are perhaps some of the most important scientific discoveries in modern history. Working at the same time as famed duo Watson and Crick, Rosalind Franklin utilized x-rays to capture images of crystallized solids in complex matter. Throughout the course of her studies, Franklin discovered that DNA was composed of two strands which intertwined to create the now-famous double helix structure. Of the images captured during her studies, photo 51 is perhaps the most famous. This photo of crystallized DNA was instrumental to Watson and Crick’s understanding of the importance and structure of DNA.
Building upon the important discoveries of Rosalind Franklin, Frederick Sanger became one of the first scientists to experiment with DNA sequencing. DNA sequencing is a complex process which determines the order of nucleic acids in DNA. The process, now known as the Sanger Sequencing Method, utilized a template of single-stranded DNA to generate additional DNA fragments of varying size. While the methods of DNA sequencing have evolved greatly over the years, laboratories across the world still use the Sanger method. This method also paved the way for many modern innovations in the field of DNA sequencing. These innovations include next-generation library sequencing and the use of automated liquid handling equipment to expedite the DNA extraction process.
Throughout history, science and medicine have always seemed to fit hand in hand. Following the second world war, Jonas Salk developed a new vaccine that would change the lives of many. During this time, thousands of children became infected with polio—a disease which causes severe muscle weakness and the inability to move. Drawing upon his knowledge of biochemistry and his studies of the influenza virus, Salk became the first scientist to develop a successful polio vaccine. Over a decade, the number of reported cases of polio dropped from roughly 57,000 to less than 1,000. This is largely in thanks to the widespread use of the Salk vaccine.
Like many female scientists throughout history, society overlooked Lise Meitner in favor of her male counterparts. Meitner began her studies during an era in which women were prohibited from attending public institutions of higher education—the study of science and mathematics by women, especially, was frowned upon. Undeterred by society’s expectations of her, Meitner went on to study radioactivity, physics, and chemistry. This would lead her to discover the element protactinium in 1912 with the help of Otto Hahn. Meitner and Hahn continued to work together for several years. In 1939, Meitner published an article detailing the experiments she and Hahn had conducted. In these writings, she provided evidence for nuclear fission. However, in 1944, Hahn was the sole winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, leaving Lise Meitner one of the most underrated scientists of all time.