Questions tagged [discoveries]

For questions about the location (in space and time) of scientific discoveries and their historical context.

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9
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1answer
1k views

How did Planck derive the black body radiation formula without using the Bose statistics?

It is so funny that science never develops as in the textbooks. Bose only introduced his statistics in 1924, so Planck could not possibly have used it to derive the radiation formula in 1900. So how ...
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1answer
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What's the famous story about a mathematician who gave a talk without saying a word?

Years ago, I read a story about a mathematician who found a numerical counterexample to some conjecture long believed to be true. He gave a talk during which he didn't utter a single word but simply ...
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Who was the first to calculate $\pi$?

I am very interested in the history of $\pi$. I am first trying to find out who calculated it. Many sources have different answers, from the ancient Egyptians, to Archimedes, to the Babylonians. I ...
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Why was China slow to recognise the sphericity of Earth?

Wikipedia notes that, while knowledge Earth is approximately spherical was obtained in ancient Greece, and became standard among educated people in Europe and the Middle East long before 1300 AD, ...
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Who discovered the power rule for derivatives?

Who discovered the general rule for differentiating polynomials, in particular that the derivative of $x^n$ is $n x^{n-1}$, and when? I appreciate the answer may not be a clear-cut individual and year,...
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Who invented short and long division?

I am curious who came up with algorithms that we use today to manually solve mathematical division problems, such as short or long division; how were they established or standardized that way and why?...
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Who introduced the Principle of Mathematical Induction for the first time?

Can you tell me the name of the mathematician, who introduced the Principle of Mathematical Induction for the first time? (with reliable source). Please don't say De Morgan because I have read the ...
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What attracted Einstein to the anomalous precession of Mercury?

The story is usually told starting with Einstein's 1915 paper Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from General Relativity Theory, or at least its drafts from 1913-14. It was the first ...
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What are some scientific breakthroughs that have been done during jail time?

I am looking for examples of scientific breakthroughs that have been made within the confines of a prison cell?
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What was the motivation for Minkowski spacetime before special relativity?

If I understand correctly the concept of a Minkowski space/metric was already known before Einstein's paper on special relativity. Was there any physical motivation for studying this type of metric ...
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436 views

How did prisoners of war discover scientific breakthroughs while interned?

Reading the excellent thread What are some scientific breakthroughs that have been done during jail time?, it stands to reason to ask what are some scientific breakthroughs made by interned prisoners ...
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690 views

How did chemists figure out atomic weights, when hydrogen, etc., were first discovered?

Henry Cavendish isolated hydrogen in 1766, but I want to know if he knew the gas was actually $H_2$ instead of just a plain $H$ gas. This would make a major difference in the atomic weights, which ...
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553 views

Did Newton develop the concept of gravity first for falling objects or for celestial motion?

A benefit of Newton's concept of gravity as a force--despite the fact that it involved what was considered mysterious action at a distance--was that it explained objects falling to earth, and the ...
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How was the composition and structure of water determined?

Water is a pretty basic molecule that people used since early science. What were the steps in figuring out what water is made of and what is its structure?
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Foundational crises in non-Western historical mathematical communities

In Foundations of Set Theory by Fraenkel, Bar-Hillel, and Levy (1973), the authors argue that there have been three distinct periods of crisis in the foundations of mathematics. The first was ...
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What new mathematics was inspired by biology and chemistry?

While physics and astronomy sported mathematical models for centuries mathematical chemistry and biology appeared relatively recently. Most of the interaction seems to go one way, established ...
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Who introduced random variables into probability?

I used to think that the answer is Kolmogorov. So the Shafer-Vovk's review of Kolmogorov's famous 1933 axiomatization of probability surprised me a bit:"Today, what Frechet and his contemporaries knew ...
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What is the origin of polynomials and notation for them?

This may be quite a broad question, but lately I've been wondering about the history behind polynomials. Nowadays these are pretty much the simplest kind of functions to work with, but I'd like to ...
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1answer
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What cipher(s) did Isaac Newton use?

A number of sources including this one assert that Isaac Newton used encrypted messages to communicate some of his scientific discoveries, and as a way of establishing priority. What cipher(s) did he ...
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1answer
419 views

Who first realized that $\int \frac 1x dx =\ln(x)+c$?

Who discovered the non-obvious identity $\int \frac 1x dx=\ln(x)+c$ ? Were power series involved? The series look similar on the opposite sides of $1$: $$ \frac 1x =\sum_{n=0}^\infty (-1+x)^n \text{ ...
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839 views

What famous laws were named by their discoverer

A question posed on academia.SE prompts this follow-up question: Is there an example of a famous physical law, constant, equation, theorem etc that was named after its discoverer by the discoverer ...
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Why don't we learn Buridan's laws of motion?

My question is why has Jean Buridan faded into obscurity while Newton is venerated as a God by scientists? Here is a description of Buridan's impetus theory: The concept of inertia was alien to the ...
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Madhava and $\pi$

I recently learned that Madhava of Kerala (c.1340–c.1425) was the first to discover the following formula for $\pi$: $$\frac{\pi}4\ =\ 1 - \frac13+\frac15 - \frac17 + \frac19 - \frac1{11} + \cdots$$ ...
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Is it true that Euler didn't prove $\sum_{n=1}^{\infty}\frac{1}{n^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}$?

I've heard that Euler actually never managed to prove $$\sum_{n=1}^{\infty}\frac{1}{n^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}$$ If this is true, then where does the common misconception come from?
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When was it first realized that sound travels with finite speed?

From what date can we trace the knowledge (or the hypothesis) that sound has a finite speed of transmission through air? Thunder/lightning is the most striking clue, but echoes would be the readiest ...
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Scientific progress claimed to be caused by dreaming

Kekulé, who discovered the chemical formula for benzene in 1865, claimed that he had guessed the ring formula with the alternating single and double bonds in a day-dream. Are there similar examples of ...
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Robert Hooke and the Inverse Square Law

In borel, emile, 1922, l'espace et le temps, paris: alcan there is a claim that Robert Hooke discovered an inverse square relation of gravitating bodied prior Isaac Newton, who later applied it more ...
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First papers on holomorphic functions

Briot and/or Cauchy are often said to have written the first papers on holomorphic functions, explicitly discussing them as such and their special properties. Which papers are these? When and where ...
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Was the steam engine really known in ancient Egypt?

Some sources on the Internet state that the steam engine was known in ancient Egypt, although it wasn't used very widely. Is it true? If the answer is yes, it was known, or at least suspected, why ...
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Did Hooke's law come from experiments, or was it mathematically derived from Newtonian mechanics?

Was Hooke's law first coming from experiment or from math derivation of which Newtonian mechanical laws are the only prerequisite? Also can the law itself be reinvented in this way, or is it ...
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1answer
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Did Aristotle suggest that different kinds of sound might travel at different speeds?

In this answer there is an interesting passage: Also, Aristotle posited that the speed of sound was dependent on frequency. Gassendi had religious/philosophical issues with Aristotle's views, and ...
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1answer
687 views

When did the names of scientists first become the names of scientific units?

Many scientific units are named after scientists, for example Tesla for magnetic flux, Farad for capacitance and Newtons for force. When did the tradition of naming scientific units begin?
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Why didn't Aristarchus' theory of Heliocentrism stick?

This might be more a question for historians, but it's a question I've given some thought to. By using what was essentially Euclidean geometry, Aristarchus was able to calculate, with some measure ...
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Discovery and Development of Coordinate Systems

I'm very interested to know how coordinate systems were discovered and why mathematicians discovered them? Actually I want to know what things motivated mathematicians to discover and develop ...
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1answer
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How did J. J. Thomson establish the particle nature of the electron?

In its article about how the electron was discovered, Wikipedia says that Thomson and his students performed experiments which suggested that cathode rays were negatively charged "particles". But even ...
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Was Galileo a plagiarizer?

Was Galileo a plagiarizer? If we where to apply to the works of Galileo the general standards of plagiarism that we conform to today at our local institutions, would he be considered a plagiarizer? ...
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348 views

Who derived $\int_{0}^{\infty} \mathrm{e}^{-x^2}\, dx = \frac{\sqrt \pi}{2}$?

I want to know who derived $$\int_{0}^{\infty} \mathrm{e}^{-x^2}\, dx = \frac{\sqrt \pi}{2}$$ In school, our book mentioned that Euler proved this result. But on Math Stack Exchange, some people say ...
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What are Archimedes's contributions to the principle of the screw pump?

I read that the famous screw pumps were used before Archimedes (in the hanging gardens of Babylon for example), and that the Archimedean screw is named after him because he "developed a rigorous ...
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When and by whom was the earliest definition of speed given?

Speed is defined to be distance divided by time; when and who by was this definition first put forward? The obvious guess would be Galileo in early modern physics; is this right, and can it be ...