79 votes
Accepted

What's the famous story about a mathematician who gave a talk without saying a word?

You are most likely referring to the 1903 presentation by American mathematician Frank Cole. The original false conjecture was that the 67-th Mersenne number $M_{67}:=2^{67}-1$ is prime, and it goes ...
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30 votes

What are the earliest inventions to store and release energy (e.g. fly wheels)?

One early invention for storing energy was a basin above the level of the river. It was filled with water when the water in the river was high, and then, when the water in the river was low, it was ...
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29 votes

What was the motivation for Minkowski spacetime before special relativity?

Not quite. Minkowski had the idea of representing special ralativity as geometry in 1907 under the direct influence of Einstein's 1905 paper, and he developed it in Raum und Zeit (1907) and Zwei ...
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27 votes

What are some scientific breakthroughs that have been done during jail time?

Andre Weil's work on zeta functions of algebraic curves over finite fields. Andre Weil was one of the most famous mathematicians of the last century. He also was a pacifist, and when WWII approached, ...
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26 votes
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Who introduced the Principle of Mathematical Induction for the first time?

The issue is thorny ... According to Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Time. Volume I (1972), page 272 [only entry of the Subject Index regarding : mathematical Induction] : ...
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25 votes
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What new mathematics was inspired by biology and chemistry?

In 1959, Eugene Wigner presented a talk on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. Many papers on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in this field, that field,...
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24 votes

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

By about 1640, the solution to the "area problem" for curves with equation $Y^n = aX^m$ was known by Fermat for all integer cases except when $n = 1, m = -1$. I.e., the only unsolved area ...
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  • 531
21 votes

What are the earliest inventions to store and release energy (e.g. fly wheels)?

This is probably not what you were thinking of but "the earliest invention that allowed energy to be stored and released after a delay even it's just a short time" was a stone. I can store ...
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19 votes
Accepted

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

History of the metric system - Wikipedia says: In 1861, Charles Bright and Latimer Clark proposed the names of ohm, volt, and farad in honour of Georg Ohm, Alessandro Volta and Michael Faraday ...
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19 votes
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What cipher(s) did Isaac Newton use?

Newton used anagrams which are not the usual ciphers. It is not designed for a secret communication, but only for proving at a later time that you knew something. So nobody is supposed to be able to ...
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17 votes

What are some scientific breakthroughs that have been done during jail time?

The French mathematician André Weil was imprisoned for failure to report for duty for a spell in 1940. It is said that "While in jail for six months at Rouen, he proved the Riemann hypothesis for ...
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17 votes
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Who was the first to calculate $\pi$?

It depends on the meaning of "calculate", since $\pi$ is a transcendental number it can not be "calculated" in the usual meaning of the word. The first analytic formula (in the form of an infinite ...
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17 votes
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How much did John Nash contribute to proving the Riemann hypothesis?

Nash was known to have been captivated by RH at an early age after reading E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics. He had confided in some friends and colleagues that he had an idea that might work involving ...
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16 votes
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When & how was it known that our Sun is the same thing as the night time stars?

As quoted from this article: Many people's work was needed to prove that the Sun is a star. The first person we know of to suggest that the Sun is a star up close (or, conversely, that stars are ...
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  • 1,516
16 votes
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How did Planck derive the black body radiation formula without using the Bose statistics?

Bose derived the black body radiation formula in early 1924 by considering the ideal gas of light quanta. Nothing could be further from Planck's mind in 1900. The idea of light quanta did not appear ...
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16 votes

Did amateurs ever produce important proofs or similar?

A case from this year is that of Aubrey de Grey. Aubrey de Grey, a biologist known for his claims that people alive today will live to the age of 1,000, posted a paper to the scientific preprint site ...
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15 votes
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Apparently different objects discovered to be the same

Such "bidentifications" of concepts in math with major impact are what some important mathematical ideas are all about. Here are some examples, and the list could very easily be extended. 1) ...
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15 votes
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What is the origin of polynomials and notation for them?

Although many problems that we now reduce to polynomial equations were solved since time immemorial early occurences are coached in verbal and/or geometric terms, and polynomials are not treated as ...
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14 votes

What are some scientific breakthroughs that have been done during jail time?

Another famous and really unique case was Andre Bloch, another great French mathematician of 20-s century. He was drafted to WW I when he was a student (or maybe just graduated). He was severely ...
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14 votes

Apparently different objects discovered to be the same

I would say that the most famous discovery of this sort was the explanation, why "gravitational mass" and "inertial mass" are the same. (The fact was so well known since Galileo that nobody really ...
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14 votes
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Who invented short and long division?

The history of the idea underlying the short/long/synthetic division turned out to be far more complicated than I expected, somewhat reminiscent of the history of $0$, with no single inventor. ...
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14 votes
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Why don't we learn Buridan's laws of motion?

The next to last sentence has all the reasons in a nutshell:"Buridan used the theory of impetus to give an accurate qualitative account of the motion of projectiles but he ultimately saw his theory as ...
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14 votes
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Who invented the exponential ansatz for linear differential equations with constant coefficients?

The short answer is Euler. Some details are given in the following long quote from Hald's History of Probability and Statistics and Their Applications before 1750 (p.438): In 1743 Euler solved the ...
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14 votes
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Who first solved the classical harmonic oscillator?

It was "solved" by Huygens in Horologium Oscillatorum (1673). The scare quotes are there because he never wrote down the equation, and even Newton's laws were not yet explicitly formulated. Huygens ...
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13 votes
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When did humans realize that sex leads to pregnancy?

The question asked in the title is not at all the same as the fist question in the body of the text. Because any meaningful answer to the latter seemingly presupposes (wrongly in my opinion) the ...
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13 votes
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Is it true that Euler didn't prove $\sum_{n=1}^{\infty}\frac{1}{n^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}$?

The question can be answered "yes" or "no" depending on how the word "prove" is interpreted. Euler was working in the context of "algebraic analysis" of 18th century, so he wasn't primarily concerned ...
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13 votes
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What attracted Einstein to the anomalous precession of Mercury?

Who or what attracted Einstein's attention to Mercury, and when? What alerted him to the idea that Mercury's case was different from all those other cases, when a mundane explanation was involved? ...
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13 votes
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Was Galileo a plagiarizer?

See Heytesbury and the Physical Sciences and Nicole Oresme for detailed information about the so-called Oxford Calculators and their contribution (mainly) to mathematics. The issue is not so clearly ...
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13 votes

Was Galileo a plagiarizer?

By this standard why single out Galileo? Euclid "plagiarized" Elements, there isn't a single theorem in it that can be reliably attributed to him, and there are entire books that can be attributed to ...
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13 votes
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What are natural science concepts that were once thought the same, but grew to be distinguished?

The two most famous paradigmatic examples of de-unification are phlogiston and ether. The Kaluza-Klein theory of gravity and electromagnetism did not get to spread as far and wide before faltering. ...
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