As Chosen By Scientists: The Greatest Scientific Discoveries Part 2

As Chosen By Scientists: The Greatest Scientific Discoveries Part 2
Posted in: Fun Science!
1 year ago

As Chosen By Scientists: The Greatest Scientific Discoveries Part 2

In our regular Interviews with Scientists feature, we ask life scientists to tell us what they think are the greatest scientific discoveries or inventions of all time. Penicillin, genome editing, CRISPR, electricity and vaccines were named among our first round-up of great discoveries, and we’ve revisited the question to highlight even more scientific advances named as the most significant by members of our life science community.

Take a look at this list of 10 More Great Scientific Discoveries & Inventions, as chosen by life scientists!


1. The nervous system

“The discovery of the nervous system by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, and Camillo Golgi. They jointly discovered that this system is made up of individual nerve cells, which communicate by transmitting electrical signals and synapsing with each other. This body of work created the field of neuroscience!” 

Simona Carbone - co-director of the Integrated Neurogenic Mechanisms Laboratory, in Drug Discovery Biology at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Australia

“The work by Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Camillo Golgi really revolutionized the way we view and study the structure and function of the brain. Cajal's discovery of the spaces between adjacent neurons, which led to the discovery of the synapse (the junction between two neurons), instigated many other important neuroscientific discoveries. In my opinion, their research forms the basis of both cellular and molecular neuroscience.”

Myrthe Mampay - FWO Postdoctoral Research Fellow at VUB Brussels, Belgium


2. The microscope

“The discovery of the microscope is definitely up there... basically all scientific disciplines use microscopes in some shape or form to help us understand the things we can’t see and they will have played a role in a lot of other great scientific discoveries since their invention.”

Erica Brady - postdoc at the Gladstone Institute, San Francisco, USA


“I am a microscopist, so I think the greatest discovery of all time would have to be Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s invention/establishment of the field of microscopy. We literally could not have gotten this far without his pioneering work. It’s still a goal to cite him in a paper.”

Dr Tim Mosca - Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson University, USA


“The microscope ushered in a brand new way of looking at the world and is the foundation upon which is built so many more amazing discoveries that have followed it.”

Shane Hellyer - postdoctoral researcher at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, Australia


3. Immunotherapy

“Working in cancer biology I may be biased, but I believe that immunotherapy has been a game-changer for treating many types of cancers that respond poorly to conventional chemotherapy and cancer treatments.”

Adviti Naik - postdoctoral researcher at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, Qatar

“The development of novel immunotherapies to treat cancer is quite exciting. Inside my field, there are several novel discoveries that are being pursued that may enable us to prevent seizures after head trauma and stroke. These are in the early stages but look very promising.”

Severn B Churn - program director at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)


4. The internet

“The internet is what allows us to communicate from any place in the world. For a scientist who often travels to different countries it is very important to be able to communicate with people at home. On the other hand, you can meet people from all over the world and keep in touch no matter where you are. It allows you to work with your peers even from a distance.”

Joana Ferreira - assistant investigator at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Coimbra, Portugal

“Even though I am a neuroscientist, I have to say that the invention of the internet is one of the greatest discoveries of all time. It has sped things up in so many areas. For example, we are able to communicate with people who are not physically in the same room in a more expedient way. This is particularly beneficial for science as it allows faster and more diverse ways of sharing data and information. Overall, it has been a gateway for us to be able to speed up our scientific advancement.” 

Daniel Austria - sales consultant at Southern Cross Health Society, New Zealand


“The greatest scientific discovery, or innovation, of all time has to be the invention of the internet. So much of what we currently do in science would be impossible without the internet, so I think we have to give Tim Berners-Lee due credit for a lot of discoveries which have happened since he invented the World Wide Web!”

Sophie Prosolek - science communicator and content creator


5. Circadian rhythm

“I’m a little biased because it’s directly related to my research, but I think that the discovery of the circadian rhythm is the coolest thing ever. From the 1700s when Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan observed the unfolding of his plant’s leaves based on the time of day to the discovery of the molecular mechanism of circadian rhythm that received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine… it’s such a cool research timeline to follow. It’s definitely one of the most important scientific discoveries for organisms here on Earth.”

Jazmine I Benjamin - PhD candidate in the Division of Nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, USA


6. Taq polymerase

I think one of the biggest discoveries in my scientific field was the discovery of DNA polymerase I from Thermus aquaticus (Taq polymerase). It is definitely not the most sensational discovery for the non-scientific community, but the truth is that it is almost impossible to find a biotech lab that does not do PCR, and without Taq polymerase this would be like in an office, everyone having to add ink to a printer every time a page was printed. So it is fair to conclude that indirectly it contributed to millions of findings on cancer immunology, biology, neuroscience, developmental biology, and more.”

Pedro Resende - life science researcher and founder of Chaperone


7. Cochlear implants

“The invention and application of cochlear implants in my opinion would be the greatest discovery of all time. When you venture down a deep, dark rabbit hole of YouTube videos at 2am and come across the most uplifting video of a child and their family in a clinic with the nurse carefully making final adjustments on the machine and apparatus. The brief moment of fear and stress passing over a small child’s face as they hear the hum of noise for the first time brings such joy and faith in the future of science. It’s incredible to see the smile and light in their eyes, hearing their parents call their name for the first time. If that’s not a life-changing discovery I don’t know what is.”

Oisín C. Joyce - PhD Candidate at Trinity College Dublin


8. Induced pluripotent stem cells

“Induced pluripotent stem cells for sure. I am fascinated by the possibility of manipulating one cell type and reprogramming its fate to become a completely different cell.”

Emanuela Bottani - Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, University of Verona, Italy

“In the field of regenerative medicine, it’s definitely induced pluripotent stem cell technology. Total game changer!”

Catriona Cunningham - teaching fellow in Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland


9. Water on Mars

“The greatest discovery? Wow, that is hard… I’m going to stick to the 21st century and say evidence of water on Mars! I’m a fan of sci-fi shows & movies, and I've always been curious about life on other planets. Earth has its own history, so it's pretty awesome to learn the history of another planet.

Pooja Raval - Senior Scientific Account Manager at Random42 Scientific Communication


10. Optogenetics

“Optogenetics allows us to control the electrical activity of an excitable cell and uses Opsins, which are light sensitive proteins. This has led to an understanding of how different cell types contribute to biological functions and understanding the neural circuits in vivo. On the clinical side, it has gained more applications and it is being used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.”

Dr Chinmaya Sadangi - founder of The Addictive Brain global scicomm platform


Tell us what you think!

What do YOU think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time? Which invention has had the biggest impact on the world? We’d love to hear your opinions! Tell us in the comments or tweet us at @hello_bio!


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