Violent death isn’t something modern scientists usually need to worry about. This hasn’t always been the case. Here are seven of the most famous examples of scientists whose lives were brought to an abrupt end:
Evariste Galois was a brilliant mathematician.
At the age of 20, probably as a result of a romantic affair gone wrong, he fought a duel in Paris. He was shot and he died the following day.
In the days before the duel, convinced that he would be killed, he poured out his mathematical thoughts and sent them to his friend, Auguste Chevalier. In doing so, Galois invented an entirely new, immensely important field of mathematics – group theory, and also Galois theory.
The well-known German mathematician, Hermann Weyl, described the importance of Galois’s letter in 1952:
“This letter, if judged by the novelty and profundity of ideas it contains, is perhaps the most substantial piece of writing in the whole literature of mankind.”
In 1913, Henry Moseley discovered that every chemical element’s identity is determined by its number of protons. In doing so, he discovered the true basis of the periodic table.
When World War 1 began in 1914, he enlisted as a volunteer in the British Army. His family pleaded with him to continue his scientific research, but he felt his duty lay in becoming a soldier.
Second Lieutenant Henry Moseley was killed in battle at the age of 27, in Gallipoli, Turkey on August 10, 1915.
In 1916 no Nobel Prizes were awarded in physics or chemistry. Had he been alive, Moseley would almost certainly have received one of these awards.
Michael Servetus had wide ranging interests in science, medicine, theology, law, and the humanities.
He made important contributions in medicine and anatomy: he was the first European to correctly describe blood circulation between the heart and lungs, independently of Ibn al-Nafis in Egypt.
He was pronounced a heretic by Protestant and Catholic Churches, because he denied the Trinity and he objected to the baptism of infants. He was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland.
Any books Servetus had authored that could be found by religious authorities were also burned, so the importance of his work was unknown until many years after his death.
Hypatia lived and died in Alexandria, Egypt, when it was governed by the Ancient Greeks. Little is known for sure about Hypatia and her achievements. Our best source is Socrates Scholasticus, a historian who lived in Alexandria at the time of Hypatia’s murder. He wrote:
Hypatia of Alexandria, daughter of the philosopher Theon, made such attainments in literature and science as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her students, many of whom traveled far to receive her instructions.
Hypatia was killed by a Christian mob, driven into a rage by claims that she was interfering in a religious dispute between the Governor and the Bishop of Alexandria.
Antoine Lavoisier is one of chemistry’s ‘greats.’
He helped put chemistry on a rigorously scientific footing by emphasizing the importance of accurate measurements. He discovered the law of conservation of mass through his commitment to accurate measurements.
Lavoisier also wrote the first list of the chemical elements – a forerunner of the periodic table.
He further found that about 20 percent of air is oxygen and that when something burns, it is actually reacting chemically with oxygen. Lavoisier’s theory of combustion debunked the then popular theory of ‘phlogiston.’
Antoine Lavoisier, who had wealthy background, was guillotined in Paris on May 8, 1794, during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.
Giordano Bruno supported the Copernican view – the view that the earth orbits the sun, and that the earth is not the center of the universe.
More than this, he held the thoroughly modern view that distant stars are orbited by their own, possibly inhabited, planets. He stated that the universe is infinite in size and has no center.
He was imprisoned for seven years while his trial took place. Eventually the Pope decided that Bruno was a heretic, with the result that he was burned at the stake in Rome. His beliefs about the earth, sun and universe were part of the reasoning behind his death sentence. He was also declared a heretic for his religious views about, for example, the Catholic Mass and the Trinity.
Archimedes is perhaps the world’s greatest ever scientist; he was certainly the greatest scientist of the classical age. He was a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, engineer, inventor, and weapons-designer.
He lived most of his life in the Greek city of Syracuse; his defensive weapons enabled the city to withstand a prolonged siege by Rome’s legions and navy. The Roman army was eventually allowed into Syracuse by a traitor.
Archimedes died during the conquest of Syracuse. He was killed, against the orders of the Roman commander, by a Roman soldier.
Author of this page: The Doc
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