30 Brilliant Scientist Quotes

Fantastically quotable scientists on science:

Georg Christoph LichtenbergIt is strange that only extraordinary men make the discoveries, which later appear so easy and simple.

Georg C. Lichtenberg, 1742 to 1799
PhilolausActually, everything that can be known has a Number; for it is impossible to grasp anything with the mind or to recognize it without this.

Philolaus, c. 470 – c. 385 BC
Scientist and Philosopher
paul erdosGod created two acts of folly. First, He created the Universe in a Big Bang. Second, He was negligent enough to leave behind evidence for this act, in the form of microwave radiation.

Paul Erdős, 1913 to 1996
william ramsayProgress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes ; yet they are usually left unchronicled.

William Ramsay, 1852 to 1916
victor schefferAlthough Nature needs thousands or millions of years to create a new species, man needs only a few dozen years to destroy one.

Victor Scheffer, 1906 to 2011
ernest rutherfordIf your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.

Ernest Rutherford, 1871 to 1937
aristotleBy ‘life,’ we mean a thing that can nourish itself and grow and decay.

Aristotle, 384 BC to 322 BC
Scientist, Philosopher
george waldA physicist is an atom’s way of knowing about atoms.

George Wald, 1906 to 1997
100-man-grayDid the genome of our cave-dwelling predecessors contain a set or sets of genes which enable modern man to compose music of infinite complexity and write novels with profound meaning? …It looks as though the early Homo was already provided with the intellectual potential which was in great excess of what was needed to cope with the environment of his time.”

Susumu Ohno, 1928 to 2000
max planckAn experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer.

Max Planck, 1858 to 1947
Theoretical Physicist
justus von liebigA fact acquires its true and full value only through the idea which is developed from it.

Justus von Liebig, 1803 to 1873
john wheelerThere is no law except the law that there is no law.

John Archibald Wheeler, 1911 to 2008
Theoretical Physicist
thomas chrowder chamberlinFalsity in intellectual action is intellectual immorality.

Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, 1843 to 1928
100-fred-hoyleOutstanding examples of genius – a Mozart, a Shakespeare, or a Carl Friedrich Gauss – are markers on the path along which our species appears destined to tread.

Fred Hoyle, 1915 to 2001
steven weinbergIt does not help that some politicians and journalists assume the public is interested only in those aspects of science that promise immediate practical applications to technology or medicine.

Steven Weinberg , 1933 to present
Theoretical Physicist
john haldaneScience is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than the classics.

J. B. S. Haldane, 1892 to 1964
carl saganValid criticism does you a favor.

Carl Sagan, 1934 to 1996
jw mellorTrial by combat of wits in disputations has no attraction for the seeker after truth; to him, the appeal to experiment is the last and only test of the merit of an opinion, conjecture, or hypotheses.

Joseph Mellor, 1869 to 1938
arthur eddingtonWhat is possible in the Cavendish Laboratory may not be too difficult in the sun.

Sir Arthur Eddington, 1882 to 1944
Astronomer, Physicist, Mathematician
marie curieLife is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.

Marie Curie, 1867 to 1934
Chemist, Physicist
Subrahmanyan ChandrasekharThe black holes of nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, 1910 to 1995
thomas thomsonChemistry, unlike other sciences, sprang originally from delusions and superstitions, and was at its commencement exactly on a par with magic and astrology.

Thomas Thomson, 1773 to 1852
robert kirshnerUnderstanding the history of matter and searching for its most interesting forms, such as galaxies, stars, planets and life, seems a suitable use for our intelligence.

Robert Kirshner, 1949 to present
stephen jay gouldWe are storytelling animals, and cannot bear to acknowledge the ordinariness of our daily lives.

Stephen Jay Gould, 1941 to 2002
thomas goldThings are as they are because they were as they were.

Thomas Gold, 1920 to present
Paul DiracI do not refer to the mathematical difficulties, which eventually are always trivial, but rather to the conceptual difficulties.

Paul Dirac, 1902 to 1984
Theoretical Physicist
arthur eddingtonI believe there are 15 747 724 136 275 002 577 605 653 961 181 555 468 044 717 914 527 116 709 366 231 425 076 185 631 031 296 protons in the universe and the same number of electrons.

Sir Arthur Eddington, 1882 to 1944
Astronomer, Physicist, Mathematician
william ramsayArchimedes’ finding that the crown was of gold was a discovery; but he invented the method of determining the density of solids. Indeed, discoverers must generally be inventors; though inventors are not necessarily discoverers.

William Ramsay, 1852 to 1916
George Johnstone StoneyA theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.

George Johnstone Stoney, 1826 to 1911
manScience is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think.

Jacob Bronowski, 1908 to 1974
Mathematician, Biologist

Pros & Cons of Neanderthal & Denisovan Genes

Many of us have genes from extinct human species in our DNA. Some of these genes have been helpful, but others seem to be destructive.

When modern humans moved out of Africa between about 60,000 and 100,000 years ago, they met other types of humans who had already made the move to Europe and Asia.

Whatever else went on between Homo Sapiens and these earlier people, some got together and had children, whose genes many of us carry.

Today, the genetic makeup of most people born outside Sub-Saharan Africa is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.

Neanderthal Father

And then, to make things even more interesting, along came the Denisovans. What we know of Denisovans is very recent, coming from a finger bone and two teeth found six years ago in Siberia. The Denisovans also left Africa early, and, like their Neanderthal relatives, they interbred with Homo Sapiens.

With time, we are learning that modern humans are indebted to these extinct human species for some of the abilities and some of the problems we find coded into our DNA.

The Altitude Gene

The higher you climb in Earth’s atmosphere, the lower the air pressure gets. This goes on until you reach space, where there’s no air. Every breath we take at high altitudes gives us less air, and less oxygen than at sea level.

Our DNA has an app for that though. At high altitude, our EPAS1 gene fires up, pushing other genes to make extra red blood cells, improving our oxygen take up. The trouble is, these extra cells thicken our blood, making our blood pressure rise unhealthily.

So what happens if you want to live three miles up? Your DNA will need a better app for that!

Tibet is a country whose average elevation is 4900 meters – about 3 miles. It turns out that most people in Tibet have a variant of EPAS1 that allows them to deal with low oxygen with fewer red blood cells than the rest of us. Their blood stays thin and healthy 3 miles up.

And where did this variant come from? It turns out it came from Denisovans; they shared this gene with people who now live in Tibet.

Tibet Children

Life 3 miles up is easier with a little help from Denisovan genes. Image by Antoine Taveneaux.

The Immunity Gene

HLA is a gene that helps white blood cells destroy micro-organism intruders in our bodies.

At least one version of HLA is basically absent in Sub-Saharan people. Researchers think that people carrying this gene can thank Neanderthals and Denisovans for it. These hominids had already adapted to infections and diseases found outside Africa. This gene gave any modern humans born with some Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry a survival advantage.

European people get more than 50 percent of of one HLA genetic variant from interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans. For Asian people it’s as much as 80 percent, and Papua New Guineans 95 percent.

The Hair and Skin Gene

Genes for keratin – the protein in our skin, hair and nails – can have an especially strong Neanderthal influence. Two-thirds of East Asian people have the Neanderthal skin gene POU2F3, while almost three-quarters of European people have the Neanderthal skin-color gene BNC2.

We don’t know exactly what advantages these genes gave people, but the persistence of these genes indicates that they offer quite a powerful boost to survival. It’s possible that Neanderthal adaptations to colder weather encoded in these genes were important.

Even Genetic Ointments Have Flies in Them

The DNA of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals didn’t mix very well. Long, long stretches of human DNA have no Neanderthal gene input at all. This indicates that genetic modifications in these regions proved negative for survival.

For example, the FOXP2 gene for motor coordination and language and speech has no Neanderthal input.

Large regions of human DNA have no Neanderthal input

Neanderthal input is entirely absent from large sections of the human DNA molecule.

Furthermore, human male X chromosomes are particularly lacking in Neanderthal input, meaning there’s a good chance that male children of a Human-Neanderthal union had lower fertility than average.

Perhaps only a tiny fraction of the descendents of Human-Neanderthal unions actually prospered.

As if that weren’t enough, auto-immune disorders like type 2 diabetes and Crohn’s disease seem to be more likely if you carry Neanderthal influence.

The Future

Other human groupings besides Neanderthals and Denisovans left Africa before Homo Sapiens. Researchers are seeking to obtain their DNA too. Ultimately science would like to determine just how big an effect interbreeding with other species has had on us.