Here are some of the greatest scientists in history who were home-schooled.
John Eccles was home-schooled to age 12 by his mother, a former schoolteacher. A neurophysiologist, he won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the physiology of synapses, discovering how nerve cells communicate with one another.
Sophie Germain never went to school. From age 13, she taught herself advanced mathematics. Sophie’s parents were unhappy about her obsession with mathematics. They denied her heat and light in her room. One winter morning they found her asleep, huddled under a blanket with a mathematics book in front of her, a burned-out candle from a hidden cache beside her, and her inkwell frozen by the intense cold. At this point they surrendered. Sophie Germain’s theory of surface vibrations brought her the prestigious Paris Academy of Sciences Prize in 1816, the first ever won by a woman. She made significant progress on proving Fermat’s Last Theorem.
Ambrose Fleming was educated by his mother to age 10, learning to read seated on her knees. At age 11, he built model steam engines and boats. He constructed a camera from a cigar box, becoming a skilled photographer, making his own photographic plates from collodion and silver nitrate. He developed his own photos using potassium cyanide. Fleming founded the electronic age with his invention of the vacuum tube (thermionic valve). He also devised the hand rules for electric motors and generators.
Born into a wealthy family, in his infancy Robert Boyle was sent to live with a poor family to toughen him up. When he returned home, he was tutored in French and Latin.
At age eight, he was sent to boarding school for three years. After this he had no formal education, but on a Grand Tour of Europe he learned how Galileo had used mathematics to explain motion. As an adult, Robert Boyle transformed chemistry from a field mired in alchemy and mysticism into one based on measurement. He defined elements, compounds, and mixtures, and he discovered Boyle’s Law – the first gas law.
Florence Nightingale was home-schooled by her father to an extremely high standard, reproducing his own education at the University of Cambridge, including French, German, Italian, Greek, Latin, Philosophy, and Mathematics. Florence was a polymath with exceptional skills. She transformed nursing into a respected, highly trained profession; used statistics to analyze wider health outcomes; and advocated sanitary reforms largely credited with adding 20 years to life expectancy between 1871 and 1935.
André-Marie Ampère’s father followed Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s approach to education, which meant no school and no formal lessons. The young Ampère could do as he pleased and was encouraged to read anything he liked from his father’s large library. He chose to teach himself advanced mathematics. In later life he made the revolutionary discovery that a wire carrying electric current can magnetically attract or repel another wire next to it that’s also carrying electric current. He also formulated Ampere’s Law of electromagnetism.
Ada Lovelace was taught at home by private tutors. She cooperated with Charles Babbage in writing the world’s first computer program and broke new ground when she realized a computer could go beyond numbers to carry out other operations, such as composing music.
Home-schooled to age 13 mainly by his father, Bernhard Riemann’s parents believed the most important thing they could give their children was a solid education. His father enlisted a local teacher to teach 10-year-old Bernhard arithmetic and geometry, but soon Bernhard was teaching his teacher! Bernhard Riemann transformed geometry and provided the foundation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The Riemann hypothesis has become the most famous unresolved problem in mathematics.
Blaise Pascal was home-schooled by his father, who was a lawyer and first-rate mathematician. By age 16, Blaise was writing mathematical treatises of such sophistication that René Descartes incorrectly believed they were the boy’s father’s work. Blaise Pascal invented the hydraulic press and the mechanical calculator, devised Pascal’s triangle for the binomial coefficients, and co-founded probability theory. Pascal’s wager is his justification for believing in God.
Carolus Linnaeus was home-schooled to age 10. He picked up his father’s great love of Nature, and learned to speak Latin before he started walking. He devised the formal two-part naming system, such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Homo sapiens, we use to classify all lifeforms. He named about 13,000 lifeforms and classified them into categories such as mammals, birds, fish, primates, canines, etc, and invented index cards as a means of keeping records of species.
Irène was the daughter of Marie Curie. Irène’s mother grew increasingly disenchanted with schools in Paris, and she formed a school with other academics. Irène and nine other children were taught physics by Marie Curie, chemistry by Jean Baptiste Perrin (who later won a Nobel Prize in physics), and mathematics by the great physicist Paul Langevin. There was only one class a day, then the children worked on their own. As an adult Irène Joliot-Curie discovered how to synthesize ‘designer’ radioactive elements in the laboratory, winning a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Hans Christian Oersted and his younger brother Anders were educated through a combination of home schooling and private tutors. Anders later became Prime Minister of Denmark. At age 12, helping in his father’s pharmacy, Hans became interested in chemistry. He began a new scientific epoch when he discovered that electricity and magnetism are linked, showing that an electric current flowing through a wire could move a nearby magnet.
James Joule’s childhood health was delicate, and he was mostly home-schooled. Later he was tutored in arithmetic and geometry by John Dalton. Joule discovered that heat and mechanical work are interconvertible, leading to the law of conservation of energy. The SI unit of energy, the joule, is named for him.
Author of this page: The Doc
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