Here’s our alphabetical list of the most popular biologists, or contributors to biology, health & medicine on the Famous Scientists website, ordered by surname.
Discovered that DNA passes heredity instructions through successive generations of organisms – it carries the chemical code of life, as revealed by the Avery–MacLeod–McCarty experiment.
The first woman to qualify as a physician in America; founder of America’s first medical school for women.
Co-discovered how our sense of smell works: humans have about 350 different types of odor receptor cell which send signals directly into the brain’s olfactory bulb.
Founder of modern neuroscience: proved the neuron doctrine, which says that neurons behave as biochemically distinct cells rather than a network of interlinked cells.
A founder of 20th century environmentalism, her book Silent Spring led to a reappraisal of the effect of chemicals such as DDT on the environment, leading to bans and heavy restrictions.
Improved the agricultural economy of the United States by promoting nitrogen-providing peanuts as an alternative crop to cotton to prevent soil depletion.
Chargaff’s rules paved the way to the discovery of DNA’s structure.
Oscar winning marine pioneer; coinvented the breathe-on-demand valve for SCUBA diving; popularized marine biology with several dramatic television series.
Codiscovered DNA’s structure and replication mechanism; established the Sequence Hypothesis and the Central Dogma; discovered that DNA uses a triplet code to control the formation of proteins from amino acids.
Codiscovered the chemical elements radium and polonium; made numerous pioneering contributions to the study of radioactive elements; carried out the first research into the treatment of tumors with radiation.
Authored one of the most famous books in history, On the Origin of Species, in which he described and provided evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Discovered how messages pass between nerve cells in mammals, establishing that both excitatory and inhibitory processes are chemical in nature, rather than electrical.
An ancient theory of natural selection; mass conservation; and the four elements which are now often misattributed to Aristotle.
Invented experimental design; devised the statistical concept of variance; unified evolution by natural selection with Mendel’s rules of inheritance, so defining the new field of population genetics.
Discovered that treating wounds and infections with antiseptic agents caused more deaths than if no action were taken. Discovered penicillin and predicted the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Howard Florey and his scientific team transformed penicillin from a scientific curiosity into a potent antibiotic – a magic bullet that has saved countless millions of lives.
Provided much of the experimental data used to establish the structure of DNA; discovered that DNA can exist in two forms.
Began his practice as a physician to gladiators and established a link between diet and health. Galen created a flawed doctrine that dominated Western and Arab medicine for 1,500 years.
Ground breaking discoveries in chimpanzee behavior; established that chimpanzees have similar social behavior to humans and also that they make tools and hunt for meat.
Devised the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which proposes that evolution consists of long periods of stability broken by shorter periods of rapid change. An award-winning author and popularizer of science.
Explained blood circulation for the first time, showing there is a complete circuit beginning and ending in the heart.
Pioneered isotopes as tracers to study chemical and biological processes; discovered how plants and animals utilize particular chemical elements after they are taken in as nutrients. Discovered element 72, hafnium.
The most prolific inventor of vaccines in history; developed over forty vaccines; invented eight of the fourteen vaccines used in routine vaccination schedules today; his vaccines may account for as many as eight million lives saved every year.
The father of Western medicine: systematized medical treatments, disentangling them from religion and superstitions; trained physicians; produced a large body of medical textbooks. The famous Hippocratic Oath binds physicians to good ethical practices.
Discovered cells and wrote one of the most significant books in scientific history, Micrographia, revealing the microscopic world for the first time.
Popularizer of science: discovered that dinosaurs cared for their young and some nested in colonies. Working on reactivating dormant dinosaur DNA to hatch a modern-day dinosaur.
Codiscovered how to convert stable chemical elements into ‘designer’ radioactive elements; these have saved millions of lives and are used in tens of millions of medical procedures every year.
In the early 1960s, thousands of children died or were born malformed because their mothers took the drug thalidomide during pregnancy. Few ‘thalidomide babies’ were born in the USA, largely because Frances Kelsey blocked American sales.
Discovered the human blood group system, paving the way for safe blood transfusions; discovered the Rh factor in blood; proved polio is an infectious disease spread by a virus; discovered haptens.
The father of microbiology, he used remarkable self-made lenses to discover single-celled animals and plants, bacteria, and spermatozoa.
Organized our view of the natural world with the two-part naming system we use to classify all lifeforms; named and classified about 13,000 lifeforms; broke with tradition by classifying humans in the same way as other lifeforms.
Groundbreaking genetics: showed that genes switch the physical traits of an organism on or off; discovered chromosomal crossover, which increases genetic variation in species; discovered transposition – that genes can move about within chromosomes.
Founded the science of genetics; identified many of the rules of heredity; identified recessive and dominant traits, and that traits are passed from parents to offspring in a mathematically predictable way.
Mesmer wrongly believed he had discovered a remarkable new phenomenon, which he called animal magnetism. He used this to treat people with psychosomatic illnesses. The treatment actually worked through the power of suggestion, later recognized as the genuine phenomenon of hypnosis (or mesmerism).
Discovered that typhus is carried by lice; showed how epidemics could be prevented. Discovered inapparent infections.
A health pioneer who transformed nursing into a respected, highly trained profession; used statistics to analyze wider health outcomes; advocated sanitary reforms largely credited with adding 20 years to life expectancy between 1871 and 1935.
The father of modern microbiology; transformed chemistry and biology with his discovery of mirror-image molecules; discovered anaerobic bacteria; established the germ theory of disease; invented food preservation by pasteurization.
Maverick giant of chemistry; formulated valence bond theory and electronegativity; founded the fields of quantum chemistry, molecular biology, and molecular genetics. Discovered the alpha-helix structure of proteins; proved that sickle-cell anemia is a molecular disease.
Pioneer of brain surgery who mapped the human brain, showing which parts of it are most strongly associated with functions such as the different senses, different body movements, and speech.
Founded scientific psychiatry; made humane changes to the conditions under which mentally ill people were held; promoted the idea that mentally ill people should be understood as individuals.
Devised and performed the first controlled experiments in scientific history; showed that flies breed and lay eggs and do not spontaneously generate; founded modern parasitology.
Established that the cell is the basic unit of all living things; his classification of cells is the foundation of modern histology; discovered the enzyme pepsin; identified the role microorganisms play in alcohol fermentation.
The first astrogeologist and a founder of planetary impact science; proposed microscopic life could travel between planets on rocks blasted into space by asteroid impacts.
The 20th century’s most influential psychologist; pioneered the science of behaviorism; discovered the power of positive reinforcement in learning; designed the first psychological experiments producing quantitatively repeatable results.
Discovered that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes, now known as the XY sex-determination system – the discovery was the first time a link was demonstrated between a physical characteristic and chromosome differences.
Discovered how the immune system produces millions of different antibodies to combat almost any micro-organism. In doing so, he solved the tantalizing long-term puzzle of antibody diversity.
Discovered the drug artemisinin, a treatment for malaria, extracting it from sweet wormwood, an herb utilized in Chinese fever treatments for more than 2,000 years. Artemisinin and its derivatives have saved or improved the lives of millions of people.
Discovered deuterium; showed how isotope ratios in rocks reveal past Earth climates; founded modern planetary science; the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated that electrically sparking simple gases produces amino acids – the building blocks of life.
First to read the entire genome of a free-living organism; played a major role in mapping the human genome; discovered more genes than had ever been previously documented; created synthetic DNA and new bacteria species.
Founded modern anatomy, overthrowing misconceptions about the body that had persisted for over a thousand years.
A founder of both pathology and social medicine, Virchow correctly identified that diseases are caused by malfunctioning cells. He named leukemia and was the first to catalog and name conditions such embolism, thrombosis, chordoma, and ochronosis.
Explained the chemistry of the eye after discovering the vitamin A chemical cycle that allows our eyes to record light. Established the chemistry of color vision and color blindness.
Discovered antibiotics made by soil-dwelling bacteria including streptomycin, the first effective treatment for tuberculosis; coined the word antibiotic.
Independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection; was one of the first biologists to express concern about the effects human activities were having on the natural world.
Initiated the experimental research into DNA that culminated in Watson and Crick’s discovery of its structure in 1953; crystallized DNA and obtained the best quality X-ray images of DNA seen at that time, indicating DNA molecules were helix shaped.
Founded microbial ecology; discovered chemosynthetic life forms which obtain energy from chemical reactions rather than from sunlight; discovered nitrogen-fixing bacteria in soil that make nitrates available to green plants.
Discovered a third basic form of life, the Archaea; redrew the tree of life; revolutionized biology using genetic analysis, allowing all forms of life to be included in the study of evolution.