14 Notable European Scientists Throughout History

Color portrait of Archimedes.

http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=53032/Giuseppe Nogari/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

You can study both the history of science (such as how the scientific method evolved) and the impact of science upon history, but perhaps the most human aspect of the subject is in the study of scientists themselves. This list of notable scientists is in chronological order of birth.


Bust of Pythagoras on black background.

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We know relatively little about Pythagoras. He was born on Samos in the Aegean region in the sixth century, possibly c. 572 BCE. After traveling, he founded a school of natural philosophy at Croton in Southern Italy, but he left no writings. Students of the school probably attributed some of their discoveries to him, making it difficult for us to know what he developed. We believe he originated number theory and helped prove earlier mathematical theories, as well as arguing that the Earth was the ​center of a spherical universe.


Statue of Aristotle on a gray background.

Jastrow (2006)/Ludovisi Collection/After Lysippos/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Born in 384 BCE in Greece, Aristotle grew up to be one of the most important figures in Western intellectual, philosophical, and scientific thought, imparting a framework which underpins much of our thinking even now. He ranged across most subjects, providing theories which lasted for centuries and advancing the idea that experiments should be a driving force for science. Only a fifth of his surviving works survives, around a million words. He died in 322 BCE.​


Oil painting of Archimedes working at his desk.

Domenico Fetti/Wikimedia Commons

Born c. 287 BCE in Syracuse, Sicily, Archimedes’ discoveries in mathematics have led him to be labeled the greatest mathematician of the ancient world. He is most famous for his discovery that when an object floats in a fluid, it displaces a weight of the fluid equal to its own weight. This was a discovery he, according to legend, made in a bath, at which point he jumped out shouting "Eureka." He was active as an inventor, creating military devices to defend Syracuse. He died in 212 BCE when the city was sacked.

Peter Peregrinus of Maricourt

Magnet and dozens of quarters on a wooden table.

Kwanchai Lerttanapunyaporn/EyeEm/Getty Images

Little is known of Peter, including his dates of birth and death. We know he acted as tutor to Roger Bacon in Paris c. 1250, and that he was an engineer in the army of Charles of Anjou at the siege of Lucera in 1269. What we do have is the "Epistola de magnete," the first serious work on magnetics. In it, he used the term "pole" for the first time in that context. He is considered a precursor to modern scientific methodology and author of one of the medieval era’s great pieces of science.

Roger Bacon

Statue of Roger Bacon at Oxford University.

MykReeve/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

The early details of Bacon’s life are sketchy. He was born c. 1214 to a wealthy family, went to university in Oxford and Paris and joined the Franciscan order. He pursued knowledge in all its forms, ranging across the sciences, leaving a legacy which stressed experimentation to test and discover. He had a prodigious imagination, predicting mechanized flight and transport, but was on several occasions confined to his monastery by unhappy superiors. He died in 1292.

Nicolaus Copernicus

Ink portrait of Copernicus.

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Born to a wealthy merchant family in Poland in 1473, Copernicus studied at university before becoming a canon of Frauenburg cathedral, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Alongside his ecclesiastical duties, he pursued an interest in astronomy, reintroducing the heliocentric view of the solar system, namely that the planets revolve around the sun. He died shortly after the first publication of his key work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI," in 1543.

Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Von Hohenheim)

Paracelsus black and white portrait.

Wenceslaus Hollar/After Peter Paul Rubens/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Theophrastus adopted the name Paracelsus to show he was better than Celsus, a Roman medical writer. He was born in 1493 to the son of a medic and chemist, studied medicine before traveling very widely for the era, picking up information wherever he could. Famed for his knowledge, a teaching post in Basle turned sour after he repeatedly upset superiors. His reputation was restored by his work "Der grossen Wundartznel." As well as medical advances, he redirected the study of alchemy towards medicinal answers and fused chemistry with medicine. He died in 1541.

Galileo Galilei

Statue of Galileo.


Born in Pisa, Italy, in 1564, Galileo contributed widely to the sciences, making fundamental changes to the way people studied motion and natural philosophy, as well as helping create the scientific method. He is widely remembered for his work in astronomy, which revolutionized the subject and accepted the Copernican theories, but also brought him into conflict with the church. He was imprisoned, first in a cell and then at home, but he kept developing ideas. He died, blind, in 1642.

Robert Boyle

Color portrait of Robert Boyle.

https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/69/9b/ce76a6c3ca53526d9c0ebe1c01ca.jpg/Gallery:/https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/M0006615.html/Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-01):/https://wellcomecollection.org/works/tvvbjtce CC-BY-4.0/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

The seventh son of the first Earl of Cork, Boyle was born in Ireland in 1627. His career was wide and varied. Along with making a substantial reputation for himself as a scientist and natural philosopher, he also wrote about theology. While his theories on things like atoms are often viewed as being derivative of others, his major contribution to science was a great ability to create experiments to test and support his hypotheses. He died in 1691.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton full color portrait.

National Portrait Gallery: NPG 2881/Godfrey Kneller/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Born in England in 1642, Newton was one of the great figures of the scientific revolution. He made major discoveries in optics, mathematics, and physics, in which his three laws of motion form an underlying part. He was also active in the area of scientific philosophy, but was deeply hostile to criticism and was involved in several verbal feuds with other scientists. He died in 1727.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin photograph.

Charles_Darwin_seated.jpg: Henry Maull (1829–1914) and John Fox (1832–1907) (Maull & Fox) [2]/derivative work: Beao/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The father of arguably the most controversial scientific theory of the modern age, Darwin was born in England in 1809 and first made a name for himself as a geologist. Also a naturalist, he arrived at a theory of evolution through the process of natural selection after traveling on HMS Beagle and making careful observations. This theory was published in "On the Origin of Species" in 1859 and went on to gain widespread scientific acceptance as it was proved correct. He died in 1882 afer having won many accolades.

Max Planck

Black and white photograph of Max Planck.

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Planck was born in Germany in 1858. During his long career as a physicist, he originated quantum theory, won the Noble prize, and contributed greatly to a number of areas including optics and thermodynamics. He accomplished all this while quietly and stoically dealing with personal tragedy: one son died in action during World War 1, while another was executed for plotting to kill Hitler in World War 2. Also a great pianist, he died in 1947.

Albert Einstein

Black and white photograph of Albert Einstein in front of a blackboard.


Although Einstein became an American in 1940, he was born in Germany in 1879 and lived there until being driven out by the Nazis. He is, without doubt, the key figure of 20th-century physics and probably the most iconic scientist of that era. He developed the Special and General Theory of Relativity and gave insights into space and time which are still being found true to this day. He died in 1955.

Francis Crick

Black and white photograph of Francis Crick standing in profile.

Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Crick was born in Britain in 1916. After a diversion during World War 2 working for the Admiralty, he pursued a career in biophysics and molecular biology. He was chiefly known for his work with American James Watson and New Zealand-born Briton Maurice Wilkins in determining the molecular structure of DNA, a cornerstone of late 20th-century science for which they won the Noble prize.

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Wilde, Robert. "14 Notable European Scientists Throughout History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/notable-european-scientists-1221837. Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). 14 Notable European Scientists Throughout History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/notable-european-scientists-1221837 Wilde, Robert. "14 Notable European Scientists Throughout History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/notable-european-scientists-1221837 (accessed May 29, 2023).