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A scientist is a person who researches to advance knowledge in an area of the natural sciences. [1] [2] [3] [4]


In classical antiquity, there was no real ancient analog of a modern scientist. Instead, philosophers engaged in the philosophical study of nature called natural philosophy, a precursor of natural science. [5] Though Thales (circa 624–545 BC) was arguably the first scientist for describing how cosmic events may be seen as natural, not necessarily caused by gods, [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] it was not until the 19th century that the term scientist came into regular use after it was coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell in 1833. [12] [13]


"No one in the history of civilization has shaped our understanding of science and natural philosophy more than the great Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle (384-322 BC), who exerted a profound and pervasive influence for more than two thousand years" --Gary B. Ferngren Aristotle Altemps Inv8575.jpg
"No one in the history of civilization has shaped our understanding of science and natural philosophy more than the great Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle (384-322 BC), who exerted a profound and pervasive influence for more than two thousand years" —Gary B. Ferngren
Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the electrical battery and discoverer of methane, is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists in history. Alessandro Volta.jpeg
Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the electrical battery and discoverer of methane, is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists in history.
Francesco Redi, referred to as the "father of modern parasitology", is the founder of experimental biology. Francesco Redi.jpg
Francesco Redi, referred to as the "father of modern parasitology", is the founder of experimental biology.
Mary Somerville, for whom the word "scientist" was coined. Thomas Phillips - Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science - Google Art Project.jpg
Mary Somerville, for whom the word "scientist" was coined.
Physicist Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity and made many substantial contributions to physics. Albert Einstein photo 1921.jpg
Physicist Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity and made many substantial contributions to physics.
Physicist Enrico Fermi is credited with the creation of the world's first atomic bomb and nuclear reactor. Enrico Fermi 1943-49.jpg
Physicist Enrico Fermi is credited with the creation of the world's first atomic bomb and nuclear reactor.
Atomic physicist Niels Bohr made fundamental contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. Niels Bohr.jpg
Atomic physicist Niels Bohr made fundamental contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory.
Marine Biologist Rachel Carson launched the 20th century environmental movement. Rachel-Carson.jpg
Marine Biologist Rachel Carson launched the 20th century environmental movement.

The roles of "scientists", and their predecessors before the emergence of modern scientific disciplines, have evolved considerably over time. Scientists of different eras (and before them, natural philosophers, mathematicians, natural historians, natural theologians, engineers, and others who contributed to the development of science) have had widely different places in society, and the social norms, ethical values, and epistemic virtues associated with scientists—and expected of them—have changed over time as well. Accordingly, many different historical figures can be identified as early scientists, depending on which characteristics of modern science are taken to be essential.

Some historians point to the Scientific Revolution that began in 16th century as the period when science in a recognizably modern form developed. It was not until the 19th century that sufficient socioeconomic changes had occurred for scientists to emerge as a major profession. [15]

Classical antiquity

Knowledge about nature in classical antiquity was pursued by many kinds of scholars. Greek contributions to science—including works of geometry and mathematical astronomy, early accounts of biological processes and catalogs of plants and animals, and theories of knowledge and learning—were produced by philosophers and physicians, as well as practitioners of various trades. These roles, and their associations with scientific knowledge, spread with the Roman Empire and, with the spread of Christianity [ broken anchor ], became closely linked to religious institutions in most of European countries. Astrology and astronomy became an important area of knowledge, and the role of astronomer/astrologer developed with the support of political and religious patronage. By the time of the medieval university system, knowledge was divided into the trivium —philosophy, including natural philosophy—and the quadrivium —mathematics, including astronomy. Hence, the medieval analogs of scientists were often either philosophers or mathematicians. Knowledge of plants and animals was broadly the province of physicians.

Middle Ages

Science in medieval Islam generated some new modes of developing natural knowledge, although still within the bounds of existing social roles such as philosopher and mathematician. Many proto-scientists from the Islamic Golden Age are considered polymaths, in part because of the lack of anything corresponding to modern scientific disciplines. Many of these early polymaths were also religious priests and theologians: for example, Alhazen and al-Biruni were mutakallimiin; the physician Avicenna was a hafiz; the physician Ibn al-Nafis was a hafiz, muhaddith and ulema; the botanist Otto Brunfels was a theologian and historian of Protestantism; the astronomer and physician Nicolaus Copernicus was a priest. During the Italian Renaissance scientists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei and Gerolamo Cardano have been considered as the most recognizable polymaths.


During the Renaissance, Italians made substantial contributions in science. Leonardo da Vinci made significant discoveries in paleontology and anatomy. The Father of modern Science, [16] [17] Galileo Galilei, made key improvements on the thermometer and telescope which allowed him to observe and clearly describe the solar system. Descartes was not only a pioneer of analytic geometry but formulated a theory of mechanics [18] and advanced ideas about the origins of animal movement and perception. Vision interested the physicists Young and Helmholtz, who also studied optics, hearing and music. Newton extended Descartes's mathematics by inventing calculus (at the same time as Leibniz). He provided a comprehensive formulation of classical mechanics and investigated light and optics. Fourier founded a new branch of mathematics — infinite, periodic series — studied heat flow and infrared radiation, and discovered the greenhouse effect. Girolamo Cardano, Blaise Pascal Pierre de Fermat, Von Neumann, Turing, Khinchin, Markov and Wiener, all mathematicians, made major contributions to science and probability theory, including the ideas behind computers, and some of the foundations of statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics. Many mathematically inclined scientists, including Galileo, were also musicians.

There are many compelling stories in medicine and biology, such as the development of ideas about the circulation of blood from Galen to Harvey. Some scholars and historians attributes Christianity to having contributed to the rise of the Scientific Revolution. [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

Age of Enlightenment

During the age of Enlightenment, Luigi Galvani, the pioneer of the bioelectromagnetics, discovered the animal electricity. He discovered that a charge applied to the spinal cord of a frog could generate muscular spasms throughout its body. Charges could make frog legs jump even if the legs were no longer attached to a frog. While cutting a frog leg, Galvani's steel scalpel touched a brass hook that was holding the leg in place. The leg twitched. Further experiments confirmed this effect, and Galvani was convinced that he was seeing the effects of what he called animal electricity, the life force within the muscles of the frog. At the University of Pavia, Galvani's colleague Alessandro Volta was able to reproduce the results, but was sceptical of Galvani's explanation. [24]

Lazzaro Spallanzani is one of the most influential figures in experimental physiology and the natural sciences. His investigations have exerted a lasting influence on the medical sciences. He made important contributions to the experimental study of bodily functions and animal reproduction. [25]

Francesco Redi discovered that microorganisms can cause disease.

19th century

Until the late 19th or early 20th century, scientists were still referred to as "natural philosophers" or "men of science". [26] [27] [28] [29]

English philosopher and historian of science William Whewell coined the term scientist in 1833, and it first appeared in print in Whewell's anonymous 1834 review of Mary Somerville's On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences published in the Quarterly Review . [30] Whewell wrote of "an increasing proclivity of separation and dismemberment" in the sciences; while highly specific terms proliferated—chemist, mathematician, naturalist—the broad term "philosopher" was no longer satisfactory to group together those who pursued science, without the caveats of "natural" or "experimental" philosopher. Whewell compared these increasing divisions with Somerville's aim of "[rendering] a most important service to science" "by showing how detached branches have, in the history of science, united by the discovery of general principles." [31] Whewell reported in his review that members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science had been complaining at recent meetings about the lack of a good term for "students of the knowledge of the material world collectively." Alluding to himself, he noted that "some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form [the word] scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this term since we already have such words as economist , and atheist —but this was not generally palatable". [32]

Whewell proposed the word again more seriously (and not anonymously) in his 1840 [33] The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences:

The terminations ize (rather than ise), ism, and ist, are applied to words of all origins: thus we have to pulverize, to colonize, Witticism, Heathenism, Journalist, Tobacconist. Hence we may make such words when they are wanted. As we cannot use physician for a cultivator of physics, I have called him a Physicist. We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.

He also proposed the term physicist at the same time, as a counterpart to the French word physicien. Neither term gained wide acceptance until decades later; scientist became a common term in the late 19th century in the United States and around the turn of the 20th century in Great Britain. [30] [34] [35] By the twentieth century, the modern notion of science as a special brand of information about the world, practiced by a distinct group and pursued through a unique method, was essentially in place.

20th century

Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person to win it twice. Her efforts led to the development of nuclear energy and Radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer. In 1922, she was appointed a member of the International Commission on Intellectual Co-operation by the Council of the League of Nations. She campaigned for scientist's right to patent their discoveries and inventions. She also campaigned for free access to international scientific literature and for internationally recognized scientific symbols.


As a profession, the scientist of today is widely recognized[ citation needed ]. However, there is no formal process to determine who is a scientist and who is not a scientist. Anyone can be a scientist in some sense. Some professions have legal requirements for their practice (e.g. licensure) and some scientists are independent scientists meaning that they practice science on their own, but to practice science there are no known licensure requirements. [36]


In modern times, many professional scientists are trained in an academic setting (e.g., universities and research institutes), mostly at the level of graduate schools. Upon completion, they would normally attain an academic degree, with the highest degree being a doctorate such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). [37] Although graduate education for scientists varies among institutions and countries, some common training requirements include specializing in an area of interest, [38] publishing research findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals [39] and presenting them at scientific conferences, [40] giving lectures or teaching, [40] and defending a thesis (or dissertation) during an oral examination. [37] To aid them in this endeavor, graduate students often work under the guidance of a mentor, usually a senior scientist, which may continue after the completion of their doctorates whereby they work as postdoctoral researchers. [41]


After the completion of their training, many scientists pursue careers in a variety of work settings and conditions. [42] In 2017, the British scientific journal Nature published the results of a large-scale survey of more than 5,700 doctoral students worldwide, asking them which sectors of the economy they would like to work in. A little over half of the respondents wanted to pursue a career in academia, with smaller proportions hoping to work in industry, government, and nonprofit environments. [43] [44]

Other motivations are recognition by their peers and prestige. The Nobel Prize, a widely regarded prestigious award, [45] is awarded annually to those who have achieved scientific advances in the fields of medicine, physics, and chemistry.

Some scientists have a desire to apply scientific knowledge for the benefit of people's health, the nations, the world, nature, or industries (academic scientist and industrial scientist). Scientists tend to be less motivated by direct financial reward for their work than other careers. As a result, scientific researchers often accept lower average salaries when compared with many other professions which require a similar amount of training and qualification.[ citation needed ]

Research interests

Scientists include experimentalists who mainly perform experiments to test hypotheses, and theoreticians who mainly develop models to explain existing data and predict new results. There is a continuum between two activities and the division between them is not clear-cut, with many scientists performing both tasks.

Those considering science as a career often look to the frontiers. These include cosmology and biology, especially molecular biology and the human genome project. Other areas of active research include the exploration of matter at the scale of elementary particles as described by high-energy physics, and materials science, which seeks to discover and design new materials. Others choose to study brain function and neurotransmitters, which is considered by many to be the "final frontier". [46] [47] [48] There are many important discoveries to make regarding the nature of the mind and human thought as much still remains unknown.

By specialization

Natural science

Physical science
Life science

Social science

Formal science



By employer


By country

The number of scientists is vastly different from country to country. For instance, there are only four full-time scientists per 10,000 workers in India, while this number is 79 for the United Kingdom, and 85 for the United States. [49]

Scientists per 10,000 workers for selected countries [49]

United States

According to the National Science Foundation, 4.7 million people with science degrees worked in the United States in 2015, across all disciplines and employment sectors. The figure included twice as many men as women. Of that total, 17% worked in academia, that is, at universities and undergraduate institutions, and men held 53% of those positions. 5% of scientists worked for the federal government, and about 3.5% were self-employed. Of the latter two groups, two-thirds were men. 59% of scientists in the United States were employed in industry or business, and another 6% worked in non-profit positions. [50]

By gender

Scientist and engineering statistics are usually intertwined, but they indicate that women enter the field far less than men, though this gap is narrowing. The number of science and engineering doctorates awarded to women rose from a mere 7 percent in 1970 to 34 percent in 1985 and in engineering alone the numbers of bachelor's degrees awarded to women rose from only 385 in 1975 to more than 11000 in 1985. [51] [ clarification needed ]

See also

Related lists

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of physics</span> Historical development of physics

Physics is a branch of science whose primary objects of study are matter and energy. Discoveries of physics find applications throughout the natural sciences and in technology. Historically, physics emerged from the scientific revolution of the 17th century, grew rapidly in the 19th century, then was transformed by a series of discoveries in the 20th century. Physics today may be divided loosely into classical physics and modern physics.

The history of science covers the development of science from ancient times to the present. It encompasses all three major branches of science: natural, social, and formal. Protoscience, early sciences, and natural philosophies such as alchemy and astrology during the Bronze Age, Iron Age, classical antiquity, and the Middle Ages declined during the early modern period after the establishment of formal disciplines of science in the Age of Enlightenment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Physicist</span> Scientist specializing in the field of physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. They work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of natural phenomena and the development and analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena.

Science is a strict systematic discipline that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable hypotheses and predictions about the world. Modern science is typically divided into three major branches: the natural sciences, which study the physical world; the social sciences, which study individuals and societies; and the formal sciences, which study formal systems, governed by axioms and rules. There is disagreement whether the formal sciences are scientific disciplines, as they do not rely on empirical evidence. Applied sciences are disciplines that use scientific knowledge for practical purposes, such as in engineering and medicine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Relationship between religion and science</span>

The relationship between religion and science involves discussions that interconnect the study of the natural world, history, philosophy, and theology. Even though the ancient and medieval worlds did not have conceptions resembling the modern understandings of "science" or of "religion", certain elements of modern ideas on the subject recur throughout history. The pair-structured phrases "religion and science" and "science and religion" first emerged in the literature during the 19th century. This coincided with the refining of "science" and of "religion" as distinct concepts in the preceding few centuries—partly due to professionalization of the sciences, the Protestant Reformation, colonization, and globalization. Since then the relationship between science and religion has been characterized in terms of "conflict", "harmony", "complexity", and "mutual independence", among others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific Revolution</span> Emergence of modern science in the early modern period

The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology and chemistry transformed the views of society about nature. The Scientific Revolution took place in Europe in the second half of the Renaissance period, with the 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus publication De revolutionibus orbium coelestium often cited as its beginning.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural science</span> Branch of science about the natural world

Natural science is one of the branches of science concerned with the description, understanding and prediction of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

Scientism is the view that science and the scientific method are the best or only way to render truth about the world and reality.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Whewell</span> English scientist and theologian (1794 – 1866)

William Whewell was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master at Trinity College, Cambridge. In his time as a student there, he achieved distinction in both poetry and mathematics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popular science</span> Interpretation of science intended for a general audience

Popular science is an interpretation of science intended for a general audience. While science journalism focuses on recent scientific developments, popular science is more broad ranging. It may be written by professional science journalists or by scientists themselves. It is presented in many forms, including books, film and television documentaries, magazine articles, and web pages.

The scientific community is a diverse network of interacting scientists. It includes many "sub-communities" working on particular scientific fields, and within particular institutions; interdisciplinary and cross-institutional activities are also significant. Objectivity is expected to be achieved by the scientific method. Peer review, through discussion and debate within journals and conferences, assists in this objectivity by maintaining the quality of research methodology and interpretation of results.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural philosophy</span> Philosophical study of nature

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature is the philosophical study of physics, that is, nature and the physical universe. It was dominant before the development of modern science.

In philosophy of science and epistemology, the demarcation problem is the question of how to distinguish between science and non-science. It also examines the boundaries between science, pseudoscience and other products of human activity, like art and literature and beliefs. The debate continues after more than two millennia of dialogue among philosophers of science and scientists in various fields. The debate has consequences for what can be termed "scientific" in topics such as education and public policy.

The history of scientific method considers changes in the methodology of scientific inquiry, as distinct from the history of science itself. The development of rules for scientific reasoning has not been straightforward; scientific method has been the subject of intense and recurring debate throughout the history of science, and eminent natural philosophers and scientists have argued for the primacy of one or another approach to establishing scientific knowledge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Science in the Renaissance</span>

During the Renaissance, great advances occurred in geography, astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, manufacturing, anatomy and engineering. The collection of ancient scientific texts began in earnest at the start of the 15th century and continued up to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the invention of printing allowed a faster propagation of new ideas. Nevertheless, some have seen the Renaissance, at least in its initial period, as one of scientific backwardness. Historians like George Sarton and Lynn Thorndike criticized how the Renaissance affected science, arguing that progress was slowed for some amount of time. Humanists favored human-centered subjects like politics and history over study of natural philosophy or applied mathematics. More recently, however, scholars have acknowledged the positive influence of the Renaissance on mathematics and science, pointing to factors like the rediscovery of lost or obscure texts and the increased emphasis on the study of language and the correct reading of texts.

This timeline of the history of the scientific method shows an overview of the development of the scientific method up to the present time. For a detailed account, see History of the scientific method.

<i>The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magisters Pox</i>

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox (2003) is Stephen Jay Gould's posthumous volume exploring the historically complex relationship between the sciences and the humanities in a scholarly discourse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">European science in the Middle Ages</span> Period of history of science

European science in the Middle Ages comprised the study of nature, mathematics and natural philosophy in medieval Europe. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the decline in knowledge of Greek, Christian Western Europe was cut off from an important source of ancient learning. Although a range of Christian clerics and scholars from Isidore and Bede to Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme maintained the spirit of rational inquiry, Western Europe would see a period of scientific decline during the Early Middle Ages. However, by the time of the High Middle Ages, the region had rallied and was on its way to once more taking the lead in scientific discovery. Scholarship and scientific discoveries of the Late Middle Ages laid the groundwork for the Scientific Revolution of the Early Modern Period.

The Book of Nature is a religious and philosophical concept originating in the Latin Middle Ages that explores the relationship between religion and science, which views nature as a book for knowledge and understanding. Early theologians, such as St. Paul, believed the Book of Nature was a source of God's revelation to humankind. He believed that when read alongside sacred scripture, the "book" and the study of God's creations would lead to a knowledge of God himself. This type of revelation is often referred to as a general revelation. The concept corresponds to the early Greek philosophical belief that humans, as part of a coherent universe, are capable of understanding the design of the natural world through reason. Philosophers, theologians, and scholars frequently deploy the concept. The phrase was first used by Galileo, who used the term when writing about how "the book of nature [can become] readable and comprehensible".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christianity and science</span> Relationship between Christianity and science

Most scientific and technical innovations prior to the Scientific Revolution were achieved by societies organized by religious traditions. Ancient Christian scholars pioneered individual elements of the scientific method. Historically, Christianity has been and still is a patron of sciences. It has been prolific in the foundation of schools, universities and hospitals, and many Christian clergy have been active in the sciences and have made significant contributions to the development of science.


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