A Brief History of Science

Let us begin, as with all things in Greece

Where science was used to bring about peace

Thales the Milesian foretold an eclipse;

With the Saros cycle he’d come to grips.

Empedocles gave us the humours four

And then cried himself immortal before

Into a volcano he thought to dive;

We speak of him now, so he’s still alive.

Eratosthenes then measured the Earth

By using a solstice to give the girth

The circumference taken at this event,

Was within an error of two per cent.

The king of Sicily we have to thank,

For Archimedes getting in a tank

Of water, before naked he did sound

Eureka! The law of displacement I’ve found.

Of Aristotle I will just be brief,

For he was not of science, but a thief.

He stole the maven from their poet form

And left us separated and forlorn.


In the dark ages much science was lost

What Copernicus knew came at a cost.

Then came great Tycho with his golden nose;

Kepler’s three laws did the old rules expose.

Elliptical orbits in two foci,

With Time squared and length cubed he mapped the sky.

By testing these thoughts with experiments,

Galileo caused a chain of events.

Sadly his resistance was more than air,

As the Catholic Church caused much despair.

From Venus’s transit, Horrocks did prove

That the geocentric model must move.

Huygens proposed light was like waves at sea,

Newton said No! Particles it must be.

And Isaac’s opinion held the most sway,

His mad genius forced others away,

From Liebnitz to Hooke and all in between

This force of nature was selfish and mean.


Horizons were now expanding at speed

As science tried hard to sate mankind’s need.

Linnaeus set out a new catalogue,

With animal, plant and mineral to log.

He used these to group all things on the grounds

Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds.

Lavoisier then set out to prove

That whilst in reactions, chemicals move

Nothing is created and nothing lost,

To the total balance there is no cost.

Another Frenchman, Proust, then showed us how

That no matter what mixture you allow

Elements will combine in the same way,

Definite proportions will just hold sway.

The church now was loosing the great debate

That Earth was as old Adam’s birthdate.

As Hutton revealed the following trend:

No hint of start and no hope of an end,

Herschel turned his lens to the sky

And found round our sun new planets to fly.


A century of progress was to come

Which would leave non-believers feeling numb.

The concept of the atom was not great,

So Dalton came along to lend some weight

And even though to colour he was blind

Relative atomic sums he assigned.

But ordering these numbers made no sense,

Chemists like John Newlands it did incense,

Until Mendeleev showed how it was done,

His table predicted geranium.

The valency of atoms is their bond,

Determining how molecules respond,

Their non-linear structure was opaque

Until Kekulé dreamed up a giant snake.

Yet something more fantastic was to come

To electricity we did succumb.

And one day you may tax it! Came the cry

As Faraday induced a current by

Moving magnetic fields across two coils

Henry showed the same but lost the spoils.

By working out the conservation cost,

Joule showed how energy is never lost;

Electromagnetism had a path,

And Maxwell proved it all with gorgeous math.

As Becquerel then later used X-Rays

He noticed something that soon would amaze,

By keeping samples in captivity

He had found radioactivity.

But then, as with all things good in mankind,

It took a woman’s touch to truly find

How this was an atomic property

Thank heavens that we had Marie Curie.

With atomic theory now running rings,

Darwin did question the nature of things

Did man come from ape, or was ape from man,

Were we part of some grand event or plan?


A shift in paradigm was close at hand

What we now knew we did not understand.

Light was not particle, nor was it wave

Planck showed how it should discretely behave,

Einstein then realised what all this meant:

Space-time is relative; light could be bent.

Schrödinger gave us far more than a cat,

His wave equations showed physicists that

Classical orbits were really a lie.

As Heisenberg found you could not rely,

On measuring speed and place at one time,

To say things are certain would be a crime.

Whilst Wegener proved how Earth drifts apart

Lemaitre showed the big bang was the start;

Hubble said our Universe does expand

Measuring galaxies like grains of sand.

As Chandrasekhar made his black hole mark

Zwicky then showed most of matter is dark,

But nothing was blacker than mankind’s heart

When Oppenheimer split atoms apart;

The destroyer of worlds, now he was death!

Even today, we are holding our breath.


Building blocks of life were now being seen,

With science appearing as if from dream.

Hoyle showed how we are all made from stardust,

Urey and Miller said life’s not nonplussed.

Watson and Crick unravelled DNA,

Everett showed where there’s will there’s a way,

Keeling proved that climate change is man’s sin

Lorenz showed the chaos that we live in.

Higgs said a vacuum has some stuff in it

Hawking showed that a black hole does emit

Whilst Wilmut cloned a new sheep from a cell

Tim Berners-Lee opened heaven and hell.

Marcy revealed all the worlds in between,

Geim and Noveselov gave us graphene.

With lots to unravel and more to find,

Does science have answers for all mankind?

The School of Athens: close to where it all began.
The School of Athens: close to where it all began.

This poem is constructed using heroic couplets, and dedicated to the history of science. It was written for and performed at the Science Showoff in Manchester, as part of the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference 2015.


It is in no means complete, but it is at least a start. Please let me know (in the comments below) which of your favourite and most influential scientists I have missed out and I will try to incorporate them into future versions.

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Science”

    • Thanks Peter, and great meeting you at the Scicomm conference.

      A song lyric is something that I toyed with, but it took me 8 minutes to perform as a poetry piece, so we’d be looking at something of American Pie/ Bohemian Rhapsody proportions…


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