History of the Unknown

A friend recently posted a BBC article about the difficulties of including the really important things in an overview of human history. And some of the facts in there, from a scientific standpoint, are fascinating.

First, there’s Fritz Haber, the man who (exaggeration for dramatic effect, now) taught us how to feed the world. By figuring out a way to artificially create ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, Haber led the way to mass-produced fertilizer and thus much greater crop production. Paradoxically — or ironically, I suppose — he was also vilified for helping to produce the gas that killed so many Jews during WW II.

There’s also a nice little shout-out to Ib Al-Haytham, whom historians consider the first “real” scientist, possibly predating people like Bacon or Galileo or, interestingly enough, Mary Somerville, one of Ada Lovelace’s tutors. Moving beyond theoretical, “natural philosophy”, Al-Haytham and others like him established the need for evidence which concurred with a scientific theory, and produced such detailed notes that other scientists would be able to reproduce their work much later.

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