Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coolest Scientist Ever: Elite Eight

And then there were 8. (Full bracket and bios here)

In Round 2, we're focused on discussing and evaluating the importance of each competitor's work. We’re still concerned with everything they have done to popularize science but, this round is primarily about what they did to become prominent in the first place.

Stephen Hawking. The greatest living physicist dominated his first round match-up with James Watson. Hawking, known for his work on theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity, has also made huge contributions to the popularization of science. His book A Brief History of Time was on the British bestseller list for a record 237 weeks. His work with Roger Penrose redefined our understanding of cosmology in general and black holes in particular. To put it succinctly, if anyone knows what the big bang looks like, it’s Stephen Hawking.

Neil Degrasse Tyson. Tyson took down James Thomson in the first upset of the tournament. While most people know him for his work popularizing science, DeGrasse Tyson began lecturing on astrophysics at the age of 15 before going on to a prestigious academic career. His greatest scientific accomplishment is without question determining that Pluto is not actually a planet and is instead a “dwarf planet”. It’s an impressive achievement, but, like most people, I was bummed out that Pluto was no longer a planet.

Jane Goodall. Having crushed the NIH director nominee, Francis Collins, in round one, Jane Goodall moves into round two. It is impossible to even discuss the study of primates, evolution or even what it is to be human, without touching upon Goodall’s ground breaking work with chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her discovery of tool-making among chimpanzees is a milestone development in the study of who we as humans are, and how we came to be.

Bill Gates. There are lots of people who wouldn’t even think of Bill Gates as a scientist, but apparently more than those who think E.O. Wilson is the coolest scientist ever. Many see Microsoft and the Gates foundation and forget that Gates got his start doing groundbreaking computer science with Paul Allen at a tiny company in New Mexico. It was their scientific breakthroughs writing Altair BASIC at the heart of the home computer revolution. Odds are you are reading this on something that was built on the foundation laid by Gates the scientist (and sold to you by Gates the businessman).

Carl Sagan. In a Cinderella upset, the man from Cosmos has taken down the father of modern astronomy. This victory says everything about the important role Sagan played in introducing an entire generation of children to science through his books, radio and television appearances. While he’s not Galileo, Sagan was an accomplished scientist who made important discoveries regarding the make up of Venus and Mars. He is perhaps best known for his work on the possibility of extraterrestrial life which included crafting the physical message that we attach to all spacecraft sent out of the solar system. And, of course we all remember "the billions upon billions of stars."

Benjamin Franklin. Franklin pulled away from Marie Curie late to move on to the second round. As for his achievements, where to even begin. Electricity? The Franklin Stove? The Public Library? The fire department? Franklin (who never patented any of his inventions or discoveries!) has had as much day-to-day impact as any scientist in history. His accomplishments in the physical and social science are utterly staggering. According the the Franklin Institute, he was "a scientist, an inventor, a statesman, a printer, a philosopher, a musician, and an economist."

Charles Darwin. In the closest match-up, Darwin just edged out Nikola Tesla to move on to the second round. It’s only appropriate that controversy follow Darwin as he’s never been able to shake it since the day he decided to publish On the Origin of the Species. It would be impossible to imagine science without evolution. Arguably the most important scientific discovery ever.

Albert Einstein. Crushed Louis Pasteur. Arguably the most accomplished scientist of all time, you may choose any of his enormous contributions to physics. The theory of relativity? Quantum theory? Space time? Take your pick. A serious candidate for smartest human ever.

So those are the Elite 8! Now get out there and vote for your favorites! Or vote against the ones you hate! You can vote once a day (poll will be in the sidebar all week) so come back and make sure your coolest scientist ever makes it to the next round.

Who is the coolest scientist ever?
Stephen Hawking
Neil Degrasse Tyson
Jane Goodall
Bill Gates
Carl Sagan
Benjamin Franklin
Charles Darwin
Albert Einstein
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Next Tuesday: The Final Four.

1 comment:

  1. We vote for Einstein..!

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