The 18th century saw developments in science and technology. Theories, ideas, inventions, and practices progressed and developed during this time. Science came to play the lead role during the 18th century because scientific authority began to overthrow religious and traditional authority in exchange of free speech and thought. The 18th century, often hailed as the Age of Enlightenment, was a remarkable period for science, marked by unprecedented advancements and profound transformations in the way humanity understood the natural world.
Let’s take a look at the people who led the improvement and progress in the field of medicine, physics, science, astronomy, and mathematics.
1. Benjamin Franklin
2. Carl Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist and he is also known as the father of modern biological classification systems. When he graduated, Linnaeus became an expert biologist and he received a sponsorship to conduct several field studies where thousands of species of flora and fauna were labeled, identified, and catalogued. He also published a series of scientific masterpieces in which he spent his system for dividing the animal and plant kingdoms into series of categories and sub-categories. Linnaeus’ classification system is still the backbone of all modern biological sciences today.
3. Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage is known to be a brilliant polymath and as the first man to build a computing machine. He helped establish the Astronomical Society where he became interested in creating a calculation machine that could compute squares. His invention landed him a sponsorship from the British government which he used in creating a complicated machine called the Analytical Engine. He also designed an open submarine where four people could survive for a couple of days.
4. John Dalton
5. Leonhard Euler
6. Antoine Lavoisier
7. James Watt
8. William Herschel
9. Joseph Fourier
10. Daniel Bernoulli
11. Amadeo Avogadro
Amadeo Avogadro was an Italian scientist who is hailed as a founder of the atomic-molecular theory. Amadeo Avogadro was the first scientist who discovered that elements could occur in the form of molecules rather than separate atoms. He is also famous for formulating the Avogadro’s law which states that equal volumes of gases under the same temperature and pressure will contain the same number of molecules.
12. Henry Cavendish
13. George Ohm
14. Augustin-Louis Cauchy
15. Anders Celsius
Science in the 18th Century
Scientific exploration in the 18th century pushed the boundaries of what was possible and as we know today some of the areas of pursuit were in fact impossible.
Alchemists tried in vain to find the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life, but by the 18th century, they were a thing of the past. The search for knowledge was now based on real science. Many new elements, like nickel, platinum, manganese, nitrogen, and chlorine, and a few new compounds, like carbon dioxide and hydrochloric acid, had been found. In England, science had come so far that plans had been made for making sulfuric acid on a large scale.
Despite this growing knowledge, scientists were still held back in their research by a bad theory that seems to be the last holdover from the time of the alchemists. People used to think that all things that could catch fire contained a mysterious substance called phlogiston, which is the basis of fire. When things burned, it was the phlogiston that was seen to escape in the form of flames. Even when it was shown that the products of combustion weighed more than the original material, this was explained by the idea that the phlogiston that had escaped must have had a negative weight, or weighed less than nothing.
In a series of experiments on how mercury “burns,” Antoine Lavoisier showed that when mercury “burns,” it actually combines with oxygen in the air and gets heavier. Using the scale, he showed that the weight of the oxide formed was the same as the weight of the mercury and oxygen that had combined with it. His experiments finally disproved the phlogiston theory, which made it possible to understand how other chemical reactions work.
In later experiments, Antoine Lavoisier figured out what air and water are made of. He is justly called the father of modern chemistry.
Popularization of Science
In the second quarter of the eighteenth century, a lot of books were written to teach Europe’s elite about the latest scientific discoveries. Science had all of a sudden become popular. Newtonianism for Ladies: Dialogues on Light and Color, which came out in Naples in 1737, was one of the best-selling books. The Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts, and Trades, which was written in French, was another well-known book. At the same time, scientific groups like The Royal Society, which was started during Charles II’s reign, grew.
At the beginning of the 18th century, two of the best mathematicians ever lived: Sir Isaac Newton from England and Gottfried Leibniz from Germany. They had a lot of followers, like Leonard Euler of Switzerland and Jakob and Johann Bernoulli of Basle. But Joseph Louis de Lagrange, who was born in Turin and lived and died in Paris, was the best mathematician of the eighteenth century. The most important thing that these brilliant men did was to create and perfect differential and integral calculus, a new branch of mathematics that made it possible for physical science to grow.
Physics was the first science to benefit from the work of mathematicians. But this century’s biggest contribution to science wasn’t so much the discoveries that were made as it was the way scientists approached their work. They stopped using argument and reasoning to try to find and explain natural laws. Instead, they started studying nature itself, looking into things, putting them into groups, and trying to recreate them in their labs. This is what we now call the scientific method. Studies were done on the laws of mechanics, continuing the work of Galileo, who had died in 1642. Studies were also done on dynamics and optics, continuing Newton’s work on finding out where colors come from.
In 1742, the Swede Anders Celsius came up with the centigrade degree as a way to measure heat. In 1791, the French Academy of Sciences suggested the meter as a new way to measure length. This was the start of the decimal metric system.
In 1735, the British government gave John Harrison a prize for designing and making a chronometer that could accurately measure longitude.
Electrical phenomena were first observed and studied systematically in the 18th century. The public was fascinated by the strange phenomenon known as electricism at the time. Throughout the century, anyone who wanted to show that he was up to date with the marvels of progress experimented with electricity; it even became a parlor game.
The Abbé Nollet, who was very interested in such experiments, successfully demonstrated the transmission of an electric current or shock through a circle. about one mile long, of Carthusian monks connected by iron wire before the royal court at Versailles; this was done to demonstrate to the royal court the speed of transmission of electricity. However, other results were obtained that, despite using less novel and spectacular apparatus, were of great importance to mankind; in 1752, Benjamin Franklin discovered the lightning conductor; in 1791, Galvani published a treatise on his work on electricity and the animal body; and at this time, Volta was working on the studies that led to the construction of the voltaic battery, forerunner of the dry battery of today.
Technology, along with pure science, made enormous strides in the eighteenth century. The period of the outstanding inventions was in the 1800s: the locomotive (Stephenson, 1829), the steamboat (Fulton, 1807), photography (Daguerre, 1839), the telegraph (Morse, 1837), the internal combustion engine (Lenoir, 1860), and the dirigible (that is, a steerable balloon, now called an airship) were all inventions of the nineteenth century.