The educational backgrounds of famous scientists

There’s no question that the quality and type of education people receive can have a profound impact on their learning, general outlook and future careers.

Interior education specialist highlights the importance of providing students with a well-designed learning space, noting that everything from classroom furniture to colour schemes can help to motivate people to learn.

Here, we take a look at a few of the most famous scientists of all time and trace their stories back to the educations they had and how this affected their subsequent work.

Sir Issac Newton

Born in 1643, Sir Issac Newton is best known for developing the law of universal gravitation. A pivotal figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, he also discovered the composition of white light, paving the way for the science of light and modern physical optics, while in mathematics, he discovered the infinitesimal calculus. His achievements earned him a knighthood in 1705, making him the first scientist to receive this honour.

These scientific endeavours are all the more remarkable given Sir Issac’s start in life. His father died before he was born and his mother left him with his grandmother when he was two. After a brief and unsuccessful stint trying to manage his family’s country estate, he was sent to grammar school and eventually matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was older than his fellow undergraduates because his education has been interrupted.

An individual thinker from the outset, he refused to stick to the outmoded Aristotelianism curriculum being taught at Cambridge and instead branched out to study the work of scientists and philosophers including Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes. By the time he received his bachelor’s degree in 1665, he had mastered his own version of the new philosophy and mathematics without formal guidance.

Marie Curie

The first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and the first person to receive two separate Nobels, Marie Curie was born in Poland in 1867. During her remarkable career, the physicist and chemist completed pioneering work in radioactivity and invented the first mobile X-ray machine. She was also the first female professor at the renowned Sorbonne University.

Showing signs of brilliance from a young age, she won a gold medal at 16 when she completed her secondary education at the Russian lycée. It looked like this could be the peak of her academic achievements after her father lost his savings through poor investments, forcing Marie to take up work as a governess in order to earn money. Determined to succeed however, she moved to Paris in 1891 and began to follow lectures at the Sorbonne. Often studying late into the night, she lived off little more than tea, bread and butter during this period.

Unperturbed though, she flourished as a scientist and within two years had earned a place working in a research lab. Her career then took off and in 1906 she became the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne.

Albert Einstein

Widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest revolutionary scientists, Albert Einstein was born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany. Best known for developing the special and general theories of relativity, the physicist won a Nobel Prize in 1921. His work transformed our understanding of physics and it remains the basis of many current lines of scientific investigation.

This great scientific thinker didn’t have the education you might expect however. Although he showed curiosity from a young age – developing a fascination with compasses and the invisible forces that cause their needles to move, and devouring the contents of a geometry book he was given at the age of 12 – he had a turbulent schooling. At the Luitpold Gymnasium he attended, one teacher told him he would never amount to anything. Later on, his education was disrupted by his father’s business failures, which left the young Einstein in a boarding house, separated from his family and expected to finish his schooling alone. Unhappy, he ran away to rejoin his parents.

He eventually managed to get into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, which was later renamed the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology after it was awarded university status. Einstein graduated in 1900, but because of his tendency to cut classes and study advanced subjects independently, he was given a poor reference from a professor and was subsequently turned down for every academic job he applied for. It was during his spare time working in a patent office that he worked on his first scientific papers – and his career took off from this inauspicious beginning.

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