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Think Tank

10 Greatest Ideas in the History of Science

While science often moves forward in awkward leaps and bounds, Peter Atkins compiled a list of 10 concepts that are considered "so rock solid, that it is difficult to imagine them ever being replaced with something better." So our friends at RealClearScience's Newton blog write about Atkins's 2003 book, Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science. While Atkins's picks might be incredibly worthy ones, many are also a bit hard to comprehend, so a guide to these concepts can be found on the Newton blog here, and are summarized briefly below. 

The 10 Greatest Ideas in the History of Science:

1. Evolution Occurs by Natural Selection

"The power of evolution comes from its ability to explain both the unity and diversity of life; in other words, the theory describes how similarities and differences between species arise by descent from a universal common ancestor."

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2. DNA Encodes Heritable Information

"It wasn't until 1952 that scientists determined that DNA was the molecule responsible for transmitting heritable information."

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3. Energy Is Conserved

"All the energy that currently exists in the universe is all that ever has been and all that ever will be."

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4. Entropy: Universe Tends Toward Disorder

"Entropy is sort of like Murphy's Law applied to the entire universe."

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5. Matter Is Made of Atoms

"What are atoms? Mostly empty space, actually. That means you are mostly empty space, as well."

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6. Symmetry Quantifies Beauty

"The most beautiful human faces are also the most symmetrical. As it turns out, the universe is riddled with symmetry, or the lack thereof."

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7. Classical Mechanics Fails to Describe Small Particles

"Imagine a hot stove: It first starts out red, then turns white as it gets hotter. Classical physics was incapable of explaining this."

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8. The Universe Is Expanding

"Not only is the universe expanding, its rate of expansion appears to be accelerating due to dark energy. And the further away an object is from Earth, the faster it is accelerating away from us."

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9. Spacetime Is Curved by Matter

"Every time you use your smartphone to succesfully find the local Starbucks, give thanks to Albert Einstein."

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10. Mathematics Is the Limit of Reason

"Though it is the language of science, the truth is that mathematics is built upon a cracked foundation."

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