My 10 year old is currently reading a book called 101 People Who Made History. When flicking through I found myself naturally drawn towards the many amazing famous scientists who have helped make the world what it is today with their hard work, sheer determination and passion for science and technology.
I’ve collected a few activities and simplified experiments linked to famous scientists to help children understand the concepts these inspirational people discovered.
Famous Scientist Experiments
Galileo Galilei (1564 to 1642)
Galileo was an astronomer, physicist, mathematician and inventor. He built his own telescope which allowed him to discover features on the surface of our moon and the moons of Jupiter!!
When Galileo was alive many people thought that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe, Galileo explained that the Earth orbits the sun (also stated by Copernicus ), a theory that got him into lots of trouble with the church. You can demonstrate this easily using our Sun, Earth and Moon demonstration.
One of Galileo’s most famous observations was that two same size objects of different weights hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height. This is because the force of gravity acting on both objects is the same. You can test this by dropping two identical water bottles from the same height. Empty one bottle and leave the other half full. You should find that if you drop them from the same height they hit the ground at the same time.
Nicolaus Copernicus was an astronomer born in 1473 who realised that the Earth orbits the Sun, an idea strongly opposed at the time.
The model proposed by Copernicus was called Heliocentrism, where the Sun is motionless at the centre with other planets rotating around it. Copernicus’s ideas marked the beginning of modern astronomy.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Italian Renaissance Man Leonardo Da Vinci created some of the world’s most famous art works, including the Mona Lisa and Last Supper, but he was not just an artist. Leonardo Da Vinci was also a scientist who studied anatomy, geology and flight. He kept journals full of drawings of the different subjects he was studying and often wrote his notes using a kind of shorthand he invented himself and also mirrored his writing, writing from right to left.
See if you can mirror your handwriting…how hard is it? Use a mirror to help.
Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet, the first woman officially recognised in a scientific position to receive a salary and the first woman to receive honorary membership into Britain’s Royal Society.
She made a huge contributions to the field of astronomy in her lifetime, both independently and alongside her brother William Herschel.
You can learn about the structure of a comet by making a simple comet model.
As well as figuring out why objects fall to the ground and why planets orbit the Sun, Isaac Newton showed that white light is actually made up of a range of colours and used a prism to show this. Did you know the Hubble Space Telescope is based in Newton’s reflecting telescope design?
You can split white light into all the colours of the rainbow by shining a torch through a prism in a dark room. Or you can get the same effect by blowing bubbles outside. When white light shines through the film of the bubbles, it is reflected and dispersed, splitting white light into its different wave lengths and showing all the colours.
Isaac Newton also created the Laws of Motion. One brilliant way to demonstrate all three laws is to make a film canister rocket.
Charles Darwin showed that that life on Earth is the result of millions of years of gradual changes, a theory we call Evolution by Natural Selection. It means that animals best suited to their environment are more likely to survive and pass those features onto their offspring.
Darwin made his discoveries while on a 5 year voyage on a ship called HMS Beagle. He collected samples, fossils and made observations.
You can make your own fossils using clay and small toys.
This activity would also be great for learning about Mary Anning. Mary was a fossil hunter who helped find some of the first dinosaur bones. Mary’s worked helped scientists form the theory of Evolution.
Louis Pasteur was a French Chemist who found that bacteria cause harmful diseases. He also discovered that bactera can be killed by boiling, a process we call Pasteurisation.
You can see the effect bacteria and other micro-organisms have on food by leaving them in different conditions and obeserving what happens. We placed apple segments in vinegar, salt, water and air with some interesting results.
Joseph Lister was a British doctor who believed that germs from dirty equipment and people not washing their hands were causing infections in patients after operations. He found that sterilising equipment and using antiseptics ( substances which prevent or slow the growth of micro organisms ) drastically reduced the rate of infection.
You can see how easily microorganisms spread between people by putting a little glitter and handcream on your hand and then shaking hands with someone else. You should find that the glitter spreads to their hand too. Keep shaking hands with people. How many can you infect with your glitter germs?
This is also a great activity to sit alongside learning about Florence Nightingale.
Wilhelm Roentgen was a German physicist who discovered X-rays. You can learn about X-rays and how they are used to detect broken bones with these easy bone activities.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She discovered two new radioactive elements and realised that radiation could be used to treat human diseases. Marie used her knowledge to improve X-ray machines, creating one that was small enough to fit in an ambulance.
Check out my Marie Curie Fact File and ideas for celebrating her achievements.
Ernest Rutherford discovered the structure of the atom, figuring out that most of an atom’s mass is at its centre ( nucleus ) with the rest being mostly empty space. Rutherford also found that the nucleus could be broken apart if struck by another high energy particle. He created a new science known as nuclear physics.
Kids Activities Blog have a great activity where they show you how to make a model of an atom.
Watson and Crick
James Watson and Francis Crick worked together at Cambridge University studying the structure of DNA. They discovered that DNA ( Deoxyribonucleic Acid ) consists of two strands twisted together in a double helix.
Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins also contributed to this ground breaking discovery.
Did you know you can easily extract DNA from stawberries? Steve Spangler shows you how.
You can also learn about the structure of DNA with our easy candy DNA model.
Learn more about the inspirational Rosalind Franklin with my FREE Rosalind Franklin Fact File.
Read more about the women who wrote the first computer program and try some simple coding with this free Ada Lovelace Fact File.
Marie M. Daly
Marie Daly was an American biochemist and the first African-American woman to receive a Chemistry Ph.D. in the United States. Marie’s incredible work led to a new understanding of how diet affects the human circulatory system.
Download my Marie M. Daly Fact File and make a model of a pumping heart.
Cai Lun invented paper in 105! He used the soft inner bark of a mulberry tree, bamboo fibres and water. After mixing he poured the mixture over cloth and let the water drain away. When the mixture dried it left behind paper! The invention of paper allowed discoveries to be recorded and spread much more easily.
The process isn’t the same as that invented by Cai Lun, but Babble Dabble Do has a great paper making activity you can try.
Archimedes was a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and inventor who lived in the 3rd century BCE. He worked out the value of pi, famously discovered that an object displaces its own volume of water in a bathtub and invented a simple pump machine that is still used today! One way to learn more about Archimedes is to make your own Archimedes Screw!
We’re going to keep adding famous scientists to this list so do keep popping back.
Contains affilate links