European science – the Enlightenment

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Gottfried Leibniz, a white man with long curly brown hair

Gottfried Leibniz, a German mathematician

By 1650 AD, Europeans understood Islamic algebra and trigonometry better. Then they combined that with the exciting invention of the telescope and microscope. Together, these two new things led to a lot more new scientific discoveries. The Wars of Religion also got a lot of people thinking about what they really believed. How could you know for sure? Most of these people lived in Europe, where colonization was bringing in a tremendous amount of wealth from all over the world. Western Europe was getting richer and everywhere else was getting poorer. So in Western Europe, more people got good educations and could grow up to be scientists than in the Ottoman EmpireIndia, or China. That’s why many important new discoveries happened in Western Europe during the Enlightenment period.

Isaac Newton: a young white man with long hair

Isaac Newton, mathematician and physicist

More people studying algebra and trigonometry in Western Europe led to the invention of calculus about 1665. Two men invented calculus independently about the same time. One was Gottfried Leibniz, in Germany. The other was Isaac Newton, in England. Calculus is a mathematical method for calculating the area of more complicated shapes. It’s very important for modern engineering.

Both of these men did other work too. Leibniz did a lot of work on binary number systems and mechanical calculators. Newton was an astronomer, so he was also very much interested in the new glass lenses. He was also able to use these lenses to develop the science of optics. Newton also studied the work of the earlier European astronomers CopernicusGalileo, and Kepler. Like earlier scientists, Newton saw mathematics mainly as a way to answer astronomical questions. Newton brought the new calculus together with optics and astronomy to work out the law of gravitation. In 1687, Newton also published the laws of motion.

But many other scientists were also working in Europe now. In 1675, Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first to use the new microscope to see bacteria. About 1700, Bernardino Ramazzini confirmed Georgius Agricola‘s idea that some people’s occupations made them sick: miners got cancer from working with coal, lead, arsenic, and iron, and people who worked with dust and fire, like bakers, blacksmithsprinters, and glass-workers, tended to get coughs and lung cancer. Ramazzini also saw that nuns didn’t get cervical cancer, but they did get more breast cancer, so both kinds of cancer must be related to whether women had babies.

A Leyden Jar - an early kind of electric battery

A Leyden Jar – an early kind of electric battery

By 1745, scientists were beginning to do experiments with electricity, too. Ewald von Kleist invented the Leyden Jar. A Leyden Jar is a very early kind of electric battery that can store electricity and then let it out all at once. European scientists did many experiments with lightning like those of Benjamin Franklin in North America.

And then more astronomical observations also kept pouring in as people built bigger and more powerful telescopes. Astronomers first observed the atmosphere of Venus in 1761. They proved that galaxies and nebulae were made of lots of faraway stars in 1771. And they discovered a new planet, Uranus, in 1781.

European Science in the 1800s AD

Bibliography and further reading about the history of science:

Renaissance Science
Early Modern Science
Science in the 1800s
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By | 2017-08-07T21:37:41+00:00 August 7th, 2017|Math, Modern Europe, Physics, Science|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. European science – the Enlightenment. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 7, 2017. Web. November 20, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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