Scientific Breakthroughs That Changed the Course of History

Source: baona / Getty Images

In 2022, Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger were awarded the Nobel Prize for the first proof of quantum entanglement, a notion that Albert Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance.” This science first could massively impact the field of quantum computing, which uses quantum mechanics to solve problems that traditional computers can’t handle.

Many scientific discoveries other than this one have or have had the capacity to change the course of history. Among other things, they have extended human life, harnessed energy, and provided an understanding of the evolution of the universe. (Read about some accidental discoveries that have changed the world.)  

To assemble a list of discoveries that changed the course of history, 24/7 Tempo drew on a variety of scientific and general interest sources, including The Science Times, Famous Scientists, NASA, Discover Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Britannica, and PBS. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but a snapshot of discoveries or breakthroughs that we determined by editorial discretion, informed by the sources we consulted, to be of particular importance. We limited the number of discoveries concerning outer space because they have been covered in more detail in previous lists.

From revelations that influenced human health to technological advances to such universal basics as gravity and electricity, the discoveries on our list occurred across a variety of scientific fields. Some involved medicine and well-being, such as the discovery of penicillin. Others were biology-focused, while a number were made within the fields of physics and space. (These are the most important events in NASA’s history.)

The 1800s saw nine key discoveries, among them the principles behind the battery and the electric generator. Another 11 occurred during the 20th century, including nuclear fission and continental drift.

Click here to see famous scientific discoveries that changed history forever

The scientific method encourages continual experimentation on existing theories, which sometimes disproves or alters our understanding of earlier results. For example, Albert Einstein’s work on the theory of relativity challenged Isaac Newton’s earlier understanding of physics.