Monumental Scientific Discoveries

Influential discoveries from the past and how they affect our future

Throughout the years, humans have continued to ask important questions about both the wide world around them and the inner workings of their own bodies and minds. These questions range in scope from those probing the origin of life to those examining the intricacies of a single cell. While not every question has yielded an interesting answer, those that did have occasionally changed the world.
Here, we will explore some of the most influential discoveries from our collective history. Each article will focus on a specific discovery (consisting of one or more experiments) and will guide readers through relevant facets of the discovery including: The social/political/economic environment at the time, the methodology practiced by the researchers, any debate surrounding the researchers' claims, and the impact the discovery has had (or has the potential to have).

Hox Genes: A Body's Blueprint

Why do we have 10 fingers and toes? Learn about a set of genes responsible for our body plan.

Headshot of Susanna Brantley
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The Bay Area is a great place for hiking, and just last weekend I visited a nearby state park. On the trail, I saw two lizards with long tails sunning themselves on a rock and a millipede moving quickly toward the shade. A lizard’s leg is made up of muscles, bones, and nerves, just like a human hiker’s leg, but the details and shapes are very different. Why does a millipede have hundreds of legs, but most insects have only six? The answer? A special set of genes – the Hox genes.

X Marks the Spot of the Double Helix

If we can't see DNA, how do we know what it looks like?

Headshot of Andrea Chaikovsky
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Picture a molecule of DNA. What does it look like? You probably envisioned the twisted ladder-like structure known as the double helix. Today, “double helix” is so intertwined with our understanding of DNA that a Google image search of the phrase brings up diagram after diagram of the molecule. But how was this structure discovered? How did scientists determine such an intricate design without being able to see DNA under a microscope? The answer came largely from this picture seen above.

Who came up with blood types and what do they mean?

How to interpret the blood type alphabet soup.

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A few weeks ago, I realized I had no idea about one of the most basic aspects of my own body – my blood type Sure, my parents or some computer database at my doctor’s office probably had it written down, but there was something about not knowing myself that bothered me. So I decided to take to the internet and end this question once and for all.

Gillie AgmonHeadshot of Gillie Agmon Julien RothHeadshot of Julien Roth
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Scientists, from a variety of countries and fields, played a critical role in both instigating and ensuring the legacy of the anti-smoking campaign. This article will chronicle the work of a select subset of these scientists and reveal how their accomplishments influenced a nation.