10 Noteworthy Science Anniversaries in 2020


By Sadie Laurie

It’s another big year for science anniversaries according to Science News Contributing Correspondent Tom Siegfried. In his online article, “Top 10 science anniversaries in 2020,” he recognizes people and discoveries that, “left the world a different place than it had been before.”

1. Roger Bacon, 800th Birthday

A leading natural philosopher of his time, born around 1220, Bacon was among the first to believe in the necessity of using experiments to investigate nature. He advocated for the use of optics as a fundamental science and understood the importance of applying math to his research.

2. Bose-Einstein Condensate, 25th Anniversary

Albert Einstein made many discoveries in his lifetime and his ideas have continued to inspire scientific revelations long after his death. For seven decades, physicists had been trying to produce the specific conditions required to create a Bose-Einstein condensate cloud of unified matter. Finally, in 1995, physicists were able to bring Einstein’s idea to life.

3. The Great Debate, Centennial

On April 26, 1920, astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis met to debate about the makeup of the universe. Shapley argued that the Milky Way galaxy comprised the entire universe, while Curtis countered that other distant universes existed, but were being misclassified as spiral nebulae. Astronomer Edwin Hubble settled the debate in 1924 when he published findings that proved Curtis to be correct.

4. Discovery of Electromagnetism, Bicentennial

In 1820, Hans Christian Oersted, a chemist-physicist at the University of Copenhagen, made a discovery that changed the course of civilization. He found that wires carrying an electric current generated magnetism outside of the wire. The knowledge of this electromagnetic force helped establish the principle of large-scale power generation that is so vital to our lives today.

5. Discovery of X-Rays, 125th Anniversary

Wilhelm Röntgen was the German mechanical engineer and physicist who discovered X-rays in 1895. This discovery helped strengthen the realization that electromagnetic radiation existed in several forms in addition to light. X-rays went on to transform the fields of medicine, astronomy, and biology.

6. Rosalind Franklin, 100th Birthday

Born in London July 25, 1920, Rosalind Franklin was a chemist at King’s College London where she worked with Maurice Wilkins studying the molecular structure of DNA. She was particularly skilled at producing X-ray images of DNA and came close to identifying DNA’s double-helix structure. A follower of her work, James Watson, used one of Franklin’s images to determine the correct DNA architecture in 1953, along with Francis Crick.

7. John Graunt, 400th Birthday

John Graunt, born April 24, 1620, was a pioneer in drawing scientific conclusions from analysis of statistical information. An owner of a London drapery business, he became interested in creating tables to track records of people’s births, deaths, and diseases. When he began to notice trends and patterns in the data, he decided to analyze it mathematically, gaining insights into male/female and urban/rural life expectancy.

8. Florence Nightingale, 200th Birthday

The most famous nurse of the 19th century, Florence Nightingale was born May 12, 1820. In 1854, during the Crimean War, she instituted a cleanliness policy that reduced the death rate among hospitalized British soldiers. Nightingale was also a groundbreaking practitioner of applied statistics. She presented much of her statistical evidence for the benefits of proper health standards in graphical form, which earned her a reputation as an innovator of data visualization.

9. Prediction of the Neutron, Centennial

In a lecture delivered June 3, 1920, Ernest Rutherford, physicist at the University of Cambridge, introduced a new kind of atom with zero electric charge that we now call a neutron. In the speech, he made an important prediction that his colleagues took to heart, “In consequence it should be able to move freely through matter.” Decades later, physicists realized that this unique capability enabled neutrons to initiate nuclear fission chain reactions.

10. Atomic Bomb, 75th Anniversary

The American-led team of scientists working on the Manhattan Project detonated the first atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in 1945. By harnessing the power of the innards of atoms, the team created a weapon capable of destruction on a scale previously unthinkable. It has changed the way war is waged, influencing society solely by its existence and demonstrating the seemingly limitless potential of science.

Discussion Questions

  • Which anniversary do you think has had the most impact on our lives? Why?
  • Are there any scientists in the list who you haven’t heard of? What did you learn about them?


  • Electromagnetic
  • Nebulae