James A. Conrad

Famous Scientists Throughout History Who Never Had a Science Degree

If you can be described by one of the following terms:  amateur scientist,  basement scientist,  citizen scientist,  do-it-yourself scientist (DIY scientist),  garage scientist,  hobby scientist,  kid scientist,  non-degreed scientist,  self-educated scientist,  self-taught scientist,  or student scientist  and someone with an apparent air of authority tells you that your claim or input should not be taken seriously because you have no "credentials" in science; that is, you do not have an academic degree in a field of science issued by a college or university, here is a page of research listing recognized scientists who never had a formal degree in science either to help you provide a defensive response.

Scientists who design and build innovative or complicated experiment setups in laboratories, especially at the frontiers of science, will out of necessity be part engineers. Some of these scientists may have enrolled in mechanical engineering programs in school or obtained an online engineering degree to further their knowledge.

Leonardo da Vinci . . . (1452 – 1519), mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, botanist, inventor, artist.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek . . . (1632 – 1723), first microbiologist, the "Father of Microbiology."

Benjamin Franklin . . . (1706 – 1790), physicist, inventor, "America's First Scientist."

William Herschel . . . (1738 – 1822), astronomer, discoverer of the planet Uranus.

Caroline Herschel . . . (1750 – 1848), astronomer, younger sister of William Herschel above, named by the Royal Society one of "the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science."

Mary Somerville . . . (1780 – 1872), mathematician, astronomer, science writer, named by the Royal Society one of "the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science," also called the "Queen of nineteenth century science."

Michael Faraday . . . (1791 – 1867), physicist, chemist, electromagnetism pioneer, coined 'electrode', 'cathode' and 'ion.'

Mary Anning . . . (1799 – 1847), palaeontologist, fossilist, named by the Royal Society one of "the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science." The nursury rhyme and tongue twister "She Sells Sea Shells (by the Sea Shore)" was based on her.

Charles Goodyear . . . (1800 – 1860), chemist, discoverer of the process of vulcanizing rubber.

William Darwin Fox . . . (1805 – 1880), naturalist, entomologist (insect researcher).

Charles Darwin . . . (1809 – 1882), naturalist, evolutionary theorist, geologist.

William Fox . . . (1813 – 1881), palaeontologist (no relation to the William Darwin Fox above).

Henry David Thoreau . . . (1817 – 1862), naturalist. Also a famous author.

Thomas Henry Huxley (T.H. Huxley) . . . (1825 – 1895), biologist, anatomist, coined the term "agnostic."

James Prescott Joule . . . (1818 – 1889), physicist, co-discoverer of the law of conservation of energy.

Gregor Mendel . . . (1822 – 1884), botanist, naturalist, first geneticist, the "Father of Modern Genetics."

Thomas Edison . . . (1847 – 1931), inventor, holder of electrical, mechanical, and chemical patents, the "Greatest Inventor of All Time." Can Edison also be considered a research and development scientist (R&D scientist)? In support, both his New Jersey and Florida workplaces are referred to as "laboratories" and in 2014, the American Chemical Society, of which Edison was a member, designated his laboratories in New Jersey and Florida "National Historic Chemical Landmarks" because of his research and use of existing and new chemicals in his inventions and his efforts to find a new plant source for rubber. (Note from JAC: I took a tour of his Florida laboratory and winter estate in the 1980s, which is a tourist attraction. See edisonfordwinterestates.org.)

Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin (I.V. Michurin) . . . (1855 – 1935), horticulturalist, botanical geneticist.

Reginald Hooley . . . (1865 – 1923), paleontologist, fossilist.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt . . . (1868 – 1921), astronomer.

Vladimir Nabokov . . . (1899 – 1977), entomologist (insect researcher), lepidopterist (butterfly researcher), butterfly evolutionary theorist, curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Also a famous novelist.


Living Famous Scientists Who Have No Science Degree

Robert Evans . . . (1937 – ), Australian-born astronomer.

Richard Leakey . . . (1944 – ), Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist, human evolutionary theorist.

Stephen Felton . . . (c.1934 – ), American-born paleontologist, fossilist.

Special Mention

Jane Goodall . . . (1934 – ), British-born primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist. She initially went to Africa to study chimpanzees without a degree in science or any college degree (source: "Being Jane Goodall," National Geographic, October 2010. Quote: "In 1960 a spirited animal lover with no scientific training set up camp in Tanganyika’s Gombe Stream Game Reserve to observe chimpanzees. Today Jane Goodall’s name is synonymous with the protection of a beloved species."). In a 2010 American TV interview, the interviewer reiterated her initial lack of formal scientific training and Goodall additionally commented: "I was not taken seriously by many of the scientists. I was known as a Geographic cover girl" (source: 60 Minutes, U.S., 2010). Due to her breakthrough discoveries, and still without a college degree, she returned to Great Britain and was accepted into an advanced PhD program at Newnham College in England and received a degree in ethology in 1965 and then continued her research.


Never Published a Research Paper in a Scientific Journal?

Neither did the three most famous tech billionaires (pictured below) before founding their companies that would go on to change the world. If a detractor tries to use the "no scientific papers published" tactic in an attempt to discredit you, mention this tweet in your defense.
@James_A_Conrad, December 11, 2017. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, & Mark Zuckerberg never published a scholarly paper on computer science before founding their companies; instead focused on research & development. Gates published one paper 4 years after founding Microsoft & leaving Harvard. Gates:1, Jobs:0, Zuckerburg:0
James A. Conrad tweet
https://twitter.com/James_A_Conrad/status/940208212938317824

Offsite Article Links

"6 Uneducated Amateurs Whose Genius Changed the World"
"The 5 Most Important Amateur Scientists"
"Amateur Science — Strong Tradition, Bright Future",  Science April 2, 1999.
"The Amateur Scientists Who Might Cure Cancer — From Their Basements",  DiscoverMagazine.com November 19, 2008.
"Inside Amateur Science: The Best in Out-of-Lab Research",  PopularMechanics.com, June 11, 2009.
"Citizen Science: A Platform for Nonprofessionals: Year In Review 2014",  Encyclopaedia Britannica, September 11, 2014.
"The Citizen Scientist still matters",  Matt's Sci/Tech Blog, May 31, 2013.
Wikipedia – Notable Amateur Astronomers

Additional Research Links

"5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time"
"Top 10 People Who Became Famous after Death"
"10 Forgotten And Unrecognized Inventors"
"6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism",  National Geographic May 19, 2013.
Leonardo da Vinci on the art website Artsy

This comprehensive list was researched and complied by author James A. Conrad, with help from some of the earlier research efforts noted above, and first published on this web page. If you see this much longer list copied elsewhere, this is likely the source from where it originated, if no credit is given. Additions, updates, and reports of links no longer working are welcome.
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