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 of recognized scientists who never had a formal degree either to help you provide a defensive response.
Don't forget being a scientist can sometimes be dangerous. You need to be careful when doing experiments. You don't want to have to call a personal injury attorney San Diego if you hurt yourself during an experiment. It might be difficult to convince your health insurance to pay for any injury bills.
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 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. In 1960, she went to Africa to study chimpanzees with no scientific training. (source: "Being Jane Goodall," National Geographic, October 2010). In an American TV interview, she said: "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 without even 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.

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


Citizen Science Association
Citizen Scientists League

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 and updates are welcome.
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