Has this ever been done before? (lone scientist making a scientific breakthrough)

In summary, it is rare for a self taught person to make a breakthrough in science. It is possible, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
  • #1
Hacker Jack
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Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught) who made a break through theory or scientific discovery? I am going to say something kind of weird but I have romantic thoughts in my head of teaching myself advanced physics through the internet and somehow doing something 'great' in it and leaving a legacy behind.

Sometimes I wonder if it is possible, but then I think of all the scientists in the world who spent years studying and working on this stuff professionally and here I am thinking that I can do any better from home lol. My thought pushing me forward is that "maybe I can do something that others can't and it takes me to do it", but then I just laze around and play a PC game again. Is it best to put these thoughts out of my head? Being able to think about doing this sort of stuff and thinking that the skies the limit is one of the cool things about being human even if it may just remain a thought.

Peace
 
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  • #2
I just happened to see this post. And my first thought was to say this:

If you want to become a great chess player, you need to first learn the rules of chess.
After that, in order to get experience, you need to play, train, play again, train more, and play more.
And after that maybe you start looking for/researching various strategies when playing against others.

In short: for comparatively difficult and advanced things, there usually are no shortcuts and no free lunches.

Edit, on the more positive side:

You can learn a lot from using the internet. You can learn a lot on this forum.
And if you go to and use good sources, like good online textbooks and video lectures you can learn quite a lot.
 
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  • #3
Hacker Jack said:
Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught) who made a break through theory or scientific discovery?
Broadly, It depends on how "lone" and how "breakthrough" you mean. But it is safe to say it is rare at best.
I am going to say something kind of weird but I have romantic thoughts in my head of teaching myself advanced physics through the internet and somehow doing something 'great' in it and leaving a legacy behind. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible, but then I think of all the scientists in the world who spent years studying and working on this stuff professionally and here I am thinking that I can do any better from home lol.
The internet as we know it has only been around for 25 years, so it is safe to say that's never happened.

It's good that you know the basic problem, but maybe you should try quantifying it? If the average time from to get an education from bachelors to phd is 12 years on the normal path (full time), how long would it take you to learn all you need to know, part time? Maybe you could cut the bachelors in half by skipping the irrelevant parts (English? History?), but if you are only working on it at (for example), a 1/3 pace, that's 30 years to get the required education.

You also lose the connections and collaboration needed to work productively and sty abreast of the latest developments if you try to go it alone.
 
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  • #4
Hacker Jack said:
Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught) who made a break through theory or scientific discovery? I am going to say something kind of weird but I have romantic thoughts in my head of teaching myself advanced physics through the internet and somehow doing something 'great' in it and leaving a legacy behind. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible, but then I think of all the scientists in the world who spent years studying and working on this stuff professionally and here I am thinking that I can do any better from home lol. My thought pushing me forward is that "maybe I can do something that others can't and it takes me to do it", but then I just laze around and play a PC game again. Is it best to put these thoughts out of my head? Being able to think about doing this sort of stuff and thinking that the skies the limit is one of the cool things about being human even if it may just remain a thought.

Peace
Faraday is an example of self taught with no real formal education

EDIT: STEM - this guy was a one off

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan#Pursuit_of_career_in_mathematics
 
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  • #5
Hacker Jack said:
Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught) who made a break through theory or scientific discovery? I am going to say something kind of weird but I have romantic thoughts in my head of teaching myself advanced physics through the internet and somehow doing something 'great' in it and leaving a legacy behind. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible, but then I think of all the scientists in the world who spent years studying and working on this stuff professionally and here I am thinking that I can do any better from home lol. My thought pushing me forward is that "maybe I can do something that others can't and it takes me to do it", but then I just laze around and play a PC game again. Is it best to put these thoughts out of my head? Being able to think about doing this sort of stuff and thinking that the skies the limit is one of the cool things about being human even if it may just remain a thought.

Peace
This is an interesting link too

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_autodidacts
 
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  • #6
Hacker Jack said:
Is it best to put these thoughts out of my head?
Realistically, of course it is if you think there's a serious chance of it happening. Dreams are nice and you can dream of being rich if you like but do you think it's likely to actually happen?
 
  • #7
pinball1970 said:
Faraday is an example of self taught with no real formal education

Born in 1791.

Ramanujan

Born in 1887.

Do you seriously think either of these examples are relevant?
 
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  • #8
Your question is whether you are so smart you can tackle problems that have stumped the world's greatest minds for century, all without the benefit of any formal education on these problems. That would make you the smartest person in a thousand years, maybe many thousands.

Are you that smart?
 
  • #9
I think it's hard to appreciate how much knowledge is required to gain a sufficient understanding in order to be able to just truly comprehend a topic without years of study, let alone make any breakthroughs. I'm not saying don't try but just don't be under any illusions either.

As the old saying goes, "You don't know how much you don't know."
 
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  • #10
Hacker Jack said:
Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught) who made a break through theory or scientific discovery?

Another example that comes to mind are Marie and Pierre Curie's discovery of radium. and polonium. Marie continued mostly single-handed work after Pierre's death.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie
 
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  • #11
Buzz Bloom said:
Another example that comes to mind are Marie Curie ...
Born 1867. Another unrealistic example for today. See post #7
 
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  • #12
Vanadium 50 said:
Born in 1791.

Born in 1887.

Do you seriously think either of these examples are relevant?

Hacker Jack said:
Has there ever been a lone scientist (maybe even self taught)

"Ever" and "self taught" so relevance? Yes.

In terms of him being so smart that he can work out something completely new from reading textbooks, journals and then fill in a ground breaking gap that no one had thought of?

Probably not.
 
  • #13
pinball1970 said:
"Ever" and "self taught" so relevance? Yes.

In terms of him being so smart that he can work out something completely new from reading textbooks, journals and then fill in a ground breaking gap that no one had thought of?

Probably not.
Yes, he did literally ask about "ever" but citing examples from a time when enormously less was known, and therefor enormously less had to be learned just to get the basics, just doesn't seem at all realistic even if literally true.
 
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  • #14
I think it's quite reasonable that 'mini-breakthroughs' are possible. It could be something like coming up with a better method of doing a certain calculation in electrodynamics, or thinking up a novel number theory problem and solving that, whatever. Whilst probably not Earth-shattering, anything that advances collective maths/physics knowledge can surely be counted as a win, no?

Just carry on learning (from reputable sources, of course...) and see where it takes you :smile:
 
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  • #15
phinds said:
Yes, he did literally ask about "ever" but citing examples from a time when enormously less was known, and therefor enormously less had to be learned just to get the basics, just doesn't seem at all realistic even if literally true.

“here I am thinking that I can do any better from home lol.”
“but then I just laze around and play a PC game again.”
“Is it best to put these thoughts out of my head?”
In terms of being realistic regarding ground breaking discovery, I really thought he had answered his own question.
In terms of those guys from yesteryear the being an inspiration and motivation do doing something meaningful then I think they are relevant in more than just the literal sense.
 
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  • #16
Vanadium 50 said:
Do you seriously think either of these examples are relevant?
Hi Van:
I would much appreciate your posting the criteria you have in mind for what is "relevance" regarding the topic of the OP .
Regards,
Buzz
 
  • #17
Buzz Bloom said:
Hi Van:
I would much appreciate your posting the criteria you have in mind for what is "relevance" regarding the topic of the OP .
I think it should be clear by now what the disconnect is. The OP asked for historical examples, in hopes that they would tell him it should be possible for him. V50 simply pointed out that the premise of the question is wrong. It's fine to answer the question as asked, but IMO it is better to try to correct the question if the premise is faulty.
 
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  • #18
Too romanticized. You want to do it alone, why? It's so easy to reach people to discuss ideas in the modern world.

Second, you want to leave a legacy behind, so why physics? Why not try to come up with ways to combat poverty in your city, or state? There are a lot better ways to make a legacy for yourself, and physics is probably the worst one.
 
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  • #19
Marie Curie?

I cannot imagine a worse example.
  • This was over a century ago
  • She had a PhD (first woman in France to earn one, I believe)
  • Lone wolf after her husband's dearth? Hardly - she was running two institutes!
  • She is one of three people in the world to have won two Nobel prizes and the only one to do so in two different sciences. Hardly a path just anyone can follow.
 
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  • #20
Vanadium 50 said:
I cannot imagine a worse example.
I guess that I must have been overwhelmed by Greer Garson in the movie.
 
  • #21
I feel like this question is a little bit like asking if a six foot tall person ever made it to the nba. Yes, but that doesn't mean you are.
 
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  • #22
or, more on point, can you become a starting point guard in the NBA by watching games and practicing by yourself in your driveway?
 
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  • #23
^Hahaha

Edit: Guys I want to be an astronaut for NASA instead with no college degree. I want to fly around looking for aliens hehe
 
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  • #24
A number of people took the time to provide good answers to your quiestion. Now you tell us you were just messing with us. That's sad.
 
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  • #25
I appreciate the answers and I get what most are trying to say which is it is possible but it's highly unlikely but past people have done SORT of similar stuff. I was just making a joke because I found the previous answer funny lol
 
  • #26
Best get to work, then, time's a wastin.. revolution won't cause itself, you know.
 
  • #27
Something else for the OP to consider is that physics is not a renewable resource. The more that's done, the less there is that's easy to find.
 
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  • #28
Yes and the resource is likely completely depleted for lone geniuses.
 
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  • #29
Paul Colby said:
Something else for the OP to consider is that physics is not a renewable resource. The more that's done, the less there is that's easy to find.
Depends on the darkness of one's point of view. If mankind is nuked back into the stone age, we get to do the physics all over again!
 
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  • #30
I don't think that's true. Even if civilization is destroyed we will probably still maintain Newton's laws and some basic understanding of how electricity works, along with the right model of the solar system (everything revolves around the sun). That alone covers about 90% of the history of physics?
 

Related to Has this ever been done before? (lone scientist making a scientific breakthrough)

1. Has this ever been done before?

This is a common question asked by scientists who are conducting research and making a breakthrough. The answer to this question depends on the specific topic and area of study. In some cases, similar research may have been done before, but the findings may not have been as significant or well-known. It is important to thoroughly review existing literature and research to determine the originality and significance of your breakthrough.

2. How do I know if my discovery is truly groundbreaking?

Determining the significance of a scientific breakthrough can be a challenging task. One way to gauge the impact of your discovery is to seek feedback and opinions from other experts in your field. You can also look at the potential practical applications of your discovery and its potential for advancing knowledge in your field.

3. What should I do if I find out that someone else has already made a similar discovery?

If you find out that someone else has made a similar discovery, it is important to assess the differences and similarities between your findings and theirs. If your discovery is significantly different or adds new information, it may still be considered groundbreaking. However, if your discovery is very similar to someone else's, it may be necessary to adjust your research or findings to differentiate them.

4. How can I ensure that my breakthrough is recognized and credited to me?

To ensure that your breakthrough is recognized and credited to you, it is important to properly document and publish your research. This includes keeping detailed records of your methods, data, and results, as well as publishing your findings in reputable scientific journals. You can also apply for patents or trademarks to protect your discovery.

5. What are the potential implications of my breakthrough?

As a scientist, it is important to consider the potential implications of your breakthrough. This includes both positive and negative consequences, such as ethical concerns, practical applications, and potential impact on society. It is important to carefully consider these implications and address them in your research and publications.

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