The list of great ideas in science and technology extends beyond what fits on any one website. The intent of this page is to highlight ideas that show the most radical insight, insight that is commonly underappreciated, whether by scientists and technologists or by the informed public. An example is Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic theory. Scientists of the time of James Clerk Maxwell – e.g., the inveterate experimentalist Michael Faraday – had been playing with macroscopic wires, magnets, current sources, and such, examining phenomena on large scales of space and time – nothing on the order of atomic spacing (nm, nanometers) or the period of a light wave (fs, femtoseconds). Yet, by working out the differential equations, Maxwell realized that there is a travelling-wave solution, which is light and other electromagnetic radiation. Fiat lux!
Evolution as a theory – the highest accolade. I’m amused, when not just appalled, by the dismissal of the vast and enlightening evidence of evolution with the epithet that it’s “just a theory.” In the larger sense, all our mental constructs are more or less supported by what we can glean of reality; evolution lies at the top, along with other strikingly sound ideas such as Maxwell’s equations. In lay terminology, “theory” means a guess. In science, theory is a comprehensive body of knowledge that ties together great numbers of experimental and theoretical results. I’ve linked here a panegyric I wrote to evolution.