Science in the 1800s


These are the notes for Science in the 1800s.

Grade Level(s):   Grade 9     Grade 10     Grade 11     Grade 12    

Subject Area(s):   Social Studies    

Duration: 2 weeks

Detailed Plan

Science in the 1800s Notes,

Time Line:       1734-1939

Objective:        Students will see how the Industrial Revolution sparked a ripple effect in many industries throughout the world.

        A+ Video

Improvements and new developments in manufacturing, transportation, and communication became commonplace.  In addition, the world of biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology saw many advancements at the same time.



August Weismann

Reproductive & non-reproductive cells

Gregor Mendel

Altered breeding techniques

Louis Pasteur

Researched bacteria; kept milk from spoiling

Robert Koch

Vaccinated animals & humans against contagious diseases

Dr. Joseph Lister

Prevented infection after surgery; sterilization of surgical instruments

John Dalton

Discovered atoms

Dimitri Mendeleev

Developed alloys & synthetics

James Clerk Maxwell

Electric & magnetic energy moves in waves

Wilheim Roentgen

Developed X-rays

Marie & Pierre Curie

Discovered radium & polonium

Albert Einstein

Theory of relativity; atomic bomb based on his studies

Auguste Comte

Founder of sociology; scientific basis for social organization

Ivan Pavlov

Conditioned response theory

Sigmund Freud

Human behavior governed by unconscious mind


During the 1870s, August Weismann developed a theory that all living things are made of tiny cells.  He also concluded that two kinds of cells exist: reproductive cells that transmit characteristics of one generation to the next and somatic cells which do not.

Gregor Mendel was able to alter the characteristics of organisms from one generation of plants  to another.  Mendel based his laws on his studies of the inheritance patterns of garden peas.  As a result, his laws of heredity became the basis for the modern breeding of plants and animals.

The study of heredity is called genetics.  Gregor Mendelís experiments helped to lay the foundation for the study of genetics.  Through the study of genetics, scientists can uncover the causes of certain diseases and find their cures.  Genetics can also help to unlock the reasons why people behave the way they do.

In the late 1800s, research of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch firmly established the microbial, or germ theory of diseases.  Louis Pasteur proved that microbes are living organisms that cause disease, and that by killing specific microbes, the spread of specific diseases could be stopped.  Robert Koch, a German physician, invented a method for determining which bacteria cause a particular disease.

Louis Pasteur made major contributions to chemistry, medicine, and industry that have greatly benefited humanity.  His discovery that diseases are spread by bacteria has saved countless lives.  He is most commonly remembered for his discovery of a method for treating milk that keeps it from spoiling.  The process is known as pasteurization.  In 1881, Pasteur began to study rabies, a deadly disease spread by the bite of an infected animal.  He devoted a tremendous amount of time in his laboratory researching the disease and looking for a vaccine to prevent it.  When the parents of a young boy who had been bitten by a rabid animal came to Pasteur for help, he could not refuse them. Pasteur used his vaccine on the their son, even though he had never used the serum on a human.  Pasteurís vaccine was proven successful, for the boy did not get rabies.

Pasteur made numerous contributions to industry.  Concerning the industry of agriculture, he created the first livestock vaccines in the 1800s.  They were developed for such diseases as anthrax and cholera.  At one time, cholera swept from farm to farm killing all of the livestock in an entire farming community.  In 1865, Pasteur set out to help the silk industry.  A disease called pebrine was killing silkworms in great numbers.  Pasteur worked several years to prove that a microbe which attacked silkworm eggs caused the disease.  He showed that by eliminating this germ in silkworm nurseries, the disease could be eradicated.

Robert Koch introduced new techniques of staining and culturing (growing) bacteria.  He became the first scientist to show that specific bacteria cause certain disease.  Koch discovered the causes of tuberculosis, anthrax, and other diseases.  He received the Nobel Prize for physiology in 1905 for his work on tuberculosis.

Pasteurís early work with bacteria convinced an English surgeon named Joseph Lister that germs caused the deaths of many surgical patients.  In 1865, Dr. Lister began using carbolic acid, a powerful disinfectant, to sterilize surgical wounds.  This method was later replaced by a more efficient technique known as aseptic surgery.

This technique emphasized the prevention of germs from entering surgical wounds.  Surgeons began to wash thoroughly before an operation and to wear surgical gowns, gloves, and masks.  Of course, these are standard practices today.  In other words, Dr. Lister learned from Pasteurís work.  He discovered a way to prevent infection after surgery, and taught the importance of the sterilization of instruments used during surgery.

As each of these scientists worked on the developments of others, the general health of the population began to improve.  This resulted in advances in medicine.  Additionally, an increase in the average life span of humans was achieved.

In the area of chemistry in the early 1800s, John Dalton, an English schoolteacher, proposed that all matter is composed of tiny, indivisible particles called atoms.  He also found in his studies that atoms of an element are different from the atoms of another element.  An element is a substance that cannot be chemically broken down into different substances.  In 1794, Dalton published the first major study of color blindness, an affliction he had.  In 1802, he published a law now know as Daltons Law of Partial Pressures.  The law states that the total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is the sum of the pressures of all individual gases in the mixture.

A Russian chemist named Dmitri Mendeleev did research in the properties of elements.  His research led to the development of alloys and synthetics used in industry.  He classified the elements into families, or groups, in a chart called the periodic table.  On the table, elements with similar properties appeared at regular intervals.  Gaps in the table indicated elements that were not yet know.  Scientists later proved the importance of Mendeleevís systematic classification when they discovered the existence and chemical properties of new elements that filled the gaps. 

As chemical knowledge increased, so did the knowledge of physics.  James Clerk Maxwell found that electric and magnetic energy move in waves.  Eventually, Maxwellís studies helped Wilhelm Roentgen discover energy waves that were capable of penetrating solid matter. He called these waves, which were soon to be of great significance in the medical field, X-rays.  The use of X-rays revolutionized medical and surgical techniques, and eventually provided scientists with new insights into the nature of radiation and the structure of the atom.  In Germany, X-rays were called Roentgen rays in his honor.

French scientists Marie and Pierre Curie identified two new elements: radium and polonium.  These discoveries resulted in the Curies receiving the Nobel Prize in physics for their work in radioactivity in 1903.  The work of the Curies led to great interest in the structure of the atom.  Pierre Curie (1850-1906) was born in Paris and studied and taught physics at the University of Paris.  His  early work involved research on the magnetic properties of metals.  Marie (1867-1934) was born in Warsaw, Poland.  She studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry in Paris, where she became acquainted with Pierre Curie.

These great pioneers in biology, chemistry, and physics laid the groundwork for the studies of a great German-born scientist, Albert Einstein.  Einsteinís theory of relativity was used in comparing the motion of one object to the motion of another.  He was only 26 when he first introduced this theory.  When Einstein died in 1955, he was an American citizen.  Earlier in his life, while he was traveling outside of Germany, the Nazi government took his property and withdrew his positions and his citizenship.  Fortunately for Einstein, he had been invited to become a member of the staff of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Einsteinís relativity theory revolutionized scientific thought with new conceptions of time, space, mass, motion, and gravitation.  He treated matter and energy as exchangeable, not distinct or separate.  In so doing, he laid the basis for controlling the release of energy from the atom.  Einsteinís new knowledge, which was a radical (extreme) departure from the theories of Isaac Newton, changed the way scientists looked at time, energy, and space.  Einstein was one of the fathers of the nuclear age.  Furthermore, the discovery of the atomic bomb was based in part on the studies of Einstein.

Because of the scientific revolution, renewed interest in using the scientific method to study human behavior developed.  Two new social sciences, sociology and psychology, were developed and studied.  Sociology is the study of society and how people act in groups, and psychology is the study of the mind and behavior.

Auguste Comte (1789 Ė 1857) was one of the founders of sociology.  He believed certain laws dominated the way society operates.  His theory was that once these natural laws were discovered, there would be a scientific basis for social organization and action. 

Ivan Pavlov (1849ó1936), was a Russian physiologist who won the 1904 Nobel Prize in physiology for his research on digestion.  Pavlov was also a psychologist who developed the theory of conditioned response.  He believed human behavior is based on unconscious responses rather than conscious thought.

Sigmund Freud (1856ó1939) was an Austrian physician.  He developed a theory that much of human behavior is governed by an unconscious part of the mind.  He also believed human action is buried in the unconscious mind.  In 1885, Freud went to Paris to study under Jean Martin Charcot, a famous neurologist.  Charcot was working with patients who suffered from a mental illness called hysteria.  Some of these people appeared to be blind or paralyzed, but they actually had no physical defects.  Charcot found that their physical symptoms could be relived through hypnosis.

Freud greatly advanced the fields of psychiatry and psychology.  His work has helped millions of mentally ill people.  Freudís theories have brought new approaches to child rearing, education, and sociology, and have provided new themes for many authors and artists.  Freudís field of study was called psychoanalysis, a method of trying to discover what motivates human behavior.  His ideas and studies still have great influence on the study of psychology today.