10. Charles Darwin
Ever wondered where you came from? During his famous five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle in the 19th Century, naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin came up with a scientific answer to what had always been a religious or philosophical question. When the voyage arrived at the Galapagos Islands, Darwin saw that each island had a different species of finch. He asked himself why, and came up with an answer that changed everything people thought they knew about biology. The finches were different because the environment was different on each island – and each species had adapted. That’s where his idea for evolution by natural selection was born and which he detailed in his celebrated book On the Origin of Species (1859). It remains one of the world’s most famous and respected theories (even if the world's religions and religious fundamentalists haven’t always embraced it).
9. Marie Curie
In the male-ruled eras of old, women weren’t often encouraged (or allowed) to study science (or anything), but that didn’t stop Marie Sklodowska. Though the intellectually gifted Warsaw woman was not permitted to attend university in what is now Poland, she took secret classes in an “underground university.” While working as a governess or nanny, she studied physics, chemistry and maths. She eventually went to Paris and earned a physics degree in 1893. There, she met French physicist Pierre Curie and a romance blossomed. They married and she became Marie Curie. When Curie, who had been studying the magnetic properties of steel, discovered radiation, Pierre helped her with her research (Pierre was later killed in an horse-drawn wagon accident). Not only did Curie discover radioactivity, she discovered polonium and radium with Pierre, and she is also behind the development of the X-ray machine. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (and the first person to win it twice). She died in 1934 of the autoimmune disease aplastic anemia, most likely from her excessive exposure to radiation.
8. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. From humble and tragic beginnings (he was raised in a log cabin and his beloved mother died when he was 9), Lincoln grew up to become a lawyer and the 16th President of the United States. During the Civil War he vowed to protect the Union from succession and rule a united states. Most notably, he abolished slavery in the US, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those African Americans within the Confederacy. And Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865, was the ultimate champion of democracy, as is evident in his famous Gettysburg address during the Civil War in 1863: “…That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
7. Mother Teresa
Her name was synonymous with goodness. From an early age, Mother Teresa, who was born in Macedonia in 1910, wanted to be a Roman Catholic nun and serve God through helping the poor. After joining a group of nuns in Ireland at the age of 18, she traveled to India and found her true calling. After witnessing the extreme poverty there, she started “The Missionaries of Charity”, a group that devoted itself to looking after those that no one else would care for. Her work spread throughout the world, with 700 Missionaries of Charity in action in 130 countries by 2013. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Price in 1979. She died in 1997 at the age of 87, and was decreed a Saint by Pope John Paul II in 2003. “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing,” she once wrote. "It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”
6. Martin Luther King jr
Martin Luther King jr had a dream that remains in the hearts of African Americans today. Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, King became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in a time when racial segregation was law in the American south. He led the so-called Montgomery bus boycott in 1995 after African American woman Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat for a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. He then became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1963, he helped organise the March on Washington protest rally where he delivered his “I have a dream" speech, in which he revealed his hope that his "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character." He won the Nobel Peace Price for his efforts in stamping out racial inequality through non-violent means. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.
5. William Shakespeare
It’s not just the fact that William Shakespeare gave us so many achingly beautiful sonnets and dramatic and comedy masterpieces that are considered some of the finest work in the English language, but his words (and his own word creations) live on through everything we say. We can thank the Bard for phrases such as “all that glitters isn't gold", “be all and end all”, “clothes make the man" and "heart of gold” among countless others. But his true legacy is his plays, dramas that delved into the human psyche revealing Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, to be not just a genius dramatist but an authority on human nature. If you're looking for life advice, forget self-help books, read or watch a production of Hamlet, King Lear or Othello.
4. Leonardo da Vinci
Has the world seen a greater talent than da Vinci? Born in 1452 in Vinci, Tuscany, he was an apprentice sculptor and painter before becoming a master. Among his famous works are The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa, which draws 30,000 people each day to Paris’s Louvre museum. But he wasn’t only a revered painter. He was an inventor, human biologist and geologist. Centuries before their time he invented (on paper at least) the bicycle, airplane, helicopter, and parachute. He also saw art everywhere, including in the human anatomy, calling the foot “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” And he got permission from the Catholic Church to dissect human cadavers from which he created anatomical drawings. Said da Vinci: “Learning never exhausts the mind.”
3. Steve Jobs
In the 80s, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates predicted that one day everyone would have a personal computer in their home. What he didn’t foresee is that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs would turn the PC into something that could fit in your pocket. The iPhone changed the world, bringing the internet, email, social media and a variety of other things into a hand-held device that has become a crucial everyday tool for everyone. Apple’s devices changed how we use a computer (Apple Mac) listen to music (iPod), watch TV (Apple TV) and browse the internet (iPad). His melding of technological innovation with supreme design made Apple’s products the most beloved and sought after in the world. "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like,” said Jobs, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2011. "Design is how it works.”
2. Thomas Edison
Now here’s a man who shed some light on the matter. American inventor Thomas Edison began inventing at a young age, receiving his first patent (an electric vote recorder) at the age of 21. Eight years later, in 1876, he was changing the world. He invented and produced the tin foil phonograph, the first machine to record and reproduce sound. It got him an invitation to the White House to demonstrate the contraption to US President Rutherford Hayes. And then he invented the incandescent electric light bringing him fame and wealth. The company General Electric was partly founded by him. “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up,” said Edison. "The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
1. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein is one of the smartest human beings to have ever lived and his legacy is unequaled in all fields of science. As a physicist he’s best known for his theory of relativity (both general and special), which included his famous equation E=Mc2 (energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light squared), which meant that a huge amount of energy lay inside any particular body. The theory foreshadowed atomic power and nuclear weapons. But Einstein was a thinker in all fields from philosophy to the arts. Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, he excelled at maths from an early age and studied at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich with hopes of becoming a teacher of physics and maths. When he couldn't secure a teaching post, he worked in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland around the turn of the century. It was during these years he came up with his first ground-breaking (and mind-blowing) theories. Einstein posited that space, time and gravity were all connected. If you bend space with matter (such as a planet), you affect time, too. And the bending of space-time is what causes gravity. Einstein, a Jew, died in 1955 in America, to where he had fled to avoid Nazi persecution. “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” said Einstein. “ Curiosity has its own reason for existing"