Myths and legends: How true are the stories about famous discoveries?

Growing up we often hear many tales and stories about how the inventions and knowledge we use in everyday life were discovered. These stories are told to us by our parents or elders and some are even taught to us by teachers in school. But how many of these stories are true? For example, did Christopher Columbus really discover that the world was round? Or was Alexander Fleming really the one who discovered that penicillin and its medicinal properties? Below are some interesting stories that we thought to be true but are actually myths. Read on to discover more.

Pythagoras’ Theorem

One of the most famous theories we are taught at school in math is that the square of the hypotenuse (longest side of a right-angled triangle) is equal to the individual squares of the other two sides combined. And we are told that this is the Pythagorean theorem, named after the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, who is said to have discovered it. However, historians have recently pointed out that while Pythagoras may have been the one to introduce this idea to the ancient Greeks, it was actually well known for centuries before in ancient Babylonian times.

Myths and legends: How true are the stories about famous discoveries?

Did Columbus really discover that the earth was round?

We have all been taught at some point or another of the journey of Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer and traveler thought to have discovered that the earth was actually spherical and not flat. And while many people in his time did still believe that the earth was flat, Christopher Columbus was most certainly not the first person to dispute this. In fact, his journey was planned based on the idea of a round earth. However, his calculations were simply incorrect which led him to reach the Caribbean Islands instead of the West Indies. The concept of a round earth dates as far back as 500 B.C.E, many hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus was even born.

Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin?

When we hear of penicillin, the life-saving antibiotic, we associate its discovery with Alexander Fleming, the famously messy scientist who is rumored to have found the mold growing on a petri dish of bacteria that had been left overnight in his lab. And while he was indeed notoriously messy and he most definitely found the penicillin, he never actually discovered its life-saving properties, dismissing any notion of its medical uses as he felt it had too many limitations which outweighed its benefits. It wasn’t until years later that Howard Florey and Sir Ernst Boris Chain started experimenting with penicillin and developed the common antibiotic form we know today. This myth may have come around due to the two scientists referencing Fleming in their reports but in truth, Alexander Fleming had very little to do with medicinal penicillin.

Myths and legends: How true are the stories about famous discoveries?

Isaac Newton’s apple

Sir Isaac Newton, arguably one of the world’s greatest physicists, gave us many laws or theories which helped us to better understand the world around us. His most famous theory is the theory of gravity, that the earth constantly pulls items inward towards itself. And the story is told that he came up with this theory whilst sitting under an apple tree and an apple fell on his head, causing him to realize that the apple fell because the earth was pulling it down. Whilst he did indeed observe apples falling, and he did wonder why they fell, the story of the apple hitting him on the head is more of a myth than anything else.

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