Over at Quora, you can see about eighty of what the authors consider the “most important, iconic, and/or beautiful scientific images,” and vote for your favorites. You can even add your own favorite images, and see how they fare.
It’s hard to choose, but I suppose mine would be this one: the very first phylogenetic tree of organisms, sketched by Darwin in one of his famous notebooks (this page was on display at the traveling Darwin exhibit several years ago):
I love the “I think” note at the upper left. This is really the very first branching diagram ever made, suggesting that all of life might be interrelated, and so it’s of enormous importance in the history of thought.
But there are many others, and among those it’s hard to choose. Here are a few more. Go over and vote!
Amazingly, fractals happen in nature as well. Romanesco Broccoli is famous for its natural occurring fractal pattern, and it’s actually edible!
Here are some of the images that aren’t necessarily the most beautiful, but they’re ones I find most moving.
A solar eclipse, seen from behind Saturn by the Cassini probe:
One of Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction patterns, which showed to the trained eye that DNA was a double helix:
Humans on the moon. I remember the first moonwalk on July 21, 1969. I was going over to a friend’s house to see it on television, and I was late. I rushed through the door just at the moment when Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of Apollo 11 and, for the first time in our history, a human foot touched another planet. Armstrong, of course, said these famous lines: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” We’ve now become so jaded about these things that it’s hard to envision the bone-shaking thrill that we all experienced then. The photo below is, of course, from a later moonwalk:
And this one I like because it’s so cool: it’s a jet at the moment of breaking the sound barrier:
They also show this image of a “Solvay conference” in physics, which is one of my favorite pictures of scientists. The participants aren’t identified, but Iconic Images tells you who they are (see below photo). Perhaps no other photograph contains so much human brainpower! (Click to enlarge).
In 1911, Ernest Solvay, the Belgian chemist and industrialist founded Conseil Solvay, the world’s first physics conference. Initially aimed at solving problems in physics and chemistry, the conferences are held every three years.
The above group photo was taken at the end of the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference. The tensions were high: Einstein sparred with Heisenberg over the latter’s Uncertainty Principle. The attendees disagreed on the Copenhagen interpretation of atom, was promoted by a faction led by Niels Bohr, and opposed by more conservative faction lead by Albert Einstein. By the end of the conference, Bohr’s faction had prevailed.
First Row (l to r): Irving Langmuir, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Pierre Langevin, Charles Eugene Guye, C. T. R. Wilson, Owen W. Richardson
Second Row (l to r): Peter Debye, Martin Knudson, W. Lawrence Bragg, Hans Kramer, Paul Dirac, Arthur Compton, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr
Third Row (l to r): Auguste Piccard, Émile Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, Edouard Herzen,Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrodinger, Jules-Emile Vershaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Ralph Howard Fowler, Leon Brillouin.
Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners.