Famous Science Notebooks

Science Notebooks are quite the fad these days.  I have to admit, I loved them as a student.  However back then, before the internet was what it is now, I wondered what famous scientists had in their notebooks.

How about Charles Darwin?  He sailed around the world as a “Naturalist”, looking at … Nature.  A geologist by training, he also extensively studied biology.  You actually can look in his notebooks (Darwin Online).  Notebooks are great places for making sketches of things where writing words just doesn’t get the complete picture.

Darwin’s “Tree of Life” sketch, from his notebook. The Text reads, “I think
Case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now. To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction.
Thus between A & B immense gap of relation. C & B the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. — bearing relation”…

Why is keeping careful notes of your work important?  So that you can prove that your idea was yours.  Here is an example, where the discovery of Streptomycin, the first treatment that could cure tuberculosis.  Read the story of the missing notebooks (and their later discovery) on the Notebook Stories blog, and at the New York Times. (Short version: the antibiotic was discovered by the junior member of a lab and his supervisor stole the credit, including a Nobel Prize, and profit from it.)

Then-graduate student Albert Schatz’s notes on the experiments that led to the discovery of Streptomycin, from the Rutger’s archives.


How about Isaac Newton?  You can browse his collection online at the Cambridge Digital Library (link here).

Newton's so-called "Waste Book" - the notebook in which he works out his ideas for Calculus.
Newton’s so-called “Waste Book” – the notebook in which he works out his ideas for Calculus.




Do you have students who love science, but also art?  You might want to share with them the work of medical art student, Sayaka Isowa.


















Do you keep your own science notebooks?  Do your students or children?

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