Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

From Newton to Pavlov, George Johnson outlines history's most remarkable experiments—while ignoring one major group.

By Josie GlausiuszApril 21, 2008 5:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf, $22)

William Harvey sliced open a live snake and, while pinching its vena cava, or main vein, watched as the heart into which it pumped blood grew paler and smaller. He then pinched the reptile’s main artery and saw how obstructing the flow caused the heart to bulge. In this way the 17th-century London physician proved that blood circulated—a radical idea that overturned the assertion of Galen, the second-century physician, that “invisible pneuma” enlivened the body’s fluids. This is just one of the 10 “beautiful experiments” that science journalist George Johnson explores; others include A. A. Michelson’s clever measurement of the speed of light, Ivan Pavlov’s observations of dogs drooling in anticipation of food, and (my favorite) Isaac Newton’s insertion of a probe behind his eyeball to observe the effect on color perception. Only one drawback mars Johnson’s account: Great experiments conducted by women scientists—including Barbara McClintock’s discovery of jumping genes—are all but ignored, appearing only in a brief note at the end of this otherwise absorbing book.

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 50%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In