10 Science Experiments That Changed the World

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by: William Harris
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A lot of science goes on that we never know about, but sometimes an experiment comes along that makes us rethink our ideas about the world.
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­In 2007, the United States spent $368 billion on research and development, according to the National Science Foundation. Nearly 18 percent of that enormous pie went to fund basic research -- the kind driven by a scientist's curiosity or interest in a scientific question. Another 22 percent went to applied research -- research designed to solve practical problems [source: Boroush].

With so many scientists conducting so many experiments every year both in and out of the lab, it's not surprising that most investigations enjoy little acclaim. Every so often, though, an experiment captures the attention of scientists and laypeople alike, either because it alters our fundamental understanding of the natural world or because it reveals a solution that addresses a serious public health concern. You might think that such revelatory experiments are extraordinarily complex, and you would be right about some. But just as many are stellar examples of grace and simplicity.

In this article, we'll consider 10 of the most sublime experiments, in our humble opinion. They're organized according to the major disciplines of science -- biology, chemistry, physics and psychology -- and span more than 200 years of inquiry. In a few cases, we've paired two closely related experiments together in a single spot, not to hedge our bets, but to prove that science is a collaborative endeavor.

The first of our 10 science experiments is Charles Darwin and his orchids.

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