Metrocontextual science map

By Phil Plait | August 31, 2010 7:00 am

Crispian Jago makes completely transparent attempts to get linked from blogs. The thing is, he keeps doing spectacular stuff!

This time it’s a metro-subway-style map showing scientists of the past 400 or so years. It’s wonderfully detailed! Here it is shrunk enough to fit on my meager 610-pixel wide blog:


[Click to unsubwaynate and get the 2Mb 4500 x 2700 pixel version.]

Each color track route represent a field of science – brown is chemistry, red is theoretical physical and quantum mechanics, and so on – and the time is concentric, with the 16th Century in the middle, and current time on the outside. Just like a subway map where there are transfer points, some people span more than one discipline, and you can see that as two circles connecting different tracks. Stephen Hawking, for example, is astronomy and physics. Here’s a zoom:


Cool, huh? Galileo was clearly a man of many hats. Lots of other scientists straddle multiple fields, but interestingly, the number of them dwindles with time. I’m no science historian – I’m not sure science existed before Twitter – but I imagine there are many reasons for this, not the least of which was that when science as a method was new, it was easier to make grand discoveries that spanned many different disciplines. It’s just plain old harder to do that these days. To make a name for yourself you have to be pretty good in a narrow field, and very few people have that sort of polymath capability when modern science is so deep and rich.

Note that for the 20th Century, Crispian started including a lot of popularizers of science as well. There may be a few names you recognize…

I expect this map will go viral once places like Geekologie and Boing Boing find it. Which they will. Get in on the coolness on the ground floor now. Or, of course, one flight lower.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Science
MORE ABOUT: Crispian Jago

Comments (38)

Links to this Post

  1. New age therapy flowchart | Bad Astronomy | December 30, 2010
  1. Brian Schlosser

    Awww, poor Lamarck, relegated to a dead end stop! And mispelled! He doesn’t deserve either indignity. While he was ultimately wrong about the mechanism, he was an early proponent of the fact of evolution, and he is unfairly tied to the discredited theory that bears his name. As Gould says in one of his excellent essays, theres nothing in Lamarck’s work that indicates that he wouldn’t have discarded his theory in favor of Darwin’s, had he lived that long.

    He needs to be restores to his proper place, a pioneer in a field that was in its infancy at the time.

  2. Chris

    So Phil, how does it feel being the end of the line of astronomy and cosmology?

  3. Zippy the Pinhead

    It looks like you, Phil, are the last stop before the Astronomy train runs off the tracks.

  4. Brian

    Surprised that Witten is not also considered a mathematician.

  5. Semi-Pro_Astronomer

    Don’t take this the wrong way Phil, you’re a great guy, but this list would be totally different if it were written by a professional. Leaving off Yakov Zeldovich ( while including Brian Greene is almost a crime, and shows an obvious anglo-centric slant. For living astronomers, I’d put Roger Blandford down before,well lets say most of the ones listed, but I do radio work in AGN jets, so I am a little biased there.

    It just goes to show that fame does not equal greatness in (astro)physics, and perhaps science in general. A lot of the true greats do work that is very esoteric and lack either the skills or desire to write a main-stream book to become famous.

  6. Isn’t Sean Carroll at physicist? He’s listed as Evolutionary Biology.

  7. TheBlackCat

    They don’t even mention Leonardo da Vinci. They also skip any mention of any human-scale physics, like solid and fluid mechanics.

  8. amstrad


    It is clearly in the Harry Beck design scheme of the London Underground!!!

  9. TBRP

    Why does Stephen Hawking connect modern physics to 18th century astronomy/cosmology?

  10. Having Dr. Plait as the last step in the astronomy field makes me feel concerned about the inminent end of the world… call it 2012, call it asteroid… call it FSM.

    You are the sign of destruction… if not, why in the this universe carried on top of turtle shells did you write a book about the end of time?


    Deleted by author. (Need more coffee!)

  12. Adam

    @amstrad Crispian Jago names Beck under the key on the left. Which is more than can be said Patterson and his “The Great Bear” map.

    @all It’s also worth noting that this is a draft and CJ does say it is likely subject to change. Therefore it’s probably worth letting him know if you have any constructive criticisms and suggestions. :)

  13. Semi-Pro_Astronomer

    Did I miss James Clerk Maxwell and Micheal Faraday in 19th century physics?


    @Semi-Pro_Astronomer (#13),

    Follow the red line from Galileo Galilei and you’ll find Michael Faraday at the fourteenth stop; continue on and you’ll find James Clerk Maxwell at the thirty-fifth stop.

  15. Michael

    Everyone moaning about who is on it and who is not and where they are on it etc. should read the text at the bottom left hand corner of the map.

  16. Bjoern

    @Non-Believer: there are two different scientists named Sean Carroll…

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat idea. 8)

    It is apt if Phil Plait *is* the last stop for astronomy – after all he does bring us all Death from the Skies! ūüėČ

  18. DennyMo

    This is another one of those times when I wish my printer did “C” size paper. 11×17 is nice, but 17×22 would more fully embiggenate the hardcopy on the cube wall. Thanks for posting this one, BA.

  19. DrFlimmer

    @ Semi-Pro_Astronomer

    I didn’t find Maxwell, either, and wanted to ask the same question. So, thanks, Ivan3man (as usual ūüėČ )!

  20. ggremlin

    As far as I can see Galileo is the center of subspace and time, somehow that sounds appropriate.

  21. Katharine

    There is a glaring omission of a whole lot of neuroscience after Ramon y Cajal.

  22. Florian

    It’s pretty clear that this was made by somebody who only knows science from science popularisation. I don’t know so much about the other sciences, but his selection of mathematicians is laughably inadequate. What’s Marcus du Sautoy doing on a list that doesn’t include Jean-Pierre Serre?

  23. Archwright

    How about Ada Lovelace? The first software engineer?

    Serious props, though, for connecting Newton to Alchemy. That is a little-known tid-bit.

  24. mech-eng

    If there is Attenborough, why Isaac Asimov is missing? As Carl Sagan said, he was a great popular science writer, having published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey system. Beside this, I agree with DennyMo. This could be a very nice piece to hang on a wall in office.

  25. Pretty cool, though the Hugo de Vries neighborhood has gotten way too trendy.

  26. Mengles

    No Hermann von Helmholtz? You’ve got to be kidding!?!?

  27. p@j

    Yikes! The entire geology stream is perverted by paleontologists… there’s more to rocks than the (formerly) squishy bits they envelope. Where the heck is Harrison Schmitt?

  28. Bruce

    I see the warm-mongering climatologists were rightfully left off. They’re not real scientists.

  29. Gary Ansorge

    1. Brian Schlosser

    I’ll bet Lamarck would have been really happy to see the advances we’ve made in molecular biology, especially in our understanding of epigenetics, which would have been right up his alley.

    Gary 7

  30. Ian

    Cool – I’m going to use this to play spot the Catholic scientist! Thanks Phil.

    Shame though that it does not include references to 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th century contributions to modern science from Roberte Grossetest, Nicolas of Cusa, Nicole Oresme, Roger Bacon, and many many more. When, in answer to your question Phil, science wasn’t known as ‘science’ back then but natural philosophy or just philosophy – indeed everything was cosmology, as the late Fr S Jaki said.

  31. N8 Loller

    Ah, but on the contrary, in a few centuries I am sure some people from our time will be credited with making contributions to multiple disciplines that we don’t consider different, or that don’t exist yet! I’m sure Galileo just thought he was focused in one or two areas.

  32. changcho

    It is interesting not only for the fields I’m most familiar with (physics, astronomy, math) but it is even more interesting and fun for the fields I’m less familiar with (biology for instance). Very well done!

  33. @27

    I agree. Looking at this one would think Geology has had nothing to say for ~100 years. In addition to Schmitt, let’s not forget MK Hubbert, Marshall Kay, JT Wilson, Charles Richter, Larry Sloss, and Ken Hsu (all active in the past hundred years), additionally you could make a convincing argument for Arthur Holmes (key in development of radiometric dating) and TC Chamberlain (MWH), the list can go on…

    Though if we look strictly at the Paleo aspect, I am surprised I don’t see Romer, Simpson, or Ostrom in that list.

    Rosalind Franklin should also be linked to the Geology line as well.

    But as the disclaimer suggests, there are gross oversimplifications, dodgy demarcations, and glaring omissions. Oh well, I’m certain the other fields can add many names to their “lines” that were overlooked as well.

  34. Jason

    It is a shame that we can’t commute from the 10th-11th century and include Alhazen

  35. Josh

    Shouldn’t Luis Alvarez be in there somewhere, linking theoretical physics and natural history? He did contribute to the Manhattan Project as well as microwave research and radar research. Oh, and let’s not forget his whole post-WWII scientific endeavors: the hydrogen bubble chamber and the idea that the k-t boundary was created by an impact by an extraterrestrial object.

  36. Keith (the first one)

    That’s cool. It’s not a metro-subway thing though. It’s a tube map. Duh. (Like 8 amtrad said)

  37. Robert Carnegie

    Should Little Astronomer be on the map, too, perhaps? Maybe labelled “Under instruction”?


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