The Scientific Revolution: Timeline, Breakthroughs & Effects

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  • 0:02 Scientific Revolution
  • 1:01 Major Events
  • 2:49 Breakthroughs
  • 4:08 Effects of the…
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the period when Western society first turned to science as the new way of thinking, called the Scientific Revolution. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Scientific Revolution

Revolution! Grab your torches and pitchforks! We're having a revolution for…science? Wait, what?

Turns out, a revolution can refer to more than just a rebellion against the government. Anything that dramatically alters society can be termed a revolution. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe underwent a dramatic change that transformed the understanding of society and nature through a new, scientific logic. This period was called the Scientific Revolution and was the foundation of our modern ideas about science. One of the principle characteristics of this revolution was the scientific method, a new system in which truth is achieved by questioning assumptions and from analyzing scientific data from repeatable experiments. Traditional society held certain assumptions about our place in the universe, so the Scientific Revolution represented a challenge that reformed the Western world.

Major Events

There is no exact date for the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, since this was a period of transformation over time. However, one of the first major events that sparked the new wave of scientific thinking was the publication of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543. This was the first major work to propose that the Earth revolved around the Sun, challenging the traditional belief that the Earth was the center of the universe.

In the early 17th century, the Scientific Revolution got a major boost through the English scientist and philosopher Francis Bacon. Bacon was the first to truly outline the process of designing and carrying out an experiment as the foundation to science. He insisted that rather than assuming anything, all things should be tested through carefully planned scientific experiments. Bacon's system, first proposed in 1620, became known as the scientific method.

Although there were many other important innovations, let's skip to the climax of the Scientific Revolution. In 1687, the book series, Principia was published by a man named Isaac Newton. Recognize that name? Newton is considered one of the fathers of modern science, and his Principia was the final nail in the Scientific Revolution that established the new scientific mindset. Newton's work used the scientific method to challenge the traditional assumptions about physics, math, and nature. With the Principia, the world was ready to abandon the old ways of thinking and embrace Newton's new ideas, like the theory of gravity. From that point on, the path to truth was through science.


The Scientific Revolution was full of new discoveries that changed how people saw the world. One of them was the heliocentric model of the universe. The heliocentric model argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun. This was a direct challenge to the traditional geocentric model, in which the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus was the first to really advance this theory, and it was built upon by later scientists. Throughout the Scientific Revolution, scientists discovered that the Sun was also not the center of the universe and that planets did not have perfect spherical orbits. Johannes Kepler and Galileo were instrumental figures that used scientific observations to advance these theories.

Another incredibly important breakthrough was the theory of gravity, proposed by Isaac Newton. Newton not only demonstrated that gravity existed, but also suggested that gravity was the force responsible for the movement of planets. From this, he developed the laws of motion, which defined the relationship between an object and the forces that make it move. A common expression of this is that a body in motion remains in motion, and a body at rest remain at rest unless influenced by another force.

Effects of the Scientific Revolution

One of the direct influences of the Scientific Revolution was the development of industrial machines, a process that began in this time period. The scientists of the Scientific Revolution designed several new tools to test their experiments that could produce consistent, accurate results. One prominent example is the earliest version of a steam engine, originally patented in 1689 to pump water.

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