How Greek Scientists Have Shaped the World


Imagine finding a 2,100-year old computer in the sea…well Ancient Greek scientists made that possible! The Antikythera mechanism, the first analog computer was discovered at the bottom of the Greek sea in 1901. It ignites the imagination to fathom the level of Greek scientists at the time; what else could they have created that we haven’t discovered yet? More importantly, it makes us examine the contribution of Greek scientists to the world from ancient times to the present day.

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The emergence of science in Ancient Greece

It is no secret that scientific thought was born in Greece; Greek scientists and philosophers lay the foundations of modern civilization. Names such as Archimedes, Aristotle, Empedocles, Hypatia, Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Eratosthenes, and Hippocrates live not only in the textbooks of every national educational system in the world, they live on through a myriad of inventions, applications, and services we interact with daily. Furthermore, they live on in the way we form our thoughts, ethics, and behaviors.

European civilization and Greek thought

When a child learns the Greek language and about Greek scientists and philosophers, they take a journey connecting them to a vast heritage that laid the foundations of western civilization and provided the blueprint for the modern world around us.

How Greek thought changed the world

The mighty Romans were changed forever once coming into contact with the civilization of the Greeks. Influenced by the teachings of Greek scientists and philosophers, they built and ran a vast empire that lay the foundations of modern Europe. They adopted the principles of logic and rational thinking to transform Rome and the world around them. It is no surprise that it was considered the pinnacle of a Roman person’s education to learn Greek and to study in Greece.

How Greek is Integral to STEM

Learning Greek is as relevant to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as ever; the value of learning Greek is not limited to “understanding a few words and letters,” rather, kids learning Greek enter a world built by humanity’s brightest minds and gain insight into the structure of logic and rationality produced by their minds and imagination. Greek scientists understand this heritage that is an integral part of them, both through learning Greek and through Hellenism which is passed down to them.

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Benefits of a bilingual brain

Study after study demonstrates that learning a second language makes for a significantly healthier, happier, more successful person. Not only do bilingual and multilingual kids perform better at school compared to their monolingual peers, but their brains also look and work differently!

Learning Greek for kids is an ideal option to reap all the cognitive benefits of a bilingual brain - it’s no coincidence Greek is the language of physics and mathematics! The structure of the Greek language encourages logical reasoning as well as abstract and analytical thought which help develop executive functions in the brain. Take for example the Greek word for “detonation,” “εκπυρσοκρότηση.” Its etymology loosely translates as “A loud noise stemming from a torch” –in a single word, it has conveyed an elaborate description of the event that has transpired – a concept for the brain to fathom outweighing that of simple “bang.”

Greek scientists today

Perhaps one of the strongest links modern Greek scientists share with their ancient counterparts is a certain “ethos” that goes beyond learning science for science’s sake or technological advancement and material gain. Rather, what has been passed on from those times to ours is an unrelenting spirit of understanding the universe and the laws of nature, as well as ethics and the service of humanity.

Arguably, it is this ethos that accounts for the overrepresentation of Greek scientists in leading research and theoretical scientific positions around the world, as well as in every realm of science and technology making sense of cosmic laws for the betterment of life.

As covered in the Greek Reporter, the contribution of modern Greek scientists internationally is 15 times higher than the corresponding proportion of Greece’s population! The Greek newspaper Kathimerini (ref. published a list of 45 leading Greek scientists under the age of 45 complied by Dr. John Ioannidis, a leading epidemiologist.

They include Eleftheria Zeggini who headed a group of scientists that discovered genes linked to osteoarthritis, Elli Papaemannouil, head of a group that discovered a gene causing childhood leukemia, and Professor of Computer Science at MIT, Manolis Kellis, who researches the human genome.

These Greek scientists carry the torch of their Greek scientist ancestors in the spirit of questioning, exploring, and testing phenomena in a relentless process of scientific discovery that has propelled human existence for millennia. This spirit of the ancient Greek scientists is summed up in the words of Dr. Ioannidis:

“let something be tested to see if it is sound”

The next generation

It is so important for this scientific tradition and also awareness of our cultural heritage to be passed on to the children that make up the next generation of the Greek diaspora. A great example is offered by Greek American Dr. George Yancopoulos, a biotechnologist whose company is currently at the forefront of breakthroughs in antibody treatments for COVID-19. In a recent interview, Dr. Yancopoulos talked about how much he credits his Greek heritage for what he has accomplished, relaying a story of his father on a hike in the hills outside the Greek village of Kastoria:

“He always reminded me of the heroes that this country has produced and everything it has given to humanity. And I tell the same thing, whenever I have the chance, to my own children.”


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