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6 Uneducated Amateurs Whose Genius Changed the World

Recently, an Internet entrepreneur made news by offering $100,000 to young people to not go to college. Now, we're not telling you not to get an education -- everybody knows employers these days want a degree. But we'd be remiss if we didn't take a moment to celebrate some of the amazing achievements from people who had virtually no education at all.

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#6.
Michael Faraday

The Amateur:

A guy who worked in a London book shop, with virtually no formal education.

The Accomplishment:

Revolutionized our understanding of electricity, and a whole lot more.

If you are using anything powered by electricity, if you know anything about magnetism, if you have ever used a Bunsen burner or if you are a big fan of benzene and the clathrate hydrate of chlorine (and who isn't?), then you owe some respect to Mr. Faraday. Michael Faraday was a genuine experimental genius and is considered one of the most influential scientists of all time. Oh, and he never had any formal education.

Getty
"If a guy can electrify a frog and be called a genius, I think we're going to be fine."

Faraday was born into a poor family in industrial London, so he never had any money to pay for a proper school. Instead, at age 14 he took an apprenticeship at the local book-binder for seven years. While he was there, he started to read some of the books that he was binding -- sort of like working in a chocolate factory and eating all the chocolate, only you don't get fired for it.

iStockPhoto
Unless you think this is the best way to absorb information.

Now, having read up on a bunch of science stuff and finding himself fascinated with it, he asked London's best scientist, Humphrey Davy, for an assistant job. Humphrey declined. To be honest, Faraday was a guy with absolutely no scientific experience or education who had just asked the best chemist in the business for a job.

Getty
While nowadays, we line mattresses with newly graduated college students.

He did get a job in the next year though, and then shit went down. In short time, Faraday invented the electric motor, the electric generator, the Bunsen burner, electrolysis and electroplating. He discovered electro-magnetic induction, he discovered benzene, he figured out the shape of magnetic fields, discovered metallic nano-particles (thought to be the birth of nano-science) and something complicated about chlorine. Basically, he was a science machine.

Today, his legacy lives on as one of the best scientists the world has ever seen, despite having never been taught science in his life. Besides, no one could really teach him much science because he discovered most of it. Davy, the world famous chemist who turned down his initial job application, was once asked, "What was your greatest discovery?" He replied, "Michael Faraday."

#5.
A Musician Discovered the Planet Uranus

The Amateur:

A composer who played the cello and oboe, who had no education in astronomy.

The Accomplishment:

Discovered several moons and, oh yeah -- a new planet.

German native William Herschel dreamed about outer space, but in his day-to-day life found himself about as far away from the stars as one can get; namely, England in the 18th century. He was a talented musician and by his late 20s, was taking prominent jobs in the exciting world of professional organ playing, and all the professional organ player groupies that presumably came with a gig like that.

Oh, and Herschel also happened to be a certified genius. Though being seriously interested in all things extra-terrestrial, he didn't have a telescope. Obviously, the most sensible solution was to spend 16 hours a day grinding up mirrors and lenses to make his own. To fill out the underdog shape of this story arc, we like to think this happened after the rich, popular scientists made fun of him for not having a telescope at a dance.

Wikipedia
"I'll show them, with the skills I learned grinding organs!" - Grinding To Uranus: The William Herschel Story

According to his journal, he "began to look at the planets and stars" in May 1773, as opposed to, you know, using the telescope to spy on nude sunbathing neighbors (they used to do that in 1773, right?). A few years later, after some casual, mind-numbingly intense searching of the sky, he found something interesting.

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No, not her.

As he searched the sky, he found something that didn't quite fit as a star or a comet. After sending off his observations to a Russian professional he realized he'd discovered a freaking planet. Uranus, to be exact.

observadores-cometas.com
Probably shown here.

Obviously he was rather pleased. Herschel decided to name the planet the "Georgian Star" after King George III, because although being only an amateur astronomer, he was a professional suck up. The name didn't catch on, but somehow "Uranus" did -- so he went with that. Honestly, the people naming the first planet discovered since the ancients should have been able to hire a better PR team. Still, Herschel discovered a planet, which is quite a bit more than we've accomplished to date, even if you count going this entire entry and only making one your-anus jokes.

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"What ever did that gentlemen mean? My anus. How preposter ...
OH GODDAMMIT PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE DOING THAT FOR CENTURIES."

#4.
Srinivasa Ramanujan

The Amateur:

An impoverished Indian teenager.

The Accomplishment:

Lived Good Will Hunting in real life.

If you paid really close attention in Good Will Hunting, you might recall that at one point, Robin Williams has a conversation in which Matt Damon's genius janitor is compared to someone named Srinivasa Ramanujan. It was right after a "dots not feathers" racist joke. We knew that would jog your memory. Well, that was a real guy. He taught himself math, and turned out to be one of the greatest math geniuses to come along in the last few centuries.

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Seen here, mocking you endlessly while you try to figure out the postage from India.

Ramanujan was insanely good at math, and it wasn't due to any education, either -- he was entirely self taught. His parents gave him a math textbook on advanced trigonometry around age 11. He decided to learn the hell out of that book, and then because advanced trigonometry was so piss easy, he derived his own sophisticated theorems all by himself.

At age 13.

He did go to college later, but failed out of school because it was hard to focus on classes about art history and fungus biology when he was inventing new math in his spare time.

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"This isn't even a goddamn triangle."

Still living in abject poverty, he started sending his theorems off to various important math people -- some in India, some in England. Almost every time his work was dismissed as a hoax, or returned without comment, presumably unread. Other times the mathematicians on the receiving end had no idea what they were looking at, because these were equations no human had ever created.

Finally, when a professor at Cambridge University saw the theorems, he recognized the work of a genius and invited Ramanujan to England. Ramanujan refused to leave India "to go to a foreign land," despite Professor Hardy offering possibly his only chance at recognition. At this point, we'd probably make a joke that he had the biggest balls in mathematics, but he actually had a medically swollen testicle that had to be drained annually, so that seems a bit insensitive.

Wikipedia
Unlike his testicle.

Today, his formulas have found uses in everything from string theory to crystallography. Hardy said that his mathematical genius was comparable to guys like goddamned Isaac Newton and Archimedes. Yeah, that's going back more than 2,000 years to find somebody in his class. If he hadn't died at the young age of 32, he probably would have been the sort of household name you don't need racist and ball jokes to remember.

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