Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World - Natural History


Over time, scientists and artists have scrutinized the natural world, leading to dramatic advances in genetics, medicine, and agriculture as well as a clearer understanding of our interconnectedness across species.





Historiae animalium (History of animals), 1558, Konrad Gesner

Gesner was an incredibly productive Swiss naturalist and bibliographer whose works are filled with imaginary as well as real creatures. His five-volume Historiae anialium is considered the beginning of modern zoology.


Micrographia, 1665, Robert Hooke

A celebration of the recent invention of the microscope, Hooke’s Micrographia was one of the first printed works containing drawings of organisms viewed under magnification. Hooke also coined the word “cell” because plant cells, which are walled, reminded him of cells in a monastery.


 werken cuvier

Werken (Collected Works), 1684-1718, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

The Dutch scientist Leeuwenhoek, considered to be the world’s first microbiologist, used his extraordinary microscopes to magnify objects up to 500 times and record observations of muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, and blood flow in capillaries. The gallery includes a replica of Leeuwenhoek’s 17th-century microscope, as well as an additional microscope focused on the same insects and objects that Hooke himself observed.


Recherches sur les fossiles (Research on fossils), 1812, George Cuvier

Cuvier was the founder of comparative anatomy. His empirical study of fossils led to conclusions about the relationships among animals, helping evolutionists build a case for the descent of animal life from a common ancestor.



On the origin of species, 1859, Charles Darwin

Darwin proposed there was abundant evidence that species had evolved over time and offered up a key mechanism for that change. He offered a key mechanism for those changes: “natural selection,” a process where best adapted individuals of a species survive and reproduce, and thus pass along their traits. Over 250+ editions included in the exhibition illustrate the importance and spread of Darwin's ideas across the globe.






Follow along on the journey of discovery!

Natural History Interactive Timeline »



Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

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Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, 1731-43

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"The most beautiful thing in science is the complexity."

Primate researcher Craig Stanford, University of Southern California

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"It’s really interesting to get into the meditative timeframe of an elephant."

Biologist Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, Stanford University

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About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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