Even Great Minds Grapple with Math

even great minds grapple with math.jpg Science

Does the mere thought of crunching numbers without the aid of your smartphone make your heart race? If so, take solace in the fact that even some of the world’s most notable scientists and engineers have grappled with the same challenge. From Michael Faraday, the "father of electricity," to Charles Darwin, the architect of evolutionary biology, many great minds have confessed to having a complicated relationship with mathematics.

Despite their groundbreaking contributions to science, these brilliant individuals often found themselves wrestling with mathematical concepts. Faraday, for instance, despite his groundbreaking work in electromagnetism and his inventions, was often hampered by his lack of formal education and mathematical prowess. Similarly, Charles Darwin, the man who revolutionized our understanding of natural selection, was so repulsed by mathematics during his university years that he later expressed deep regret for not persevering to understand its fundamental principles.

Icons of Science Who Struggled With Math

A fear of mathematical calculations is overwhelmingly common, even among those who are hailed as the greatest minds of our time. The notoriety of these figures did not exempt them from the struggle that many individuals face when confronted with numbers.

Michael Faraday: The Self-taught Genius

Michael Faraday, often dubbed the "father of electricity," is revered for his ground-breaking inventions such as the first electric motor and generator. Despite his remarkable contributions to science, Faraday, born to a humble blacksmith, often felt inadequate due to his lack of formal education. His limited mathematical ability proved a stumbling block in 1846 when he proposed that visible light was a type of electromagnetic radiation. His theory was ignored due to a lack of mathematical evidence, which was later provided by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

Charles Darwin: The Impatient Student

Charles Darwin, the man who introduced us to the concept of evolution, had a disdain for mathematics. In his autobiography, he expressed regret for his impatience with math, particularly algebra, during his time at the University of Cambridge. Darwin acknowledged this as a shortsighted view, as he later recognized the significance of mathematical principles in scientific exploration.

Alexander Graham Bell: The Reluctant Mathematician

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, had a complicated relationship with mathematics in high school. He enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the subject but often lost interest in carrying out the final calculations. Consequently, his academic performance suffered, and he never quite matched the mathematical prowess of his contemporaries.

Thomas Edison: The Practical Innovator

Thomas Edison, renowned for his inventions such as the incandescent lamp and the watt-hour meter, harboured a distaste for mathematics. His brush with Isaac Newton’s ‘Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica’ as a student left him with a lasting aversion. However, Edison pragmatically countered his mathematical limitations by hiring experts like Charles Proteus Steinmetz and Francis Upton to provide the necessary mathematical framework for his inventions.

Jack Horner: The Resilient Paleontologist

Jack Horner, who discovered the Western Hemisphere’s first dinosaur eggs, had a difficult academic journey. His progress in reading, writing, and mathematics was significantly slow, and he never graduated from college. The root of his struggle became clear in 1979 when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Despite his struggles, Horner’s determination saw him rise to prominence in his field.

E.O. Wilson: The Late Bloomer

E.O. Wilson, a renowned naturalist, had a rather late introduction to mathematical concepts. He only began studying algebra in his freshman year at the University of Alabama and encountered calculus as a 32-year-old tenured professor at Harvard. Although never more than a ‘C’ student in mathematics, Wilson stresses on the importance of mathematical literacy, advising students that it’s never too late to learn.


This compilation of scientific luminaries who struggled with math serves as a poignant reminder that one’s challenges don’t define their potential for success. Their stories highlight the importance of perseverance, creativity, and practical problem-solving in overcoming obstacles. It offers a valuable lesson that struggling with a particular skill doesn’t prohibit one from achieving greatness in their chosen field.

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