5 Famous Scientists Who Struggled with Mathematics

You aren't the only one struggling with math. Perhaps their stories can inspire you.
Donovan Alexander

Yes, people often describe math as scary. If you are about to start school or have already started school, math class may not have been on your list of favorite classes in the upcoming school year.

Perhaps, you can be on the other side of the equation and absolutely love math and all it has to offer. However, whether you love math or hate it, math plays a vital role in our society today and is vital for some of the most leading professions.

For those who struggle with math, this one's for you. If you have an interest in pursuing programming, or in the exciting worlds of AI and machine learning, you need to have a fair understanding of math to master these areas. However, if you feel as if math is not your strong suit, it does not mean you have to give up your dreams of pursuing a STEM career.


In fact, today we are here to tell you that you are not alone, and some of history's most famous scientists found themselves in the same boat as you. Even more so, in a paper published in the New Journal of Physics, a study demonstrated that even physicists are a little “afraid” of mathematics. 

Why is math hard for me? 

Now before we jump into the list, we thought it might be appropriate to look at common reasons why some people struggle with math.

Math can be difficult to relate to as it is a very abstract subject. A common question is, “When will I ever use this?”

To help you gain a better perspective on the world of math, places like Khan Academy or Udacity can help. Online resources like these specialize in preparing you for the “real-world” and in the fun areas of software engineering. 

Another reason why some people don't like math is the idea that the study of mathematics builds on itself, so if you don't grasp one concept, you will fall behind. Math requires precision and practice. 

Building off of this, math takes time to learn, and like a lot of things in life, a shaky foundation can be detrimental to your growth. Take the time to go to places like Brilliant.org to master foundation concepts, and practice them over and over again. 

Now, if you are still scared of math, we do have a bit of good news for you.

There are areas in the STEM fields that require less math than others, making them great for the mathematically impaired. Places like biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, and civil engineering are all great places to start. Hopefully, these following scientists will motivate you. 

1. Alexander Graham Bell: 1847-1922 

You know of Alexander Graham Bell. His inventions have played a vital role in our world. The Scottish-born inventor would go on to create the telephone, as you probably already know, and would go on to even develop several flying machines, as well as some medical technology.

According to a biography, Bell was actually bored with math, even though he enjoyed the “intellectual exercise.” This would go on to shape how he approached mathematics. Bell was interested in the methods and ideas behind math problems but was careless about working out the final answers. Even later in his career, his math never improved. 

2. Thomas Edison: 1847-1931

Thomas Edison was eccentric, to say the least. His career as inventor garnered the world’s attention, as he created things like the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and the movie camera. However, he was not that good at math and was very well aware of the fact.

Edison once said, “I can always hire a mathematician, but they can’t hire me.” After studying Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ('Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'), he was left with nothing but a “distaste for mathematics” as a boy. 

Instead of struggling, throughout his career Edison made a clear effort to hire the most talented mathematicians for his projects like German mathematician Charles Proteus Steinmetz. 

3. E.O. Wilson: 1929 - Present

If you want to know everything about ants, then Wilson is your guy. His contributions to the world range from evolution, to biology, and even some philosophy.

Wilson’s bestsellers encompass all of these topics and also address all of his troubles with math. According to Wilson, the relatively poor Southern schools he attended in the United States did not prepare him well for the world of math. 

For much of his career, he was at a disadvantage, not learning algebra until his freshman year at university, and only studying calculus as a professor, where he attended classes with some of his own undergraduate students. His story is a reminder that math can be learned at any age. 

4. Michael Faraday: 1791-1867

You might not know that much about Michael Faraday, but you know of his inventions. Faraday would go on to invent the electric motor as well as the first electric generator. Inventions like the rubber balloon and the groundwork for refrigeration technology would also fall under Faraday’s career. He also made important contributions to the world of electromagnetism and for isolating benzene.

What is even more impressive is the fact that Faraday grew up as the son of a poor blacksmith and received very little formal education. His lack of formal training also shaped his career, as his ideas about electromagnetic radiation were initially ignored because he could not back them up with mathematical proofs. Eventually, Faraday was proved right about his hypothesis, that visible light is a form of electromagnetic radiation by Scottish physicist and mathematician, James Clerk Maxwell.

5. Charles Darwin: 1809-1882

Darwin made it very clear that his math was bad. He personally described himself as someone who learns math “very slowly.” He would even go on to ask a tutor for help with math, just to get frustrated and quit. However, later in his life, Darwin made it clear that he deeply regretted not being patient enough to learn math when he was younger.

The moral of the story? Take the time needed to practice math, as it can greatly serve you, especially if you are headed down a STEM path. Yet, do not worry if you are not the best mathematician in the world.

Do not be too hard on yourself. All these scientists turned out just fine. 

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