Turkish Scientist from Past to Present

Written by TR Dergisi

Al-Farabi, who wrote books on Aristotle’s logics, was referred to as “Alfarabius” and “Abunaser” in the West.

Turkish scientists who have contributed to science and technology throughout history, have written numerous works in astronomy, medicine, mathematics and logic fields. From al-Farabi to Ali Qushji, from Turkey’s first nuclear engineer Prof. Dr. Ahmet Yüksel Özemre to Nobel Prize-winning scientist Prof. Dr. Aziz Sancar, many Turkish scientists have shaped science and technology through their works that have made impression on a global scale.

Astronomer, Mathematician and Linguist: Ali Qushji

A prominent mathematics and astronomy scholar of his period, Ali Qushji lived in Samarkand in the 15th century. He received mathematics and astronomy classes from important scientists of the period such as Ulugh Bey, Kadızâde-i Rûmî and Gıyâsüddin Cemşid el-Kâşî. Qushji went to Kirman to complete his education, and returned with the epistle titled  Hall el-Eşkâl el-Kamer he wrote there. Upon returning to Samarkand, Ali Qushji became the director of the Samarkand Observatory after Kadızâde-i Rûmî passed away. He helped Ulugh Bey complete the work titled Zîci. However, Ali Qushji left Samarkand after Ulugh Bey passed away, and visited Aqqoyunlu ruler Uzun Hassan.


Later Ali Qushji was sent to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror by Uzun Hassan as a messenger, to establish peace between the Ottoman and Aqqoyunlu States. Sultan Mehmed who valued and appreciated scientists, offered Ali Qushji to stay in Istanbul and teach in the madrasah. So Ali Qushji stayed in Istanbul, and was assigned to Hagia Sophia as a professor. He prepared the curriculum of Fatih Complex, and taught astronomy and mathematics here. Ali Qushji played an important role in mathematics education offered in madrasahs, and also measured the latitude and longitude of Istanbul and built various sundials.


Qushji wrote two important works in the fields of astronomy and mathematics, and presented his work titled Fethiye to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror after Otlukbeli Victory. The first part of the Fethiye he wrote in the field of astronomy, is about planet spheres and the movements of planets. The second part is about the shape of the Earth and seven climates. In the final part, Ali Qushji gives information on the measurements of the Earth and the distance of planets. Other book by Ali Qushji is a mathematics book titled Muhammediye, with reference to the name of the Conqueror. Qushji passed away in 1471 in Istanbul.

The Founder of Mechanical Sciences: Al-Jazari

Jazari, known for his scientific and technological inventions, was born in 1136 in Cizre. After completing his education at Camia Madrasah, Jazari focused on physics and mechanics, and made many inventions. Jazari is regarded as the first scientist to work on today’s cybernetics and robotics in the history of world science, and his automatic machines laid the foundations for today’s cybernetics and robotics. Jazari, who illustrated the principles and possibilities of usage for more than 50 devices in his work titled El Câmi-u’l Beyn’el İlmî ve El-Amelî’en Nâfi fî Sınâ’ati Hiyel in the field of mechanics, also emphasized in the book that technical sciences will remain between true and false as long as they are not put into practice.

The book consists of six chapters, and Jazari drew ten diagrams that explain binkam (water clock) and finkan (water clock with lamp) making as plane clock and time clock in the first chapter, ten diagrams on pot and pan making in the second chapter, ten diagrams on pitcher and container making for cupping and ablution in the third chapter, ten diagrams on pools, fountains and music players in the fourth chapter, five diagrams on devices that rise water from a shallow well or a flowing river in the fifth chapter, and five diagrams about construction of various shapes which are not similar to each other in the sixth chapter.


Jazari developed an automatic maid that could decide when to pour water and serve fruits and drinks through water levels in different tanks, 600 years before Jacquard’s automatic weaving loom that is regarded as the first self-checking machine. In some of his machines, Jazari worked on establishing a balance and enabling movement through hydro-mechanical effects and in some, he worked on establishing an interaction system using cogs between water-gauges and pulleys. Jazari’s most important contribution to automation was creating the balance that could self-balance and adjust. Jazari’s famous sundial at Diyarbakır Grand Mosque also passed into history as another important work. Physicist, and master in robotics and matrix, scientist El-Jazari regarded as the founder of cybernetics, died in 1206 in Cizre.

A Genius Beyond his Time: Al-Biruni

Al-Biruni was born in 973 in Khwarezm, Uzbekistan. He was trained by Abu Nasr Mansur, a mathematician and astronomer of the period. His teacher taught him Euclidean geometry and Ptolemy astronomy. Influenced by Greek philosophers Aristotle, Archimedes and Democritus, Al-Biruni began his scientific studies at a young age. Al-Biruni who conducted studies in the field of astronomy, calculated the altitude and movements of the sun, the longitude of the city, and identified the beginning of seasons. Scientist Biruni who calculated the earth’s diameter, found a value very close to today’s value, and became the founder of “Geodesy” science. He also suggested using radius as a unit in trigonometric functions. Pyknometer (density bottle), mechanical astrolabe and some map projections Al-Biruni invented and developed, have been important measuring tools that have reached our day.



Al-Biruni, who contributed to the world of science with a number of books, provided information on the calendar system used in the Middle and Near East in his book El-Asar’il-Kariye an’il-Kuruni’l Haliye. The book he wrote on geography is El-Kanunü’l-Mesudi. He established the topography of Central Asia in his book titled İstihrâc el-Evtâr fî Dâire. In his book titled Kitabü’I Cemahir fi Ma’rifeti Cevahir, he gave detailed information on a number of elements such as minerals, metals, alloys, and porcelain. In his book, he showed the specific weights that distinguish each substance from one another. He listed the plants he had studied his entire life in his book titled Kitâbü’s-Saydele.

Al-Biruni, a genius beyond his time, put forward the first ideas on theory of gravity 700 years before Newton. 600 years before Galileo, he claimed that planets revolved around the sun at the end of observations he made with the telescope he developed. His response to the question “why trees and stones do not spring if the world is rotating?” was that there was an attraction at the centre, and everything falls into the centre of the earth. He predicted that North, South, East and West join at various points, and that there was a land (Today’s America) beyond the seas.

Al-Biruni inspired scientists such as Newton, Torricelli, Copernicus, and Galileo who lived centuries after him. The greatest scientist of his time in the world, Al-Biruni passed away in 1051 in Ghazni. The UNESCO Courier magazine allocated its 1974 issue to Al-Biruni.

Turkish Scientist from Past to Present


Al-Farabi, a world-renowned Turkish philosopher with his works in the field of philosophy, was born in the city of Farab, today within the borders of Kazakhstan. Al-Farabi, who received primary education here, studied at the madrasah in Ray and Baghdad.

The prominent thinker who was a kadi in Turkestan, devoted himself to philosophy and held philosophical studies in Harran. The philosopher who knew a number of languages including Arabic, Farsi, Syriac and Greek, was at the same time a physician and musician. Al-Farabi, who studied ethics, politics, psychology, and natural sciences as well as the well-known scholars of the period, gave particular importance to philosophy and logic. Al-Farabi who also wrote books in various fields, construed philosophy of Greek philosophers as Aristotle, Plato, Zenon, Plotinus, and integrated their views into his own. Al-Farabi acknowledged the true Aristotle, and aimed to base the progress of philosophy on Aristotelianism. His work in the field of logic, has earned him a wide reputation in all Near Eastern countries. Such that, Al-Farabi is referred to as “Alfarabius” and “Abunaser” in the West.


The philosopher worked on every book included in Aristotle’s logic collection titled Organon, and studied this collection, preparing commentaries, renditions, or summaries. Al-Farabi wrote around 100 works in the fields of natural sciences and history of philosophy, and we know only a part of these. The most famous was a short thesis titled The Pearl Drop, that briefly explains the entire essence of his teaching. His thesis titled the Opinions of the Locals of City of Honour, which did not invalidate Plato’s work on the state, also drew great interest. Al-Farabi died in 950.

A Prominent Mathematics and Astronomy Genius: Mirim Çelebi

Mahmut bin Mehmet Mirim Çelebi, one of the most important physics and astronomy scholars raised in the Ottoman in the 16th century, was born in Istanbul. Mirim Çelebi started his education by taking the lessons from his grandfather Hocazade Muslihuddin Effendi, first taught in Gallipoli Madrasah and later in Manastır Madrasah in Bursa. Mirim Çelebi, who also gave mathematics and astronomy lessons to Bayezid II, was assigned as Anatolian Judge of the Army in 1508 during this period. Çelebi voluntarily resigned and moved to Edirne.



Mirim Çelebi followed the Samarkand mathematics-astronomy school represented by his ancestors Qadi Zada al-Rumi and Ali Qushji, which also guided his scientific approach. Mirim Çelebi with books in the fields of astronomy and optics that have reached to our day, studied these subjects using mathematical analysis. Çelebi’s most famous work is the commentary he wrote for Zici by Ulugh Bey, which was a reference book widely used by the Ottoman astronomers, astrologers and muvakkits who determined prayer times. In this work, Mirim Çelebi offered five different solutions to calculate the sine of a one-degree arc in a simple way. He took particular interest in the values of trigonometric expression in this work and achieved original results. Risâle fi’l-Hâle and Kavs-i Kuzah in which he explained the formation of rainbows and halos, was the first voluminous work written in the field of optics in the Ottoman State until that day. Mirim Çelebi studied how vision works in this work as well as fraction and reflection of light. Mirim Çelebi gained a reputation with his studies on astronomy which also shaped his scientific activities. Mirim Çelebi’s works in the field of astronomy are epistles titled Rub’u’l-Müceyyeb, Rub’u’ş-Şikâzî ve Zerkâle. Those are voluminous epistles written on determining the calendar and kiblah by using tools, and some other subjects. He also followed the trends of his period and wrote books on astrology such as “el-Makâsıd fi’l-ihtiyârât”. Mirim Çelebi lived in Edirne until he was deceased in 1525.

 Father of Historiography of Science: Salih Zeki

Salih Zeki known as the founder of history of science in Turkey, was born in 1864 in Istanbul. Salih Zeki with major achievements in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, logic and science, graduated from Darüşşafaka High School in 1882 at the top of his class, and became an officer in Telegraph Office. Later he went to Paris with a few friends to study electrical engineering. In 1889, Salih Zeki published his article titled Memoire sur les chiffres indiens abroad, on history of science. Throughout his life, he taught physics, chemistry, analytical geometry, mathematical physics, astronomy and probability calculations in various educational institutions.

Salih Zeki, who worked in the observatory for some time, conducted research on some foreign astronomy and mathematics works, and also carried out calendar studies. As well as writing astronomy articles for the Illustrated Newspaper he was the director of, he wrote various textbooks on the subject.

Defining mathematics as a microscope that shows invisibly tiny facts in the universe, Salih Zeki greatly contributed in introducing modern mathematics to Turkey. With various conferences and works, he played an important role in introducing various fields Turkish mathematicians did not have knowledge on. At the same time, Salih Zeki is an important figure in making mathematics widespread in Turkish education system. Salih Zeki who also worked to introduce algebraic logic in Turkey, is regarded as the father of historiography of science in Turkey.

He is the author of many important books and translated works as Hikmet-i Tabiiyye Dersleri (Lessons on Natural Sciences), Kamus-ı Riyaziyyat, Asar-ı Bakiye, İlmin Kıymeti (The Value of Science), Darülfünun Konferansları (University Conferences), Mizan-ı Tefekkür, Mebahis-i Elektrik, İlm-i Tabakatü’larz, İlim ve Faraziye (Science and Hypothesis)and İlim ve Usul (Science and Method). In addition to these books, Salih Zeki wrote articles published in numerous newspapers and magazines. He passed away in 1921, at the French Hospital located in Şişli. He is buried in the garden of Fatih Mosque.


An Ottoman Genius: Taqi ad-Din

Taqi ad-Din who crowned the science in the Ottoman period, was born in Damascus in 1526. Taqi ad-Din, known for his research mainly on mathematics and astronomy and many other fields, received his first education from his father. He studied conventional Islamic sciences with scholars in Damascus. Taqi ad-Din, who later went to Cairo, completed his education after studying sciences such as mathematics, medicine and astronomy. He later returned to Damascus and stayed here for some time. Then he was appointed to Nablus as delegate kadi. He also taught in madrasahs around the city. The genius who paved the way for many innovations with his research, established the last large observatory in Istanbul.


Taqi ad-Din, who worked in the field of mathematics, made definitions of sine, cosine, tangent and cotangent, and prepared tables.

Taqi ad-Din showed fractions of trigonometric functions with decimal fractions for the first time and prepared sine and tangent tables calculated from 1 degree to 90 degrees with one degree intervals. Taqi ad-Din who also conducted important studies in the field of arithmetic, developed an original practical numbering system and started to use decimal fractions instead of the sexagenarian fractions which had been used for a long time. In his works, Taqi ad-Din studied the theory of decimal fractions and showed how to make four operations using these through examples. Taqi ad-Din’s work Teshilu Zici’l-A’şâriyyi’ş-Şahinşâhiyye (Interpretation of Sultan’s Tables Arranged according to Decimal System), featured tables which show the positions of planets determined based on the principles of the geocentric system at the end of nearly five years of observations in Istanbul Observatory.

Taqi ad-Din who also took interest in algebra and employed arithmetic approach to solve second order equations, wrote a work titled Book on the Eye and Light of Gaze Gardens in the field of optics, he conducted successful studies in.

Taqi ad-Din who made sun clocks and mechanical clocks, wrote a book titled Making Mechanical Clocks in which he explained astronomical clocks and observation clocks which is still the most comprehensive book on the subject in the world, even in the West. Taqi ad-Din passed away in 1585. His works can still be found today in libraries in Istanbul, Cairo and England.


Flight Record Holder: Vecihi Hürkuş

Vecihi Hürkuş, one of the most prominent figures in Turkish history, was born in Istanbul on January 6th, 1896. After his father Customs Inspector Faham Bey passed away prematurely, his mother Zeliha Niyir Hanım raised him. After studying fine arts at Tophane Arts Academy, Hürkuş first volunteered as an aircraft engineer in the Balkan Wars and later at Baghdad Front during the First World War.

In 1917, when he was at the Caucasus Front, he shot down a Russian air-plane and received the title “The first Turkish pilot to shoot down an enemy plane.” He was wounded during the battle and was captured by Russians, however he managed to escape and return to his country. After voluntarily participating in the Turkish War of Independence, Hürkuş landed at İzmir Airport after shooting down a Greek air-plane, and ended the occupation. After these successes, the Turkish Grand National Assembly awarded him with the Medal of Independence and three separate certificates. Between 1916 and 1967, Hürkuş set records difficult to break with 30 thousand hours of flight time and by flying 102 different models of war and civil aircraft.


After his name was given to an enemy air-plane which crashed in Edirne following an accident, Hürkuş became obsessed with the idea of making an air-plane and built the first Turkish aircraft “Vecihi K VI”. The air-plane flew for the first time on January 28th, 1925. Hürkuş who joined Turkish Aircraft Society (TTC), organized the first Turkey tour on behalf of the institution in 1931. This was followed by a second air-plane tour at the end of the same year, including cities as Ankara, Konya, İzmit and Istanbul. In 1932, Hürkuş founded the Civil Aviation School. In 1933 he designed the air-plane Vecihi K-XVI, financed by Nuri Demirağ. In 1937, the Turkish Aeronautical Association sent Hürkuş to an engineering school in Germany to study engineering. He graduated in 1939; however he was not granted an aircraft engineer license based on the claim that “it was impossible to become an engineer in two years”.

Vecihi Hürkuş founded Turkey’s first civil airline company Hürkuş Airlines on November 29th, 1954, and purchased and repaired aircraft disposed off by Turkish Airlines and formed a fleet. But he could not efficiently carry out this project due to sabotages on air-planes and cancellation of their flights without reason. Hürkuş passed away on July 16th, 1969 at the Gülhane Military Medical Academy Hospital.

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