1686 in science
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- John Ray begins publication of his Historia Plantarum, including the first biological definition of the term species; also his edition of Francis Willughby's Historia Piscum.
- Edmund Halley presents a systematic study of the trade winds and monsoons and identifies solar heating as the cause of atmospheric motions.
- Isaac Newton uses a fixed length pendulum with weights of varying composition to test the weak equivalence principle to 1 part in 1000.
- February 10 – Jan Frederik Gronovius, Dutch botanist (died 1762)
- May 24 – Gabriel Fahrenheit, physicist and inventor (died 1736)
- July 6 – Antoine de Jussieu, French naturalist (died 1758)
- October (possible date) – John Machin, English mathematician (died 1751)
- May 11 – Otto von Guericke, German physicist (born 1602)
- November 25 (NS December 5) – Nicolas Steno, Danish pioneer geologist (born 1638)
- Mayr, Ernst (1982). The Growth of Biological Thought: diversity, evolution, and inheritance. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-674-36445-7.
- Egerton, Frank N. (October 2005). "A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 18: John Ray and His Associates Francis Willughby and William Derham" (PDF). Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 86 (4): 301–313. doi:10.1890/0012-9623(2005)86[301:ahotes]2.0.co;2. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- McConnell, Anita (2004). "Machin, John (bap. 1686?, died 1751)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17533. Retrieved 2007-06-26. (subscription or UK public library membership required)