1866 in science
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- May – William Huggins studies the emission spectrum of a nova and discovers that it is surrounded by a cloud of hydrogen.
- June 4 – Pluto (not known at this time) reaches its only aphelion between 1618 and 2113.
- Giovanni Schiaparelli realizes that meteor streams occur when the Earth passes through the orbit of a comet that has left debris along its path.
- Gregor Mendel publishes his laws of inheritance.
- Ernst Haeckel challenges the plant/animal division of life, observing that single celled organisms, the protists, do not fit into either category.
- Élie Metchnikoff describes the early separation of "polecells" (progenital cells) in parthenogenetic Diptera.
- Robert John Lechmere Guppy discovers the guppy (fish) in Trinidad.
- Frederick Smith first discovers Formica candida in the Bournemouth district of England, describing it as Formica gagates.
- Nikolai Kaufman publishes his Moscow Flora.
- Dynamite invented by Alfred Nobel.
- August von Hofmann proposes the now standard system of hydrocarbon nomenclature and invents the Hofmann voltameter.
- Emil Erlenmeyer proposes that naphthalene has a structure of two fused benzene rings.
- The second smallest pair of amicable numbers (1184, 1210) is discovered by teenager B. Nicolò I. Paganini.
- July – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson opens the St Mary's Dispensary in London where women can seek medical advice from exclusively female practitioners.
- Max Schultze discovers two sorts of 'receptors' in the retina.
- Dr John Langdon Down publishes his theory that different types of mental condition can be classified by ethnic characteristics, notably "Mongolism", the genetic developmental disability now known as Down syndrome.
- Invention of a clinical thermometer by Thomas Clifford Allbutt.
- A cholera epidemic in London causes over 5,000 deaths.
- Patrick Manson starts a school of tropical medicine in Hong Kong.
- American paleontologist Joseph Leidy describes the new genus and species Laelaps aquilunguis, demonstrating that theropod dinosaurs walked on their hind limbs rather than on all fours as in earlier reconstructions.
- January 12 – Royal Aeronautical Society is formed as 'The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain' in London, the world's oldest such society.
- July 27 – The SS Great Eastern successfully completes laying the transatlantic telegraph cable between Valentia Island, Ireland and Heart's Content, Newfoundland, permanently restoring a communications link.
- August 23 – Ralph H. Twedell patents the hydraulic riveter in the United Kingdom.
- February 14 – Victor Despeignes (died 1937), French pioneer of radiation oncology
- February 26 – Herbert Henry Dow (died 1930), Canadian-born chemist
- April 17 – Ernest Starling (died 1927), English physiologist
- July 13 – Emily Winifred Dickson (died 1944), Irish-born gynaecologist
- September 13 – Arthur Pollen (died 1937), English inventor
- September 21 – H. G. Wells (died 1946), English scientific populariser
- September 25 – Thomas Hunt Morgan (died 1945), American biologist, Nobel laureate in Physiology
- October 8 – Reginald Fessenden (died 1932), Canadian pioneer of radio broadcasting
- November 30 – Robert Broom (died 1951), Scottish-born paleontologist
- December 7 – Maude Delap (died 1953), Irish marine biologist
- March 6 – William Whewell (born 1794), English scientist, philosopher and historian of science
- March 14 – Alexander Morison (born 1779), Scottish physician and psychiatrist
- April 4 – William Dick (born 1793), Scottish veterinarian
- April 5 – Thomas Hodgkin (born 1798), English physician
- July 20 – Bernhard Riemann (born 1826), German-born mathematician
- October 18 – Philipp Franz von Siebold (born 1796), German physician, botanist and traveler in Japan
- December 1 – George Everest (born 1790), British surveyor and geographer
- Becker, Barbara J. (2004). "Huggins, Sir William (1824–1910)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2011-03-04. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Mendel, J. G. (1866). "Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden". Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines in Brünn. IV: 3–47 (Abhandlungen). For the English translation, see Druery, C. T.; Bateson, William (1901). "Experiments in plant hybridization" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. 26: 1–32. Retrieved 2009-10-09.
- Petrunkevitch, Alexander (1920). "Russia's Contribution to Science". Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. 23: 239.
- Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979).
- Schück, H.; Sohlman, R. (1929). The Life of Alfred Nobel. London: Heinemann.
- von Hofmann, A. W. (1866). Introduction to Modern Chemistry: Experimental and Theoretic; Embodying Twelve Lectures Delivered in the Royal College of Chemistry, London. London: Walton and Maberly.
- Erlenmeyer, Emil (1866). "Studien über die s. g. aromatischen Säuren". Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie. 137: 327–359. doi:10.1002/jlac.18661370309.
- Everett, Jason M., ed. (2006). "1866". The People's Chronology. Thomson Gale.
- Zur Anatomie und Physiologie der Retina.
- Down, J. Langdon H. (1866). "Observations on the Ethnic Classification of Idiots". Clinical lectures and reports by the medical and surgical staff of the London Hospital. 3: 259–62.
- Holtz, Thomas R. (2004). "Tyrannosauroidea". In Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter; Osmólska, Halszka. The Dinosauria (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 111–136. ISBN 0-520-24209-2.
- Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0.
- McNeill, Ian (1972). Hydraulic Power. London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-12797-1.