5 Dreams That Led to Scientific Breakthroughs and Innovations

January 13, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Ideas sketched with pen on paper
Photo credit:

Bringing a whole new meaning to “sleep on it.”

Scientists have long been trying to pin down the exact reason why our dreams take our sleeping minds to places of either dazzling fantasy and clarity or downright confusion and terror. Considering we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, scientists speculate our dreams must serve some type of profound purpose — perhaps leading us to epiphanies and groundbreaking ideas is part of it.

Amazingly, these 5 dreams led the dreamers to some of the most influential scientific breakthroughs and innovations in history.

1. Niels Bohr: The Structure of the Atom

Kathleen Brehony, a licensed clinical psychologist from Virginia Tech, discussed the function of dreams in her book Awakening at Midlife, highlighting Niels Bohr as an example of just how revolutionary our dreams can be.

Bohr often spoke of the inspirational dream that led to his discovery of the structure of the atom, in turn making him the father of quantum mechanics. Reportedly, Bohr dreamed about a horse race in which the marked lanes on the racetrack were just like the fixed and specific orbits that electrons travel around the nucleus of the atom. After waking up from this vision, he ventured to his lab and searched for scientific evidence to support his theory, and voila — his dream of atomic structure later landed him a Nobel Prize for Physics.

SEE ALSO: 7 Scientists Who Never Got the Credit They Deserved

2. Srinivasa Ramanujan: The Infinite Series for Pi

For some of us, math can seem impossible even when we’re awake with our brains fully alert and functioning. But for Srinivasa Ramanujan, a well-renown Indian mathematician, answers to complex mathematical formulas came to him in his dreams — with a little help from Hindu goddess Namagiri Thayar.

Ramanujan credits his mathematical findings to the goddess, saying she would come to him in his dreams and present him with mathematical formulae, which he would then verify upon waking. A prime example is the infinite series for pi.

Strangely, Ramanujan had almost no formal training in pure mathematics, yet he made extraordinary contributions to number theory and infinite series. If only we were all so lucky to be visited by such helpful goddesses in our dreams.

3. Otto Loewi: Proof that our Nerves Transmit Signals Chemically

Otto Loewi was a German-born pharmacologist, and his discovery of acetylcholine helped advance medical therapy — ironically, acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which promotes dreaming.

Loewi reports that he dreamed of an experiment that would prove that the transmission of nerve impulses wasn’t electrical, but chemical. He woke up and scribbled the dream down, but could barely read his handwriting the next morning. He reportedly tried and failed to recall his dream, but the following night, he dreamed about the experiment again.

Luckily, Loewi remembered his dream the second time, and carried out the research inspired by it. In 1921, he published his work, officially establishing that our nerves transmit signals chemically.

Like Bohr, his dream landed him a Nobel Prize.

SEE ALSO: 5 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Science Geeks

4. Dmitri Mendeleev: The Periodic Table of Elements

Dmitri Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and inventor who formulated the Periodic Law and created the structure of the periodic table of elements.

According to, Mendeleev had been trying to find a logical way to organize the chemical elements for months. In 1869, he wrote down the name of each element on a card, and then wrote the properties of every element on the card. Reportedly, he thought that atomic weight was important, but the pattern wasn’t coming to him.

Mendeleev then fell asleep at his desk, and when he woke up, he found that the logical arrangement of the elements had come to him in a dream.

Mendeleev wrote, “In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

5. Alfred Russel Wallace: The Theory of Evolution

First of all, you’re probably wondering who Alfred Russel Wallace is and that it was Charles Darwin who came up with the theory of evolution. Not only did Wallace have the idea for the theory of evolution around the exact same time as Darwin, but the idea came to him in a dream.

Wallace traveled in Brazil and South East Asia, trying to understand the differences he saw in species that were separated by geographical barriers. In 1858, Wallace reportedly had an extreme vision during the hallucinations caused by tropical fever. After the fever went away, Wallace discovered that the theory of evolution by natural selection had come to him in his dream.

Hot Topics

Facebook comments