(5) Samuel Morse vs. (12) Jonas Salk

(5) Samuel Morse

When you hear the name Samuel Morse, you probably think of him as the inventor of Morse code and the developer of the electric telegraph. But he was more than just an inventor. Long before Morse ever started dabbling in telegraphy, he was a renowned portrait painter who had such big-name subjects as the hall of Congress and Marquis de Lafayette. (The Encyclopedia Britannica calls Morse's paintings, "some of the finest portraits ever done by an American artist.") Then, in his forties, he helped make telecommunications possible with the telegraph. Not too shabby for a second career.

(12) Jonas Salk

You know what's terrific? Not having polio! For that, we all owe Jonas Salk a big tip of our caps. From 1952 to 1953, a polio outbreak in the U.S. led to 93,000 new cases of the disease. In 1955, Salk's ingenious vaccine, which used an inactivated form of poliovirus to help build antibodies against the disease, hit the market. By 1957, the number of new cases of polio in the U.S. had dropped to 5,600. By 1994, polio was completely eradicated in the Americas. Thank you, Mr. Salk.

The Breakdown

Any time you walk down the street while talking on your phone, you owe both of these guys a debt of gratitude. Morse's stellar paintings coupled with his invention make him an intimidating double threat, but don't count out the man whose vaccine saved countless lives over the last five decades.


[See the whole bracket here.]

Tournament of Genius: The Winner Is...

Leo wins! According to mental_floss's learned readers, Leonardo da Vinci is history's greatest genius. While the Renaissance man may have easily bested Albert Einstein in the 65-person tournament's final round, his path to the title wasn't so easy. He had to survive a controversial first-round matchup against Burt Reynolds that went into a runoff due to allegations of voter fraud, and then he had to slip past Sigmund Freud, Galileo, Nikola Tesla, and Benjamin Franklin.

Through it all, though, the Italian polymath's supporters came out in droves, and it seems that no other genius could quite match Leonardo's combination of artistic mastery and scientific acumen. Congratulations, Leonardo! Consider this one more addition to your lengthy, impressive resume.

The Title Game: Einstein vs. Leonardo

The Breakdown

This matchup has seemed inevitable since we released the brackets, hasn't it? We've already filled you in on what each of these geniuses accomplished, but it's worth running through the list one more time before you decide who should take the title.

Einstein's output in 1905 alone was enough for an entire lifetime of work. In that "miracle year" he published four papers that altered humanity's understanding of physics. One explained the photoelectric effect, while another offered an explanation for Brownian motion and the first experimental proof of the existence of atoms. The third and fourth papers laid out his theories of special relativity and his famous "E equals MC squared" formula. Any one of these papers would have been an incredible Nobel-worthy triumph, and he banged out all four in a single year. When early Nazi propaganda targeted Einstein and the "Jewish physics" of relativity and forced other scientists to renounce relativity, he fled to the United States, where he eventually helped convince Franklin Roosevelt to develop the atomic bombs that would end World War II. Later in his life Israeli officials offered Einstein the presidency of their country, although he declined.

Leonardo, for his part, was just as busy. The Renaissance man felt that it was his duty to take in as much knowledge as he possibly could, so he threw himself into all sorts of studies. Works like his Last Supper and Mona Lisa show his artistic virtuosity, particularly his mastery of smoky shadows, but it's his scientific and engineering work that really sets Leonardo apart from the crowd. When he died, Leonardo left hundreds of pages of journals detailing his observations on all sorts of natural sciences, including botany, anatomy, and zoology. His architectural studies were far-reaching and diverse, and his engineering sketches proved to be well ahead of their time, particularly his designs for flying machines, tanks, parachutes, and an early forerunner to the machine gun. Leonardo may not really have only slept for 15 minutes at a time, but with accomplishments like this, it's easy to see how that urban legend could spread.

Which one are you going to pick as your top genius, though? Einstein, the scientific powerhouse who won the Nobel and has given us fodder for countless magazine covers? Or do you like Leonardo, the brilliant artist who managed to learn a little bit about almost everything else, too? They're both great, but there can be only one champion.


[See the whole bracket here.]


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