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, Massachusetts: 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.
- Halley, E. (1686). "An Historical Account of the Trade Winds, and Monsoons, observable in the Seas between and near the Tropicks, with an attempt to assign the Physical cause of the said Winds". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. London. 16: 153–168. doi:10.1098/rstl.1686.0026.
- 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)