From The National Geographic:
Go back a little more than a century to the late 1800s, and look at the field of physics: a mature science, and rather complacent. There were those who believed there wasn’t much more to do than smooth out some rough edges in nature’s plan. There was a sensible order to things, a clockwork universe governed by Newtonian forces, with atoms as the foundation of matter. Atoms were indivisible by definition—the word comes from the Greek for “uncuttable.”
But then strange things started popping up in laboratories: x-rays, gamma rays, a mysterious phenomenon called radioactivity. Physicist J. J. Thomson discovered the electron. Atoms were not indivisible after all, but had constituents. Was it, as Thomson believed, a pudding, with electrons embedded like raisins? No. In 1911 physicist Ernest Rutherford announced that atoms are mostly empty space, their mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus orbited by electrons.
Physics underwent one revolution after another. Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905) begat the general theory of relativity (1915), and suddenly even such reliable concepts as absolute space and absolute time had been discarded in favor of a mind-boggling space-time fabric in which two events can never be said to be simultaneous. Matter bends space; space directs how matter moves. Light is both a particle and a wave. Energy and mass are inter- changeable. Reality is probabilistic and not deterministic: Einstein didn’t believe that God plays dice with the universe, but that became the scientific orthodoxy.