Dr. Joseph Needham (9 December 1900 -24 March 1995), also known as 李约瑟 was a British scientist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and as a fellow of the British Academy in 1971. In 1992, the Queen conferred on him the Companionship of Honour and the Royal Society noted he was the only living person to hold these three titles.

Although his career as biochemist and an academic was well established, his career developed in unanticipated directions during and after World War II. In 1937, Lu Gwei-djen (鲁桂珍) taught Needham Chinese, igniting his interest in China's ancient technological and scientific past. He then pursued, and mastered, the study of Classical Chinese privately with Gustav Haloun. Under the Royal Society's direction, Needham was the director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office in Chongqing from 1942 to 1946.

In 1948, Needham, proposed a project for a book on Science and Civilisation in China. His initial collaborator was the historian Wang Ling (王玲), and the first years were devoted to compiling a list of every mechanical invention and abstract idea that had been made and conceived in China. These included cast iron, gunpowder, printing, the magnetic compass, and clockwork escapements, most of which were thought at the time to be western inventions. The first volume eventually appeared in 1954 and the series was placed on the Modern Library Board's 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.