Famous Physicists

Physicists research and study physical phenomena in our universe. Their findings help to explain why the material universe exists and behaves the way that it does. Physicists cover issues ranging from subatomic particles to quantum mechanics, and many others. This is a list of some of the world’s most famous physicists and their great contributions to science and humanity.

Famous Physicists

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Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Nationality: Italian
Known For: Mathematical analysis in astronomy and physics
Galileo was a math professor whose studies in nature and astronomy resulted in great advancements in the field of physics. His improvements in telescope technology and resulting observations worked to support Copernican theory.
Robert Hooke (1635-1703)
Nationality: English
Known For: Hooke’s Law of Elasticity
This English physicist discovered the law of elasticity, which is now named after him. He also was one of the first advocates for evolution as well as one of the first to suggest that Jupiter rotated on its axis.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Nationality: English
Known For: Developed theories on mechanics and gravitation
Sir Isaac Newton is often thought of as a key figurehead in the scientific revolution. His book titled Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy explained laws of motion and universal gravitation; ideas which have commanded the attention of scientists for three centuries.
Alessandro-Volta Michael-Faraday Lord-Kelvin
Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)
Nationality: Italian
Known For: Invented first electric battery
Volta is famous for his works in physics and chemistry. His experimentation led him to discover that electrical potential and charge, for any given object, are proportional. Further studies and work led him to create the first battery made of zinc and copper. It is believed that his contributions are why the unit for electric potential is called the volt.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Nationality: English
Known For: Discovered electromagnetic induction and the idea for the first electrical transformer
English scieintist Michael Faraday made great contributions in the areas of electrochemistry and electromagnetism. His work in magnetic fields, conductors and direct currents led Faraday to lay the foundation for the idea of electromagnetic fields in physics. Additionally, he noticed that rays of light could be affected by magnetism.
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)
Nationality: Irish
Known For: Advanced the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics and developed the absolute thermometric scale
Also known as William Thomson, Lord Kelvin is credited with creating the Kelvin scale. This is a temperature scale that was based on absolute zero. He also did a lot of work regarding mathematical analysis of electricity as well as working toward formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
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James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
Nationality: Scottish
Known For: Theory of Electromagnetism and Kinetic theory of gases
Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell came up with the concept of electromagnetic radiation. Interestingly, his work was the basis for Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Additionally, he thought of the kinetic theory of gases. His notions are the foundation for quantum mechanics and our understanding of the structure of atoms and molecules.
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
Nationality: Serbian-American
Known For: Alternating current
Nikola Tesla created the alternating current electrical system which he patented and later sold to George Westinghouse. In 1891 he invented the “Tesla coil” which is used to this day in radio technology.
J.J. Thomson (1856-1940)
Nationality: British
Known For: Showed existence of the electron
J.J. Thomson is recognized for proving the existence of electrons and isotopes as well as creating the mass spectrometer. Thomsons’s work in conducting electricity in gases and his discovery of the electron won him the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Max-Planck Marie-Curie Ernest-Rutherford
Max Planck (1858-1947)
Nationality: German
Known For: Formulated quantum theory
This German theoretical physicist is the man responsible for originating the quantum theory. His work resulted in him receiving the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics. His theory completely changed and advanced human concepts of atomic and subatomic processes.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Nationality: Polish
Known For: Discovered radioactivity of thorium and discovered polonium and radium
This two-time winner of the Nobel Prize is most famous for her findings on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, as well as the only woman to win this award in two different categories. Marie Curie is regarded as the most famous female scientist to date.
Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)
Nationality: British
Known For: Theory on existence of atomic nucleus
Ernest Rutherford’s studies in radioactivity are what directed others to explore nuclear physics. He was the first person to split an atom and he has been given the name “Father of the Nuclear Age.”
Marconi-photo Albert-Einstein Niels-Bohr
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)
Nationality: Italian
Known For: Wireless telgraphy
Inventor and physicist Guglielmo Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for breakthrough work in radio technology. He created the components necessary for wireless telegraphy. Marconi was the first person to send wireless signals across the Atlantic in 1901.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Nationality: German
Known For: Theory of Relativity
German born Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity. He is often thought to be the most important physicist in the 20th century. Einstein told President Roosevelt that Germany was probably developing an atomic bomb during WWII and this resulted in the United States starting up the Manhattan Project.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
Nationality: Danish
Known For: Contributions to quantum theory, nuclear reactions and nuclear fission
Bohr was a successful Nobel Prize winning Danish physicist who proposed important theories regarding atomic structures and radiation. He was also a part of the Manhattan Project during WWII.
Erwin-Schrödinger Chadwick-James Werner-Heisenberg
Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961)
Nationality: Austrian
Known For: Quantum mechanics contributions and Schrodinger’s wave equation
Shrodinger greatly contributed to the basics of quantum mechanics as well as the wave theory of matter. Due to his research and work he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933 for his creation of the Schrodinger equation. This equation depicts the way in which the quantum state of some physical systems change over time.
James Chadwick (1891-1974)
Nationality: English
Known For: Discovered the neutron
Chadwick’s 1932 discovery of the neutron awarded him the 1935 Nobel Prize in physics. He was also a part of the Manhattan Project during WWII, heading up the team of British scientists.
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
Nationality: German
Known For: Quantum mechanics contributions and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle
One of the main thinkers behind quantum mechanics, Heisenberg was actually awarded the Nobel Prize for establishing quantum mechanics. He is also famous for his uncertainty principle which posits that the more accurately you know the position of a particle, the least precisely you can know the particle’s momentum, and vice versa.
Richard-Feynman Stephen-Hawking
Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
Nationality: American
Known For: Path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, particle physics, theory of quantum electrodynamics and physics of superfluidity
Richard Feynman is well known for his advancements in quantum mechanics. He was a big part of the Manhattan Project in which he helped to design the atomic bomb. He was a professor at Cornell University and has won the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Stephen Hawking (1942-present)
Nationality: British
Known For: Work on black holes. Advances in General Theory of Relativity and Quantum mechanics.
Stephen Hawking is widely known for his work involving black holes and radiation as well as gravitational singularities theorems within general relativity. He has many popular theories that he has shared in several best-selling books.
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