The Most Famous

BIOLOGISTS from United States

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This page contains a list of the greatest American Biologists. The pantheon dataset contains 844 Biologists, 139 of which were born in United States. This makes United States the birth place of the 3rd most number of Biologists behind Germany and United Kingdom.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Biologists of all time. This list of famous American Biologists is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Biologists.

Photo of James Watson

1. James Watson (1928 - )

With an HPI of 79.72, James Watson is the most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 81 different languages on wikipedia.

James Dewey Watson (born April 6, 1928) is an American molecular biologist, geneticist, and zoologist. In 1953, he co-authored with Francis Crick the academic paper proposing the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". In subsequent years, it has been recognized that Watson and his colleagues did not properly attribute colleague Rosalind Franklin for her contributions to the discovery of the double helix structure.Watson earned degrees at the University of Chicago (BS, 1947) and Indiana University (PhD, 1950). Following a post-doctoral year at the University of Copenhagen with Herman Kalckar and Ole Maaløe, Watson worked at the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory in England, where he first met his future collaborator Francis Crick. From 1956 to 1976, Watson was on the faculty of the Harvard University Biology Department, promoting research in molecular biology. From 1968 Watson served as director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), greatly expanding its level of funding and research. At CSHL, he shifted his research emphasis to the study of cancer, along with making it a world-leading research center in molecular biology. In 1994, he started as president and served for 10 years. He was then appointed chancellor, serving until he resigned in 2007 after making comments claiming that there is a genetic link between intelligence and race. In 2019, following the broadcast of a documentary in which Watson reiterated these views on race and genetics, CSHL revoked his honorary titles and severed all ties with him. Watson has written many science books, including the textbook Molecular Biology of the Gene (1965) and his bestselling book The Double Helix (1968). Between 1988 and 1992, Watson was associated with the National Institutes of Health, helping to establish the Human Genome Project, which completed the task of mapping the human genome in 2003.

Photo of Thomas Hunt Morgan

2. Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866 - 1945)

With an HPI of 78.21, Thomas Hunt Morgan is the 2nd most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 68 different languages.

Thomas Hunt Morgan (September 25, 1866 – December 4, 1945) was an American evolutionary biologist, geneticist, embryologist, and science author who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for discoveries elucidating the role that the chromosome plays in heredity.Morgan received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in zoology in 1890 and researched embryology during his tenure at Bryn Mawr. Following the rediscovery of Mendelian inheritance in 1900, Morgan began to study the genetic characteristics of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. In his famous Fly Room at Columbia University's Schermerhorn Hall, Morgan demonstrated that genes are carried on chromosomes and are the mechanical basis of heredity. These discoveries formed the basis of the modern science of genetics. During his distinguished career, Morgan wrote 22 books and 370 scientific papers. As a result of his work, Drosophila became a major model organism in contemporary genetics. The Division of Biology which he established at the California Institute of Technology has produced seven Nobel Prize winners.

Photo of Rachel Carson

3. Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)

With an HPI of 75.94, Rachel Carson is the 3rd most famous American Biologist.  Her biography has been translated into 78 different languages.

Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, writer, and conservationist whose influential book Silent Spring (1962) and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award, recognition as a gifted writer and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths. Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. She wrote 24 books and her most popular book was "Silent Spring." Carson died at age 56 after a long battle against breast cancer.

Photo of Dian Fossey

4. Dian Fossey (1932 - 1985)

With an HPI of 75.51, Dian Fossey is the 4th most famous American Biologist.  Her biography has been translated into 61 different languages.

Dian Fossey (, January 16, 1932 – c. December 26, 1985) was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her murder in 1985. She studied them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, initially encouraged to work there by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. Gorillas in the Mist, a book published two years before her death, is Fossey's account of her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center and prior career. It was adapted into a 1988 film of the same name.Fossey was a leading primatologist, and a member of the "Trimates", a group of female scientists recruited by Leakey to study great apes in their natural environments, along with Jane Goodall who studies chimpanzees, and Biruté Galdikas, who studies orangutans.Fossey spent 20 years in Rwanda, where she supported conservation efforts, strongly opposed poaching and tourism in wildlife habitats, and made more people acknowledge the sapience of gorillas. Following the killing of a gorilla and subsequent tensions, she was murdered in her cabin at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985. Although Fossey's American research assistant was convicted in absentia, there is no consensus as to who killed her. Her research and conservation work helped reduce the downward population trend in mountain gorillas.

Photo of Barbara McClintock

5. Barbara McClintock (1902 - 1992)

With an HPI of 74.74, Barbara McClintock is the 5th most famous American Biologist.  Her biography has been translated into 71 different languages.

Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992) was an American scientist and cytogeneticist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. McClintock received her PhD in botany from Cornell University in 1927. There she started her career as the leader of the development of maize cytogenetics, the focus of her research for the rest of her life. From the late 1920s, McClintock studied chromosomes and how they change during reproduction in maize. She developed the technique for visualizing maize chromosomes and used microscopic analysis to demonstrate many fundamental genetic ideas. One of those ideas was the notion of genetic recombination by crossing-over during meiosis—a mechanism by which chromosomes exchange information. She produced the first genetic map for maize, linking regions of the chromosome to physical traits. She demonstrated the role of the telomere and centromere, regions of the chromosome that are important in the conservation of genetic information. She was recognized as among the best in the field, awarded prestigious fellowships, and elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1944. During the 1940s and 1950s, McClintock discovered transposition and used it to demonstrate that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off. She developed theories to explain the suppression and expression of genetic information from one generation of maize plants to the next. Due to skepticism of her research and its implications, she stopped publishing her data in 1953. Later, she made an extensive study of the cytogenetics and ethnobotany of maize races from South America. McClintock's research became well understood in the 1960s and 1970s, as other scientists confirmed the mechanisms of genetic change and protein expression that she had demonstrated in her maize research in the 1940s and 1950s. Awards and recognition for her contributions to the field followed, including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to her in 1983 for the discovery of genetic transposition; as of 2022, she remains the only woman who has received an unshared Nobel Prize in that category.

Photo of Hermann Joseph Muller

6. Hermann Joseph Muller (1890 - 1967)

With an HPI of 71.29, Hermann Joseph Muller is the 6th most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Hermann Joseph Muller (December 21, 1890 – April 5, 1967) was an American geneticist, educator, and Nobel laureate best known for his work on the physiological and genetic effects of radiation (mutagenesis), as well as his outspoken political beliefs. Muller frequently warned of long-term dangers of radioactive fallout from nuclear war and nuclear testing, which resulted in greater public scrutiny of these practices.

Photo of Lynn Margulis

7. Lynn Margulis (1938 - 2011)

With an HPI of 71.27, Lynn Margulis is the 7th most famous American Biologist.  Her biography has been translated into 41 different languages.

Lynn Margulis (born Lynn Petra Alexander; March 5, 1938 – November 22, 2011) was an American evolutionary biologist, and was the primary modern proponent for the significance of symbiosis in evolution. Historian Jan Sapp has said that "Lynn Margulis's name is as synonymous with symbiosis as Charles Darwin's is with evolution." In particular, Margulis transformed and fundamentally framed current understanding of the evolution of cells with nuclei – an event Ernst Mayr called "perhaps the most important and dramatic event in the history of life" – by proposing it to have been the result of symbiotic mergers of bacteria. Margulis was also the co-developer of the Gaia hypothesis with the British chemist James Lovelock, proposing that the Earth functions as a single self-regulating system, and was the principal defender and promulgator of the five kingdom classification of Robert Whittaker. Throughout her career, Margulis' work could arouse intense objection (one grant application elicited the response, "Your research is crap. Don't ever bother to apply again.") and her formative paper, "On the Origin of Mitosing Cells", appeared in 1967 after being rejected by about fifteen journals. Still a junior faculty member at Boston University at the time, her theory that cell organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts were once independent bacteria was largely ignored for another decade, becoming widely accepted only after it was powerfully substantiated through genetic evidence. Margulis was elected a member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1983. President Bill Clinton presented her the National Medal of Science in 1999. The Linnean Society of London awarded her the Darwin-Wallace Medal in 2008. Called "science's unruly earth mother", a "vindicated heretic", or a scientific "rebel", Margulis was a strong critic of neo-Darwinism. Her position sparked lifelong debate with leading neo-Darwinian biologists, including Richard Dawkins, George C. Williams, and John Maynard Smith.: 30, 67, 74–78, 88–92  Margulis' work on symbiosis and her endosymbiotic theory had important predecessors, going back to the mid-19th century – notably Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper, Konstantin Mereschkowski, Boris Kozo-Polyansky (1890–1957), and Ivan Wallin – and Margulis not only promoted greater recognition for their contributions, but personally oversaw the first English translation of Kozo-Polyansky's Symbiogenesis: A New Principle of Evolution, which appeared the year before her death. Many of her major works, particularly those intended for a general readership, were collaboratively written with her son Dorion Sagan. In 2002, Discover magazine recognized Margulis as one of the 50 most important women in science.

Photo of Irwin Rose

8. Irwin Rose (1926 - 2015)

With an HPI of 71.06, Irwin Rose is the 8th most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.

Irwin Allan Rose (July 16, 1926 – June 2, 2015) was an American biologist. Along with Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, he was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation.

Photo of Alfred Hershey

9. Alfred Hershey (1908 - 1997)

With an HPI of 70.85, Alfred Hershey is the 9th most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Alfred Day Hershey (December 4, 1908 – May 22, 1997) was an American Nobel Prize–winning bacteriologist and geneticist. He was born in Owosso, Michigan and received his B.S. in chemistry at Michigan State University in 1930 and his Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1934, taking a position shortly thereafter at the Department of Bacteriology at Washington University in St. Louis. He began performing experiments with bacteriophages with Italian-American Salvador Luria, German Max Delbrück, and observed that when two different strains of bacteriophage have infected the same bacteria, the two viruses may exchange genetic information. He moved with his research partner Martha Chase to Laurel Hollow, New York, in 1950 to join the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Genetics, where he and Martha Chase performed the famous Hershey–Chase experiment in 1952. This experiment provided additional evidence that DNA, not protein, was the genetic material of life. Notable post-doctoral fellows in Hershey's lab include Anna Marie Skalka. He became director of the Carnegie Institution (which later became Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) in 1962 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969, shared with Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück for their discovery on the replication of viruses and their genetic structure. In 1981, Hershey became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.Hershey had one child, Peter Manning Hershey (1956-1999) with his wife Harriet (often called Impostor) (1918-2000). The family was active in the social network of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and regularly enjoyed the beach in season. Hershey was a Christian. After Hershey died, another phage worker, Frank Stahl, wrote: "The Phage Church, as we were sometimes called (see Phage group), was led by the Trinity of Delbrück, Luria, and Hershey. Delbrück's status as founder and his ex cathedra manner made him the pope, of course, and Luria was the hard-working, socially sensitive priest-confessor. And Al (Hershey) was the saint."

Photo of George Beadle

10. George Beadle (1903 - 1989)

With an HPI of 70.44, George Beadle is the 10th most famous American Biologist.  His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.

George Wells Beadle (October 22, 1903 – June 9, 1989) was an American geneticist. In 1958 he shared one-half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edward Tatum for their discovery of the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells. He also served as the 7th President of the University of Chicago.Beadle and Tatum's key experiments involved exposing the bread mold Neurospora crassa to x-rays, causing mutations. In a series of experiments, they showed that these mutations caused changes in specific enzymes involved in metabolic pathways. These experiments led them to propose a direct link between genes and enzymatic reactions, known as the One gene-one enzyme hypothesis.

Pantheon has 139 people classified as biologists born between 1699 and 1977. Of these 139, 43 (30.94%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living biologists include James Watson, E. O. Wilson, and Linda B. Buck. The most famous deceased biologists include Thomas Hunt Morgan, Rachel Carson, and Dian Fossey. As of October 2020, 24 new biologists have been added to Pantheon including Dennis Meadows, Mary Agnes Chase, and Frederic Clements.

Living Biologists

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Deceased Biologists

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Newly Added Biologists (2020)

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Which Biologists were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Biologists since 1700.