The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Physicists of all time. This list of famous Physicists 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 Physicists.
With an HPI of 93.06, Albert Einstein is the most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 214 different languages on wikipedia.
Albert Einstein ( EYEN-styne; German: [ˈalbɛʁt ˈʔaɪnʃtaɪn] (listen); 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. Einstein is best known for developing the theory of relativity, but he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. Relativity and quantum mechanics are together the two pillars of modern physics. His mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which arises from relativity theory, has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation". His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect", a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. His intellectual achievements and originality resulted in "Einstein" becoming synonymous with "genius".In 1905, a year sometimes described as his annus mirabilis ('miracle year'), Einstein published four groundbreaking papers. These outlined the theory of the photoelectric effect, explained Brownian motion, introduced special relativity, and demonstrated mass-energy equivalence. Einstein thought that the laws of classical mechanics could no longer be reconciled with those of the electromagnetic field, which led him to develop his special theory of relativity. He then extended the theory to gravitational fields; he published a paper on general relativity in 1916, introducing his theory of gravitation. In 1917, he applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light and the quantum theory of radiation, which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. However, for much of the later part of his career, he worked on two ultimately unsuccessful endeavors. First, despite his great contributions to quantum mechanics, he opposed what it evolved into, objecting that nature "does not play dice". Second, he attempted to devise a unified field theory by generalizing his geometric theory of gravitation to include electromagnetism. As a result, he became increasingly isolated from the mainstream of modern physics. Einstein was born in the German Empire, but moved to Switzerland in 1895, forsaking his German citizenship (as a subject of the Kingdom of Württemberg) the following year. In 1897, at the age of 17, he enrolled in the mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at the Swiss Federal polytechnic school in Zürich, graduating in 1900. In 1901, he acquired Swiss citizenship, which he kept for the rest of his life, and in 1903 he secured a permanent position at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. In 1914, Einstein moved to Berlin in order to join the Prussian Academy of Sciences and the Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1917, Einstein became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics; he also became a German citizen again, this time Prussian. In 1933, while Einstein was visiting the United States, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Einstein, of Jewish origin, objected to the policies of the newly elected Nazi government; he settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential German nuclear weapons program and recommending that the US begin similar research. Einstein supported the Allies but generally denounced the idea of nuclear weapons.
With an HPI of 83.44, Wilhelm Röntgen is the 2nd most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 132 different languages.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (; German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈʁœntɡən] (listen); 27 March 1845 – 10 February 1923) was a German mechanical engineer and physicist, who, on 8 November 1895, produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range known as X-rays or Röntgen rays, an achievement that earned him the inaugural Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. In honour of Röntgen's accomplishments, in 2004 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) named element 111, roentgenium, a radioactive element with multiple unstable isotopes, after him. The unit of measurement roentgen was also named after him.
With an HPI of 81.76, Max Planck is the 3rd most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 135 different languages.
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck (German: [maks ˈplaŋk] (listen); English: ; 23 April 1858 – 4 October 1947) was a German theoretical physicist whose discovery of energy quanta won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.Planck made many substantial contributions to theoretical physics, but his fame as a physicist rests primarily on his role as the originator of quantum theory, which revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes. In 1948, the German scientific institution Kaiser Wilhelm Society (of which Planck was twice president) was renamed Max Planck Society (MPG). The MPG now includes 83 institutions representing a wide range of scientific directions.
With an HPI of 79.15, Georg Ohm is the 4th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 91 different languages.
Georg Simon Ohm (, German: [ˈɡeːɔʁk ˈʔoːm]; 16 March 1789 – 6 July 1854) was a German physicist and mathematician. As a school teacher, Ohm began his research with the new electrochemical cell, invented by Italian scientist Alessandro Volta. Using equipment of his own creation, Ohm found that there is a direct proportionality between the potential difference (voltage) applied across a conductor and the resultant electric current. This relation is called Ohm's law, and the ohm, the unit of electrical resistance, is named after him.
With an HPI of 78.94, Werner Heisenberg is the 5th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 107 different languages.
Werner Karl Heisenberg (pronounced [ˈvɛʁnɐ kaʁl ˈhaɪ̯zn̩ˌbɛʁk] (listen)) (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent series of papers with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, during the same year, his matrix formulation of quantum mechanics was substantially elaborated. He is known for the uncertainty principle, which he published in 1927. Heisenberg was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the creation of quantum mechanics".Heisenberg also made contributions to the theories of the hydrodynamics of turbulent flows, the atomic nucleus, ferromagnetism, cosmic rays, and subatomic particles. He was a principal scientist in the German nuclear weapons program during World War II. He was also instrumental in planning the first West German nuclear reactor at Karlsruhe, together with a research reactor in Munich, in 1957. Following World War II, he was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which soon thereafter was renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics. He was director of the institute until it was moved to Munich in 1958. He then became director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics from 1960 to 1970. Heisenberg was also president of the German Research Council, chairman of the Commission for Atomic Physics, chairman of the Nuclear Physics Working Group, and president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
With an HPI of 77.14, Heinrich Hertz is the 6th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 93 different languages.
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz ( HURTS; German: [ˈhaɪnʁɪç ˈhɛʁts]; 22 February 1857 – 1 January 1894) was a German physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of the electromagnetic waves predicted by James Clerk Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. The unit of frequency, cycle per second, was named the "hertz" in his honor.
With an HPI of 72.07, Hermann von Helmholtz is the 7th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 68 different languages.
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (31 August 1821 – 8 September 1894) was a German physicist and physician who made significant contributions in several scientific fields. The largest German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him. In physiology and psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism in the physiology of perception. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics. As a philosopher, he is known for his philosophy of science, ideas on the relation between the laws of perception and the laws of nature, the science of aesthetics, and ideas on the civilizing power of science.
With an HPI of 71.56, Max Born is the 8th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 91 different languages.
Max Born (German pronunciation: [ˈmaks ˈbɔɐ̯n] (listen); 11 December 1882 – 5 January 1970) was a German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 1930s. Born won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function".Born entered the University of Göttingen in 1904, where he met the three renowned mathematicians Felix Klein, David Hilbert, and Hermann Minkowski. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the subject of "Stability of Elastica in a Plane and Space", winning the university's Philosophy Faculty Prize. In 1905, he began researching special relativity with Minkowski, and subsequently wrote his habilitation thesis on the Thomson model of the atom. A chance meeting with Fritz Haber in Berlin in 1918 led to discussion of how an ionic compound is formed when a metal reacts with a halogen, which is today known as the Born–Haber cycle. In World War I, after originally being placed as a radio operator, he was moved to research duties regarding sound ranging due to his specialist knowledge. In 1921, Born returned to Göttingen, arranging another chair for his long-time friend and colleague James Franck. Under Born, Göttingen became one of the world's foremost centres for physics. In 1925, Born and Werner Heisenberg formulated the matrix mechanics representation of quantum mechanics. The following year, he formulated the now-standard interpretation of the probability density function for ψ*ψ in the Schrödinger equation, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. His influence extended far beyond his own research. Max Delbrück, Siegfried Flügge, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim, Robert Oppenheimer, and Victor Weisskopf all received their Ph.D. degrees under Born at Göttingen, and his assistants included Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, Gerhard Herzberg, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, Léon Rosenfeld, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner. In January 1933, the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, and Born, who was Jewish, was suspended from his professorship at the University of Göttingen. He emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he took a job at St John's College, Cambridge, and wrote a popular science book, The Restless Universe, as well as Atomic Physics, which soon became a standard textbook. In October 1936, he became the Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, where, working with German-born assistants E. Walter Kellermann and Klaus Fuchs, he continued his research into physics. Born became a naturalised British subject on 31 August 1939, one day before World War II broke out in Europe. He remained in Edinburgh until 1952. He retired to Bad Pyrmont, in West Germany, and died in hospital in Göttingen on 5 January 1970.
With an HPI of 71.08, Otto von Guericke is the 9th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 57 different languages.
Otto von Guericke ( GAIR-ik-ə, US also GWAIR-, -kee, German: [ˈɔtoː fɔn ˈɡeːʁɪkə]; spelled Gericke until 1666; November 20, 1602 – May 11, 1686 [Julian calendar]; November 30, 1602 – May 21, 1686 [Gregorian calendar]) was a German scientist, inventor, and politician. His pioneering scientific work, the development of experimental methods and repeatable demonstrations on the physics of the vacuum, atmospheric pressure, electrostatic repulsion, his advocacy for the reality of "action at a distance" and of "absolute space" were noteworthy contributions for the advancement of the Scientific Revolution.Von Guericke was a very pious man in the Dionysian tradition and attributed the vacuum of space to the creations and designs of an infinite divinity. Von Guericke described this duality "as something that ‘contains all things’ and is ‘more precious than gold, without beginning and end, more joyous than the perception of bountiful light’ and ‘comparable to the heavens’."
With an HPI of 69.58, Max von Laue is the 10th most famous Physicist. His biography has been translated into 78 different languages.
Max Theodor Felix von Laue (German: [maks fɔn ˈlaʊ̯ə] (listen); 9 October 1879 – 24 April 1960) was a German physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1914 for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals.In addition to his scientific endeavors with contributions in optics, crystallography, quantum theory, superconductivity, and the theory of relativity, Laue had a number of administrative positions which advanced and guided German scientific research and development during four decades. A strong objector to Nazism, he was instrumental in re-establishing and organizing German science after World War II.
Pantheon has 97 people classified as physicists born between 1575 and 1957. Of these 97, 13 (13.40%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living physicists include Arno Allan Penzias, Gerd Binnig, and Herbert Kroemer. The most famous deceased physicists include Albert Einstein, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Max Planck. As of April 2022, 8 new physicists have been added to Pantheon including Klaus Hasselmann, Theodor W. Hänsch, and Johanna Budwig.
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Which Physicists were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Physicists since 1700.