The Most Famous

PHYSICISTS from United Kingdom

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This page contains a list of the greatest Physicists. The pantheon dataset contains 717 Physicists, 84 of which were born in United Kingdom. This makes United Kingdom the birth place of the 3rd most number of Physicists behind United States and Germany.

Top 10

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.

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1. Isaac Newton (1643 - 1726)

With an HPI of 98.35, Isaac Newton is the most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 220 different languages on wikipedia.

Sir Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726/27) was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author (described in his time as a "natural philosopher"), widely recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of all time and among the most influential scientists. He was a key figure in the philosophical revolution known as the Enlightenment. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, established classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, and shares credit with German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing infinitesimal calculus. In the Principia, Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint until it was superseded by the theory of relativity. Newton used his mathematical description of gravity to derive Kepler's laws of planetary motion, account for tides, the trajectories of comets, the precession of the equinoxes and other phenomena, eradicating doubt about the Solar System's heliocentricity. He demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and celestial bodies could be accounted for by the same principles. Newton's inference that the Earth is an oblate spheroid was later confirmed by the geodetic measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, convincing most European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over earlier systems. Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a sophisticated theory of colour based on the observation that a prism separates white light into the colours of the visible spectrum. His work on light was collected in his highly influential book Opticks, published in 1704. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling, made the first theoretical calculation of the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian fluid. In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton contributed to the study of power series, generalised the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves. Newton was a fellow of Trinity College and the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He was a devout but unorthodox Christian who privately rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He refused to take holy orders in the Church of England, unlike most members of the Cambridge faculty of the day. Beyond his work on the mathematical sciences, Newton dedicated much of his time to the study of alchemy and biblical chronology, but most of his work in those areas remained unpublished until long after his death. Politically and personally tied to the Whig party, Newton served two brief terms as Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge, in 1689–1690 and 1701–1702. He was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705 and spent the last three decades of his life in London, serving as Warden (1696–1699) and Master (1699–1727) of the Royal Mint, as well as president of the Royal Society (1703–1727).

Photo of Stephen Hawking

2. Stephen Hawking (1942 - 2018)

With an HPI of 86.45, Stephen Hawking is the 2nd most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 139 different languages.

Stephen William Hawking (8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who, at the time of his death, was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Between 1979 and 2009, he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. Hawking was born in Oxford, into a family of physicians. In October 1959, at the age of 17, he began his university education at University College, Oxford, where he received a first-class BA degree in physics. In October 1962, he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where in March 1966, he obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology. In 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS, for short) that gradually, over the decades, paralysed him. After the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device initially through use of a handheld switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.Hawking's scientific works included a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation. Initially, Hawking radiation was controversial. By the late 1970s and following the publication of further research, the discovery was widely accepted as a major breakthrough in theoretical physics. Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He was a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.Hawking achieved commercial success with several works of popular science in which he discussed his theories and cosmology in general. His book A Brief History of Time appeared on the Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Hawking was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76, after living with motor neurone disease for more than 50 years.

Photo of Michael Faraday

3. Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867)

With an HPI of 84.47, Michael Faraday is the 3rd most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 141 different languages.

Michael Faraday (; 22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) was an English scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis. Although Faraday received little formal education, he was one of the most influential scientists in history. It was by his research on the magnetic field around a conductor carrying a direct current that Faraday established the basis for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. Faraday also established that magnetism could affect rays of light and that there was an underlying relationship between the two phenomena. He similarly discovered the principles of electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism, and the laws of electrolysis. His inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices formed the foundation of electric motor technology, and it was largely due to his efforts that electricity became practical for use in technology.As a chemist, Faraday discovered benzene, investigated the clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the Bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and popularised terminology such as "anode", "cathode", "electrode" and "ion". Faraday ultimately became the first and foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, a lifetime position. Faraday was an excellent experimentalist who conveyed his ideas in clear and simple language; his mathematical abilities, however, did not extend as far as trigonometry and were limited to the simplest algebra. James Clerk Maxwell took the work of Faraday and others and summarized it in a set of equations which is accepted as the basis of all modern theories of electromagnetic phenomena. On Faraday's uses of lines of force, Maxwell wrote that they show Faraday "to have been in reality a mathematician of a very high order – one from whom the mathematicians of the future may derive valuable and fertile methods." The SI unit of capacitance is named in his honour: the farad. Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall, alongside pictures of Arthur Schopenhauer and James Clerk Maxwell. Physicist Ernest Rutherford stated, "When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time."

Photo of Robert Hooke

4. Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703)

With an HPI of 81.43, Robert Hooke is the 4th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 89 different languages.

Robert Hooke FRS (; 18 July 1635 – 3 March 1703) was an English polymath active as a scientist and architect, who, using a microscope, was the first to visualize a micro-organism. An impoverished scientific inquirer in young adulthood, he found wealth and esteem by performing over half of the architectural surveys after London's great fire of 1666. Hooke was also a member of the Royal Society and since 1662 was its curator of experiments. Hooke was also Professor of Geometry at Gresham College. As an assistant to physical scientist Robert Boyle, Hooke built the vacuum pumps used in Boyle's experiments on gas law, and himself conducted experiments. In 1673, Hooke built the earliest Gregorian telescope, and then he observed the rotations of the planets Mars and Jupiter. Hooke's 1665 book Micrographia, in which he coined the term "cell", spurred microscopic investigations. Investigating in optics, specifically light refraction, he inferred a wave theory of light. And his is the first recorded hypothesis of heat expanding matter, air's composition by small particles at larger distances, and heat as energy. In physics, he approximated experimental confirmation that gravity heeds an inverse square law, and first hypothesised such a relation in planetary motion, too, a principle furthered and formalised by Isaac Newton in Newton's law of universal gravitation. Priority over this insight contributed to the rivalry between Hooke and Newton, who thus antagonized Hooke's legacy. In geology and paleontology, Hooke originated the theory of a terraqueous globe, disputed the literally Biblical view of the Earth's age, hypothesised the extinction of species, and argued that fossils atop hills and mountains had become elevated by geological processes. Thus observing microscopic fossils, Hooke presaged the theory of biological evolution. Hooke's pioneering work in land surveying and in mapmaking aided development of the first modern plan-form map, although his grid-system plan for London was rejected in favour of rebuilding along existing routes. Even so, Hooke was key in devising for London a set of planning controls that remain influential. In recent times, he has been called "England's Leonardo".

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5. James Prescott Joule (1818 - 1889)

With an HPI of 80.86, James Prescott Joule is the 5th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 113 different languages.

James Prescott Joule (; 24 December 1818 – 11 October 1889) was an English physicist, mathematician and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work (see energy). This led to the law of conservation of energy, which in turn led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named after him. He worked with Lord Kelvin to develop an absolute thermodynamic temperature scale, which came to be called the Kelvin scale. Joule also made observations of magnetostriction, and he found the relationship between the current through a resistor and the heat dissipated, which is also called Joule's first law. His experiments about energy transformations were first published in 1843.

Photo of James Clerk Maxwell

6. James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879)

With an HPI of 79.87, James Clerk Maxwell is the 6th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 124 different languages.

James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematician and scientist responsible for the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which was the first theory to describe electricity, magnetism and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics" where the first one had been realised by Isaac Newton. With the publication of "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. He proposed that light is an undulation in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led his prediction of the existence of radio waves. Maxwell is also regarded as a founder of the modern field of electrical engineering.He helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks (trusses) like those in many bridges. His discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. Many physicists regard Maxwell as the 19th-century scientist having the greatest influence on 20th-century physics. His contributions to the science are considered by many to be of the same magnitude as those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In the millennium poll—a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists—Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein. On the centenary of Maxwell's birthday, Einstein described Maxwell's work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton". Einstein, when he visited the University of Cambridge in 1922, was told by his host that he had done great things because he stood on Newton's shoulders; Einstein replied: "No I don't. I stand on the shoulders of Maxwell."

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7. William Gilbert (1544 - 1603)

With an HPI of 73.61, William Gilbert is the 7th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.

William Gilbert (; 24 May 1544? – 30 November 1603), also known as Gilberd, was an English physician, physicist and natural philosopher. He passionately rejected both the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy and the Scholastic method of university teaching. He is remembered today largely for his book De Magnete (1600). A unit of magnetomotive force, also known as magnetic potential, was named the Gilbert in his honour.

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8. Paul Dirac (1902 - 1984)

With an HPI of 73.53, Paul Dirac is the 8th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 98 different languages.

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (; 8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984) was an English theoretical physicist who is regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a professor of physics at Florida State University and the University of Miami, and a 1933 Nobel Prize recipient. Dirac made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation which describes the behaviour of fermions and predicted the existence of antimatter. Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory". He also made significant contributions to the reconciliation of general relativity with quantum mechanics. Dirac was regarded by his friends and colleagues as unusual in character. In a 1926 letter to Paul Ehrenfest, Albert Einstein wrote of Dirac, "I have trouble with Dirac. This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful." In another letter concerning the Compton effect he wrote, "I don't understand Dirac at all."

Photo of J. J. Thomson

9. J. J. Thomson (1856 - 1940)

With an HPI of 73.01, J. J. Thomson is the 9th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 99 different languages.

Sir Joseph John Thomson (18 December 1856 – 30 August 1940) was a British physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, credited with the discovery of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered. In 1897, Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of previously unknown negatively charged particles (now called electrons), which he calculated must have bodies much smaller than atoms and a very large charge-to-mass ratio. Thomson is also credited with finding the first evidence for isotopes of a stable (non-radioactive) element in 1913, as part of his exploration into the composition of canal rays (positive ions). His experiments to determine the nature of positively charged particles, with Francis William Aston, were the first use of mass spectrometry and led to the development of the mass spectrograph.Thomson was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases. Thomson was also a teacher, and several of his mentees also went on to win Nobel Prizes.

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10. Thomas Young (1773 - 1829)

With an HPI of 72.42, Thomas Young is the 10th most famous Physicist.  His biography has been translated into 67 different languages.

Thomas Young FRS (13 June 1773 – 10 May 1829) was a British polymath who made notable contributions to the fields of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology, language, musical harmony, and Egyptology. He was instrumental in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, specifically the Rosetta Stone. Young has been described as "The Last Man Who Knew Everything". His work influenced that of William Herschel, Hermann von Helmholtz, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein. Young is credited with establishing the wave theory of light, in contrast to the particle theory of Isaac Newton. Young's work was subsequently supported by the work of Augustin-Jean Fresnel.

Pantheon has 88 people classified as physicists born between 1544 and 1988. Of these 88, 14 (15.91%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living physicists include Roger Penrose, Peter Higgs, and Anthony James Leggett. The most famous deceased physicists include Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Michael Faraday. As of April 2022, 4 new physicists have been added to Pantheon including Julian Barbour, Charles Blagden, and Jeffrey Goldstone.

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Deceased Physicists

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Newly Added Physicists (2022)

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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.