Greatest Physicists

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Greatest Physicists #1 – Isaac Newton The first and greatest physicist in my estimation is Isaac Newton, born in 1643. Lots of commenters absolutely correctly picked out Newton for the top spot, and had I picked anyone else (with the just barely plausible alternatives of Einstein or Galileo (and see his honorable mention for details))…

#2 – Albert Einstein Einstein. When a person’s name and photograph are both literal synonyms for genius, it’s a pretty good sign they’re among the greatest of the greats. But even if Einstein had not become the popular legend which lives on to this day, he’d still tower above the science of physics. In one…

#3 – James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell is my favorite physicist. This site takes its name from a wise thing he once said: “In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the facility of obtaining data.” For all the volumes written…

#4 – Michael Faraday One day sir, you may tax it. – Michael Faraday, asked by the British Minister of Finance about the practical value of electricity With Michael Faraday we begin to reach the most rarified heights of physics achievement. Faraday worked largely in the first half of the 19th century when the lines…

#5 – Richard Feynman I’m probably going to take some flack for this one. Feynman was and is so popular as a scientific writer, raconteur, and honest-to-goodness celebrity that his staggering scientific accomplishments are sometimes lost in the shadow of his own popular legend. But if we want to try to make a more-or-less honest…

#6 – Ernest Rutherford The New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford was an incubator of genius, and a genius himself. His position on this list is probably a little unorthodox as he wasn’t a very flashy scientist and he wasn’t a theoretical wizard. He just happened to be a surpassingly great physicist anyway. When Rutherford started…

#7 – Erwin Schrodinger Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics! Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics! That’s the first couple of lines of Cecil Adams’ brilliant epic poem about Schrodinger’s cat. Why does Schrodinger deserve an epic poem? Because he’s the 7th greatest physicist, that’s why. Schrodinger was born in Austria in 1877. Looking back we…

Greatest Physicists #8 – Paul Dirac

#8 – Paul Dirac Dirac was a physicist of incredible brilliance even by the standards of the great physicists. You can’t turn a corner in quantum physics without bumping into something he discovered. Solve the ubiquitous and vitally important quantum harmonic oscillator problem using the wave equation method and you’ll get a complicated and not…

Greatest Physicists #9 – J.J Thomson

#9 – J.J. Thomson The entire edifice of chemistry is a theme and variation on the study of the properties of atomic electrons. Tremendous sections of physics, from solid state to quantum optics to AMO and beyond hings almost entirely on electron behavior. Astrophysics, spectroscopy, and large chunks of high energy physics rely on the…

#10: Wolfgang Pauli Wolfgang Pauli was once asked to critique a paper of questionable merit. As he is said to have put it, “This is not right. It is not even wrong.” It was a good and concise statement of what physics requires – not merely interesting ideas, but ones that are both grounded in…