Top Eleven: Time to Vote!

The Top Eleven is now complete. Here’s the full list of experiments, with links to my summaries:


  • Galileo Galilei: ~1610: Discovery of the moons of Jupiter, and measurements of the acceleration of falling objects.
  • Ole Roemer ~1675: Measurement of the speed of light by timing the eclipses of Io.
  • Isaac Newton ~1700: Dispersion of light and measurements of circulating fluids.
  • Henry Cavendish, ~1797: Measurement of the gravitational constant G.
  • Michael Faraday ~1831: Discovery of electromagnetic induction.
  • Michelson and Morley ~1887: Disproving the existence of the luminiferous aether.
  • Heinrich Hertz ~1888: Creation and detection of electromagnetic waves.
  • Ernest Rutherford ~1909: Discovery of the nucleus of the atom.
  • Edwin Hubble ~1929: Determination of the distance to galaxies, and measurement of the expansion of the universe.
  • Rudolf Mössbauer ~1957: Discovery of the Mössbauer Effect and gamma-ray spectroscopy.
  • Alain Aspect ~1981: Experimental tests of Bell’s Inequality.

Happily, and not at all coincidentally, I’m going out of town for the weekend, so this is the perfect time for a vote. Pick your favorite experiment, and leave a comment to this post saying which one you vote for. One vote per commenter, please, and make sure your choice is clearly indicated.

Voting will remain open at least through Sunday night. The winner (as determined by me) gets declared the Greatest Experiment in Physics. Tell your friends, relatives, and graduate students, and get out the vote.

Comments

  1. #1 NL
    February 16, 2006

    My vote: Michelson-Morley.

    AA hasn’t had enough time to stew. Might have hoped for some earlier QM- Stern-Gerlach, Davisson-Germer…

    Cool Mossbauer fact: he was John Poindexter’s thesis advisor at Caltech. (Yes, that John Poindexter)

  2. #2 Mike Elzinga
    February 16, 2006

    How about the g-2 experiment that measures the anomaly in the gyromagnetic ratio of the electron? The latest version was done by Hans Dehmelt, but the original version was done at the University of Michigan at a time when theorists said it couldn’t be done. It is still the most accurate test of QED, and I think the most precise experiment in physics.

  3. #3 Herb
    February 16, 2006

    can’t reason it out, but my gut says Michelson and Morley.

  4. #4 Anonymous
    February 16, 2006

    Cavendish, I say — that experiment was just ingenious and amazing.

  5. #5 Pam
    February 16, 2006

    I vote for Rutherford.

  6. #6 Mary
    February 16, 2006

    Faraday.

  7. #7 Who
    February 16, 2006

    Roemer, because first measurement of any fundamental constant
    and a lot of people didn’t think light had a finite velocity until
    he figured out that it did, and measured it. you could say he
    discovered the speed of light as well as measured it.

  8. #8 Alex
    February 16, 2006

    I vote for Michelson-Morley. For the implications of their work, the difficulty of the measurement, and the coolness of using the motion of the earth (and indeed the entire solar system) as an experimental variable.

  9. #9 et_alii
    February 16, 2006

    When I saw the ex-FAQueen’s LJ post about this, I’d picked the Michelson Morley even before I came here. Gratified to see that it’s listed.

  10. #10 Loganayagam R
    February 17, 2006

    Faraday – There simply is no rival to faraday and his experiments on electromagnetism.

    From the fundamental physics point of view, his electromagnetic induction experiment is a pointer towards the theme of unification. And let us not forget this – Einstein’s 1905 relativity paper does not quote Michelson-Morley but starts off with moving magnets. In fact, the word “electrodynamics” in its name clearly shows where the inspiration for relativity came from -from Faraday’s experiments and Maxwell’s theory.

    From the point of view of technology, when you think of Faraday think of generators and batteries, think of electricity that has changed our life ! With all due respect to other nominations, no other experiment in this list(except probably Hertz) had such a direct technological impact.

    A bit off topic here, but add to this the fact that his life which was itself a stuff of a legend – it’s not often that you come across a boy binding books getting interested in science and reaching the topmost echelons of physics. Anyone who has read his popular science lecture titled “The Chemical History of a Candle” will fall in love with this guy. In this, Faraday was truly the Feynman of the previous century.And that is why I’ll campaign/vote for Faraday any day :)

  11. #11 Jeff
    February 17, 2006

    My gut makes me want to go with the precision measurement (Cavendish), but it doesn’t quite have the far-reaching ramifications:
    Michelson-Morley

  12. #12 Eric Berger
    February 17, 2006

    Have to go with Rutherford, simply for the beauty and elegance of the experiment.

  13. #13 Marcelo
    February 17, 2006

    Michelson-Morley.

  14. #14 Cisko
    February 17, 2006

    Gotta go with the Faraday, there.

  15. #15 Roman Werpachowski
    February 17, 2006

    Michelson-Morley

  16. #16 jim
    February 17, 2006

    Heart says Hubble, but head says Michelson-Morley. Michelson-Morley

  17. #17 Ben V-L
    February 17, 2006

    I’ll go with Rutherford. Showed the general utility of scattering and provided the single most significant piece of information about atomic structure (next to the existence of atoms).

  18. #18 Lerch
    February 17, 2006

    Galileo. For their time, his experiments are as important as any on the list, but he practically had to invent the concept of experiment itself in order to do them.

  19. #19 Tracy P. Hamilton
    February 17, 2006

    Galileo – really got physics going. Roemer
    a close second.

  20. #20 Dave Bacon
    February 17, 2006

    The world works HOW?

    Alain Aspect.

  21. #21 Jeff F
    February 17, 2006

    Michelson and Morley easily get my vote. Cavendish’s G measurement is a close runner up in my opinion, because I know how damn hard it is to measure G!

  22. #22 CanuckRob
    February 17, 2006

    A tougher question than the greatest science paper. My first thought was Aspect since he showed just how weird quantum can be but it has not had major ramifications (I think most phsysists expected the outcome). I have to go with Roemer. Not only did he do the measurements of the moons he acted on his early data to make a new hypothsis and then tested that.

  23. #23 Steinn Sigurdsson
    February 17, 2006

    Aspect.

    Future ramifications will be major.

    Faraday wasn’t bad, but I have to go with Aspect if only based on current future potential interest. Er, I guess that reveals me as a theorist…

  24. #24 Sean
    February 17, 2006

    Galileo. Figuring out that we were not at the center of the universe is more important than figuring out that all inertial frames are equivalent.

  25. #25 Moshe
    February 17, 2006

    Aspect, though it is all good stuff.

  26. #26 PhilipJ
    February 17, 2006

    I will have to go with Faraday, though they are all wonderful experiments. Now if only we didn’t have to pay taxes on this stuff….

  27. #27 Bryan
    February 17, 2006

    I will go with Michelson and Morley

  28. #28 Fred
    February 17, 2006

    Faraday.

  29. #29 TrekJunkie
    February 17, 2006

    IMHO, Roemer. The measurement of the speed of light is the first tangible clue into the complexity of nature. Remember that the speed of light also ties time, thus the farther the object, the farther back in time you see. Newton’s view was mechanical and deterministic, and this measurement eventually became its undoing.

  30. #30 Mike Molloy
    February 17, 2006

    Michelson-Morley

  31. #31 Clark
    February 17, 2006

    Michelson-Morley.
    The fact that they set out to find the ether, and in doing so effectly killed it off for the rest of time inspires my faith in scientists looking for truth and not looking for what they want to find.

  32. #32 vkrishna
    February 17, 2006

    The list is truly excellent and it is hard to choose. I would go for Faraday, followed by Rutherford, followed by Michelson-Morley, followed by Newton…

  33. #33 Mr. Upright
    February 17, 2006

    Roemer. I brought it up. I’ll stick with it.

    All are beautiful and truly amazing. No losers that I can see.

  34. #34 steve
    February 17, 2006

    Aspect or Cavandish.

  35. #35 Scott Aaronson
    February 18, 2006

    Galileo. Not only did he do the experiments that started physics, he wrote them up in entertaining dialogue form.

  36. #36 Joe Fitzsimons
    February 18, 2006

    Alain Aspect. I’m not convinced by the arguement that Galileo’s are the most important, just because they come first cronologically. Aspect’s experiment tells us something very fundamental about the universe, far more so than the Michelson-Morley experiment, at least in my opinion.

  37. #37 Keller
    February 18, 2006

    Roemer.

  38. #38 Pablo
    February 19, 2006

    Michelson – Morley, not only because it is one of the most mentioned experiments in almost every course of physics, but also by its consequences in the history of science.

  39. #39 dlamming
    February 19, 2006

    1 more for Hertz.

  40. #40 Arcane Gazebo
    February 19, 2006

    My vote is for Cavendish. I’ve always been impressed by the simplicity and precision of this experiment, especially for the eighteenth century.

  41. #41 John Novak
    February 19, 2006

    Gotta give Hertz as my final answer. My job would not exist without Hertz.

    For mathematical elegance, gotta say Faraday, for completing Maxwell’s Equations, which are extraordinarily beautiful expressions, but I wasn’t much on the experiments he did.

    For sheer, bloodyminded perseverence and upholding the adage the genius is 1% inspiration and 99% sweat, then someone you didn’t mention: Millikan. And because knowing the highschool level details of the oil drop experiment got me a science contest prize.

    But final answer? Hertz, for professional loyalty. THere are no RF engineers, but for Hertz.

  42. #42 Max
    February 19, 2006

    There are no RF engineers but for Faraday. You can’t get to Hertz without going through Faraday. His significance is the extent to which the modern world is directly a product of his work.

  43. #43 Alejandro
    February 19, 2006

    Michelson-Morley. Because the Michelson-Morley experiment showed that proving a hypothesis wrong is as important as proving a hypothesis right.

  44. #44 Lord Chimmy
    February 20, 2006

    Benjamin Franklin! Oh, wait! No, I mean Faraday! Yes, Faraday.

  45. #45 Mason
    February 20, 2006

    Hmmm… I guess I’ll vote for Newton, but I am selfishly considering doing a write-in vote for more recent ones directly related to my career (simply for their role in helping me have a career). Maybe I should instead do a write-in for Poincare’s three-volume treatise, even though it’s theory rather than experiment? I’m a theorist, so it’s my inborn (or inbred) right to go off the beaten path occasionally…

  46. #46 allan
    February 20, 2006

    Faraday

  47. #47 Sam Adams
    February 20, 2006

    Gotta be Rutherford discovering the nucleus.

  48. #48 Tom
    February 20, 2006

    Michelson Morley!

  49. #49 Paul
    February 20, 2006

    Rutherford.

  50. #50 Ryan
    February 20, 2006

    Edwin Hubble

  51. #51 Fred
    February 20, 2006

    I vote for Faraday but I am more amazed by the works of Tesla.

  52. #52 leeg
    February 20, 2006

    Michelson-Morley. The most important negative result so far.

  53. #53 Doran
    February 20, 2006

    Galileo Galilei for kicking off this whole enterprise of western scientific enterprise. Ingenious work with hanging chains and optics.

  54. #54 Yagnavalkya
    February 20, 2006

    My Vote is for Roemer’s estimation of c. What I really love about this is that it is in principle, so simple, yet it was a daring move in those times to extend the concept that terrestrial and celestial phenomena are in essence governed by the same laws. This in spite of a lesser known null experiment done by Galileo with two people atop different hilltops and timing the light from lanterns.

    I guess I turned up here too late, but speaking of measurments of the speed of light, was Fizzeau’s experiment in contention for this best experiment thing?

  55. #55 Sowmya
    February 20, 2006

    Michelson-Morley

  56. #56 Jurgen
    February 20, 2006

    Alain Aspect

  57. #57 amanda
    February 20, 2006

    Ernest Rutherford

  58. #58 j
    February 20, 2006

    DARWIN

  59. #59 Skwid
    February 20, 2006

    I’m voting for Newton, purely for the sake of Neal Stephenson fandom.

  60. #60 a cornellian
    February 20, 2006

    Aspect

  61. #61 jEREMY
    February 20, 2006

    Michelson and Morley; for the same reasons already stated.

  62. #62 John Wilkins
    February 21, 2006

    I’d like to vote for John Endler’s Jamaican guppy experiment, but since that’s not up for re-election, I’ll go Michelson-Morley

  63. #63 Alden Jurling
    February 21, 2006

    My vote is for Michelson and Morley.

  64. #64 Bob Oldendorf
    February 21, 2006

    After dithering a bit, I have to join the growing “Michelson-Morley” landslide.
    But only because the question is most important “experiment”, not “observation.” Galileo’s explanation of the moons of Jupiter did more to change our world-view, but it’s harder to describe it as an actual “experiment”.

    But really, a case can be constructed for each of them. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

  65. #65 Janne
    February 22, 2006

    Ole Roemer.

  66. #66 FhnuZoag
    February 22, 2006

    Faraday. His experiment represented a true leap of genius.

  67. #67 Bruce
    February 22, 2006

    Michelson and Morley, my favorite since I was a kid.

  68. #68 weichi
    February 22, 2006

    Galileo

  69. #69 Simon
    February 22, 2006

    My quantum physicist heart is telling me Aspect, but I think I’ll actually go for Rutherford, and the glory of an unexpected, hugely significant, discovery.

  70. #70 Jamie Bowden
    February 22, 2006

    Electromagnetism pays the mortgage, so Faraday it is!

  71. #71 shhiggins
    February 22, 2006

    Arrrgh, Rutherford it is, ye scalawags!

  72. #72 fh
    February 22, 2006

    tough tough tough….
    Faraday, for unification and magnificent intuition.

  73. #73 Paul Orwin
    February 22, 2006

    Rutherford, although it’s tough to decide. Elegant, beautiful, conclusive.

  74. #74 mds
    February 22, 2006

    Galileo, Rutherford – both very tempting – but it has to be:
    Faraday

  75. #75 Brandon
    February 23, 2006

    Michelson-Morley, what better way to discount anti-relativists than to ask them to explain this wonderfully failed experiment.

  76. #76 Alejandro
    February 23, 2006

    My vote is for Galileo. My reasons:

    -Created systematic experimental science with the falling bodies experiments.
    -Destroyed medieval worldview with a few weeks of telescopic observations (ok, I’m exaggerating, but he was far more crucial than Copernicus, Newton or any other in this respect).
    -Described his results in wonderful prose we can still enjoy today (just try reading Two New Sciences and compare to the Principia, or to any paper published last week).
    -Only experimentalist in the pantheon trio of physicists known in popular culture: Galileo, Newton and Einstein (yes, Newton did experiments, but in pop culture Galileo goes together with the telescope, and Newton with a theorist’s Eureka moment with an appple).
    -Perpetual source of embarassment to the Church.
    -Hero of Brecht’s play.

  77. #77 mick
    February 23, 2006

    I vote for the Aspect experiment!

  78. #78 P.M.Bryant
    February 23, 2006

    My physics and astronomy background says Galileo. But for sheer impact on how people live their lives, gotta go with Faraday.

    Faraday!

  79. #79 Craig Pennington
    February 23, 2006

    Galileo

    Gotta go with the classic. I had a hard time making up my mind.

  80. #80 Susan
    February 23, 2006

    Gotta go Roemer.

  81. #81 Dr. Free-Ride
    February 23, 2006

    Michelson-Morley! The universe doesn’t need absolute coordinates, yo!

  82. #82 Ron Avitzur
    February 23, 2006

    Aspect. Despite a deep attachment to local realism, I appreciate being reminded that reality is fundamentally spooky.

  83. #83 James Angove
    February 23, 2006

    I’ve always had a great deal of affection for Rutherford, so that’s my vote.

  84. #84 Jim Graber
    February 23, 2006

    Rudolf M�ssbauer. The Mossbauer effect is almost as weird as the EPR effect.
    Jim Graber

  85. #85 Mike Procario
    February 23, 2006

    Faraday.

  86. #86 Clay Blankenship
    February 23, 2006

    Roemer. I’m amazed that c was measured that long ago.

  87. #87 kyle
    February 23, 2006

    Michael Faraday ~1831: Discovery of electromagnetic induction.

  88. #88 cvj
    February 23, 2006

    Galileo! Galileo!

    -cvj

  89. #89 rsm2296
    February 24, 2006

    Rutherford (I too would go with Milliken, were he in the list).

  90. #90 Chad Orzel
    February 24, 2006

    The results are in, and Michelson-Morley edged out Faraday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and I hope you keep reading…

  91. #91 G. cuvier
    February 25, 2006

    Alain Aspect, no question.

  92. #92 Christos Tsolkas
    May 26, 2008

    COMMENT

    EXPERIMENT-12 and EXPERIMENT-13
    at http://www.tsolkas.gr

    The most important experiments in the history of Physics!

    How a physicist, using only a pencil five blank sheets of paper and the power of his intellect (without performing a single physics experiment) can prove that Einstein was wrong!!!

    tsolkas

  93. #93 Melvin Goldstein
    February 28, 2009

    Even Physics has Foibles. But thinking about Chaos, Entropy, Heisenberg Uncertainty and Godel Incompleteness has open our minds.