In physics we find the English mathematician, astronomer, theologian and alchemist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) in first place, tied with Albert Einstein (1879-1955), born in Germany to a Jewish family, later becoming a Swiss as well as an American citizen. Behind them follow the prolific New Zealand-born British nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937); the English naturalist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), a great pioneer in the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry; the brilliant Italian naturalist, mathematician and experimentalist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642); the gifted and highly eccentric English experimental and theoretical physicist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810); the quantum and nuclear physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) from Denmark, known for his contributions to atomic theory; the English physicist Joseph John “J. J.” Thomson (1856-1940) who discovered the electron, the first subatomic particle; the Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), whose insights into electromagnetism and light were of fundamental importance for modern science and technology; the French physicist Pierre Curie (1859-1906), a pioneer in the study of crystallography, piezoelectricity and radioactivity.
After them comes Gustav Robert Kirchhoff of Germany (1824-1887), who developed spectroscopy for chemical analysis of the Sun and coined the term “blackbody” radiation, later used by fellow German physicist Max Planck; the Italian-born scientist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), who made many contributions to nuclear and particle physics; the German scientist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), remembered for his work in the field of quantum mechanics and the formulation of his famous uncertainty principle in 1927; the Polish-born France-based physicist and chemist Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934), known especially for her studies together with her husband Pierre of radioactivity, a term she coined; the English theoretical physicist Paul Dirac (1902-1984), who made great contributions to quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and predicted the existence of antimatter; the English scientific brewer James Prescott Joule (1818-1889), who studied the nature of heat and helped establish the conservation of energy principle and the First Law of Thermodynamics; the Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who among many other things developed a wave theory of light; the English physician and natural philosopher William Gilbert (1544-1603), who introduced the term and concept “electricity” and whose work De Magnete described experimental studies of magnetism; the English physician and physicist Thomas Young (1773-1829), whose double-slit experiments conducted around the year 1800 converted many European naturalists to a wave theory of light; and finally the dynamic English natural philosopher and instrument maker Robert Hooke (1635-1703).
Newton’s and Einstein’s top position in this category should surprise nobody. Galileo’s ranking, based exclusively on his status as a founder of modern physics, not his contributions to astronomy, is uncontroversial. Rutherford discovered two types of radioactivity, described the nucleus of the atom and helped to develop our understanding of the subatomic world, bombarded atomic nuclei to change their composition and made many other valuable contributions. Faraday’s work on induction and on electricity and magnetism in general was of fundamental importance to the development of electrical generators and engines.
Other prominent physicists are Max Planck, Wolfgang Pauli, Hans Christian Ørsted, Antoine Henri Becquerel, Ludwig Boltzmann, Heinrich Hertz, John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh), Evangelista Torricelli, Carl David Anderson , Hans Geiger, René Descartes, Otto von Guericke, Guillaume Amontons, George Gabriel Stokes, Archimedes, Amedeo Avogadro, Jacques Charles, Democritus, Hendrik Lorentz, George FitzGerald, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, Ernst Mach, Thales of Miletus, Johannes Diderik van der Waals and Charles T. Wilson.
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