Here’s the list of the top 100 or so most popular scientists.
Luis Alvarez 1911 – 1988.
The iridium layer, dinosaur death by meteorite impact, and subatomic particle discoveries.
André-Marie Ampère 1775 – 1836.
Discovered that wires carrying electric current can attract and repel magnetically; founded electromagnetic theory.
Anaximander c. 610 BC – c 546 BC.
An ancient scientific revolution: the first person in history to recognize that our planet is free in space and does not need to sit on something.
Mary Anning 1799 – 1847.
Ancient animals, fossils, and paleontology: discovered the first complete specimen of a plesiosaur; deduced the diets of dinosaurs.
Archimedes c. 287 BC – 212 BC.
Founded the sciences of mechanics and hydrostatics, calculated pi precisely, devised the law of exponents, created new geometrical proofs, invented numerous ingenious mechanical devices, and more.
Aristarchus c. 310 BC – c. 230 BC.
Promoted the idea that the earth follows a circular orbit around the sun eighteen centuries before Nicolaus Copernicus resurrected the idea.
Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC.
A genius whose philosophical ideas are still taught, but his contributions to science retarded progress for almost two millennia.
Amedeo Avogadro 1776 – 1856.
The first scientist to realize that elements can exist in the form of molecules rather than as individual atoms; originator of Avogadro’s law.B
Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626.
Shook the foundations of Aristotle’s scientific influence popularizing the scientific method, grounding science in experiments and observations rather than logic-based arguments.
Alexander Graham Bell 1847 – 1922.
Inventor of the metal detector, the telephone, and the photophone – the first device to carry the human voice using light.
Daniel Bernoulli 1700 – 1782.
Discovered the Bernoulli Effect explaining how aircraft wings generate lift; formulated a kinetic theory relating particle speeds in gases to temperature; made major discoveries in the theory of risk.
Elizabeth Blackwell 1821 – 1910.
The first woman to qualify as a physician in America; founder of America’s first medical school for women.
Niels Bohr 1885 – 1962.
Founded quantum mechanics when he remodeled the atom so electrons occupied ‘allowed’ orbits around the nucleus while all other orbits were forbidden; architect of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.
S. N. Bose 1894 – 1974.
Founded quantum statistics with an alternative derivation of Planck’s radiation law based on the idea that light photons of the same color are indistinguishable from one another – particles such as this are known as bosons.
Robert Boyle 1627 – 1691.
Transformed chemistry from a field bogged down in alchemy and mysticism into one based on measurement. He defined elements, compounds, and mixtures; and he discovered the first gas law – Boyle’s Law.
Tycho Brahe 1546 – 1601.
Produced the best star catalog that had ever been compiled and measured the orbit of Mars with unprecedented accuracy, paving the way for Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Newton’s law of gravity.
Brahmagupta 597 – 668.
Established zero as a number and defined its mathematical properties; discovered the formula for solving quadratic equations.
Robert Bunsen 1811 – 1899.
Discovered cesium and rubidium; discovered the antidote to arsenic poisoning; invented the zinc-carbon battery and flash photography; discovered how geysers operate.C
Santiago Ramón y Cajal 1852 – 1934.
Founder of modern neuroscience: proved the neuron doctrine, which says that neurons behave as biochemically distinct cells rather than a network of interlinked cells.
Rachel Carson 1907 – 1964.
A founder of 20th century environmentalism, her book Silent Spring led to a reappraisal of the effect of chemicals such as DDT on the environment, leading to bans and heavy restrictions.
James Chadwick 1891 – 1974.
Discovered the neutron and led the British scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar 1910 – 1995.
Discovered that massive stars can collapse under their own gravity to reach infinite density. Today we call these collapsed stars black holes.
Erwin Chargaff 1905 – 2002.
Chargaff’s rules paved the way to the discovery of DNA’s structure.
Nicolaus Copernicus 1473 to 1543.
Started the scientific revolution with his book The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, explaining his belief that the solar system is centered on the sun, not on the earth.
Jacques Cousteau 1910 – 1997.
Oscar winning marine pioneer; coinvented the breathe-on-demand valve for SCUBA diving; popularized marine biology with several dramatic television series.
Francis Crick 1916 – 2004.
Codiscovered DNA’s structure and replication mechanism; established the Sequence Hypothesis and the Central Dogma; discovered that DNA uses a triplet code to control the formation of proteins from amino acids.
Marie Curie 1867 – 1934.
Codiscovered the chemical elements radium and polonium; made numerous pioneering contributions to the study of radioactive elements; carried out the first research into the treatment of tumors with radiation.D
John Dalton 1766 – 1844.
Dalton’s Atomic Theory is the basis of chemistry; discovered Gay-Lussac’s Law relating gases’ temperature, volume, and pressure; discovered the law of partial gas pressures.
Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882.
Authored one of the most famous books in history, On the Origin of Species, in which he described and provided evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection.
René Descartes 1596 – 1650.
One of the greatest philosophers of all time; advocate of skepticism in the scientific method; creator of new mathematical ideas including the independent founding of analytical geometry. Cartesian coordinates are named in his honor.
Paul Dirac 1902 – 1984.
Unified quantum mechanics and special relativity explaining the origin of particle spin; discovered the concept of antimatter; founded quantum electrodynamics.E
Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955.
Einstein’s theories of special & general relativity delivered a remarkable transformation in our understanding of light, gravity, and time, while special relativity yielded the most famous equation in history, E = mc2. Einstein explained the photoelectric effect and provided powerful evidence that atoms and molecules actually exist.
Empedocles c. 490 BC – c 430 BC.
An ancient theory of natural selection; mass conservation; and the theory of four elements now often misattributed to Aristotle.
Eratosthenes c. 276 BC – c. 194 BC.
Accurately calculated Earth’s size 2,500 years ago; founded the science of geography; and devised the famous prime number sieve.F
Michael Faraday 1791 – 1867.
Discovered electromagnetic induction; devised Faraday’s laws of electrolysis; discovered the first experimental link between light and magnetism; carried out the first room-temperature liquefaction of a gas; discovered benzene.
Pierre de Fermat 1607 – 1665.
One of the greatest mathematicians of all time: co-founded the disciplines of analytic geometry and probability theory and was a key player in the invention of calculus. There’s more to Fermat than his famous last theorem.
Fibonacci c. 1170 – c. 1245.
The rebirth of Western mathematics: Fibonacci’s Book of Calculation introduced the Indian number system, now used worldwide, to Europe.
Ronald Fisher 1890 – 1962.
Invented experimental design; devised the statistical concept of variance; unified evolution by natural selection with Mendel’s rules of inheritance defining the new field of population genetics.
Alexander Fleming 1881 – 1955.
Discovered that treating wounds and infections with antiseptic agents caused more deaths than if no action was taken. Discovered penicillin and predicted the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790.
A founding father of the USA, Franklin shaped our understanding of electricity, coined the electrical terms positive and negative, and invented the lightning rod and bifocal spectacles.
Rosalind Franklin 1920 – 1958.
Provided much of the experimental data used to establish the structure of DNA. Discovered that DNA can exist in two forms. Established that coal acts as a molecular sieve.G
Galen 129 – c. 216
Began his practice as a physician to gladiators and established a link between diet and health. Galen created a flawed doctrine that dominated Western and Arab medicine for 1,500 years.
Galileo Galilei 1564 – 1642.
The father of modern science, Galileo discovered the first moons ever known to orbit another planet and that the Milky Way is made of stars. He rationalized how objects are affected by gravity, stated the principle of inertia, and proposed the first theory of relativity.
Carl Friedrich Gauss 1777 – 1855.
The last master of all mathematics, Gauss revolutionized number theory and invented the method of least squares and the fast Fourier transform. His profound contributions to the physical sciences include Gauss’s Law & Gauss’s Law for Magnetism.
Willard Gibbs 1839 – 1903.
Gibbs invented vector analysis and founded the sciences of modern statistical mechanics and chemical thermodynamics.
Jane Goodall Born 1934.
Ground breaking discoveries in chimpanzee behavior; established that chimpanzees have similar social behavior to humans and also that they make tools, and eat and hunt for meat.H
William Harvey 1578 to 1657.
Explained blood circulation for the first time, showing there is a complete circuit beginning and ending in the heart.
Joseph Henry 1797 – 1878.
Built the world’s most powerful electromagnets; discovered electromagnetic induction independently of Faraday; made scientific breakthroughs that allowed Samuel Morse to invent the telegraph. The unit of electrical inductance is named in his honor.
Heinrich Hertz 1857 – 1894.
Discovered radio waves, proving James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism; discovered the photoelectric effect, providing a clue to the existence of the quantum world. The unit of frequency is named in his honor.
David Hilbert 1862 – 1943.
Famed for his 23 problems, Hilbert propelled mathematics to new heights. He replaced Euclid’s axioms dating from 2,000 years earlier, allowing the unification of 2D and 3D geometry; he created Hilbert Space, now essential in advanced physical science.
Hipparchus c. 190 BC – c. 120 BC.
One of antiquity’s greatest scientists: founded the mathematical discipline of trigonometry; measured the earth-moon distance accurately; discovered the precession of the equinoxes; documented the positions and magnitudes of over 850 stars; his combinatorics work was unequalled until 1870.
Robert Hooke 1635 – 1703.
Discovered cells and wrote one of the most significant books in scientific history, Micrographia, revealing the microscopic world for the first time; discovered Hooke’s Law in physics; invented the balance spring enabling pocket watches to be made.
Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992.
Pioneer of electronic computers. Invented the first compiler and was the principal architect of COBOL, the most widely used computer language of the twentieth century.
Jack Horner Born 1946.
Popularizer of science: discovered that dinosaurs cared for their young and some nested in colonies. Working on reactivating dormant dinosaur DNA to hatch a modern-day dinosaur.
James Hutton 1726 – 1797.
Founded modern geology when he discovered how to interpret rocks. Found our planet is very much older than previously believed and devised the principle of uniformitarianism, which says that our world was shaped by natural processes such as erosion and deposition.I J
Irene Joliot-Curie 1897 – 1956.
Codiscovered how to convert stable chemical elements into ‘designer’ radioactive elements; these have saved millions of lives and are used in tens of millions of medical procedures every year.K
Michio Kaku Born 1947.
Popularizer of science, futurist, and a founder of string field theory.
Omar Khayyam 1048 – 1131.
A poet, philosopher and scientist, Khayyam calculated the length of a year to the most accurate value ever, and showed how the intersections of conic sections can be utilized to yield geometric solutions of cubic equations.
Johannes Kepler 1571 to 1630.
Discovered the solar system’s planets follow elliptical paths; showed that tides on the earth are caused mainly by the moon; proved how logarithms work; discovered the inverse square law of light intensity; his laws of planetary motion led Newton to his law of gravitation.
Stephanie Kwolek 1923 – 2014.
Invented kevlar, the incredibly strong plastic used in applications ranging from body armor to tennis racquet strings.L
Antoine Lavoisier 1743 – 1794.
A founder of modern chemistry; discovered oxygen’s role in combustion and respiration; discovered that water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen; proved that diamond and charcoal are different forms of the same element, which he named carbon.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 1632 – 1723.
The father of microbiology, he used remarkable self-made lenses to discover single-celled animals and plants, bacteria, and spermatozoa.
Inge Lehmann 1888 – 1993.
Analyzed earthquake waves to discovered that within our planet’s liquid core, at the very center of the earth, there is a solid core whose diameter is greater than 1,000 km.
Carolus Linnaeus 1707 – 1778.
Organized our view of the natural world with the two-part naming system we use to classify all lifeforms; named and classified about 13,000 lifeforms; broke with tradition by classifying humans in the same way as other lifeforms.
Ada Lovelace 1815 – 1852.
The mother of computing science; contributed to the first published computer program; was the first person to see that computers could do more than mathematical calculations, recognizing that musical notes and letters of the alphabet could be turned into numbers for manipulation by computers.M
Jane Marcet 1769 – 1858.
Author of Conversations on Chemistry, a unique textbook for its time written for people with little formal education, such as girls and the poor. The book inspired Michael Faraday to overcome his poor origins to become a great scientist.
James Clerk Maxwell 1831 – 1879.
Transformed our understanding of nature: his famous equations unified the forces of electricity and magnetism, indicating that light is an electromagnetic wave. His kinetic theory established that temperature is entirely dependent on the movement of particles.
Barbara McClintock 1902 – 1992.
Groundbreaking genetics: showed that genes switch the physical traits of an organism on or off; discovered chromosomal crossover, which increases genetic variation in species; discovered transposition – that genes can move about within chromosomes.
Lise Meitner 1878 – 1968.
Discovered that nuclear fission can produce enormous amounts of energy; codiscovered the phenomenon of radioactive recoil.
Gregor Mendel 1822 – 1884.
Founded the science of genetics; identified many of the rules of heredity; identified recessive and dominant traits, and that traits are passed from parents to offspring in a mathematically predictable way.
Dmitri Mendeleev 1834 – 1907.
Discovered the periodic table in a dream. Utilized the organizing principles of the periodic table to correctly predict the existence and properties of six new chemical elements.
Henry Moseley 1887 – 1915.
Proved that every element’s identity is uniquely determined by its number of protons establishing the true organizing principle of the periodic table; correctly predicted the existence of four new chemical elements; invented the atomic battery.N
Isaac Newton 1643 to 1727.
Profoundly changed our understanding of nature with his law of universal gravitation and his laws of motion; invented calculus, the field of mathematics that dominates the physical sciences; generalized the binomial theorem; built the first ever reflecting telescope; showed sunlight is made of all the colors of the rainbow.
Florence Nightingale 1820 – 1910.
A health pioneer who transformed nursing into a respected, highly trained profession; used statistics to analyze wider health outcomes; advocated sanitary reforms largely credited with adding 20 years to life expectancy between 1871 and 1935.
Alfred Nobel 1833 – 1896.
Invented dynamite, the blasting cap, gelignite, and ballistite; grew enormously wealthy by patenting and manufacturing explosives; used his wealth to bequeath annual prizes in science, literature, and peace.
Emmy Noether 1882 – 1935.
Probably the greatest female mathematician in history, Noether’s theorem revealed a fundamental property of our universe – that for every conservation law there is an invariant. Her founding work in abstract algebra revolutionized mathematics.O
Hans Christian Oersted 1777 – 1851.
Discovered electromagnetism when he found that electric current caused a nearby magnetic needle to move; discovered piperine and achieved the first isolation of the element aluminum.P
Louis Pasteur 1822 – 1895.
The father of modern microbiology; transformed chemistry and biology with his discovery of mirror-image molecules; discovered anaerobic bacteria; established the germ theory of disease; invented food preservation by pasteurization.
Linus Pauling 1901 – 1994.
Maverick giant of chemistry; formulated valence bond theory and electronegativity; founded the fields of quantum chemistry, molecular biology, and molecular genetics. Discovered the alpha-helix structure of proteins; proved that sickle-cell anemia is a molecular disease.
Marguerite Perey 1909 – 1975.
Discovered francium, the last ever chemical element found naturally. All elements since have been produced artificially.
Max Planck 1858 – 1947.
Founded quantum theory with his proposal that hot objects radiate only certain allowed values of energy, all of which are multiples of a number now called the Planck constant – all other values of energy are forbidden.
Karl Popper 1902 – 1994.
Karl Popper changed the way we think about science, showing that scientific theories could only be tested by falsification. His hypothetico-deductive model of the scientific method has largely replaced the older deductive and inductive models.
Pythagoras c. 570 BC – 497 BC.
The Pythagoreans believed the universe was constructed using mathematics and everything can be described with numbers; established a link between mathematics and music; proved Pythagoras’s theorem; discovered irrational numbers; discovered the Platonic Solids.Q R
C. V. Raman 1888 – 1970.
Discovered that light can donate a small amount of energy to a molecule, changing the light’s color and causing the molecule to vibrate. The color change acts as a ‘fingerprint’ for the molecule that can be used to identify molecules and detect diseases such as cancer.
Srinivasa Ramanujan 1887 – 1920.
A largely self-taught pure mathematician, he enriched number theory with thousands of new identities, equations and theorems.
Ernest Rutherford 1871 – 1937.
The father of nuclear chemistry and nuclear physics; discovered and named the atomic nucleus, the proton, the alpha particle, and the beta particle; discovered the concept of nuclear half-lives; achieved the first laboratory transformation of one element into another.S
Theodor Schwann 1810 – 1882.
Established that the cell is the basic unit of all living things; his classification of cells is the foundation of modern histology; discovered the enzyme pepsin; identified the role microorganisms play in alcohol fermentation.
Glenn Seaborg 1912 to 1999.
Took part in the discovery of ten of the periodic table’s chemical elements. His work on the electronic structure of elements led to the periodic table being rewritten.
Gene Shoemaker 1928 to 1997.
The first astrogeologist and a founder of planetary impact science; proved large craters on Earth were caused by collisions with asteroids and comets rather than volcanic activity; proposed microscopic life could travel between planets on rocks blasted into space by asteroid impacts.
B. F. Skinner 1904 – 1990.
The 20th century’s most influential psychologist; pioneered the science of behaviorism; discovered the power of positive reinforcement in learning; designed the first psychological experiments producing quantitatively repeatable results.
Nettie Stevens 1861 – 1912.
Discovered that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes, now known as the XY sex-determination system – the discovery was the first time a link was demonstrated between a physical characteristic and chromosome differences.T
Thales of Miletus c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC
The first scientist in history, Thales looked for patterns in nature to explain the way the world worked. He replaced superstitions with science. He was the first person to use deductive logic to find new results in geometry.
J. J. Thomson 1856 – 1940.
Discovered the electron; invented one of the most powerful tools in analytical chemistry – the mass spectrometer; obtained the first evidence for isotopes of stable elements.U
Harold Urey 1893 – 1981.
Discovered deuterium; showed how isotope ratios in rocks reveal past Earth climates; founded modern planetary science; the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated that electrically sparking simple gases produces amino acids – the building blocks of life.V
Andreas Vesalius 1514 – 1564.
Founded modern anatomy, overthrowing misconceptions about the body that had persisted for over a thousand years.
Rudolf Virchow 1821 – 1902.
A founder of both pathology and social medicine, Virchow correctly identified that diseases are caused by malfunctioning cells. He named leukemia and was the first to catalog and name conditions such embolism, thrombosis, chordoma, and ochronosis.
Alessandro Volta 1745 – 1827.
Pioneer of electrical science; invented the electric battery; wrote the first electromotive series; isolated methane for the first time; discovered a methane-air mixture could be exploded using an electric spark – the basis of the internal combustion engine.W
Alfred R. Wallace 1823 – 1913.
Independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection; was one of the first biologists to express concern about the effects human activities were having on the natural world.
James Watt 1736 – 1819.
Father of the industrial revolution; radically improved the steam engine; invented high pressure steam engines; independently discovered latent heat; invented the world’s first copying machine.
Alfred Wegener 1880 – 1930.
Discovered continental drift, proposing that our planet once consisted of ocean surrounding a single great continent he called Pangea that had split apart over many millions of years to form the continents we see today.
Sergei Winogradsky 1856 – 1953.
Founded microbial ecology; discovered chemosynthetic life forms which obtain energy from chemical reactions rather than from sunlight; discovered nitrogen-fixing bacteria in soil that make nitrates available to green plants.X Y
Chen-Ning Yang Born 1922.
Thought the unthinkable, discovering that parity is not conserved; Yang-Mills theory is at the heart of the Standard Model in physics.Z