Famous 19th Century British Physicists

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Find out more about the greatest 19th Century British Physicists, including Ernest Rutherford, J. J. Thomson, James Chadwick, William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin and Henry Moseley.
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 1 
Michael Faraday
(Scientist)
Michael Faraday
9
Birthdate: September 22, 1791
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Newington Butts, London, United Kingdom
Died: August 25, 1867

Michael Faraday was an English scientist known for his contribution to the study of electrochemistry and electromagnetism. Considered one of the most influential scientists ever, Faraday's inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices established the basis for electric motor technology. His research also helped understand the concept of the electromagnetic field. Ernest Rutherford called him one of the greatest scientific discoverers ever.

 2 
Ernest Rutherford
(New Zealand Physicist Who is Known as the Father of Nuclear Physics)
Ernest Rutherford
8
Birthdate: August 30, 1871
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brightwater, New Zealand
Died: October 19, 1937

New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford is remembered as the father of nuclear physics. His discovery of radioactive half-life and of radon, and his differentiation of alpha and beta radiation, won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. Element 104 was named rutherfordium in his honor.

 3 
J. J. Thomson
(Physicist)
J. J. Thomson
4
Birthdate: December 18, 1856
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Manchester, Lancashire, England
Died: August 30, 1940

J. J. Thomson was a British physicist credited with the discovery of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906 for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases. In 1884, he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge. 

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 4 
Lord Kelvin
(Mathematician, Physicist)
Lord Kelvin
5
Birthdate: June 26, 1824
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Belfast
Died: December 17, 1907

Lord Kelvin was a British mathematical physicist and engineer. He studied at the Glasgow University and proceeded to teach there as well. Besides his academic career, he also had a career as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor. He received the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1883. Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honor.

 5 
James Chadwick
(Discoverer of Neutron)
James Chadwick
5
Birthdate: October 20, 1891
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bollington
Died: July 24, 1974

Best remembered as a Nobel laureate who discovered neutron, Sir James Chadwick began his career at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, where he worked with Ernest Rutherford to investigate the nature of atomic nucleus, a work that led to the epoch-making discovery. Credited with writing the final draft of the MAUD Report, he also headed the British team at the Manhattan Project

 6 
Henry Moseley
(Physicist)
Henry Moseley
5
Birthdate: November 23, 1887
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Weymouth, Dorset, England
Died: August 10, 1915

Henry Moseley was an English physicist best known for his development of Moseley's law in X-ray spectra. He made major contributions to the fields of atomic physics, nuclear physics, and quantum physics. He was working at the University of Oxford when World War I broke out, following which he went to volunteer for the Royal Engineers of the British Army. 

 7 
James Prescott Joule
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1818
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Salford, Lancashire, England, UK
Died: October 11, 1889

English physicist, and mathematician, James Prescott Joule primarily worked on the nature of heat, in course of which he established that all forms of energy are fundamentally same and therefore inter-convertible. His findings resulted in the development of the first law of thermodynamics and negation of calorie theory. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named after him.

 8 
John Dalton
(Chemist, Physicist and Meteorologist Best Known for Developing the 'Atomic Theory')
John Dalton
4
Birthdate: September 6, 1766
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Eaglesfield, Cumberland, England
Died: July 27, 1844

John Dalton was an English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist most famous for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry. He also contributed a lot to the study of color blindness, sometimes referred to as Daltonism in his honor. He was the first scientist to refer to the smallest particle of matter as an “atom.” He was a Quaker and lived modestly. 

 9 
Lord Rayleigh
(Discoverer of Argon)
Lord Rayleigh
3
Birthdate: November 12, 1842
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Langford Grove, Maldon, Essex, England
Died: June 30, 1919

Although John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, received the Nobel Prize for his discovery and isolation of the inert gas argon, his contributions to Physics is not limited to that. Known to make extensive contributions to theoretical and practical physics, especially in the fields of acoustics and optics, his works are now considered to mark the beginning of modern acoustics.

 10 
William Henry Bragg
(Physicist and Mathematician Who Invented the ‘X-Ray’ Spectrometer)
William Henry Bragg
4
Birthdate: July 2, 1862
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Wigton, England, United Kingdom
Died: March 12, 1942

William Henry Bragg was an English physicist, chemist, and mathematician. He is best known for sharing the  1915 Nobel Prize in Physics with his son Lawrence Bragg for their work in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays. William Henry Bragg had an illustrious academic career and was elected president of the Royal Society in 1935. 

 11 
Arthur Eddington
(Astronomer)
Arthur Eddington
4
Birthdate: December 28, 1882
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kendal
Died: November 22, 1944

Arthur Eddington was an English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician. He wrote numerous articles that explained Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world. He began his career in academics and eventually shifted to astronomy, becoming the chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He was a recipient of the Henry Draper Medal. 

 12 
Joseph Swan
(Chemist, Physicist, Inventor)
Joseph Swan
4
Birthdate: October 31, 1828
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Sunderland
Died: May 27, 1914

Joseph Swan was an English chemist, physicist, and inventor known for being an independent early developer of a successful incandescent light bulb. He developed and supplied the first batch of incandescent lights used for illuminating houses and public buildings. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1894 and knighted by King Edward VII in 1904. 

 13 
Oliver Heaviside
(Mathematician, Physicist, Engineer, Telegraphy)
Oliver Heaviside
3
Birthdate: May 18, 1850
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Camden Town
Died: February 3, 1925

Oliver Heaviside was an English mathematician and physicist. He invented a new technique for solving differential equations and independently developed vector calculus. He is also credited with rewriting Maxwell's equations in the form commonly used today. He formulated the telegrapher’s equations and invented the Heaviside step function as well. In 1922, he received the Faraday Medal.

 14 
William Crookes
(British Chemist and Physicist Known for His Discovery of the Element 'Thallium' and Invention of 'Crookes Tubes')
William Crookes
3
Birthdate: June 17, 1832
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: April 4, 1919

William Crookes was a British chemist and physicist remembered as a pioneer of vacuum tubes. He was the inventor of what became known as the Crookes tube. He is also credited with the discovery of the element thallium. He was the first person to describe the spectrum of terrestrial helium. He was interested in spiritualism and occultism as well. 

 15 
Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell
(Who was prime scientific adviser to Winston Churchill in World War II)
Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell
3
Birthdate: April 5, 1886
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baden-Baden, Germany
Died: July 3, 1957

Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell was a British physicist known for serving as the prime scientific adviser to Winston Churchill in World War II. Much respected for his scientific brilliance, he was notorious for being arrogant and quarrelsome as a person. He formed a close bond with Churchill and was given a  cabinet seat in Churchill’s second government. 

 16 
Benjamin Thompson
(Physicist and Inventor)
Benjamin Thompson
3
Birthdate: March 26, 1753
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Woburn, Massachusetts, United States
Died: August 21, 1814
 17 
John Ambrose Fleming
(British Electrical Engineer and Physicist Who Invented the First 'Thermionic Valve' or 'Vacuum Tube')
John Ambrose Fleming
3
Birthdate: November 29, 1849
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Lancaster, Lancashire, England
Died: April 18, 1945

John Ambrose Fleming was an English electrical engineer and physicist. He is known for inventing the first thermionic valve or vacuum tube and designing the radio transmitter with which the first transatlantic radio transmission was made. Along with  Douglas Dewar and Bernard Acworth, he helped establish the Evolution Protest Movement. Fleming was also a noted photographer and artist. 

 

 18 
George Green
(British Mathematical Physicist Who Was First to Attempt to Devise a Theory of Electricity and Magnetism)
George Green
3
Birthdate: July 14, 1793
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Sneinton, Nottinghamshire, England
Died: May 31, 1841

With one year of formal schooling, George Green was entirely self-taught until the age of forty, when he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. By then, he had published his first book, propagating what are now known as Green’s theorem and Green’s functions. A fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, he also established Green's identities, Green's law, and Green's matrix.

 19 
George Biddell Airy
(British Mathematician and Astronomer)
George Biddell Airy
2
Birthdate: July 27, 1801
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Died: January 2, 1892
English astronomer George Biddell Airy is best known for locating Greenwich as the prime meridian. He was ripped apart by critics for allegedly failing to help British astronomer John Couch Adams to discover Neptune. The Astronomer Royal was also the first to cure astigmatism by using cylindrical lenses.
 20 
Oliver Lodge
(British Physicist, Inventor and Prinicpal Patent Holder and Developer of 'Radio')
Oliver Lodge
2
Birthdate: June 12, 1851
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Penkhull, England
Died: August 22, 1940

Best known for developing the radio-wave detector named coherer, Oliver Lodge had also served as the first principal of Birmingham University. He was made a Knights Bachelor and had also been a Royal Institution lecturer. His inventions revolutionized early wireless telegraph technology, though they were replaced by modern instruments later.

 21 
Osborne Reynolds
(Physicist, Civil engineer, Engineer)
Osborne Reynolds
2
Birthdate: August 23, 1842
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Belfast
Died: February 21, 1912

Osborne Reynolds is best remembered for revolutionizing the fields of hydraulics and fluid dynamics. Born to a clergy father who was also a mathematician, Reynolds developed an interest in mechanics early in life. Reynolds was the first engineering professor at Owens College, Manchester, and also a Royal Society fellow.

 22 
Francis William Aston
(Chemist & Physicist)
Francis William Aston
2
Birthdate: September 1, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Harborne, Birmingham
Died: November 20, 1945

Nobel Prize-winning English scientist Francis William Aston was solely a chemist before the advent of X-rays and radioactivity made him focus on physics too. He is best remembered for inventing the mass spectrograph, or the mass spectrometer, which helped him discover 212 of the 287 natural isotopes.

 23 
Patrick Blackett
(Physicist)
Patrick Blackett
2
Birthdate: November 18, 1897
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London, England
Died: July 13, 1974

Patrick Blackett was a British experimental physicist who became the first person to prove that radioactivity could cause the nuclear transmutation of one chemical element to another. He is recognized for his seminal work on cloud chambers, cosmic rays, and paleomagnetism, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948. He was known to be a gentle person. 

 24 
Lewis Fry Richardson
(Former Mathematician, physicist, meteorologist noted for his pioneering work concerning fractals and a method for solving a system of linear equations known as modified Richardson iteration)
Lewis Fry Richardson
2
Birthdate: October 11, 1881
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Died: September 30, 1953

British physicist, meteorologist, mathematician, psychologist and pacifist Lewis Fry Richardson was the first to apply modern mathematical techniques of weather forecasting to predict weather accurately. He also pioneered the use of similar methods in studying reasons of wars and the way to stop them. He proposed the iterative method called modified Richardson iteration for solving a system of linear equations.

 25 
James Jeans
(British Physicist, Astronomer and Mathematician)
James Jeans
2
Birthdate: September 11, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Ormskirk, Lancashire, England
Died: September 16, 1946

James Jeans was an English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who made great contributions to the areas of quantum theory, the theory of radiation, and stellar evolution. Along with Arthur Eddington, Jeans is a founder of British cosmology. He spent his academic career at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Princeton University. He received the Royal Medal in 1919. 

 26 
Hertha Ayrton
(British Engineer, Mathematician, Physicist and Inventor Known for Her Work With the 'Electric Arcs')
Hertha Ayrton
3
Birthdate: April 28, 1854
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
Died: August 26, 1923

Hertha Ayrton was a British engineer,  physicist, mathematician, and inventor. She is remembered for her work on electric arcs and ripple marks in sand and water, for which she was awarded the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society. As a woman in the 19th century, she had to face innumerable struggles in her career. She was also a passionate suffragist. 

 27 
William Robert Grove
(Judge, Chemist)
William Robert Grove
2
Birthdate: July 11, 1811
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Swansea, Wales
Died: August 1, 1896
 28 
George Johnstone Stoney
2
Birthdate: February 15, 1826
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: County Offaly
Died: July 5, 1911

Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney made important contributions in the areas of cosmic physics and the theory of gases. Most significant scientific work of Stoney was the conception and calculation of the magnitude of the atom or particle of electricity. He is noted for introducing the term electron to elucidate the fundamental unit of electrical charge.

 29 
Charles Glover Barkla
1
Birthdate: June 7, 1877
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Widnes, Lancashire, England
Died: October 23, 1944

Charles Glover Barkla won a Nobel Prize for his research on X-ray scattering, which pave way for further research on atomic structures. A staunch Methodist, he believed his work was part of his search for God. Musically talented, Barkla also sang in the church choir of King’s College, Cambridge, his alma.

 30 
Owen Willans Richardson
1
Birthdate: April 26, 1879
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England
Died: February 15, 1959

Owen Willans Richardson was a British physicist known for his work on thermionic emission. He earned a DSc from the University of London and became a professor at Princeton University. He later became the Wheatstone Professor of Physics at King's College London. In 1928, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. He was knighted in 1939. 

 31 
Horace Lamb
(Mathematician)
Horace Lamb
1
Birthdate: November 27, 1849
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Metropolitan Borough of Stockport, England
Died: December 4, 1934
 32 
John Henry Poynting
(Physicist, University teacher)
John Henry Poynting
1
Birthdate: September 9, 1852
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: March 30, 1914
 33 
Douglas Hartree
(Mathematician)
Douglas Hartree
1
Birthdate: March 27, 1897
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
Died: February 12, 1958
 34 
Joseph Jackson Lister
1
Birthdate: January 11, 1786
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: City of London, England
Died: October 24, 1869
 35 
Sydney Chapman
(Mathematician)
Sydney Chapman
1
Birthdate: January 29, 1888
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Eccles, England
Died: June 16, 1970
 36 
Joseph Larmor
(British Physicist and Mathematician)
Joseph Larmor
1
Birthdate: July 11, 1857
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: County Antrim, Ireland
Died: May 19, 1942

Copley Medal-winning Irish physicist Joseph Larmor is best remembered for his physics book Aether and Matter. Known for his contribution to the fields of thermodynamics and the magnetic field, he now has a crater on the Moon and a scientific phenomenon called Larmor precession named after him.

 37 
Peter Barlow
(Mathematician)
Peter Barlow
1
Birthdate: October 13, 1776
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Norwich, England
Died: March 1, 1862
 38 
John Frederic Daniell
1
Birthdate: March 12, 1790
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: March 13, 1845
 39 
James Challis
(Physicist)
James Challis
0
Birthdate: December 12, 1803
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Braintree, England
Died: December 3, 1882

Astronomer and physicist James Challis had been a professor of astronomy and the director of the Cambridge Observatory. Throughout his career, he published over 200 academic papers. Though he had observed Neptune a month before its official discovery, he had failed to identify as a separate planet.

 40 
C. V. Boys
(Physicist)
C. V. Boys
1
Birthdate: March 15, 1855
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Wing, Rutland, England
Died: March 30, 1944
 41 
Thomas Andrews
(Physicist, Chemist)
Thomas Andrews
0
Birthdate: December 19, 1813
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Belfast, Ireland
Died: November 26, 1885
 42 
Silvanus Phillips Thompson
(Electrical engineer)
Silvanus Phillips Thompson
1
Birthdate: June 19, 1851
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: York, England
Died: June 12, 1916
 43 
Frederick Guthrie
(Physicist, Chemist)
Frederick Guthrie
0
Birthdate: October 15, 1833
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bayswater, London, United Kingdom
Died: October 21, 1886
 44 
William John Macquorn Rankine
(Engineer, Physicist, Civil engineer, University teacher)
William John Macquorn Rankine
0
Birthdate: July 5, 1820
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Edinburgh
Died: December 24, 1872

Scottish engineer William John Macquorn Rankine is best known as one of the pioneers of thermodynamics, especially the first law of thermodynamics. He is remembered for his studies on the steam-engine theory and for introducing the Rankine cycle. He also contributed to the domain of soil mechanics.

 45 
John Hopkinson
(British Physicist and Electrical Engineer Who Invented the Three-Wire System for Electricity Distribution)
John Hopkinson
1
Birthdate: July 27, 1849
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Died: August 27, 1898

The son of a mechanical engineer, John Hopkinson followed in his father’s footsteps. Remembered for his research on alternating current, the British engineer and physicist developed the three-wire system for distributing electricity. He died in a mountaineering accident in the Alps, along with three of his six children.

 46 
Carey Foster
(Physicist, Chemist)
Carey Foster
0
Birthdate: October 20, 1835
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sabden England, United Kingdom
Died: February 9, 1919
 47 
Norman Robert Campbell
0
Birthdate: March 7, 1880
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: May 18, 1949
 48 
Hugh Longbourne Callendar
0
Birthdate: April 18, 1863
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hatherop, England
Died: January 21, 1930