Famous 19th Century British Physicists

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.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford
6
Famous As: Physicist, Chemist
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.

 2 J. J. Thomson

J. J. Thomson
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Famous As: Physicist, Nobel Prize Winner
Birthdate: December 18, 1856
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Manchester, Lancashire, UK
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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 3 Lord Kelvin

Lord Kelvin
5
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist
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.

 4 James Chadwick

James Chadwick
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Famous As: Discoverer of Neutron
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

 5 Henry Moseley

Henry Moseley
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Famous As: Physicist
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. 

 6 James Prescott Joule

James Prescott Joule
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Famous As: Physicist
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.

 7 George Paget Thomson

George Paget Thomson
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: May 3, 1892
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cambridge
Died: September 10, 1975

George Paget Thomson was a British physicist best remembered for his discovery of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction. The son of physicist and Nobel laureate J. J. Thomson, he himself went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1937. He spent several years of his career at Imperial College London. 

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 8 Lord Rayleigh

Lord Rayleigh
3
Famous As: Discoverer of Argon
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.

 9 William Henry Bragg

William Henry Bragg
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Famous As: Nobel Prize Winner in Physics
Birthdate: July 2, 1862
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Wigton
Died: March 10, 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. 

 10 Arthur Eddington

Arthur Eddington
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Famous As: Astronomer
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. 

 11 Joseph Swan

Joseph Swan
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Famous As: Chemist, Physicist, Inventor
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. 

 12 Robert Watson-Watt

Robert Watson-Watt
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Famous As: Developer
Birthdate: April 13, 1892
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brechin, Scotland
Died: December 5, 1973

Robert Watson-Watt, often called the father of radar was a British physicist who did pioneering work in radio direction finding (RDF) and radar technology. He developed high-frequency direction finding (huff-duff) as a system for locating lightning. It was later introduced during the Second World War and played an instrumental role in intelligence, mainly in catching enemy radios while they transmitted.

 13 Oliver Heaviside

Oliver Heaviside
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Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, Engineer, Telegraphy
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 John Tyndall

John Tyndall
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Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: August 2, 1820
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Ireland
Died: December 4, 1893

Born into a poor Protestant family, Irish physicist John Tyndall was a self-made man who funded his own doctoral education. His contributions include his research on the greenhouse effect and the discovery of the Tyndall effect. Not known to many, he was also an avid mountaineer and glaciologist.

 15 Sir William Lawrence Bragg

Sir William Lawrence Bragg
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Famous As: Nobel Laureate in Physics
Birthdate: March 31, 1890
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: North Adelaide, South Australia
Died: July 1, 1971

Born to a math and physics professor in Australia, Sir William Lawrence Bragg later moved to England, where his father was posted for work. He and his father jointly won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research on X-ray diffraction through crystals. Bragg was an avid shell collector, too.

 16 William Crookes

William Crookes
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Famous As: Chemist
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. 

 17 Sir George Stokes, 1st Baronet

Sir George Stokes, 1st Baronet
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Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: August 13, 1819
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Skreen
Died: February 1, 1903

Sir George Stokes, 1st Baronet was an Anglo-Irish physicist and mathematician. He studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and spent his entire career at the University of Cambridge as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. As a physicist, he made key contributions to fluid mechanics and physical optics. He received the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1893.

 18 Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell

Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell
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Famous As: Physicist, Politician, University teacher
Birthdate: April 5, 1886
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baden-Baden
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. 

 19 James Dewar

James Dewar
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Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: September 20, 1842
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kincardine, Scotland
Died: March 27, 1923

James Dewar was a British chemist and physicist best known for his invention of the vacuum flask. He conducted considerable research into the liquefaction of gases and atomic and molecular spectroscopy. He also wrote papers on the qualities of hydrogen and organic chemistry. He was awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts and the Rumford Medal. 

 20 John Cockcroft

John Cockcroft
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Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: May 27, 1897
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Todmorden
Died: September 18, 1967

Sir John Douglas Cockcroft was a British physicist credited with designing the Cockcroft-Walton generator with Earnest Walton. Their relentless research on spitting various types of atoms helped to establish the importance of accelerators in disintegrating atoms, which in turn paved the way for the development of nuclear power.  For his pioneering work,John Cockroft was one of the recipients of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics

 21 John Ambrose Fleming

John Ambrose Fleming
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Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: November 29, 1849
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Lancaster, 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. 

 

 22 George Green

George Green
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Famous As: Mathematician
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.

 23 George Biddell Airy

George Biddell Airy
2
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: July 27, 1801
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Alnwick, 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.

 24 Oliver Lodge

Oliver Lodge
2
Famous As: Physicist
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.

 25 Osborne Reynolds

Osborne Reynolds
2
Famous As: Physicist, Civil engineer, Engineer
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.

 26 Lewis Fry Richardson

Lewis Fry Richardson
2
Famous As: Paramedic, Cartographer, Mathematician, Psychologist, Physicist, Meteorologist
Birthdate: October 11, 1881
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newcastle upon Tyne
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.

 27 Francis William Aston

Francis William Aston
2
Famous As: Chemist & Physicist
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.

 28 Patrick Blackett

Patrick Blackett
2
Famous As: Physicist
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. 

 29 Charles Galton Darwin

Charles Galton Darwin
2
Famous As: Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: December 18, 1887
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Shrewsbury
Died: December 31, 1962

Charles Galton Darwin was an English physicist. Born into a prominent family of intellectuals, he was the son of mathematician George Howard Darwin and a grandson of biologist Charles Darwin. He studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, and began an academic career. He, later on, served as the director of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). He loved to travel. 

 30 G. I. Taylor

G. I. Taylor
2
Famous As: Physicist, Engineer, Mathematician, Meteorologist
Birthdate: March 7, 1886
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: England
Died: June 27, 1975

G. I. Taylor was a British physicist and mathematician. He was a key figure in fluid dynamics and wave theory. He worked on the development of supersonic aircraft while serving on the Aeronautical Research Committee. Counted among the most notable scientists of the 20th century, he was the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Franklin Medal. 

 31 Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
2
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: February 14, 1869
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Midlothian, Scotland
Died: November 15, 1959

Scottish physicist, meteorologist and Nobel Laureate Charles Thomson Rees Wilson is noted for inventing the cloud chamber particle detector, also referred to as Wilson cloud chamber, used for visualizing the passage of ionizing radiation. It played a significant role in the area of experimental particle physics between the 1920s and 1950s.

 32 Edward Victor Appleton

Edward Victor Appleton
2
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 6, 1892
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bradford
Died: April 21, 1965

Considered a pioneer in radio physics, Nobel laureate Sir Edward Victor is remembered as much for his pioneering work on physics of the upper atmosphere as for his discovery of the Appleton layer. His investigations, which proved the existence of ionosphere and established its characteristics, helped not only to develop an unfailing long-range radio communication, but also the much-needed radars.

 33 James Jeans

James Jeans
2
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 11, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, 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. 

 34 Hertha Ayrton

Hertha Ayrton
2
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: April 28, 1854
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Portsea Island, 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. 

 35 Charles Glover Barkla

Charles Glover Barkla
1
Famous As: Physicist
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.

 36 Owen Willans Richardson

Owen Willans Richardson
1
Famous As: Physicist
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. 

 37 George Johnstone Stoney

George Johnstone Stoney
2
Famous As: Physicist
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.

 38 Horace Lamb

Horace Lamb
1
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: November 27, 1849
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Metropolitan Borough of Stockport, England
Died: December 4, 1934

 39 C. H. Douglas

C. H. Douglas
1
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: January 20, 1879
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Edgeley, Metropolitan Borough of Stockport, England
Died: September 29, 1952

Recognized as the pioneer of the social credit economic reform movement, Major Clifford Hugh Douglas was an engineer by professional. His interest turned to economics when he noticed that the weekly total costs of goods was greater than the sums paid to workers, leading to his development of the social credit theory, which encompasses economics, political science, history, and accounting.

 40 Douglas Hartree

Douglas Hartree
1
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: March 27, 1897
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
Died: February 12, 1958

 41 John Henry Poynting

John Henry Poynting
1
Famous As: Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: September 9, 1852
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: March 30, 1914

 42 Sydney Chapman

Sydney Chapman
1
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: January 29, 1888
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Eccles, England
Died: June 16, 1970

 43 Joseph Jackson Lister

Joseph Jackson Lister
1
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: January 11, 1786
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: City of London, England
Died: October 24, 1869

 44 John Frederic Daniell

John Frederic Daniell
1
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: March 12, 1790
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: March 13, 1845

 45 Peter Barlow

Peter Barlow
1
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: October 13, 1776
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Norwich, England
Died: March 1, 1862

 46 Silvanus Phillips Thompson

Silvanus Phillips Thompson
1
Famous As: Electrical engineer
Birthdate: June 19, 1851
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: York, England
Died: June 12, 1916

 47 C. V. Boys

C. V. Boys
1
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: March 15, 1855
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Wing, Rutland, England
Died: March 30, 1944

 48 John Hopkinson

John Hopkinson
1
Famous As: Physicist
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.

 49 William Eccles

William Eccles
1
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: August 23, 1875
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Barrow-in-Furness, England
Died: April 29, 1966

Known for his pioneering contribution to radio technology, British physicist William Eccles had begun his career as an assistant to renowned scientist Guglielmo Marconi. He supported Oliver Heaviside's theory of there being an upper layer of the atmosphere that reflects radio waves. His works include Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy.

 50 James Challis

James Challis
0
Famous As: Physicist
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.