Famous 20th Century British Scientists

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Find out more about the greatest 20th Century British Scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Richard Dawkins, Tim Berners-Lee and Rosalind Franklin.
Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century British Scientists
 1 
Stephen Hawking
(Theoretical Physicist - First to Set Out a Theory of Cosmology)
Stephen Hawking
77
Birthdate: January 8, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oxford, England
Died: March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking was an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who despite being afflicted motor neurone disease that severely limited his physical abilities, was able to build a phenomenally successful career. He was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Hawking was ranked 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, in 2002.

 2 
Alan Turing
(Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence)
Alan Turing
119
Birthdate: June 23, 1912
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Maida Vale, London, England
Died: June 7, 1954

Regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was a distinguished mathematician and logician. During WWII, he successfully broke the challenging German Enigma machine codes thereby reducing the duration of war by a couple of years. The scientist, who was convicted for being gay, has been an inspiration for numerous films, plays and novels.

 3 
Richard Dawkins
(Evolutionary Biologist)
Richard Dawkins
24
Birthdate: March 26, 1941
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nairobi, Kenya

Richard Dawkins is a British ethologist, author, and evolutionary biologist. He first achieved popularity after publishing his book, The Selfish Gene, which is credited with popularizing the gene selection theory. The book is also credited with introducing the term meme. In 2006, he established the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote secularism and scientific literacy.

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 4 
Ernest Rutherford
(New Zealand Physicist Who is Known as the Father of Nuclear Physics)
Ernest Rutherford
9
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.

 5 
Rosalind Franklin
10
Birthdate: July 25, 1920
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Notting Hill, London, England
Died: April 16, 1958
Chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin is remembered for her pathbreaking X-ray diffraction studies of DNA, which helped in the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins later. She also worked on the molecular structures of viruses. 
 6 
J. J. Thomson
(Physicist)
J. J. Thomson
7
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. 

 7 
Francis Crick
(Co-discoverer of the Structure of the DNA Molecule, Nobel Prize Winner)
Francis Crick
10
Birthdate: June 8, 1916
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Weston Favell, Northamptonshire, England
Died: July 28, 2004

Nobel Prize-winning British biophysicist Francis Crick is best known for his ground-breaking work to determine the structure of the DNA, along with James Watson, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin. He taught at various institutes, such as the Salk Institute, and was also awarded the Order of Merit.

 8 
Paul Dirac
(One of the Most Significant Physicists of the 20th Century and Nobel Laureate)
Paul Dirac
9
Birthdate: August 8, 1902
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Bristol, England
Died: October 20, 1984

English theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Paul Dirac OM FRS, counted among leading physicists of the 20th century, made fundamental contributions in the early development of quantum electrodynamics and quantum mechanics. He derived the Dirac equation while the modern theory of antimatter began with one of his papers. His book The Principles of Quantum Mechanics remains an influential monograph on the subject.

 9 
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.

 10 
G. H. Hardy
(Mathematician)
G. H. Hardy
15
Birthdate: February 7, 1877
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cranleigh, England
Died: December 1, 1947

English mathematician G. H. Hardy is best recognised for his work and achievements in number theory and mathematical analysis, and also as mentor of distinguished Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. He is noted for his essay on mathematics titled A Mathematician's Apology. He also made his mark in biology formulating a basic principle of population genetics called Hardy–Weinberg principle.  

 11 
John Horton Conway
(British Mathematician Known for His Contributions to 'Combinatorial Game Theory (CGT)')
John Horton Conway
12
Birthdate: December 26, 1937
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Liverpool, England
Died: April 11, 2020

Remembered as versatile mathematician, game wizard and polymath, John Horton Conway had limitless curiosity, which matched with his scientific originality. Although he is best known for devising the cellular automation called Game of Life, he made significant contributions to group theory, number theory, algebra, geometric topology, theoretical physics, combinatorial game theory and geometry. Conway published many outstanding papers in these fields.

 12 
Tim Berners-Lee
(Inventor of the World Wide Web)
Tim Berners-Lee
25
Birthdate: June 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England

Widely known as ten inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee made the first communication between an HTTP client and server through the internet in 1989. He is associated with various organizations, such as the W3C and the World Wide Web Foundation, and has received the knighthood, too.

 13 
Peter Higgs
(British Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Prize Laureate for His Work on the Mass of Subatomic Particles)
Peter Higgs
6
Birthdate: May 29, 1929
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Peter Higgs is a British theoretical physicist. He studied at King's College London and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1954. He went on to have a brilliant academic career and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1983. In 2013, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Belgian physicist François Englert.  

 14 
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
(Astronomer, Astrophysicist)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
6
Birthdate: May 10, 1900
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England
Died: December 7, 1979

After losing her father at 4, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was raised singlehandedly by her mother. The incredibly talented Cecilia studied at Cambridge but failed to secure a degree because of her gender. She later joined Harvard and opposing prevalent beliefs, proposed that stars were mainly made of hydrogen and helium. 

 15 
Frederick Sanger
(Biochemist)
Frederick Sanger
4
Birthdate: August 13, 1918
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Rendcomb
Died: November 19, 2013

Frederick Sanger remains one of only two people to have won the Nobel Prize twice in the same category. The British biochemist is remembered for his ground-breaking work on nucleic acids and the insulin molecule. The son of a Quaker medical missionary, Sanger, too, grew up believing in Quakerism.

 16 
Dorothy Hodgkin
(Biochemist)
Dorothy Hodgkin
4
Birthdate: May 12, 1910
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cairo, Egypt
Died: July 29, 1994

Dorothy Hodgkin received the 1964 Nobel Prize for mapping the structure of penicillin and Vitamin B12. She is also known for her work on insulin. Beginning her work on structure of an organic compound by using X-ray crystallography as an undergraduate student, she later developed it further and used it to determine the three-dimensional structure of complex organic molecules.

 17 
William Henry Perkin
(British Chemist Known for His Serendipitous Discovery of First Commercial Synthetic Organic Dye, 'Mauveine')
William Henry Perkin
4
Birthdate: March 12, 1838
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: July 14, 1907

William Henry Perkin is best remembered for his chance discovery of the dye mauveine, made of aniline purple. He had apparently discovered the dye while attempting to synthesize quinine. The Royal Medal-winning British chemist also studied salicyl alcohol and flavoring agents and synthesized the first artificial perfume.

 18 
Jane Goodall
(Primatologist)
Jane Goodall
6
Birthdate: April 3, 1934
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hampstead, London, England

Jane Goodall is an English anthropologist and primatologist. Goodall's research proved that chimpanzees could use tools like stalks of grass to fish out termites from termite holes; this also challenged the long-held belief that chimpanzees were vegetarians. Goodall also discovered that chimpanzees are capable of emotions like sorrow and joy. Goodall is also credited with founding the Jane Goodall Institute.

 19 
Andrew Wiles
(Mathematician, University teacher)
Andrew Wiles
22
Birthdate: April 11, 1953
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cambridge

English mathematician Sir Andrew John Wiles, a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford, is best known for proving the modularity theorem for semistable elliptic curves, thereby proving Fermat's Last Theorem for which he was awarded the Abel Prize and the Copley Medal by the Royal Society. He also proved the main conjecture of Iwasawa theory.

 20 
J.B.S. Haldane
(British Scientist Who Developed the Mathematical Theory of Population Genetics and One of the Founders of ‘Neo-Darwinism’)
J.B.S. Haldane
4
Birthdate: November 5, 1892
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Oxford, England
Died: December 1, 1964

British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane is remembered for his pioneering use of statistics in biology. A proponent of neo-Darwinism, he was the son of physiologist John Scott Haldane and had begun assisting his father at age 8. He later joined the British Communist Party and also moved to India.

 21 
David Attenborough
(Broadcaster)
David Attenborough
6
Birthdate: May 8, 1926
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Isleworth, England

Widely regarded as a national treasure in the United Kingdom, Sir David Attenborough is the only person to have received BAFTAs for TV shows meant for different television sets, such as black and white, color, 3D, HD, and 4K. In 2002, he was mentioned in BBC's 100 Greatest Britons list.

 22 
Brian Cox
(Physicist Best Known as the Presenter of Science Programme 'Wonders of Life')
Brian Cox
13
Birthdate: March 3, 1968
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Oldham, Lancashire, England

Brian Cox is an English physicist and former musician. He has presented numerous science programs for BBC radio and TV, especially the Wonders of... series. He is also the author of several popular science books. He has been lauded for his efforts to publicize science and was awarded the British Association's Lord Kelvin Award in 2006. 

 23 
Ludwig Wittgenstein
(One of the Greatest Philosophers of the 20th Century)
Ludwig Wittgenstein
5
Birthdate: April 26, 1889
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: April 29, 1951

Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is remembered for his works related to logic, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of mathematics, and the philosophy of language. He taught at the University of Cambridge for many years. He published only one book during his lifetime. Most of his manuscripts were collected later and published posthumously.

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
5
Birthdate: December 16, 1917
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Minehead, Somerset, England
Died: March 19, 2008
Sir Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his short story The Sentinel, which became the basis of the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke spent the final years of his life in Sri Lanka and hosted shows such as Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.
 25 
Roger Penrose
(Mathematician)
Roger Penrose
14
Birthdate: August 8, 1931
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Colchester, England

Roger Penrose’s contribution to the research related to the black hole and general relativity earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2020. The Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, Roger is also a fellow of Wadham College, St John's College of Cambridge, and University College London.

 26 
Tony Hoare
(Computer scientist)
Tony Hoare
6
Birthdate: January 11, 1934
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Tony Hoare is a British computer scientist who is credited with developing the sorting algorithm quicksort. He is also credited with developing Hoare logic, a formal system for verifying program correctness. Over the years, Tony Hoare has received several prestigious awards for his contribution to computer science.

 27 
Jeremy Wade
(Television presenter, Writer)
Jeremy Wade
4
Birthdate: March 23, 1956
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Jeremy Wade is a British TV presenter, biologist, and freshwater detective. He is best known for his TV series River Monsters, Mighty Rivers, and Dark Waters. He attended the University of Kent and began his career as a biology teacher. He made his TV debut by chance and didn’t take long to become a popular TV presenter. 

 28 
Andre Geim
(Dutch-British Physicist Known for His Discovery of 'Graphene')
Andre Geim
4
Birthdate: October 21, 1958
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sochi, Russia

Andre Geim is a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist. He has been associated with the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester for several years. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Konstantin Novoselov in recognition of his work on graphene. He is also a recipient of the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. 

 29 
Wade Barrett
(Professional wrestler, Marine biologist)
Wade Barrett
5
Birthdate: August 10, 1980
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Preston
 30 
Freeman Dyson
(Mathematician)
Freeman Dyson
9
Birthdate: December 15, 1923
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Crowthorne, England
Died: February 28, 2020

Freeman Dyson was a British-American theoretical and mathematical physicist, mathematician, and statistician. He made major contributions in the fields of quantum field theory, astrophysics, random matrices, quantum mechanics, and nuclear physics. He originated the concept that went on to be known as Dyson's transform. He received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1986. 

 31 
George Paget Thomson
3
Birthdate: May 3, 1892
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
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. 

 32 
Joseph Lister
(British Medical Scientist and a Pioneer in the Field of Antiseptic Medicine and Surgery)
Joseph Lister
4
Birthdate: April 5, 1827
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Upton House, West Ham, England
Died: February 10, 1912

British surgeon Joseph Lister was a pioneer of antiseptic medicine usage and made a huge contribution to the development of preventive medicine for bacterial infection. His achievements have been honored by many, such as the makers of Listerine antiseptic and mouthwash, who named their product after him.

 33 
Ronald Fisher
(Statistician)
Ronald Fisher
4
Birthdate: February 17, 1890
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: East Finchley, London, England
Died: July 29, 1962

Ronald Fisher was a British polymath, statistician, geneticist, mathematician, and academic. He is credited to have single-handedly created the foundations for modern statistical science. He made important contributions to the field of genetics and is known as one of the three principal founders of population genetics. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1929. 

 34 
William Henry Bragg
(Physicist and Mathematician Who Invented the ‘X-Ray’ Spectrometer)
William Henry Bragg
3
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. 

 35 
David Kelly
(Welsh Scientist and Authority on Biological Warfare)
David Kelly
4
Birthdate: May 14, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Llwynypia, Glamorgan, Wales
Died: July 17, 2003
 36 
David Bohm
(One of the Most Significant Theoretical Physicists of the 20th Century)
David Bohm
4
Birthdate: December 20, 1917
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: October 27, 1992
Born to Jewish immigrants, David Bohm went against his father’s wish of joining his family’s furniture business and ventured into science instead. He later grew up to be an influential physicist and is now revered for his contribution to quantum mechanics and for introducing concepts such as Bohm’s diffusion.
 37 
Geoffrey Hinton
(Computer scientist)
Geoffrey Hinton
4
Birthdate: December 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wimbledon

After gaining a degree in psychology, Geoffrey Hinton earned a PhD in artificial intelligence. The Google VP is a Turing Award-winning computer scientist and also teaches at the University of Toronto. A Fellow of the Royal Society, he has revolutionized neural network research and has co-written about 200 papers.

 38 
James Glaisher
(Meteorologists)
James Glaisher
4
Birthdate: April 7, 1809
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rotherhithe, London, England
Died: February 7, 1903

Renowned meteorologist and aeronaut James Glaisher was a pioneer of balloon flights and had penned the iconic book Travels in the Air. He had also contributed to the formation of the Meteorological Society and the Aeronautical Society of Britain. The 2019 movie The Aeronauts depicts his exploits as a balloonist.

 39 
Bill Oddie
(Writer)
Bill Oddie
5
Birthdate: July 7, 1941
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Rochdale, Lancashire, England, UK
 40 
John Maynard Smith
(Mathematician, Evolutionary Biologist, Geneticist and One of the Founding Members of the 'University of Sussex')
John Maynard Smith
3
Birthdate: February 6, 1920
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: London, England
Died: April 19, 2004

One of the most influential evolutionary biologists of his generation, John Maynard Smith was originally aeronautical engineer. Later, he took a second degree in genetics and did extensive research on subjects like population genetics and evolution of sex. Known for formalizing the central concept in evolutionary game theory, he introduced the evolutionarily stable strategy, impacting a wide variety of studies.  

 41 
Michael Atiyah
(Mathematician)
Michael Atiyah
4
Birthdate: April 22, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hampstead, London, England
Died: January 11, 2019

Recipient of Fields Medal and Abel Prize, British-Lebanese mathematician Michael Atiyah emerged as a leading figure in the UK mathematics during the latter half of the 20th century. He specialised in geometry and made remarkable contributions in the fields of geometry, theoretical physics, topology and global analysis, and is best known for proving the Atiyah–Singer index theorem with Isadore Singer.

 42 
Fred Hoyle
(English Astronomer Who Formulated the Theory of 'Stellar Nucleosynthesis')
Fred Hoyle
4
Birthdate: June 24, 1915
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bingley, England
Died: August 20, 2001

Fred Hoyle was an English astronomer known for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. He spent most of his career at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, serving as its director for six years. He was also an author of science fiction novels, short stories, and plays and appeared in a series of radio talks on astronomy for the BBC.  

 43 
Clive Sinclair
(Entrepreneur, Engineer, Inventor, Computer scientist)
Clive Sinclair
3
Birthdate: July 30, 1940
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Surrey

A consumer electronics pioneer, entrepreneur Clive Sinclair began his business venture selling radio and amplifier kits. He went on to launch the word’s first pocket calculator and later also worked on products such as digital watches and pocket TV. He is a fan of poker and is a Mensa member.

James Robertson Justice
4
Birthdate: June 15, 1907
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lewisham, England
Died: July 2, 1975
 45 
Barnes Wallis
(Scientist)
Barnes Wallis
4
Birthdate: September 26, 1887
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Ripley, Derbyshire, England
Died: October 30, 1979

Barnes Wallis was an English engineer, inventor, and scientist. He played an important role during the Second World War by inventing the bouncing bomb which was used in Operation Chastise by the Royal Air Force to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley. Barnes Wallis is also credited with inventing the earthquake bomb and his version of the geodetic airframe.

 46 
Mark Shuttleworth
(Entrepreneur, Astronaut, Engineer, Inventor, Scientist, Blogger, Businessperson, Computer scientist)
Mark Shuttleworth
6
Birthdate: September 18, 1973
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Welkom

Mark Shuttleworth is a South African-British entrepreneur. He is credited with founding Canonical, the company that developed the popular Linux-based Ubuntu operating system. Mark Shuttleworth became the first African from an independent country and the first South African to travel to space; he traveled as a space tourist in 2002.

 47 
David Bellamy
(British Botanist, Television Presenter and Environmental Activist)
David Bellamy
10
Birthdate: January 18, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: London, England
Died: December 11, 2019

Once regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on botany and the environment, David Bellamy was also a successful TV presenter and was a regular on BBC programs. However, he later claimed that he was shunned by the TV fraternity for his denial of the importance of climate change.

 48 
Maurice Wilkins
(Biophysicist)
Maurice Wilkins
3
Birthdate: December 15, 1916
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Pongaroa, Wairarapa, New Zealand
Died: October 5, 2004

Born in New Zealand, to a doctor father from Dublin, Maurice grew up to be a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist. His X-ray diffraction studies of DNA helped James D. Watson and Francis Crick, his fellow Nobel laureates, ascertain the DNA structure. He was also part of the Manhattan Project.

 49 
Michael Moritz
(Computer scientist)
Michael Moritz
4
Birthdate: September 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cardiff

Welsh venture capitalist and former journalist Michael Moritz was earlier associated with Time as a writer. Now a partner at Sequoia Capital, he has invested in and been part of the boards of organizations such as Google, PayPal, and Yahoo. He penned The Little Kingdom, the first-known history of Apple.

Sir William Lawrence Bragg
4
Birthdate: March 31, 1890
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Adelaide, 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.