Famous Chemists Of The 20th Century

Chemists are scientists who specialize in the field of chemistry. Having said that, the job of a chemist does not limit to a chemistry laboratory alone! Today, with rapid industrialization, almost every industry employs chemists in their industrial set-ups be it pharmaceuticals or plastics, medicine or paints, chemical industry or detergent industry and so on. Chemists generally investigate the chemical nature of substances and observe how they behave under different conditions to search for new knowledge. They examine both organic and inorganic compounds to determine their chemical and physical properties, composition, structure, and reactivity. Chemists try to decode the details of the chemical molecules and their component atoms. It is this knowledge that comes in assistance to comprehend the composition and properties of unknown substances. Over the years, there have been innumerable chemists from every century who have greatly contributed to the society’s chemical future. However, the largest influx in the subject was seen in the 20th century as more and more individuals dedicated themselves to this field of study. 20th century was home to some of most famous and renowned chemists of the era including Dan Shechtman, Derek Barton, Charles J Pederson and Albert Hofmann. Given below is an extensive list of famous chemists of the 20th century.

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 Marie Curie

Marie Curie
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: November 7, 1867
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Warsaw, Poland
Died: July 4, 1934
Amongst the most notable scientists of her time, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the sole person to win two Nobel Prize in two different category, and the first woman professor at the University of Paris—Marie Curie’s list of achievements is incredible. She did extensive research in the field of radioactivity and discovered polonium and radium.

 2 Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin
Famous As: Chemist
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. 

 3 Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling
Famous As: Chemist, Biochemist
Birthdate: February 28, 1901
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, United States
Died: August 19, 1994

Only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes, Linus Carl Pauling was an American theoretical physical chemist, who received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on nature of chemical bond and 1962 Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts to stop nuclear weapon testing. Also a prolific writer and educator, he has published 1,200 books and papers.  

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 4 Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger
Famous As: Biochemist
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.

 5 Glenn T. Seaborg

Glenn T. Seaborg
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: April 19, 1912
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Ishpeming, Michigan
Died: February 25, 1999

Glenn T. Seaborg was an American chemist who shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Edwin McMillan for discovering the first transuranium elements. He also authored or co-authored several books and articles, including 500 scientific journals. In 2005, Glenn T. Seaborg was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

 6 Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin
Famous As: Biochemist
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.

 7 Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: July 31, 1923
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New Kensington, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: June 18, 2014

Stephanie Kwolek was an American chemist remembered for her invention of Kevlar. She worked at the DuPont Company for over four decades and was awarded the company's Lavoisier Medal for her discovery. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, becoming the fourth woman to be inducted. She also won other awards including the Perkin Medal.

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 8 William Henry Perkin

William Henry Perkin
Famous As: Chemist
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.

 9 Ahmed Zewail

Ahmed Zewail
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: February 26, 1946
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Damanhour, Egypt
Died: August 2, 2016

 10 Irène Joliot-Curie

Irène Joliot-Curie
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: September 12, 1897
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: March 17, 1956

Marie Curie and Pierre Curie’s daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, herself a brilliant scientist, won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with her husband, Joliot-Curie, for discovering artificial radioactivity. She was also one of the first three female French government members. She tragically died of leukemia caused by exposure to radiation.

 11 Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann
Famous As: The First Person to Synthesize LSD
Birthdate: January 11, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Baden
Died: April 29, 2008

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was the first known person to synthesize the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Interested in science from a young age, he studied chemistry at the University of Zürich. As a chemist, he conducted several significant studies and authored more than 100 scientific articles and books. He was a recipient of the prestigious Scheele Award.

 12 Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou
Famous As: chemist, pharmacologist, inventor, university teacher
Birthdate: December 30, 1930
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Ningbo

Chinese phytochemist and malariologist Tu Youyou is best remembered for her Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the anti-malarial drug qinghaosu, or artemisinin. She is the first Chinese female Nobel laureate. A tuberculosis infection in her younger days had inspired her to step into medicine. She later studied traditional Chinese medicine, too.

 13 Alexander Shulgin

Alexander Shulgin
Famous As: Rediscoverer of MDMA
Birthdate: June 17, 1925
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Berkeley, California, United States
Died: June 2, 2014

A pioneer of psychedelic drug synthesis, Alexander Shulgin came to be known as The Godfather of Ecstasy, for reinventing the drug MDMA, or ecstasy, for medical use. The Harvard drop-out, who later studied psychiatry and pharmacology, would often experiment his newly invented drugs on himself, his wife, and his friends.

 14 Jerry Buss

Jerry Buss
Famous As: Businessman
Birthdate: January 27, 1933
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Died: February 18, 2013
Legendary LA Lakers co-owner Jerry Buss lived through a poverty-stricken childhood during the Great Depression. Growing up working odd jobs, he also once quit school to work for the railroads. He grew up to be a chemist and later also taught chemistry, before investing in real estate.

 15 George de Hevesy

George de Hevesy
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: August 1, 1885
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died: July 5, 1966

Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian-Swedish chemist George de Hevesy is best remembered for his research on isotopic tracer techniques to study animal metabolism. He is also credited with co-discovering the element hafnium with physicist Dirk Coster. He fled the Nazi regime and moved first to Denmark and then to Sweden.

 16 Percy Lavon Julian

Percy Lavon Julian
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: April 11, 1899
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama, United States
Died: April 19, 1975

Percy Lavon Julian was an American chemist whose work paved the way for the production of birth control pills and corticosteroids. Julian went on to start his own company which helped reduce the price of steroid intermediates. In 1973, Percy Lavon Julian was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and became the first African-American to receive this honor.

 17 Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff

Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: August 30, 1852
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died: March 1, 1911

 18 Retta

Famous As: Stand-up Comedian
Birthdate: April 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, U.S.

 19 Elias James Corey

Elias James Corey
Famous As: Organic Chemist
Birthdate: July 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Methuen, Massachusetts, United States

 20 Joachim Sauer

Joachim Sauer
Famous As: Chemist, University teacher
Birthdate: April 19, 1949
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hosena

 21 Owsley Stanley

Owsley Stanley
Famous As: key figure in the San Francisco Bay Area hippie movement during the 1960s
Birthdate: January 19, 1935
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kentucky, United States
Died: March 12, 2011

Owsley Stanley was an American clandestine chemist and audio engineer. During the 1960s Stanley played an important role in the Bay Area hippie movement and the counterculture of the decade. As the sound engineer of the Grateful Dead, Stanley developed the band's famous Wall of Sound, one of the largest transportable public address systems ever built.

 22 James Lovelock

James Lovelock
Famous As: Biologist, Chemist, University teacher, Mythographer
Birthdate: July 26, 1919
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Letchworth

Renowned James Lovelock is best known for propagating the Gaia hypothesis, which states that every living being on planet Earth is part of a single self-regulating superorganism. He is also known for his long association with NIMR, London, and Harvard University and has over 50 patents under his name.

 23 Robert Burns Woodward

Robert Burns Woodward
Famous As: Organic Chemist
Birthdate: April 10, 1917
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: July 8, 1979

 24 Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann
Famous As: Theoretical Chemist
Birthdate: July 18, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine)

 25 John Kendrew

John Kendrew
Famous As: Biochemist and Crystallographer
Birthdate: March 24, 1917
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Died: August 23, 1997

Nobel Prize-winning biochemist John Kendrew revolutionized science with his 3-D model of the muscle protein myoglobin. The Cambridge alumnus later co-founded the European Molecular Biology Organization and had been the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Molecular Biology. He had also worked on operational research for the Royal Air Force.

 26 George M. Whitesides

George M. Whitesides
Famous As: Chemist, University teacher
Birthdate: August 3, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Louisville

 27 Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: July 18, 1951
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Morlanwelz, Belgium

 28 Marina Oswald

Marina Oswald
Famous As: Pharmacist
Birthdate: July 17, 1941
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Severodvinsk Molotovsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union

Marina Oswald is a Russian-born American pharmacist best known as the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed the 35th president of the USA, John F. Kennedy. She played a key role in the Warren Commission hearings where she testified against Oswald. Marina has been portrayed by many actresses in films like JFK and Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald.

 29 Sidney Gottlieb

Sidney Gottlieb
Famous As: Chemist, Psychiatrist
Birthdate: August 3, 1918
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: March 7, 1999

Sidney Gottlieb was an American spymaster and chemist who played a major role in the CIA's mind-control program and assassination attempts during the 1950s and 1960s; the illegal human experimentation program which he headed was called Project MKUltra.

 30 Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion
Famous As: Biochemist, Pharmacologist
Birthdate: January 23, 1918
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: February 21, 1999

The daughter of Jewish immigrants in New York, Gertrude B. Elion excelled in chemistry at Hunter College, where she studied for free, but was initially unable to find a job due to gender bias. The renowned biochemist and pharmacologist later won a Nobel and became a pioneer in medical research.

 31 Ernest Solvay

Ernest Solvay
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: April 16, 1838
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rebecq, Belgium
Died: May 26, 1922

 32 Michael Levitt

Michael Levitt
Famous As: Physicist, Biologist, Bioinformatician, Chemist, Scientist, Educationist, University teacher
Birthdate: May 9, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Pretoria

Michael Levitt is a biophysicist who has been serving as a Stanford University professor of structural biology since 1987. Along with Arieh Warshel and Martin Karplus, Levitt received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013. He has also received several other awards, including the DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences and was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.

 33 John Cornforth

John Cornforth
Famous As: Nobel Prize Winner Chemist
Birthdate: September 7, 1917
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia
Died: December 8, 2013

John Cornforth was an Australian-British chemist who became the first Nobel laureate from New South Wales when he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975. Over the course of his career, Cornforth also won other prestigious awards like the Royal Medal, Copley Medal, and Centenary Medal. In 1975, he was adjudged the Australian of the Year.

 34 Otto Wichterle

Otto Wichterle
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: October 27, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Prostějov, Czechia
Died: August 18, 1998

 35 Mario J. Molina

Mario J. Molina
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: March 19, 1943
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Died: October 7, 2020

Mario J. Molina was a Mexican chemist who played a key role in understanding and explaining the threat from chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases to the Earth's ozone layer, which earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995. Molina was the third Mexican-born Nobel laureate and the first Mexican-born person to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

 36 Clara Immerwahr

Clara Immerwahr
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: June 21, 1870
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Wojczyce, Poland
Died: May 2, 1915

 37 Rashad Khalifa

Rashad Khalifa
Famous As: Chemist, Translator, Biochemist, Computer scientist
Birthdate: November 19, 1935
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Egypt
Died: January 31, 1990

Born in Egypt, Rashad Khalifa later moved to the U.S., where he earned a PhD in biochemistry. Part of the USI and a supporter of the Quranist movement, he was found stabbed multiple times in a mosque in Arizona. It was later revealed that Sunni extremists had killed him.

 38 Tim Hunt

Tim Hunt
Famous As: Biochemist, Chemist
Birthdate: February 19, 1943
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Neston

Nobel Prize-winning British biochemist Tim Hunt is best known for his research on cell cycle regulation. He was the first to isolate cyclin, while studying sea urchins. His work helped scientists working on cancer research. He has been knighted for his achievements and has also won the Royal Medal.

 39 Ada Yonath

Ada Yonath
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: June 22, 1939
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Jerusalem, Isreal

Ada Yonath is an Israeli crystallographer. She is best known for her work on the structure of the ribosome, for which she received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz. The first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize, she occupies the Martin S. and Helen Kimmel Professorial Chair at the Weizmann Institute.  

 40 Dan Shechtman

Dan Shechtman
Birthdate: January 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tel Aviv, Israel

Dan Shechtman is a scientist currently serving as the Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He is best known for his work in the field of quasiperiodic crystals. He received the  Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2011. He unsuccessfully ran for the post of president of Israel in 2014.

 41 Stanley Miller

Stanley Miller
Famous As: Chemist, Biologist, University teacher
Birthdate: March 7, 1930
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Oakland
Died: May 20, 2007

Stanley Miller was an American chemist best remembered for conducting several important experiments in abiogenesis. His 1952 Miller–Urey experiment proved that inorganic precursors could be used to synthesize complex organic molecules. Often referred to as the father of prebiotic chemistry, Miller was honored with the prestigious Oparin Medal in 1983.

 42 Albert C. Barnes

Albert C. Barnes
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: January 2, 1872
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 24, 1951

 43 James Dewar

James Dewar
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. 

 44 Herbert Henry Dow

Herbert Henry Dow
Famous As: Industrialist
Birthdate: February 26, 1866
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Belleville, Canada
Died: October 15, 1930

Herbert Henry Dow taught chemistry before venturing into a business career. Though his first company was a failure, his work impressed investors, and he was soon able to establish Dow Chemical, which supplied low-cost bromine to the US markets. He later made auto pistons out of spare magnesium.

 45 Willard Libby

Willard Libby
Famous As: Physical Chemist
Birthdate: December 17, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Grand Valley, Colorado, United States
Died: September 8, 1980

 46 Martyn Poliakoff

Martyn Poliakoff
Famous As: Chemist, University teacher
Birthdate: December 16, 1947
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: England

Chemist and University of Nottingham professor Martyn Poliakoff is also a YouTube sensation, popular for his channel Periodic Videos and the short video series The Periodic Table of Videos. A Fellow of The Royal Society, he has also been honored by the scientific communities of Ethiopia, Russia, and China.

 47 Catherine Coleman

Catherine Coleman
Famous As: Chemist, Air force officer, Astronaut, Engineer
Birthdate: December 14, 1960
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Charleston

 48 Fraser Stoddart

Fraser Stoddart
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: May 24, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

 49 Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti
Famous As: Former author who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981
Birthdate: July 25, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Ruse, Bulgaria
Died: August 14, 1994

Bulgarian-born author and Nobel laureate Elias Canetti interestingly became one of the greatest authors in German, his third language. Though equipped with a doctoral degree in chemistry, he gained fame for his iconic works such as The Tower of Babel and Crowds and Power, which focused on crowd psychology.

 50 Tomas Lindahl

Tomas Lindahl
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: January 28, 1938
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kungsholmen, Stockholm, Sweden