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
(Physicist Who Conducted Pioneering Research on 'Radioactivity' and First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize)

Marie Curie
12
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 
George Washington Carver
(Agricultural scientist)

George Washington Carver
4
Birthdate: November 7, 1867, 1864
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Diamond, Missouri, United States
Died: January 5, 1943
Agricultural scientist George Washington Carver is best remembered for promoting crops that were alternative to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. He invented ways to prevent soil depletion and developed scores of products made from peanuts, including paints and cosmetics. He won numerous honors, such as the Spingarn Medal.

 3 

Rosalind Franklin
8
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. 
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 4 

Ernest Rutherford
6
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 
Linus Pauling
(Chemist, Biochemist)

Linus Pauling
8
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.  

 6 
Ahmed Zewail
(Chemist)

Ahmed Zewail
4
Birthdate: February 26, 1946
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Damanhour, Egypt
Died: August 2, 2016

 7 
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.

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 8 

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.

 9 
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.

 10 

Glenn T. Seaborg
4
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.

 11 

Stephanie Kwolek
4
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.

 12 

William Ramsay
3
Birthdate: October 2, 1852
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland
Died: July 23, 1916

The son of a civil engineer, Nobel Prize-winning Scottish chemist William Ramsay revolutionized science with his pathbreaking discovery of the noble gases, thus forming an entirely new segment of the periodic table. He is also remembered for his long association with UCL. He was knighted for his achievements.

 13 

Irène Joliot-Curie
6
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.

 14 
Albert Hofmann
(The First Person to Synthesize LSD)

Albert Hofmann
4
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.

 15 
Tu Youyou
(chemist, pharmacologist, inventor, university teacher)

Tu Youyou
4
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.

 16 
Harold Urey
(Chemist)

Harold Urey
3
Birthdate: April 29, 1893
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Walkerton, Indiana, United States
Died: January 5, 1981

 17 

Mario J. Molina
2
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.

 18 

George de Hevesy
4
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.

 19 

Percy Lavon Julian
4
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.

 20 
Robert Burns Woodward
(Organic Chemist)

Robert Burns Woodward
3
Birthdate: April 10, 1917
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: July 8, 1979

 21 
Louis Slotin
(Physicist)

Louis Slotin
4
Birthdate: December 1, 1910
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Canada
Died: May 30, 1946
While showing his colleagues how to work on a plutonium bomb, Canadian scientist Louis Slotin was exposed to a lethal radioactive dose that first caused him to vomit and then die 9 days later. He had, however, reportedly shielded his colleagues from maximum exposure, thus saving their lives.

Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff
3
Birthdate: August 30, 1852
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died: March 1, 1911

Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff was a Dutch physical chemist best remembered for winning the first Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Van 't Hoff's work helped found the modern theory of chemical thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, chemical equilibrium, and chemical affinity. A highly popular theoretical chemist, Van 't Hoff is also counted among the founders of physical chemistry.

 23 
Elias James Corey
(Organic Chemist)

Elias James Corey
3
Birthdate: July 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Methuen, Massachusetts, United States

 24 
Thomas Midgley, Jr.
(Mechanical and chemical engineer)

Thomas Midgley, Jr.
4
Birthdate: May 19, 1889
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: November 2, 1944

Thomas Midgley Jr. was an American chemical and mechanical engineer. Midgley played a key role in the development of leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were later banned due to their negative impact on the environment and human health. Thomas Midgley Jr. was granted over 100 patents during his lifetime.

 25 
James Lovelock
(Biologist, Chemist, University teacher, Mythographer)

James Lovelock
4
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.

 26 
Roald Hoffmann
(Theoretical Chemist)

Roald Hoffmann
3
Birthdate: July 18, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine)

 27 
Owsley Stanley
(key figure in the San Francisco Bay Area hippie movement during the 1960s)

Owsley Stanley
6
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.

 28 
Retta
(Stand-up Comedian)

Retta
19
Birthdate: April 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, U.S.

 29 
John Kendrew
(Biochemist and Crystallographer)

John Kendrew
4
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.

 30 
Sidney Gottlieb
(American Chemist and Spymaster Who Headed Project Mkultra)

Sidney Gottlieb
4
Birthdate: August 3, 1918
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
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.

 31 
Marina Oswald
(Pharmacist)

Marina Oswald
5
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.

 32 

Ilya Prigogine
3
Birthdate: January 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Died: May 28, 2003

Ilya Prigogine was a physical chemist remembered for his work on irreversibility, complex systems, and dissipative structures. A respected member of several scientific organizations, Prigogine was honored with the Francqui Prize in 1955. In 1976, he won the Rumford Medal for his work concerning irreversible thermodynamics. His work on irreversible thermodynamics earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977.

 33 
George M. Whitesides
(Chemist and professor of chemistry at Harvard University)

George M. Whitesides
3
Birthdate: August 3, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky, United States

 34 
Gertrude B. Elion
(Biochemist, Pharmacologist)

Gertrude B. Elion
3
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.

 35 
Joachim Sauer
(Quantum Chemist and Professor Emeritus of Physical and Theoretical)

Joachim Sauer
5
Birthdate: April 19, 1949
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hosena, Senftenberg, Germany

Joachim Sauer is a German professor emeritus of theoretical and physical chemistry at the prestigious Humboldt University of Berlin. Sauer is an active research scientist in computational and quantum chemistry. His work has helped understand the structures and activities of catalysts like zeolites. Joachim Sauer has won several prestigious awards such as the Schrödinger Medal and Liebig Medal.

 36 

John Cornforth
3
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.

 37 

Clara Immerwahr
3
Birthdate: June 21, 1870
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Wojczyce, Poland
Died: May 2, 1915

Clara Immerwahr was a German chemist who became the first German woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry. Apart from being a chemist, Clara Immerwahr was also a pacifist and a women's rights activist. Her work, marriage with the popular chemist Fritz Haber, and her suicide at the age of 44 have inspired films, novels, and TV series.

 38 
Alexander Shulgin
(Rediscoverer of MDMA)

Alexander Shulgin
5
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.

 39 
Ernest Solvay
(Chemist)

Ernest Solvay
3
Birthdate: April 16, 1838
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rebecq, Belgium
Died: May 26, 1922

 40 
Michael Levitt
(Physicist, Biologist, Bioinformatician, Chemist, Scientist, Educationist, University teacher)

Michael Levitt
4
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.

 41 

Otto Wichterle
2
Birthdate: October 27, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Prostějov, Czechia
Died: August 18, 1998

 42 

Wallace Carothers
3
Birthdate: April 27, 1896
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Burlington, Iowa, United States
Died: April 29, 1937

Wallace Carothers was an American inventor and chemist. He worked for DuPont where he was the leader of organic chemistry. Carothers, who played a major role at the DuPont Experimental Station, is credited with inventing nylon. Despite his success, Carothers was unhappy with his life and committed suicide at the age of 41; he was troubled by bouts of depression.

 43 
Rashad Khalifa
(Chemist, Translator, Biochemist, Computer scientist)

Rashad Khalifa
3
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.

 44 
James Dewar
(Chemist)

James Dewar
3
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. 

 45 

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim
3
Birthdate: August 7, 1987
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Heppenheim, Germany

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim is a German chemist, television presenter, science communicator, and YouTuber. A multi-talented personality, Nguyen-Kim has won many prestigious awards such as the Grimme Online Award, Georg von Holtzbrinck Prize for Science Journalism, Hanns Joachim Friedrichs Award, and Heinz Oberhummer Award for Science Communication.

 46 
Ada Yonath
(Scientist)

Ada Yonath
3
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.  

 47 
Tim Hunt
(Biochemist, Chemist)

Tim Hunt
3
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.

 48 
Dan Shechtman
(Chemist)

Dan Shechtman
3
Birthdate: January 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tel Aviv-Yafo, 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.

 49 
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. 

 50 

Albert C. Barnes
3
Birthdate: January 2, 1872
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 24, 1951