Famous 20th Century French Scientists

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Find out more about the greatest 20th Century French Scientists, including Alexander Grothendieck, Cédric Villani, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Serge Haroche and Jean-Pierre Serre.
Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century French Scientists
 1 
Marie Curie
(The First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize)
Marie Curie
39
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 
Henri Poincare
(French Polymath and Mathematician Known as One of the Founders of the 'Field of Topology')
Henri Poincare
4
Birthdate: April 29, 1854
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Nancy, France
Died: July 17, 1912
Known as The Last Universalist for his expertise in a variety of domains, French mathematician Henri Poincare conducted research that formed the basis of the modern chaos theory. Apart from his work on relativity and the three-body problem, he also laid the foundation of algebraic topology.
 3 
Alexander Grothendieck
(French Mathematician and a Pioneer in the Field of 'Modern Algebraic Geometry')
Alexander Grothendieck
7
Birthdate: March 28, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: November 13, 2014

Alexander Grothendieck was a 20th-century mathematician who was a leading figure in the creation of modern algebraic geometry. With his so-called "relative" perspective, he revolutionized many areas of pure mathematics. During his later career, he became a professor at the University of Montpellier. He is counted among the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century.

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 4 
Jacques Cousteau
(Co-Inventor of the First Open-Circuit, Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus 'Aqua-Lung')
Jacques Cousteau
6
Birthdate: June 11, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France
Died: June 25, 1997

Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer, naval officer, filmmaker, conservationist, scientist, photographer, researcher, and author. Renowned for his exploration of various forms of life in water, Jacques Cousteau is credited with pioneering marine conservation and co-developing the Aqua-Lung, the first underwater breathing apparatus to achieve popularity and commercial success.

 5 
Irène Joliot-Curie
(French Physicist, Politician and Winner of the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
Irène Joliot-Curie
11
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.

 6 
Luc Montagnier
(Virologist & Discoverer of HIV)
Luc Montagnier
7
Birthdate: August 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chabris, France
Died: February 8, 2022

French virologist Luc Montagnier is known for discovering the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which led him to jointly receive the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Montagnier also made headlines promoting controversial and unverified claims related to vaccinations, homeopathy and COVID-19 pandemic, which he argued as man-made and possibly a result of an attempt to create an HIV/AIDS vaccine.

 7 
Olivier Messiaen
(One of the Major Composers, Organists and Ornithologists of the 20th Century Who Developed 'Modes of Limited Transposition')
Olivier Messiaen
4
Birthdate: December 10, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Avignon, France
Died: April 27, 1992

French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen is credited with creating melodically innovative scores, using what he called "modes of limited transposition." An ornithologist, too, he added bird songs into his compositions such as La fauvette des jardins and Catalogue d'oiseaux. His Messiaen: Concert A Quatre won a Grammy.

 8 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Jesuit Priest who Co-developed the Concept of Noosphere & was Part of the Discovery of Peking Man)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
4
Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Orcines, France
Died: April 10, 1955

French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is remembered as someone who deviated from theology to science. He discovered the fossilized remains known as the Peking man in China, but faced a lot of opposition from his religious superiors when it came to publishing his scientific thoughts.

 9 
Cédric Villani
(Mathematician, Physicist, University teacher)
Cédric Villani
5
Birthdate: October 5, 1973
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Brive-la-Gaillarde

Fields Medal-winning French politician and mathematician Cédric Villani works mainly on mathematical physics, partial differential equations and Riemannian geometry. He serves as Member of the National Assembly for Essonne's 5th constituency, after being elected during the 2017 legislative election. He was a member of La République En Marche! but defected later to form the political party Ecology, Democracy, Solidarity.  

 10 
Emmanuelle Charpentier
4
Birthdate: December 11, 1968
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Juvisy-sur-Orge, France
 11 
Frédéric Joliot-Curie
3
Birthdate: March 19, 1900
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris
Died: August 14, 1958

Frédéric Joliot-Curie was a French physicist whose discovery of artificial radioactivity earned him the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was jointly awarded to Frédéric and his wife Irène Joliot-Curie. Along with his wife, Frédéric is credited with founding the Orsay Faculty of Sciences, a physics and mathematics school within Paris-Saclay University. He had also won the Stalin Peace Prize.

 12 
Pierre Joliot
(French Biologist)
Pierre Joliot
4
Birthdate: March 12, 1932
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France

Pierre Joliot is a French biologist best known for his research work at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). From 1985 to 1986, he served as the scientific advisor to the then prime minister of France.

 13 
Andre Weil
(Mathematician)
Andre Weil
3
Birthdate: May 6, 1906
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 6, 1998

French mathematician Andre Weil, who was also the brother of philosopher Simone Weil, is best known for his contribution to algebraic geometry. He also co-founded the Bourbaki group, consisting of mathematicians who collectively wrote using the pseudonym Nicolas Bourbaki. Weil took a keen interest in Hinduism and also learned Sanskrit.

 14 
Matthieu Ricard
(Buddhist monk, author of more than a dozen books, including Happiness (2006), Why Meditate? (2010) and An Ode to Beauty (2016))
Matthieu Ricard
4
Birthdate: February 15, 1946
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Aix-les-Bains, France

Matthieu Ricard is a French photographer, writer, translator, and Buddhist monk. He serves as a board member of the popular not-for-profit organization Mind and Life Institute. After having received a Ph.D. degree from the Pasteur Institute, Ricard gave up his scientific career to practice Tibetan Buddhism. He is also the co-founder of another international non-profit organization, Karuna-Shechen.

 15 
Hélène Langevin-Joliot
4
Birthdate: September 19, 1927
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paris, France

French nuclear-physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot comes from the distinguished Curie family, which includes five Nobel Laureates, including her maternal-grandparents Marie and Pierre Curie, her parents Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and her maternal uncle-in-law Henry Labouisse. Hélène serves as a director of research at CNRS and as professor of nuclear physics at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the University of Paris.   

 16 
Katia Krafft
(Volcanologists)
Katia Krafft
3
Birthdate: April 17, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Soultz-Haut-Rhin, France
Died: June 3, 1991
 17 
Jacques Hadamard
(Mathematician)
Jacques Hadamard
3
Birthdate: December 8, 1865
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Versailles, France
Died: October 17, 1963
 18 
Jacques Vallée
(Scientist)
Jacques Vallée
3
Birthdate: September 24, 1939
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Pontoise, Val-d'Oise, France

Jacques Vallée is a French computer scientist, Internet pioneer, venture capitalist, astronomer, ufologist, and author. Vallée is credited with co-developing the first computerized map of Mars, which was used by NASA in the 1960s. An influential personality in the study of UFOs, Jacques Vallée has promoted such hypothesis as the interdimensional hypothesis.

 19 
Eugène Schueller
(Founder of L'Oréal)
Eugène Schueller
0
Birthdate: March 20, 1881
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 23, 1957
 20 
Jacques Tits
(Belgian-Born French Mathematician Who Worked on 'Group Theory' and 'Incidence Geometry')
Jacques Tits
3
Birthdate: August 12, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Uccle

Belgian-born French mathematician Jacques Tits was the son of a mathematician and professor and grew up to develop the geometric coding of the algebraic structure of linear groups through Tits buildings. He has won scores of awards, including the prestigious Wolf Prize and the Abel Prize.

 21 
Conrad Schlumberger
(Geophysicist)
Conrad Schlumberger
4
Birthdate: October 2, 1878
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Guebwiller, France
Died: May 9, 1936

Along with his brother, Marcel Schlumberger, Conrad Schlumberger formed one of the most well-known geophysicist duos of Germany. A pioneer in petroleum production, he co-established Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s largest oil-field service companies, with Marcel. Their technique of oil exploration offered a cheap alternative than the existing coring methods.

 22 
Marguerite Perey
(Physicist)
Marguerite Perey
2
Birthdate: October 19, 1909
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Villemomble, France
Died: May 13, 1975
 23 
Jean-Pierre Serre
(Mathematician, Topologist, Professor)
Jean-Pierre Serre
3
Birthdate: September 15, 1926
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Pyrénées-Orientales
 24 
Henri Lebesgue
(Mathematician)
Henri Lebesgue
3
Birthdate: June 28, 1875
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Beauvais, France
Died: July 26, 1941
 25 
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
(French Virologist Best Known for Her Work that Identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus as the cause of AIDS)
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
3
Birthdate: July 30, 1947
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is a French virologist best known for her work that identified the human immunodeficiency virus as the cause of AIDS. Barré-Sinoussi's groundbreaking work earned her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008. An important virologist, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi has also received many other awards, including the Sovac Prize and the Körber European Science Prize.

 26 
Serge Haroche
(Physicist, University teacher)
Serge Haroche
4
Birthdate: September 11, 1944
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Casablanca
 27 
Philippe Kahn
(Entrepreneur, Computer scientist)
Philippe Kahn
3
Birthdate: March 16, 1952
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris
 28 
Camille Flammarion
(Former Astronomer author who published the magazine L'Astronomie, starting in 1882)
Camille Flammarion
3
Birthdate: February 26, 1842
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Val-de-Meuse, France
Died: June 3, 1925

French astronomer Camille Flammarion began his career as a human computer at the Paris Observatory at 16. He believed intelligent beings from Mars had tried to communicate with people on Earth in the past. He also published L'Astronomie and penned sci-fi novels such as Omega: The Last Days of the World.

 29 
Laurent Schwartz
(Mathematician, University teacher, Entomologist)
Laurent Schwartz
3
Birthdate: March 5, 1915
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris
Died: July 4, 2002
 30 
Waldemar Haffkine
(Bacteriologists)
Waldemar Haffkine
0
Birthdate: March 15, 1860
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Odesa, Ukraine
Died: October 26, 1930
 31 
Jean-Henri Fabre
(French Entomologist Who is Widely Regarded as the Father of Modern Entomology)
Jean-Henri Fabre
3
Birthdate: December 21, 1823
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Saint-Leons, France
Died: October 11, 1915

Jean-Henri Fabre was a French entomologist, naturalist, teacher, chemist, physicist, botanist, and author. He is best remembered for his study of insects; Fabre is widely regarded as the father of modern entomology. He is also remembered for his interesting literary work on the lives of insects. Jean-Henri Fabre's life and career inspired the 1951 biographical movie Monsieur Fabre.

 32 
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji
3
Birthdate: April 1, 1933
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Constantine, Algeria

Born to Jewish parents in Algeria, Nobel Prize-winning French physicist Claude Cohen-Tannoudji later moved to Paris. Best known for his research on using laser light to cool atoms to low temperatures at which they can be studied better, he now works at the École Normale Supérieure.

 33 
Alain Aspect
(Physicist)
Alain Aspect
3
Birthdate: June 15, 1947
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Agen
 34 
Jacques Monod
(Biologist)
Jacques Monod
3
Birthdate: February 9, 1910
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris
Died: May 31, 1976

Jacques Monod was a French biochemist known for his collaborative work with biologist François Jacob and microbiologist André Lwoff on the genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis. The three men were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965. Monod is also widely regarded as one of the founders of molecular biology. 

 35 
David Servan-Schreiber
(Neuroscientist and psychiatrist)
David Servan-Schreiber
3
Birthdate: April 21, 1961
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Died: July 24, 2011
 36 
Maxim Kontsevich
(Mathematician, Topologist)
Maxim Kontsevich
3
Birthdate: August 25, 1964
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Khimki
 37 
François Jacob
(Biologist)
François Jacob
2
Birthdate: June 17, 1920
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Nancy, France
Died: April 19, 2013

Nobel Prize-winning French biologist François Jacob is remembered for his discovery of operons, or regulator genes, with Jacques Monod. He had also been part of the French army during World War II. Though initially interested in physics and math, he later took up medicine to avoid a strict regime.

 38 
Émile Borel
(Former mathematician, he was known for his founding work in the areas of measure theory and probability)
Émile Borel
4
Birthdate: January 7, 1871
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Saint-Affrique, France
Died: February 3, 1956
 39 
Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov
(Mathematician, University teacher)
Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov
3
Birthdate: December 23, 1943
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Boksitogorsk
 40 
Jean-Pierre Sauvage
(French Chemist Known for His Work on Molecular Machines)
Jean-Pierre Sauvage
3
Birthdate: October 21, 1944
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France

Nobel Prize-winning French chemist Jean-Pierre Sauvage is currently associated with Strasbourg University. He has gained recognition for his research on supramolecular and coordination chemistry, and for creating molecular chains, such as catenane, that mimic the mechanical functions by changing their nature in response to external cues.

 41 
Jean Baptiste Perrin
2
Birthdate: September 30, 1870
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Lille, France
Died: April 17, 1942

Jean Baptiste Perrin was a French physicist who won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He is credited with confirming the atomic nature of matter. Jean Baptiste Perrin also served as a professor at the University of Paris for many years.

 42 
Pierre Duhem
(French Physicist, Mathematician, and Philosopher Best Known for His Work on 'Chemical Thermodynamics')
Pierre Duhem
3
Birthdate: June 9, 1861
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 14, 1916

Noted for his view that every physical theory should be derivable from thermodynamic first principles, French theoretical physicist Pierre Duhem was also an eminent historian and philosopher of science, producing groundbreaking work in medieval science. Equally known for his work on relation between theory and experiments, he also established that it is impossible to test a scientific hypothesis in isolation.

 43 
Brigitte Boisselier
2
Birthdate: April 3, 1956
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Langres, France

Brigitte Boisselier leads Clonaid, a company focused on human cloning research. She is also a leader of the quasi-religious Raëlism movement, which believes humans were created by aliens. Although she once announced that Clonaid had successfully cloned a human child, the legal questions surrounding it later silenced her.

 44 
Élie Cartan
(Mathematician)
Élie Cartan
3
Birthdate: April 9, 1869
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Dolomieu, France
Died: May 6, 1951
 45 
Alain Connes
(Mathematician known for his contributions to the study of operator algebras and noncommutative geometry)
Alain Connes
2
Birthdate: April 1, 1947
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Draguignan, France
 46 
René Thom
(Mathematician)
René Thom
2
Birthdate: September 2, 1923
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montbéliard, France
Died: October 25, 2002
 47 
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
2
Birthdate: October 24, 1932
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 18, 2007

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes was a French physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1991. In the initial years of his career, he worked mainly on neutron scattering and magnetism. In his later years, he worked on liquid crystals, interfacial problems, and granular materials. Besides the Nobel Prize, he was also the recipient of the prestigious Lorentz Medal.

 48 
Georges Charpak
(Physicist)
Georges Charpak
2
Birthdate: August 1, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Dąbrowica, Poland
Died: September 29, 2010

Georges Charpak was a physicist whose invention and development of the multiwire proportional chamber earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992. He is also credited with co-founding several companies, including SuperSonic Imagine and Molecular Engines Laboratories. Over the course of his illustrious career, Georges Charpak was also honored with other awards, such as the Golden Plate Award.

 49 
Gaston Julia
(Mathematician)
Gaston Julia
2
Birthdate: February 3, 1893
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria
Died: March 19, 1978
 50 
Jean Rostand
(French Biologist, Philosopher, and Historian of Science)
Jean Rostand
2
Birthdate: October 30, 1894
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 4, 1977

Jean Rostand was a French biologist, philosopher, and historian of science. He achieved popularity for his work as an activist, philosopher, and science writer. Jean Rostand's scientific work covered a wide range of biological fields like teratogeny, parthenogenesis, and amphibian embryology. His work in biology earned him the Henry de Parville Prize and the Binoux Prize.