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.
Inventor, engineer and futurist, Nikola Tesla, is best remembered for his contribution to the development of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. A prolific inventor, he had around 300 patents for his inventions. Even though he earned a considerable amount of money, he had poor money management skills and died a poor man.
Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, along with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichirō Tomonaga, for his research on quantum electrodynamics. He also contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. Feyman made it to Physics World’s list of the 10 greatest physicists of all time.
Hailed as a brilliant scientific mind, American physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, led the Manhattan Project which resulted in the development of atomic bomb during the World War II. The bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. However, Oppenheimer was in a constant conflict over the moral issue of the weapons of mass destruction and rallied against nuclear proliferation.
Remembered for his varied contribution to astrophysics, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is perhaps best known for his work on the evolution of massive stars. Today known as Chandrasekhar limit, it contributed to final understanding of supernovas, neutron stars, and black holes. A prolific writer, he also did significant work on energy transfer by radiation in stellar atmospheres and convection on solar surface.
10 Homi Bhabha
Padma Bhushan-winning physicist Homi Bhabha revolutionized the Indian nuclear program singlehandedly. Born into an affluent family, he was educated at Cambridge. Initially geared toward a career in mechanical engineering, he later drifted to physics, eventually contributing to the formation of TIFR. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is named after him.
11 Paul Dirac
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.
Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli is remembered for his contribution to quantum physics and for laying down the Pauli principle. While he was initially married to a cabaret dancer, the marriage ended in a divorce after a year. His written works are considered classics in science.
Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Murray Gell-Mann is best remembered for his research on elementary particles. The Yale and MIT alumnus later taught at Caltech and is credited with coining the terms "quark" and "strangeness" in quantum physics. A linguistic enthusiast, he also co-established the Evolution of Human Languages program.
Padma Bhushan- and Padma Vibhushan-winning Indian scientist Vikram Sarabhai was born into the famous Sarabhai family of industrialists who were associated with the Indian Independence Movement. He made major contributions to India’s nuclear power and space research initiatives, developed textile research in India, and helped set up IIM-Ahmedabad.
15 Sally Ride
16 Michio Kaku
Apart from teaching at the City College of New York, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku also often pens his thoughts in blogs and has written several bestselling books, such as The God Equation. His research is focused on the string theory. He also believes in the existence of aliens.
17 Carl Sagan
Better known as former U.S. president Donald Trump’s uncle, John G. Trump was an MIT physicist and engineer. Though he had initially aspired to be an architect and join his brother Fred’s real-estate business, John later concentrated on his research that led to the invention of high-voltage generators.
19 Louis Slotin
20 Kip Thorne
American theoretical-physicist Kip Thorne, who is noted for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics, is known for Thorne-Żytkow object, Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet, LIGO, gravitational waves and the book Gravitation. Thorne along with Rainer Weiss and Barry C. Barish received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 for their contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.
21 Walter Lewin
Swiss-American physicist and engineer Bernhard Caesar Einstein was better known as the only grandchild of Albert Einstein to have survived beyond childhood. While two of his biological brothers died in infancy, his parents adopted a girl child, too. He grew up to work on night vision and laser technology.
A doctorate in physics from MIT Cambridge, Ronald McNair worked on chemical lasers before joining NASA and in 1984 flew as a mission specialist on STS-41-B aboard Challenger, becoming the second African-American to do so. In January 1986, he was selected to fly on STS-51-L, but was killed along with rest of the crews when Challenger disintegrated soon after liftoff.
24 Klaus Fuchs
German theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs worked on many significant theoretical calculations relating to the first nuclear weapons. He was also an atomic spy who provided information about nuclear weapons production to the Soviet Union during World War II. He was convicted and jailed for nine years, following which he resumed his career as a physicist.
25 Lev Landau
Nobel Prize-winning Russian physicist Lev Landau is remembered for his pathbreaking research in quantum mechanics. A math prodigy, he had learned calculus at 13. He failed to receive his Nobel in person due to a near-fatal car crash which caused him injuries that eventually caused his death 6 years later.
Edward Teller was one of the famous "Martians,” or eminent Hungarian scientists who had migrated to the U.S. A prominent chemical engineer and nuclear physicist, he was part of the team that created the world’s first atomic bomb and also designed the first hydrogen bomb, or thermonuclear bomb.
American physicist, inventor and Nobel laureate William Bradford Shockley Jr received the Nobel Prize in Physics with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain in 1956 for their researches on semiconductors and for discovering the transistor effect while working at the Bell Labs. He later became a proponent of eugenics while serving as a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University.
Andrei Sakharov was a Russian dissident and nuclear physicist best remembered for designing RDS-37, Soviet Union's first two-stage hydrogen bomb. Also an activist for peace and human rights, Andrei Sakharov was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which is awarded by the European Parliament, is named in his honor.
31 John Bardeen
American engineer, physicist and Nobel laureate John Bardeen is the only person who received the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. He shared the first Nobel with William Shockley and Walter Brattain in 1956 for inventing the transistor, and the second with Leon N Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer in 1972 for proposing the BCS theory, a microscopic theory of superconductivity.
Yale and Oxford alumnus Ashton Carter had interestingly bagged his first job at a car wash at 11. He grew up to teach at Harvard and Stanford and also served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama. The physicist now heads the Belfer Center for Science at Harvard.
The son of a machine shop owner, Robert H. Goddard grew up to become a pioneer of rocketry. Interested in physics and mechanics since childhood, he dreamed of space flight. He developed the world’s first rocket that ran on liquid fuel. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is named after him.
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.
35 Thomas Kuhn
American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is noted for his book on history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, publication of which marked a significant event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. He presented his notion of paradigm shift and identified and elaborated on normal science in this book which remained influential in academic and popular circles.
36 Brian Greene
American theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist Brian Greene is noted for popularising string theory through his books like The Elegant Universe, and The Fabric of the Cosmos and related PBS television specials. Greene taught as professor of physics at Cornell University, and presently serves as a professor at Columbia University. He is the co-founder and chairman of the World Science Festival.
American mathematical and theoretical physicist Edward Witten is regarded as the practical founder of M-theory. His proof of positive energy theorem led him to become the first physicist who received the Fields Medal by International Mathematical Union. His research works mainly include the areas of string theory, supersymmetric quantum field theories and quantum gravity, besides other areas of mathematical physics.
38 Steven Chu
American physicist, politician and Nobel laureate Steven Chu, who served as United States Secretary of Energy, presently serves as Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. His research on cooling and trapping of atoms with laser light led him to share the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics with William Daniel Phillips and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji.
39 Abdus Salam
Abdus Salam was a Pakistani theoretical physicist who became the first Pakistani to be honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics. He was also the second person from an Islamic country to receive any Nobel Prize. He won the award in 1979 for his work concerning the electroweak unification theory. Salam played a major role in popularizing physics in Pakistan.
40 David Bohm
Nuclear physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg is known for establishing the electroweak theory, along with Sheldon Lee Glashow and Abdus Salam. He was born to Jewish immigrants in New York and made it to Cornell and Princeton. He is an atheist and supports the Israeli cause.
American theoretical-physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who worked as professor of physics at Princeton University for most of his career, is best-known for co-developing the concept of Breit–Wheeler process, popularising the term black hole, and helping in designing and building the hydrogen bomb. He also invented several terms like quantum foam and wormhole, and hypothesized the one-electron universe.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars. She graduated from the University of Glasgow and pursued an academic career. In 2018, she received the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her discovery of radio pulsars. She donated the three million dollars she received as prize money.
Experimental physicist and Nobel laureate Luis Walter Alvarez is best remembered for inventing the liquid hydrogen bubble chamber, which enabled the discovery of countless short-lived resonance particles. The University of California, Berkeley professor and MIT scientist had also been part of the development of the atomic bomb.
45 Fred Hoyle
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.
The current Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh has previously held other important portfolios, such as home affairs and agriculture. He has also been a BJP president and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Born into a farmer’s family, he worked as a physics lecturer before he joined the RSS.
Born to a math professor father and a Sanskrit scholar mother, Astrophysicist and IUCAA professor Jayant Narlikar grew up to collaborate with Sir Fred Hoyle, leading to the conformal gravity theory, also known as the Hoyle-Narlikar theory. He has won the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan and penned sci-fi novels, too.
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.
49 Hans Bethe
A physiology professor’s son, Hans Bethe had shown immense talent in math as a child. The German-American theoretical physicist and Cornell professor was a pioneer of quantum physics and later won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research on stellar nucleosynthesis, or the formation of energy in stars.
Eminent scholar David D. Friedman has excelled in a wide range of academic areas, including economics, physics, law, and business. The Harvard alumnus is best known for his anarcho-capitalist theories and the book The Machinery of Freedom but has penned countless other books, too, including two science-fiction fantasy novels.