Famous 21st Century Physicists

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 Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking
27
Famous As: Theoretical Physicist - First to Set Out a Theory of Cosmology
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 Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs
6
Famous As: Physicist
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.  

 3 Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin
4
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: July 23, 1928
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: December 25, 2016

American astronomer Vera Rubin is best known for her pioneering discoveries on galaxy rotation rates, her groundbreaking work confirming the existence of dark matter and for her life-long advocacy for women in science. She studied the galactic rotation curves and provided strong evidence of the existence of dark matter. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile is named after her.

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 4 Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku
19
Famous As: Physicist who wrote the best-selling books Physics of the Impossible
Birthdate: January 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States

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.

 5 Brian Cox

Brian Cox
14
Famous As: Physicist
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. 

 6 Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 15, 1929
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Died: May 24, 2019

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.

 7 Sally Ride

Sally Ride
17
Famous As: First American Woman To Go in Space, Physicist
Birthdate: May 26, 1951
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Encino, Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: July 23, 2012
Astronaut and physicist Sally Ride was the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut to enter space. Following her death, it was revealed that she had been in a 27-year lesbian relationship with tennis player and professor Tam O'Shaughnessy. Sally herself was a ranked junior tennis player, too.
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 8 Walter Lewin

Walter Lewin
10
Famous As: Astronomer, University teacher, Astrophysicist, Physicist
Birthdate: January 29, 1936
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: The Hague

 9 Alicia Nash

Alicia Nash
6
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: January 1, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: San Salvador, El Salvador
Died: May 23, 2015

Born in El Salvador, Alicia Nash later moved to the U.S., where she became one of the first women to join MIT as a student. The physicist met her husband, renowned mathematician John Nash at MIT. Both Alicia and John were killed in car crash while returning home from Norway.

 10 Kip Thorne

Kip Thorne
6
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: June 1, 1940
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Logan

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.

 11 Andre Geim

Andre Geim
3
Famous As: Physicist
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. 

 12 Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson
6
Famous As: Mathematician
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. 

 13 Anatoli Bugorski

Anatoli Bugorski
4
Famous As: physicist, nuclear scientist
Birthdate: June 25, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Russian particle physicist Anatoli Bugorski is known as the man who survived after putting his head inside a particle accelerator while examining a faulty equipment. The radiation caused partial paralysis of his face and loss of hearing in his left ear. The Soviet government prevented him from talking about this for decades.

 14 Brian Greene

Brian Greene
5
Famous As: Chairman of the World Science Festival Since Co-founding It in 2008
Birthdate: February 9, 1963
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

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.

 15 Edward Witten

Edward Witten
5
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, University teacher, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: August 26, 1951
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Baltimore

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.  

 16 Steven Chu

Steven Chu
7
Famous As: Former United States Secretary of Energy
Birthdate: February 28, 1948
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: St. Louis

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.

 17 John B. Goodenough

John B. Goodenough
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: July 25, 1922
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Jena, Germany

John B. Goodenough is an American solid-state physicist and materials scientist. He is credited with developing the lithium-ion battery. In 2019, he became the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize when he was honored with the prestigious award for his work on lithium-ion batteries. He is also a recipient of the Copley Medal and the National Medal of Science.

 18 Cédric Villani

Cédric Villani
5
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, University teacher
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.  

 19 Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter
8
Birthdate: September 24, 1954
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Philadelphia

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.

 20 Donna Strickland

Donna Strickland
4
Famous As: Optical physicist
Birthdate: May 27, 1959
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Guelph, Canada

Donna Strickland is a Canadian optical physicist who is considered a pioneer in the field of pulsed lasers. In recognition of her research on the practical implementation of chirped pulse amplification, she was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018, together with Gérard Mourou. She is currently a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. 

 21 Charles K. Kao

Charles K. Kao
3
Famous As: Electrical Engineer
Birthdate: November 4, 1933
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Shanghai, China
Died: September 23, 2018

Nobel Prize-winning Chinese physicist Charles K. Kao is best remembered for his discovery of how light is transmitted through fibre-optic cables. Named the Godfather of Broadband, he was also knighted by the U.K. Following his diagnosis of Alzheimer disease, he co-founded the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease.

 22 Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov
7
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 9, 1959
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sochi, Russia
Died: February 27, 2015

Boris Nemtsov was a Russian liberal politician and physicist. He served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in 1998. A fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov claimed that Putin's government was becoming increasingly authoritarian. Nemtsov was murdered in 2015 in Moscow. Interestingly, Boris Nemtsov expressed fear that Vladimir Putin would hire men to kill him weeks before his assassination.

 23 Francis Collins

Francis Collins
6
Famous As: Geneticist
Birthdate: April 14, 1950
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Staunton, Virginia, U.S.

American physician-geneticist Francis Collins is known for his discovery of the genes related with several diseases and for leading the Human Genome Project while serving as director of NHGRI. Recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science, Collins wrote the New York Times bestseller The Language of God and presently serves as director of the NIH.

 24 Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg
4
Birthdate: May 3, 1933
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Died: July 23, 2021

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.

 25 Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell
4
Famous As: Astrophysicist who discovered the first radio pulsars and was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 until 2004
Birthdate: July 15, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lurgan, Northern Ireland

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.  

 26 Jim Al-Khalili

Jim Al-Khalili
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 20, 1962
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Baghdad, Iraq

 27 Taylor Wilson

Taylor Wilson
5
Famous As: Nuclear scientist
Birthdate: May 7, 1994
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Texarkana, Arkansas, United States

Taylor Wilson is an American nuclear physics enthusiast who is the youngest person ever to produce nuclear fusion using a fusor. He achieved this feat in 2008, at the age of 14.

 28 Sean M. Carroll

Sean M. Carroll
6
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 5, 1966
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Philadelphia Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll is a renowned Caltech professor who considers himself an old-school theorist and often maps his research using pencil and paper. Interested in field theory, gravitation, and cosmology, he blogs often, had written popular books, and has also appeared on shows such as The Universe.

 29 Max Tegmark

Max Tegmark
3
Famous As: Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist
Birthdate: May 5, 1967
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sweden

Born to math professor Harold S. Shapiro, Max Tegmark grew up to co-establish the Future of Life Institute, with funding from Elon Musk. The MIT professor is a specialist in cosmology, physics, and machine learning and had also penned a book on artificial intelligence, titled Life 3.0.

 30 David D. Friedman

David D. Friedman
4
Famous As: Economist, Physicist, Blogger, Writer, University teacher
Birthdate: February 12, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City

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.

 31 Chen Ning Yang

Chen Ning Yang
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 1, 1922
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Hefei, Anhui Province, China

Chen Ning Yang is a Chinese theoretical physicist known for his significant contributions to statistical mechanics, gauge theory, integrable systems, and both particle physics and condensed matter physics. He and Tsung-Dao Lee were awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on parity nonconservation of weak interaction. The men also elucidated the Lee-Yang circle theorem. 

 32 Rajnath Singh

Rajnath Singh
19
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: July 10, 1951
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Chandauli district

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.

 33 Carlo Rovelli

Carlo Rovelli
3
Famous As: Physicist, Writer
Birthdate: May 3, 1956
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Verona

Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist and writer. He is active mainly in the field of quantum gravity and is a founder of loop quantum gravity theory. He also has experience working in the history and philosophy of science. His popular science book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, has sold over a million copies worldwide. 

 34 Stephen Wolfram

Stephen Wolfram
4
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, Computer scientist, Businessperson, University teacher, Patent inventor, Writer
Birthdate: August 29, 1959
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London

Stephen Wolfram is a British-American computer scientist, physicist, and businessman, best known for his work in computer science, mathematics, and theoretical physics. He is a  fellow of the American Mathematical Society. As a businessman, he is the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, a software company. 

 35 Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall
3
Famous As: Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 18, 1962
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Queens, New York, United States

Apart from teaching at Harvard, theoretical physicist Lisa Randall has also held professorships at MIT and Princeton. She has also written several popular books, such as Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven’s Door. One of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2007, she has also written a libretto for an opera.

 36 Abdul Qadeer Khan

Abdul Qadeer Khan
5
Famous As: Nuclear Physicist, Metallurgical Engineer
Birthdate: April 1, 1936
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
Died: October 10, 2021

Pakistani engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan was a major figure in the development of his country’s nuclear plans. His research also focused on uranium enrichment. He was later apparently involved in transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, among other countries, but was pardoned by then-president Pervez Musharraf.

 37 David Deutsch

David Deutsch
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: May 18, 1953
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Haifa, Israel

David Deutsch is a British physicist, currently serving as a visiting professor at the University of Oxford. He is a pioneer in the field of quantum computation and gave a description for a quantum Turing machine. He is a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. He received the Dirac Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1998. 

 38 Aage Bohr

Aage Bohr
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: June 19, 1922
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Died: September 8, 2009

Nobel Prize-winning Danish nuclear physicist Aage Bohr is best remembered for his work related to the geometry of atomic nuclei. Son of Nobel laureate physicist Niels Bohr, Aage had started his career as an assistant to his father and working on the development of the atomic bomb.

 39 Gerard ’t Hooft

Gerard ’t Hooft
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: July 5, 1946
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Den Helder, Netherlands

Gerard ’t Hooft is a Dutch theoretical physicist whose work focuses on black holes, gauge theory, quantum gravity, and quantum mechanics. In 1999, he shared the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics with Martinus J. G. Veltman. Over the years, Gerard ’t Hooft has also received other prestigious awards, such as the Wolf Prize, Lorentz Medal, Spinoza Prize, and Franklin Medal.

 40 Franklin Chang Díaz

Franklin Chang Díaz
4
Famous As: Astronaut
Birthdate: April 5, 1950
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: San José, Costa Rica

Franklin Chang Díaz is a Costa Rican American physicist, mechanical engineer, and former NASA astronaut. He is credited with founding the Ad Astra Rocket Company where he currently serves as the CEO. On May 5, 2012, Franklin Chang Díaz was inducted into the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame.

 41 Lene Hau

Lene Hau
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: November 13, 1959
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Vejle, Denmark

Lene Hau is a Danish physicist and educator currently serving as the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. She has done major research into novel interactions between ultracold atoms and nanoscopic-scale systems. She also often speaks at international conferences. She is a recipient of the George Ledlie Prize and the Richtmyer Memorial Award. 

 42 Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe
6
Famous As: Programmer, Comics artist, Writer, Computer scientist, Physicist
Birthdate: October 17, 1984
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Easton

Randall Munroe quit his career as a NASA roboticist to re-live his childhood obsession with comics by creating the award-winning webcomic xkcd. He also writes a science blog and has penned New York Times bestsellers such as What If? and Thing Explainer. His other interests include kite photography.

 43 Tsung-Dao Lee

Tsung-Dao Lee
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: November 24, 1926
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Shanghai, China

Tsung-Dao Lee is a Chinese-American physicist renowned for his work on particle physics, parity violation, soliton stars, nontopological solitons, and the Lee Model. In 1957, he became the third-youngest person to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in the science fields; he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. He is also the first Chinese Nobel laureate. 

 44 Lawrence M. Krauss

Lawrence M. Krauss
3
Famous As: Astronomer, Physicist, Astrophysicist, Academic, Non-fiction writer, University teacher, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: May 27, 1954
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City

American-Canadian theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss has taught at institutes such as ASU and Yale and also penned several bestselling books. Known for his research on dark energy and zero-energy states, he was later accused of sexual misconduct and thus lost the directorship of the ASU’s Origins Project.

 45 Paul Davies

Paul Davies
3
Famous As: Physicist, Writer, University teacher, Cosmologist
Birthdate: April 22, 1946
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London

 46 Alan Sokal

Alan Sokal
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: January 24, 1955
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Boston

New York University physics professor Alan Sokal made headlines for creating what is now known as the Sokal Hoax. He wrote gibberish using flowery jargon and submitted it to the journal Social Text, which published it as postmodernist criticism, thus proving the lack of credibility of such journals.

 47 Hélène Langevin-Joliot

Hélène Langevin-Joliot
3
Famous As: Physicist
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.   

 48 Rainer Weiss

Rainer Weiss
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 29, 1932
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany

Born to a doctor and psychoanalyst father and an actor mother in Berlin, physicist Rainer Weiss fled to the US along with his family, to avoid the Nazi terror. Associated with institutes such as MIT and Princeton, he invented the laser interferometric technique used in LIGO and even won a Nobel Prize later.

 49 Michael Levitt

Michael Levitt
3
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.

 50 John Polkinghorne

John Polkinghorne
3
Famous As: Physicist, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: October 16, 1930
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Weston-super-Mare

Templeton Prize-winning English theoretical physicist and priest John Polkinghorne championed the relationship between science and religion. He served as Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge before becoming an ordained Anglican priest and later served as president of Queens' College, Cambridge. He penned books like Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion and Questions of Truth.