Famous American Physicists

Ever wondered how could have one known about the world and its going-ons had it not been for a few curious minds who constantly strove to explain the mysteries of the world and everything else enveloping it? Was there any other way we could have known about gravity or relativity or even radioactivity had it not been for Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein or Marie Curie? All thanks to a physicist's insatiable quest for knowledge and curiosity, today we know and understand the world and its workings better than ever. Not just the erudite, but entire humanity owes its wisdom about natural science to such evolved minds who revolutionized the world with their findings. America has been home to a plethora of physicists who have made colossal contributions to the world of physics. Let us explore the biographies, timelines, trivia and facts of such famous American physicists. All said, get prepared to drop your jaws!

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 Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman.
14
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: May 11, 1918
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Died: February 15, 1988

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.

 2 J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer.
6
Birthdate: April 22, 1904
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: February 18, 1967

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.

 3 Sally Ride

Sally Ride.
11
Famous As: Physicist, Astronaut
Birthdate: May 26, 1951
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S.
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.

 4 Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku.
14
Famous As: Theoretical physicist, Science writer, Popularizer of science, Futurist, University teacher, Non-fiction writer, Radio personality
Birthdate: January 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Jose

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.

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 5 Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan.
15
Famous As: Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Writer
Birthdate: November 9, 1934
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died: December 20, 1996
Pulitzer- and Emmy-winning astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan was best known for co-writing the TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. His novel Contact was adapted into a film. He was known for his extensive research on extra-terrestrial life, had taught at major universities, and written countless papers and science books.

 6 John G. Trump

John G. Trump
6
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: August 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 21, 1985

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.

 7 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.

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 8 Ronald McNair

Ronald McNair
4
Famous As: Physicist, Astronaut
Birthdate: October 21, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Lake City
Died: January 28, 1986

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.

 9 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.

 10 Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin
3
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.

 11 Edward Teller

Edward Teller.
4
Famous As: physicist
Birthdate: January 15, 1908
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Died: September 9, 2003

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.

 12 William Shockley

William Shockley.
8
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: February 13, 1910
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Died: August 12, 1989

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.

 13 John Bardeen

John Bardeen.
4
Famous As: Nobel Laureate in Physics
Birthdate: May 23, 1908
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Died: January 30, 1991

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.

 14 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.

 15 Robert H. Goddard

Robert H. Goddard.
4
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 5, 1882
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Died: August 10, 1945

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.

 16 Francis Collins

Francis Collins
4
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.

 17 Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn.
6
Famous As: Physicist, Philosopher
Birthdate: July 18, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 17, 1996

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.

 18 Brian Greene

Brian Greene
4
Famous As: Physicist, Writer, Professor, Author, Actor, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: February 9, 1963
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City

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.

 19 Edward Witten

Edward Witten
4
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.  

 20 Steven Chu

Steven Chu.
6
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.

 21 Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg.
4
Birthdate: May 3, 1933
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, USA

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.

 22 John Archibald Wheeler

John Archibald Wheeler.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: July 9, 1911
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Jacksonville
Died: April 13, 2008

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.

 23 Ernest Lawrence

Ernest Lawrence.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: August 8, 1901
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Canton, South Dakota, United States
Died: August 27, 1958

 24 Luis Walter Alvarez

Luis Walter Alvarez.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: June 13, 1911
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: San Francisco
Died: September 1, 1988

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.

 25 Robert Andrews Millikan

Robert Andrews Millikan.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: March 22, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Morrison
Died: December 19, 1953

Nobel Prize-winning experimental physicist Robert Andrews Millikan had begun his career as a faculty member at the University of Chicago and penned countless physics books. He later devoted himself to his research on elementary electronic charge and the photoelectric effect. His famous oil-drop experiment is known to all physics enthusiasts.

 26 Arthur Compton

Arthur Compton.
3
Famous As: Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics
Birthdate: September 10, 1892
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wooster, Ohio, USA
Died: March 15, 1962

American physicist Arthur Compton is best-known for introducing Compton wavelength, discovering Compton scattering, first identifying the Compton–Getting effect in the intensity of cosmic rays along with Ivan A. Getting, and for the Compton generator. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927 for discovering Compton effect. He also remained a prominent figure during the Manhattan Project.

 27 Sean M. Carroll

Sean M. Carroll
5
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.

 28 Leó Szilárd

Leó Szilárd.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: February 11, 1898
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Budapest
Died: May 30, 1964

Physicist Leó Szilárd, one of the "Martians," or eminent scientists who had migrated from Hungary to the U.S., was the first to initiate a controlled nuclear chain reaction and was closely associated with the Manhattan Project, meant to develop the atomic bomb. He later advocated for responsible use of nuclear powers.

 29 Hans Bethe

Hans Bethe.
5
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: July 2, 1906
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Strasbourg
Died: March 6, 2005

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.

 30 David D. Friedman

David D. Friedman
3
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 Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush.
4
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: March 11, 1890
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Everett, Massachusetts, United States
Died: June 28, 1974

Apart from teaching and working as an electrical engineer, Vannevar Bush had also been the dean of the MIT School of Engineering. Working with the government, he initiated military funding of research projects, later known as the military-industrial complex. He also penned books such as Modern Arms and Free Men.

 32 Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall
3
Famous As: Physicist, Writer, University teacher, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: June 18, 1962
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Queens

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.

 33 Michael P. Anderson

Michael P. Anderson
3
Famous As: Officer, Astronaut, Physicist
Birthdate: December 25, 1959
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Plattsburgh (city), New York
Died: February 1, 2003

Michael Phillip Anderson began his career with the United States Air Force, logging more than 3,000 hours of flight time before joining NASA. Selected as a mission specialist first on STS-89 Endeavour and then on STS-107 Columbia, he was killed along with the rest of the crew when the later disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

 34 Eugene Wigner

Eugene Wigner.
3
Famous As: Physicist & Mathematician
Birthdate: November 17, 1902
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Died: January 1, 1995

One of the “Martians,” or eminent Hungarian scientists who had migrated to the U.S., Eugene Wigner won a Nobel Prize for his work on nuclear physics and the law of conservation of parity in particular. He taught at Princeton and Wisconsin and was also associated with the Manhattan Project.

 35 John V. Atanasoff

John V. Atanasoff
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 4, 1903
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Hamilton, New York, United States
Died: June 15, 1995

Born to an electrical engineer father and a math teacher mother, John V. Atanasoff grew up to invent the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, which was declared the world’s first electronic digital computer after a legal dispute. The physicist was also an active part of the atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll.

 36 Eugene Merle Shoemaker

Eugene Merle Shoemaker
3
Famous As: Geologist
Birthdate: April 28, 1928
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: July 18, 1997

Best known for discovering the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet, with his wife, Carolyn, and David H. Levy, Eugene Merle Shoemaker was an American astrogeologist who had also worked with the U.S. Geological Survey. He had been part of NASA’s lunar exploration missions. Following his death, his ashes were transported to the Moon.

 37 Julian Schwinger

Julian Schwinger.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: February 12, 1918
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City
Died: July 16, 1994

 38 Annie Jump Cannon

Annie Jump Cannon.
3
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: December 11, 1863
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Dover
Died: April 13, 1941

After studying physics and astronomy at Wellesley College, Annie Jump Cannon traveled across Europe and focused on photography for a decade, before venturing to study astronomy again. At the Harvard Observatory, she made a considerable contribution to the classification of stellar bodies. She was almost deaf due to scarlet fever.

 39 Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe
4
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.

 40 Frank Wilczek

Frank Wilczek
4
Famous As: American theoretical physicist
Birthdate: May 15, 1951
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Mineola, New York

MIT professor and theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his research on asymptotic freedom related to the theory of the strong interaction. An expert in quantum field theory and particle physics, he has penned books both for laymen and physics enthusiasts.

 41 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.

 42 Albert A. Michelson

Albert A. Michelson.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: December 19, 1852
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Strzelno, Kingdom of Prussia (modern Poland)
Died: May 9, 1931

 43 Stanley Wojcicki

Stanley Wojcicki
3
Famous As: Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: March 30, 1937
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Warsaw

 44 Taylor Wilson

Taylor Wilson
3
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.

 45 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.

 46 David Gross

David Gross
3
Famous As: American physicist
Birthdate: February 19, 1941
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

 47 Isidor Isaac Rabi

Isidor Isaac Rabi.
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: July 29, 1898
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Rymanów, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (today Poland)
Died: January 11, 1988

 48 Theodore Hall

Theodore Hall
3
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 20, 1925
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: November 1, 1999

 49 Mark Adler

Mark Adler
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Physicist, Computer scientist
Birthdate: April 3, 1959
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Miami

 50 George F. Smoot

George F. Smoot
3
Famous As: Cosmologist
Birthdate: February 20, 1945
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Yukon, Jacksonville, Florida, United States

Nobel Prize-winning physicist George F. Smoot is best known for his research on the big-bang model. He and his Nobel co-recipient, John C. Mather, helped NASA develop the COBE. He has also appeared on many TV shows and won a million dollars on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?