Famous Scottish Scientists

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite Scottish Scientists

 1 
Alexander Fleming
(Physician and Microbiologist Who Discovered ‘Penicillin’ World’s First Broadly Effective Antibiotic Substance)

Alexander Fleming
7
Birthdate: August 6, 1881
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Darvel, East Ayrshire, Scotland
Died: March 11, 1955

Alexander Fleming was a Scottish microbiologist and physician. He is credited with discovering penicillin, the world's first effective antibiotic substance; a discovery that changed the course of history. He also discovered lysozyme, an antimicrobial enzyme which forms part of the innate immune system. In 1999, Fleming was named in Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th century list.

 2 
James Maxwell
(Mathematician & Physicist)

James Maxwell
6
Birthdate: June 13, 1831
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: November 5, 1879

Scottish physicist James Maxwell’s contributions included the formulation of the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation and the production of the first light-fast color photograph. His Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution explored the kinetic theory of gases. He has also written poems and was an Elder of the Church of Scotland.

 3 
Alexander Graham Bell
(Inventor of Telephone & Co-Founder of 'American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T)')

Alexander Graham Bell
6
Birthdate: March 3, 1847
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: August 2, 1922

Alexander Graham Bell was a scientist, inventor, and engineer. He is credited with inventing the first functional telephone. He is also credited with co-founding America's major telephone company AT&T, which has been going strong since 1885. Bell's later life was marked by his groundbreaking work in aeronautics, hydrofoils, and optical telecommunications. He was also an ardent supporter of compulsory sterilization.

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 4 
John Muir
(Naturalist)

John Muir
4
Birthdate: April 21, 1838
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dunbar
Died: December 24, 1914

John Muir was a Scottish-American naturalist, environmental philosopher, glaciologist, botanist, zoologist, and author. Nicknamed Father of the National Parks and John of the Mountains, Muir was an influential proponent of the preservation of wilderness in the US. He is credited with co-founding the American conservation organization, The Sierra Club. Muir is considered a hero by many environmentalists around the world.

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 5 
John Napier
(Inventor of Logarithms)

John Napier
7
Birthdate: February 1, 1550
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Merchiston Tower, Edinburgh
Died: April 4, 1617

John Napier was a Scottish mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. He is credited with introducing logarithms as a means of simplifying calculations. He also invented Napier's bones, a manually-operated calculating device. In addition to his interest in mathematics, John Napier was also known for his skills as a magician; it is said that he dabbled in necromancy and alchemy.

 6 

John Logie Baird
6
Birthdate: August 13, 1888
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Helensburgh
Died: June 14, 1946

Scottish inventor, electrical engineer, and innovator, John Logie Baird, is best known for demonstrating a working TV system in 1926. He then went on to invent the first viable purely electronic color TV picture tube and founded the Baird Television Development Company. He was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame in 2015.

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 7 
James Watt
(Inventor of Steam Engine)

James Watt
7
Birthdate: January 19, 1736
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died: August 25, 1819
Eighteenth-century Scottish inventor James Watt developed the Newcomen steam engine, by inventing the Watt steam engine, which brough about the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world. He also co-owned the firm Boulton and Watt and laid down concepts such as horsepower and the watt, the SI unit of power.
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 8 

William Ramsay
4
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.

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 9 
John Leslie
(presenter)

John Leslie
7
Birthdate: February 22, 1965
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Edinburgh

Best known for his stint on the BBC One show Blue Peter, Scottish presenter John Leslie initially studied music and even worked as a DJ. He began his TV career with the Music Box show Formula One. He has repeatedly been accused of sexual assault but has always been cleared.

 10 
Mary Somerville
(Mathematician, Linguist, Translator, Astronomer, Scientist)

Mary Somerville
6
Birthdate: December 26, 1780
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Jedburgh
Died: November 28, 1872

One of the two pioneering female honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society, Mary Somerville was a 19th-century polymath and science writer. Though she specialized in math and astronomy, she was also well-versed in botany and geology. The Connection of the Physical Sciences remains her most notable work.

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 11 
James Hutton
(Geologist)

James Hutton
4
Birthdate: June 3, 1726
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Edinburgh
Died: March 26, 1797

The pioneer of modern geology, James Hutton laid down the principle of uniformitarianism in geology. While he was initially interested in chemistry, he had later also studied law and had then moved on to medicine. His iconic Theory of the Earth explained the science behind rock formations.

 12 
Thomas Telford
(Civil Engineer)

Thomas Telford
3
Birthdate: August 9, 1757
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Eskdale, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
Died: September 2, 1834

Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford had begun his career as a mason at 14, having lost his father in infancy. A self-taught architect, he was responsible for building many structures, including the Caledonian Canal and the Menai Suspension Bridge. Named The Colossus of Roads, he symbolized the Scottish Enlightenment.

 13 
Robert Brown
(Botanist)

Robert Brown
5
Birthdate: December 21, 1773
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Montrose, Scotland
Died: June 10, 1858

Copley Medal-winning Scottish botanist Robert Brown is remembered for his detailed descriptions on topics such as the cell nuclei and what later came to be known as the Brownian motion. After studying medicine, he had also served the British Army as a surgeon and also toured the Australian shores aboard The Investigator.

 14 

Robert Watson-Watt
4
Birthdate: April 13, 1892
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brechin, Scotland
Died: December 5, 1973

Robert Watson-Watt, often called the father of radar was a British physicist who did pioneering work in radio direction finding (RDF) and radar technology. He developed high-frequency direction finding (huff-duff) as a system for locating lightning. It was later introduced during the Second World War and played an instrumental role in intelligence, mainly in catching enemy radios while they transmitted.

 15 
Williamina Fleming
(Astronomer)

Williamina Fleming
3
Birthdate: May 15, 1857
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dundee, Scotland
Died: May 21, 1911

Born in Scotland, Williamina Fleming moved to the U.S. with her husband, where she began working as a housekeeper for Harvard Observatory director Edward C. Pickering. Pickering secured her a job at the observatory, and Fleming went on to establish a classification and cataloguing system for stars.

 16 
Alastair Denniston
(Field hockey player at the 1908 Summer Olympics)

Alastair Denniston
3
Birthdate: December 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died: January 1, 1961

Alastair Denniston was a Scottish code breaker and hockey player. He was deputy head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) from 1919 to 1942. As a member of the Scottish Olympic hockey team in 1908, he won a bronze medal. He worked as a code breaker during the war years. He taught French and Latin following his retirement. 

 17 
David Brewster
(Scientist)

David Brewster
3
Birthdate: December 11, 1781
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Jedburgh, Scotland
Died: February 10, 1868

David Brewster was a British scientist, inventor, and author. He conducted many experiments in physical optics, especially concerned with the study of the polarization of light. Fellow scientist William Whewell dubbed him the "father of modern experimental optics." He was also a pioneer in photography and invented an improved stereoscope. He wrote numerous works of popular science as well. 

 18 
Joseph Black
(Chemist, Physicist, Scientist, University teacher)

Joseph Black
3
Birthdate: April 16, 1728
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Bordeaux
Died: December 6, 1799

Joseph Black was an 18th-century Scottish physicist and chemist. He is remembered for his discoveries of magnesium, specific heat, latent heat, and carbon dioxide. He spent several years of his career as a professor of medicine and chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. In 1783, he became one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

 19 
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. 

 20 
Patrick Geddes
(Biologist)

Patrick Geddes
4
Birthdate: October 2, 1854
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Ballater, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died: April 17, 1932

Apart from being a sociologist and biologist, Patrick Geddes was known for his impeccable sense of town planning. While he initially taught botany in Dundee, he later turned to sociology and conducted studies in India, Mexico, and other countries. He was eventually knighted for his achievements.

 21 
Thomas Addison
(Physician, scientist)

Thomas Addison
3
Birthdate: April 2, 1793
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Longbenton, Northumberland
Died: June 29, 1860

The man behind the discoveries of ailments such as Addison's disease and Addison’s (pernicious) anemia, British physician Thomas Addison also co-wrote the first book on the effect of poisonous agents on the human body. He plunged into depression in his later years and eventually committed suicide.

 22 
David Thouless
(Physicist)

David Thouless
3
Birthdate: September 21, 1934
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bearsden, United Kingdom
Died: April 6, 2019

David Thouless was a British physicist specializing in condensed-matter physics. He had a brilliant academic career and was the first director of studies in physics at Churchill College, Cambridge. He also taught at the University of Birmingham and the University of Washington. He won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics jointly with F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz. 

 23 
James Gregory
(mathematician, astronomer, inventor,university teacher)

James Gregory
2
Birthdate: September 21, 1934, 1638
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Drumoak
Died: September 30, 1675

James Gregory was a Scottish astronomer and mathematician. A celebrated mathematician, Gregory served as a professor of mathematics in several institutions like the University of Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews. He is also remembered for publishing several books, including Optica Promota, which describes Gregory's design for a reflecting telescope which came to be known as the Gregorian telescope.

 24 
Iain Stewart
(Geologist, TV Presenter)

Iain Stewart
3
Birthdate: 1964 AD
Birthplace: East Kilbride, Scotland

Scottish geologist Iain Stewart once revealed in an interview that he initially struggled with the subject. A child actor, he later focused on academics and grew up to be a University of Plymouth professor and the UNESCO geoscience chair. He has also presented many BBC programs and been awarded an MBE.

 25 
Colin Maclaurin
(Edinburgh)

Colin Maclaurin
4
Birthdate: February 1, 1698
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Argyll
Died: June 14, 1746

Colin Maclaurin was a Scottish mathematician best remembered for his contributions to algebra and geometry. A child prodigy, Maclaurin became one of the youngest professors in history when he became a professor of mathematics at the age of 19. Colin Maclaurin also contributed immensely to the study of elliptic integrals and is credited with discovering the Euler–Maclaurin formula.

 26 
Charles Bell
(Surgeon)

Charles Bell
3
Birthdate: November 12, 1774
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: April 28, 1842

Charles Bell was a Scottish surgeon, physiologist, anatomist, and neurologist. He was also an artist and philosophical theologian. He discovered the difference between sensory nerves and motor nerves in the spinal cord. He is also known for describing Bell's palsy. He played a key role in the creation of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School. 

 27 
Daniel Rutherford
(Former physician, chemist and botanist who is known for the isolation of nitrogen in 1772)

Daniel Rutherford
3
Birthdate: November 3, 1749
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: November 15, 1819

Best known for discovering nitrogen gas, Scottish chemist Daniel Rutherford was also initially a practicing physician. A skilled botanist, he also taught botany at the University of Edinburgh. His other inventions include the maximum and minimum thermometers. He also co-founded the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

 28 
Sir James W. Black
(Pharmacologist, Physician)

Sir James W. Black
3
Birthdate: June 14, 1924
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Uddingston, Scotland
Died: March 21, 2010

Sir James W. Black was a Scottish pharmacologist and physician. Black, who became interested in the study of the human heart and its reaction to adrenaline, developed a beta-blocker named propranolol to treat heart diseases. He is also credited with developing cimetidine, a drug used to cure stomach ulcers. He was honored with the 1988 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

 29 
William Cullen
(Physician, Chemist, Farmer, Academic, University teacher, Writer, Psychiatrist)

William Cullen
3
Birthdate: April 15, 1710
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hamilton
Died: February 5, 1790

Apart from being a prominent Scottish physician, William Cullen was also a main pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment. Not only did he treat luminaries such as philosopher David Hume, but he also treated the poor free of cost. A University of Edinburgh professor of medicine, he was also a Royal Society Fellow.

 30 
Michael Scot
(Scholar)

Michael Scot
2
Birthdate: 1175 AD
Birthplace: Scotland
Died: 1232 AD

Michael Scot was a Scottish scholar and mathematician. Widely regarded as the greatest intellectual of the Middle Ages, Scot served as a court astrologer and science adviser to Emperor Frederick II. Michael Scot's life and work have inspired several literary works, including the 2019 novel A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald.

 31 
David Douglas
(Botanist)

David Douglas
3
Birthdate: June 25, 1799
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Scone, Perthshire, Scotland
Died: July 12, 1834

 32 
Naomi Mitchison
(Novelist)

Naomi Mitchison
2
Birthdate: November 1, 1897
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: January 11, 1999

Known for authoring books such as Memoirs of a Spacewoman and The Conquered, Naomi Mitchison was also a driven socialist. She served as an advisor to Botswana’s Bakgatla tribe and had also been a farmer. Honored with numerous awards and honorary doctorates, she lived till age 101.

 33 

Roderick Murchison
2
Birthdate: February 22, 1792
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Muir of Ord, Scotland
Died: October 22, 1871

 34 
Thomas Graham
(Chemist)

Thomas Graham
4
Birthdate: December 21, 1805
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Glasgow
Died: September 16, 1869

Scottish chemist Thomas Graham was a pioneer of colloid chemistry. His research on the diffusion of gases led to the Graham's Law. He is also considered to be the inventor of dialysis, a method he used to separate colloids from crystalloids, and one which was later modified to assist in kidney-related ailments.

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
2
Birthdate: February 14, 1869
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Glencorse, Scotland
Died: November 15, 1959

Scottish physicist, meteorologist and Nobel Laureate Charles Thomson Rees Wilson is noted for inventing the cloud chamber particle detector, also referred to as Wilson cloud chamber, used for visualizing the passage of ionizing radiation. It played a significant role in the area of experimental particle physics between the 1920s and 1950s.

 36 

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
2
Birthdate: May 2, 1860
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: June 21, 1948

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson was a Scottish mathematician, biologist, and classics scholar. A pioneer of mathematical biology, Thompson is best remembered for writing a book titled On Growth and Form, which is widely admired by architects, anthropologists, and biologists among others. Over the course of his illustrious career, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson received several prestigious awards like the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal.

 37 
William Hunter
(Physician)

William Hunter
2
Birthdate: May 23, 1718
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Long Calderwood, Scotland
Died: March 30, 1783

Physician William Hunter is remembered for his efforts in making obstetrics a branch of medicine. After observing medical students in France, he introduced the use of cadavers for dissection in Britain. The Hunterian Museum in Scotland started with a collection of his belongings, including books and works of art.

 38 
Marie Cassidy
(Pathologist)

Marie Cassidy
2
Birthdate: 1951 AD
Birthplace: Rutherglen, Scotland

 39 

Thomas Brisbane
2
Birthdate: July 23, 1773
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died: January 27, 1860

 40 
Robert Fortune
(Botanist)

Robert Fortune
3
Birthdate: September 16, 1812
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Berwickshire, Scotland
Died: April 13, 1880

Scottish botanist and traveler Robert Fortune was involved in a lot of exploratory projects, which took him to China and Taiwan. He is credited with the development of the tea business in India, as part of the East India Company’s campaign. He also brought in many trees, shrubs, and flowers to Europe.

 41 
James Stagg
(Meteorologist)

James Stagg
2
Birthdate: June 30, 1900
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland
Died: June 23, 1975

 42 
James Ivory
(Mathematician)

James Ivory
1
Birthdate: February 17, 1765
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Dundee, Scotland
Died: September 21, 1842

James Ivory was a British mathematician and astronomer best remembered for developing Ivory's Theorem. In 1814, he was honored with the prestigious Copley Medal for publishing several important memoirs.

 43 
Eric Temple Bell
(Mathematician, Historian of mathematics, Novelist, Writer, Science fiction writer)

Eric Temple Bell
2
Birthdate: February 7, 1883
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Peterhead
Died: December 21, 1960

Born to a Scottish factor, mathematician Eric Temple Bell spent most of his life in the U.S. The Stanford alumnus contributed to the analytic number theory and also taught math at institutes such as Caltech. He also penned sci-fi novels such as The Time Stream as John Taine.

 44 
Dugald Stewart
(Philosopher)

Dugald Stewart
2
Birthdate: November 22, 1753
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Edinburgh,Scotland
Died: June 11, 1828

Dugald Stewart was a Scottish mathematician and philosopher best remembered for his efforts to popularize the works of Adam Smith and Francis Hutcheson. Considered one of the most prominent personalities of the Scottish Enlightenment, Stewart played a major role in explaining the Scottish Common Sense Realism. Among his students were Sir Walter Scott, Sir Archibald Alison, and Sir James Mackintosh. 

 45 
Ivan T. Sanderson
(Biologist, Writer)

Ivan T. Sanderson
0
Birthdate: January 30, 1911
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: February 19, 1973

 46 

Thomas Charles Hope
2
Birthdate: July 21, 1766
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: June 13, 1844

The third son of physician and botanist John Hope, Thomas Charles Hope began his career teaching chemistry and medicine and eventually chaired medicine at the University of Glasgow. He is remembered for discovering the element strontium and also explained why icebergs float. He eventually became a Fellow of The Royal Society.

 47 
Hugh Miller
(Geologist)

Hugh Miller
2
Birthdate: October 10, 1802
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Cromarty, Scotland
Died: December 24, 1856

 48 
Sir William Hodge
(Mathematician)

Sir William Hodge
2
Birthdate: June 17, 1903
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: July 7, 1975

Sir William Hodge was a British mathematician best remembered for his expertise in geometry. His discovery of topological relations between differential geometry and algebraic geometry, which is now referred to as Hodge theory, has had a significant impact on subsequent work in geometry. Sir William Hodge also served as a teacher at several prestigious institutions like the University of Bristol.

 49 
James Croll
(Geographer, Geologist)

James Croll
0
Birthdate: January 2, 1821
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Little Whitefield, Perthshire, Scotland
Died: December 15, 1890

 50 

Sir Patrick Manson
2
Birthdate: October 3, 1844
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died: April 9, 1922

Best remembered as the founder of the domain of tropical medicine, parasitologist Sir Patrick Manson also had a degree in law. He practiced medicine in places such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China and was the man behind the formation of the University of Hong Kong. He was later knighted, too.