So Who is the Greatest Physicist?

| February 22, 2013 | 5 Comments

So, as you might have noticed, a poll on who is the greatest physicist has been running on our website for about a month. So I decided to present the results and to compare them to some of the more popular similar polls. As always, such polls are highly subjective, and everyone seems to have totally different opinions, so I decided to compare a couple of these polls to create the most objective list of the greatest physicists. Here are some results:

made with ChartBoot

Note that “others” correspond to such physicists as Ed Witten, Niels Bohr, Galileo Galilei, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger. All of these physicists got between 1 and 3 votes. The total number votes is 104.

So now let’s look at some famous polls that I managed to find online. I added the links so that you can check them online.

Millennium Poll (1999)

Physics Forum Poll (2005)

Physics Forum Poll (2007)

Google Hits Study (2009)

1. Albert Einstein 1. Isaac Newton 1. Isaac Newton 1. Albert Einstein
2. Isaac Newton 2. Albert Einstein 2. Albert Einstein 2. Max Planck
3. James Maxwell 3. Galileo Galilei 3. James Maxwell 3. Marie Curie
4. Niels Bohr 4. Richard Feynman 4. Richard Feynman 4. Niels Bohr
5. Werner Heisenberg 5. Niels Bohr 5. Galileo Galilei 5. Enrico Fermi
6. Galileo Galilei 6. James Maxwell 6. Erwin Schrodinger 6. Guglielmo Marconi
7. Richard Feynman 7. Paul Dirac 7. Niels Bohr 7. Werner Heisenberg
8. Paul Dirac 8. Michael Faraday 8. Paul Dirac 8. Erwin Schrodinger
9. Erwin Schrodinger 9. Max Planck 9. Werner Heisenberg 9. Pierre Curie
10. Ernest Rutherford 10. Ernest Rutherford 10. Ernest Rutherford 10. Wilhelm Rontgen

It’s interesting that the first 3 polls are so different from the Google hits study. For comparison, here are some more lists, which are shortened to only the top 10 physicists. Note that “Kanowitz top 50” corresponds to  2008 listing of the “50 Most Influential Physicists/Astronomers of All Time” according to world history blogger Gavin Kanowitz.

Kanowitz Top 10 (2008)

Rankopedia top 10
 (2010-2012)

Physics Web Survey (1999)

Physics World Survey (1999)

1. Isaac Newton 1. Albert Einstein 1. Sir Isaac Newton 1. Albert Einstein
2. Albert Einstein 2. Isaac Newton 2. Albert Einstein 2. Sir Isaac Newton
3. Galileo Galilei 3. Galileo Galilei 3. James Clerk Maxwell 3. James Clerk Maxwell
4. Michael Faraday 4. Marie Curie 4. Galileo Galilei 4. Niels Bohr
5. Johannes Kepler 5. Stephen Hawking 5. Paul Dirac 5. Werner Heisenberg
6. Archimedes 6. Michael Faraday 6. Niels Bohr 6. Galileo Galilei
7. Nikola Tesla 7. Niels Bohr 7. Max Planck 7. Richard Feynman
8. Max Planck 8. Werner Heisenberg 8. Richard Feynman 8. Paul Dirac
9. James Clerk Maxwell 9. John Napier 9. Michael Faraday 9. Erwin Schrödinger
10. Marie Curie 10. Enrico Fermi 10. Erwin Schrödinger 10. Ernest Rutherford

made with ChartBoot

So finally, we can sort the list according to the number of points to find the top 10:

 

Position Physicist Points
1. Albert Einstein 86
2. Isaac Newton 76
3. Galileo Galilei 51
4. James Clerk Maxwell 46
5. Niels Bohr 46
6. Richard Feynman 33
7. Werner Heisenberg 21
8. Paul Dirac 20
9. Max Planck 18
10. Marie Curie 16

 

 

So here it is — the winner is Albert Einstein. Now it’s important to not that there is a variety of flaws with such a simple analysis. First of all, some of the polls were done by asking professional physicists, whereas the results from others come from random internet users. Secondly, the Google hits study kind of messed up the results of the poll. I mean don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Guglielmo Marconi or Pierre Curie, but somehow I don’t feel they belong to the list of the best physicists. Nevertheless, the first 3 places in most of the polls are dominated by the same four physicists, who lead our final list, thus at least up to position 4 the list is perfectly valid. But then again, other positions also seem rather accurate.

 Agree? Disagree? Who is your favourite physicist?

Comments

comments

Tags: , , ,

Category: Blog

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anomynous says:

    CV Raman is one if the greatest physician but his name is not on the list so sad😓

  2. Rex says:

    What surprises me is the inclusion of MARIE CURIE. MARIE CURIE? Don’t take me wrong but frankly, she’s a bit overrated thanks to her gender making her an ideal victim+hero character. She might be in the top 10 WOMEN intellectuals, no doubt, perhaps No#1 there. But she’s nowhere close to any prominent Physicist of the 20th century alone.

  3. Rex says:

    I’d go with Sir Isaac Newton. Einstein was great, no doubt, but he had a strong mathematical and physical foundation behind him in the form of Lorentz, Poincare, and Newton himself. Newton had no predecessor, he was the first of his kind to start Physics as it’s known and taught today. When he stumbled across a problem that couldn’t be solved using mathematics, he invented that part of math to proceed. HOW ON EARTH COULD HE NOT BE NO#1?
    I’m fine with Maxwell at 3. Completely deserves it.
    What surprises me is the inclusion of MARIE CURIE. MARIE CURIE? Don’t take me wrong but frankly, she’s a bit overrated thanks to her gender making her an ideal victim+hero character. She might be in the top 10 WOMEN intellectuals, no doubt, perhaps No#1 there. But she’s nowhere close to any prominent Physicist of the 20th century alone.

    • galois says:

      It is not that easy… And saying that Newton had no foundation is wrong. The real changed was already made by Galileo (the first one who understood that physics is made of math). And analysis (math field) was also on the way with Fermat, Descartes, Leibniz and him of course. So he just were a man of his time. Like Einstein in fact …

      • Jake says:

        Dont fool yourself. Fermat and Descartes are never considered to be amongst the greatest. Dont attempt to discredit Newton either, only fools would do that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

banner