- American Physical Society Sites
- Meetings & Events
- Policy & Advocacy
- Careers In Physics
- About APS
- Become a Member
About your list of "top ten physicists": I think that although Heisenberg, Feynman, Schr"dinger were very important, they are in the list because of either their charisma (Feynman - why not Tomonaga or Schwinger, then ?) or because they summed up the advances of debates at their times (Heisenberg and Schroedinger : without de Broglie, Born, Planck, I do not think they would be there). I suggest to replace them with people like Faraday, Ampere, Coulomb, Gauss, who were more "stand-alone" geniuses, working as well in experimental as theoretical physics. The Curies, Fermi, etc, should also belong in the list, which looks Anglo-German, quantum-mechanical, and XXth century biased to me.
Laboratoire de Physique de l'Etat Condense; Universite du Maine-Faculte des Sciences
The Physics World survey (not only the first 10 physicists) reveals a double bias. First toward modern times and second in favor of theoreticians. Further, while it is in order to make a rank-list after a poll, there is no need for that in an individual choice. Here are my top ten physicists who have contributed to physics the most:
While the names on the list are certainly among the outstanding physicists in history it seems strange that one name has been left out. A man who discovered not one, not two, but three universal laws, who was as responsible as Maxwell in unifying fields, who outgrew his accomplishments in physics and became a statesman, whose name is familiar among physicists from Seoul to Sao Paulo, who founded an institution which has benefited tens of thousands of the most under-privileged physicists, who kept open a channel to the West to physicists from behind the Iron Curtain when no one else would have them, certainly belongs on any list of ten outstanding physicists in history. I refer of course to Abdus Salam.
Munawar Karim, Professor
Department of Physics, St. John Fisher College
I think it's an omission not to have Enrico Fermi on the list. He made fundamental contributions to both solid state and particle physics. Sometimes, it's hard to believe that the concepts of fermions and Fermi surfaces (as well as a host of others) are attributable to the same physicist. It seems to me that he could replace a number of those on the list: Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, perhaps even Feynman. The ancients are more sacrosanct, and it's hard to compare their work with that of the modern physicists anyway, so I'd leave Newton and Galileo on.
University of California, Santa Cruz
More on "Who were the top ten physicists?" Don Lichtenberg (April issue) made some good points but, like most others, he neglects experimentalists and underestimates the contributions of prequantum physicists. Was it easier to establish Coulomb's law or discover electricity (both circa 1790) than to observe the scattering of alpha rays (1913) or measure the speed of neutrons (˜1940)? Was it less significant for Laplace (also the inventor of cosmology) to formulate classical mechanics in terms of his equations than to derive a Laplacian formulation of quantum mechanics? What was more astounding: that light could be shown to produce very puzzling shadows indeed when passed through Young's slits, or that "matter waves" also interfered? Inexcusably also, one would get the impression that this most impressive achievement of classical physics, thermodynamics, was not an essential part of physics. Maybe the problem with thermodynamics is that, like quantum mechanics, it was a collective sort of achievement. Don Lichtenberg could not choose between Heisenberg, Schr"dinger and Dirac, similarly after hesitating between Carnot, Clausius, Gibbs, etc., I chose Boltzmann! Experimentalists I order chronologically because the available technologies of their respective times makes them uncomparable.
Here I go then (after much agonizing)
Top five theorists:
Top five experimentalists:
And how about old Archimedes? Wasn't he the first of them all?
Universite du Quebec
©1995 - 2024, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.