Friday, May 31, 2019

Top Ten Theoretical Physicists of 20th Century?

After my post yesterday on Murray Gell-Mann, I started thinking about who are the top ten theoretical physicists of the 20th century. I've seen lists, but I wanted to come up with my own list without consulting them. Here is mine, in rough chronological order:

Albert Einstein
Werner Heisenberg
Paul Dirac
Richard Feynman
Murray Gell Mann
Chen Ning Yang
Steven Weinberg
Gerard 't Hooft
Kip Thorne
Edward Witten

People that almost made my list are, again in rough chronology order:

Emmy Noether
Niels Bohr
Wolfgang Pauli
Max Planck
Hans Bethe
Julian Schwinger
Sheldon Glashow
Stephen Hawking
Added 6/3: Erwin Schrodinger

I made this list based on accomplishments. Stephen Hawking would probably be first if it was due to accomplishments-despite-obstacles. (Well, second. No one can possibly best Einstein.)

Do you think I missed anyone or misplaced someone?


Anonymous said...

David Thouless

Toby said...

Erich Schrodinger?
Fred Hoyle?

David Appell said...

Yes, Schrodinger should at least be on the second 10.

Not sure about Hoyle. About Thouless, shows my ignorance of condensed matter physics.

JoeT said...

Good list, David. My own quibble would be to put Planck on the first list. I'm not sure who should be demoted to make room.

Good to see Emmy Noether on your list. Maybe she belongs on the top 10 as well. There's a good talk by astrophysicist Katie Mack --- who often comments on climate via twitter---- on Noether.
Victor Stenger was also a huge fan of Noether's

Back in the early 70's I heard Heisenberg lecture at Columbia in a hall in which there wasn't even standing room available. Clearly, a rock star moment. To my chagrin, I couldn't understand anything he said.

David Appell said...

Thanks for the links, Joe.

Love Katie Mack's tweets. Look forward to watching this YouTube link.

I never heard Heisenberg talk, but back in the early '00s when I lived in New Hampshire I wrote an article about his son Jochen, who was a physicist at the University of New Hampshire and then became an emeritus professor. Of course, I wanted to ask him all about his dad, which I did some, but I had to give props to his own research, which was about calculating nuclear states on his PC.

If my dad was Werner Heisenberg, I don't think I could have gone into physics. But perhaps it's more likely when he's your actual dad. Colin Hanks has become a very good actor -- his dad is Tom Hanks. Aage Bohr won the Nobel Prize, also. I'm really jealous of the conversations he must have heard around the dinner table with his dad's guests. But Bruce Springsteen's son is a singer/songwriter, but not doing what his dad was capable of. It's unfair to even expect it.