Greatest physicist everThis is a featured page

In intellectual rankings, greatest physicist ever is an epitaph given to a person, depending on ranking methodology, some rankings of which are listed below, that classify, list, or describe someone as being the greatest thinker in the field of physics of all time.

One of the more dominant surveys was the recent millennium poll on the greatest physicist of all time, conducted by the British journal Physics World who surveyed 130 leading physicists worldwide. [1] Two followup polls (2005, N=80; 2007, N=65), seemingly using the top ten millennium physicists as starting candidates, are also shown below. [2]

An alternative study, “Estimating Achievement from Fame” (2009), which excludes pre-Nobel Prize era physicists, attempting to rank what might be called modern era physicists, was done by Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury at the University of California, Los Angeles, who ranked Nobel Prize winners in physics, by equating their achievements with their fame as measured by hits on Google. [3]

Another note to discern in these rankings is that of "retrospect time" in the sense that only time can tell if a person, in the long run, will be still ranking as one of the greatest physicists. Thus, for example, in 1923 Time magazine ranked J.J. Thomson as the "greatest living physicist", likely owing to the hoopla over his recent 1897 discovery of the electron, but he was soon thereafter surpassed by Einstein and other soon to come discoveries in sub-atomic physics. [5]

Millennium Poll (1999)Physics Forum Poll (2005)Physics Forum Poll (2007)Google Hits Study (2009)
1. Albert Einstein1. Isaac Newton1. Isaac Newton1. Albert Einstein
2. Isaac Newton2. Albert Einstein2. Albert Einstein2. Max Planck
3. James Maxwell3. Galileo Galilei3. James Maxwell3. Marie Curie
4. Niels Bohr4. Richard Feynman4. Richard Feynman4. Niels Bohr
5. Werner Heisenberg5. Niels Bohr5. Galileo Galilei5. Enrico Fermi
6. Galileo Galilei6. James Maxwell6. Erwin Schrodinger6. Guglielmo Marconi
7. Richard Feynman7. Paul Dirac7. Niels Bohr7. Werner Heisenberg
8. Paul Dirac8. Michael Faraday8. Paul Dirac8. Erwin Schrodinger
9. Erwin Schrodinger9. Max Planck9. Werner Heisenberg9. Pierre Curie
10. Ernest Rutherford10. Ernest Rutherford10. Ernest Rutherford10. Wilhelm Rontgen

Other rankings
The following table, first column, shows the 2008 listing of the “50 Most Influential Physicists/Astronomers of All Time” according to world history blogger Gavin Kanowitz. [4] The second column shows William Cropper's listing from his 2001 book Great Physicists: the Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking, listed chronologically and grouped by division. [6] Rankopedia's top 28 greatest physicist ever listing is shown as well: [8]

Kanowitz top 50Cropper top 30
(chronological & grouped)
Rankopedia top 28
(based on 25 votes: 2010-2012)

1. Isaac NewtonMechanics 1. Albert Einstein 80.90

2. Albert Einstein1. Galileo Galilei2. Isaac Newton 77.42

3. Galileo Galilei2. Isaac Newton3. Galileo Galilei 59.62

4. Michael Faraday
4. Marie Curie 33.34

5. Johannes KeplerThermodynamics5. Stephen Hawking 28.03

6. Archimedes1. Sadi Carnot6. Michael Faraday 27.15

7. Nikola Tesla 2. Robert Mayer 7. Niels Bohr 25.73

8. Max Planck3. James Joule8. Werner Heisenberg 16.78

9. James Maxwell4. Hermann Helmholtz 9. John Napier 10.53

10. Marie Curie5. William Thomson10. Enrico Fermi 9.20

11. Niels Bohr6. Rudolf Clausius 11. Robert Oppenheimer 8.80

12. Erwin Schrodinger7. Willard Gibbs 12. Chushiro Hayashi 8.68

13. Werner Heisenberg8. Walther Nernst 13. Henri Poincaré 7.60

14. Ernest Rutherford
14. Robert Hooke 6.02

15. Nicolaus Copernicus Electromagnitism15. Carl Gauss 6.00

16. Christiaan Huygens 1. Michael Faraday 16. James Maxwell 5.86

17. James Joule2. James Maxwell 17. Murray Gell-Mann 4.90

18. Henry Cavendish
18. Ludwig Boltzmann 4.40

19. William ThomsonStatistical mechanics19. Pierre-Gilles de Gennes 3.80

20. Thomas Young1. Ludwig Boltzmann 20. André Marie Ampère 3.20

21. Enrico Fermi
21. Evangelista Torricelli 2.80

22. Richard FeynmanRelativity 22. Max Planck 2.40

23. Alessandro Volta1. Albert Einstein23. Amit Goswami 1.94

24. Heinrich Hertz
24. Edouard Branly 1.60

25. Benjamin FranklinQuantum mechanics25. Andrei Sakharov 1.46

26. John Bardeen1. Max Planck 26. Wilhelm Bjerknes 0.80

27. Georg Ohm2. Niels Bohr 27. Georges Charpak 0.57

28. Paul Dirac3. Wolfgang Pauli 28. David Ruelle 0.40

29. Robert Millikan4. Werner Heisenberg

30. Edwin Hubble5. Louis de Broglie

31. Pieter Zeeman6. Erwin Schrodinger

32. Andre-Marie Ampere

33. J.J. ThomsonNuclear physics

34. Henri Becquerel1. Marie Curie

35. Louis de Broglie2. Ernest Rutherford

36. Charles Coulomb3. Lise Meitner

37. Georges Lemaitre4. Enrico Fermi

38. Christian Doppler

39. Lise MeitnerParticle physics

40. Hans Oersted1. Paul Dirac

41. Robert Boyle2. Richard Feynman

42. Hendrik Lorentz3. Murray Gell-Mann

43. Joseph Fraunhofer

44. Ludwig BoltzmannAstrophysics

45. Robert Hooke1. Edwin Hubble

46. Evangelista Torrecelli2. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

47. Wilhelm Weber3. Stephen Hawking

48. Ernst Mach

49. John Wheeler

50. Wilhelm Roentgen

Greatest living | existive physicists
The following is an “Top 20 Living Physicists” list of the supposed greatest physicists existive (alive): (Ѻ)

1. Stephen Hawking
2. Freeman Dyson
3. Leo Kadanoff
4. Edward Witten
5. Yoichiro Nambu
6. Michael Fisher
7. Anthony Leggett
8. Peter Higgs
9. Frank Wilczek
10. Carl Wieman
11. Gerard ‘t Hooft
12. Tsung-Dao Lee
13. Alan Guth
14. David Thouless
15. Theodore Hansch
16. Peter Zoller
17. Alkexander Polyakov
18. Steven Wienberg
19. Chen Ning Yang
20. Martin Rees

The following are related quotes:

“Who was the last universal physicist? Perhaps that is already beyond us or perhaps there will still come one last physicist—the last man who actually combines those two areas in himself. I can give you an answer about the past: Enrico Fermi was certainly the last physicist of whom I know.”
— Johann Rafelski (1984), Why and How in Theoretical Physics [9]

See also
Greatest chemist ever
Greatest philosopher ever
Greatest mathematician ever
Greatest thermodynamicist ever
Greatest engineer ever
Last person to know everything
Universal genius
Last universal genius
Genius IQs (top 1000 geniuses)
● IQ: 200+ | Smartest person ever
● IQ: 150+ | Smartest woman ever

1. (a) Tindol, Robert. (1999). “Physics World poll names Richard Feynman one of the 10 Greatest Physicists of all Time” (link), Caltech Media Relations, Dec 02.
(b) Anon. (1999). “Einstein the Greatest”, BBC News, Nov 29.
2. (a) Greatest physicist of all time? (2005) –
(b) Greatest Physicist Ever (2007) –
3. (a) Anon. (2009). “The World’s Greatest Physicists (as Determined by the Wisdom of Crowds), The Physics arXiv Blog, Jun 6.
(b) Simkin, M.V. and Roychowdury, V.P. (2009). “Estimating Achievement from Fame”,, Jun 19.
4. Knowitz, Gavin. (2008). “50 Most Influential Physicists/Astronomers of All Time”,, Aug 08.
5. Anon. (1923). “Science: the Greatest Physicist”, Time, Apr. 07.
7. Cropper, William H. (2001). Great Physicists: the Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking. Oxford University Press.
8. Greatest physicist ever (2010-2012) - Rankopedia.
9. (a) Rafelski, Johann. (1984). Why and How in Theoretical Physics (pg. 3). University of Cape Town.
(b) Cronin, James W. (2004). Fermi Remembered (pg. 31). University of Chicago Press.
(c) Author. (2005). “The Last Universal Physicist”, Physics World, Apr. 1.
(d) Martin, Brian R. (2009). Nuclear and Particle Physics (quote: “Enrico Fermi was probably the last ‘universal physicist’.” pg. 69). Wiley.

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