Theoretical physics is one of the greatest pursuits of mankind. Trying to understand how the universe works is the biggest mystery that man can solve. Countless men have given their whole life to this pursuit. Through their hard work and genius we now understand the universe in deep detail. Although a lot still has to be answered, our understanding so far has been improved a lot by dedicated theoretical physicists around the world. It’s hard to rank these scientists in any objective way and all we can have our personal subjective outlooks. Here’s such a list of my personal favorite physicists.
10. Ashoke Sen:
Ashoke Sen is an Indian theoretical physicist who has made many contributions to the field of string theory. He was born in Calcutta in 1956 to a physics professor, Anil Kumar Sen. His paper on S-duality has been very influential in string theory research. He’s made the famous Sen conjecture about open string tachyon condensation on D-branes. He received the Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 for his work in string theory.
9. Leonard Susskind:
Leonard Susskind is the professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University. His research includes string theory, quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology. He’s regarded as one of the fathers of string theory as he was one of the scientists who independently but simultaneously came up with the idea that particles could be states of excitation of a relativistic string. He’s won the J. J. Sakurai Prize in 1998.
8. Roger Penrose:
Sir Roger Penrose is a British mathematical physicist and philosopher. He’s the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford. He is famous for his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He was awarded the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics along with Stephen Hawking for their work in general relativity.
7. Peter Higgs:
The British theoretical physicist, Peter Higgs is most famous for predicting the existence of the Higgs Boson particle. He’s given the Higgs mechanism which is an important part of the Standard Model of particle physics and it explains the origin of mass of elementary particles. He’s won countless medals and prizes for his work in particle physics.
6. Edward Witten:
Edward Witten is an American theoretical physicist and the professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University. He has worked on string theory, quantum gravity, super symmetric quantum field theories and other areas of mathematical physics. He became the first physicist to receive the highest award in mathematics, the Fields Medal in 1990. He’s regarded as the greatest living theoretical physicist.
5. Stephen Hawking:
Stephen Hawking is the most popular of living physicists because of his works in popular science including A Brief History of Time which became an international best seller. He was born in 1942 and suffers from a motor neuron disease that has left him almost completely paralyzed. He’s won a lot of medals and awards for his work in theoretical cosmology. He worked with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularities theorems and predicted that black holes emit radiation, which is now called Hawking radiation.
4. Erwin Schrodinger:
Erwin Schrodinger was an Austrian physicist who is most famous for his work in quantum theory. Schrodinger’s equation of wave functions forms the basis of wave mechanics and matrix mechanics. His famous experiment called the Schrodinger’s cat was his way of showing the inherent paradoxes in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. His book What is Life? is a famous philosophical book where he looks at life from the point of view of physics.
3. Werner Heisenberg:
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist most famous for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. He’s known as the father of quantum mechanics and received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932. He also made important contributions to the fields of hydrodynamics, atomic nucleus, ferromagnetism, cosmic rays and subatomic particles.
2. Max Planck:
Max Planck won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 as the originator of quantum theory. He was a German theoretical physicist and his theory revolutionized the understanding of atomic and subatomic particles. Along with Einstein he’s considered the second greatest mind of the 20th century.
1. Albert Einstein:
The most famous theoretical physicist of all time has to be Albert Einstein. Born in Germany, Einstein was gifted as a child but didn’t do well in school because of his disagreement with authority and the teaching methods. He went on to give the general theory of relativity, which along with Planck’s quantum mechanics forms the two pillars of modern physics. His work has been immortalized in the mass energy equivalence equation, E = mc^2.