Top Influential Physicists Today
Physics is the pursuit to understand the world that surrounds us in a mathematical way. It ventures to quantitatively describe things as complex as Earth’s global climate, as unfamiliar as the workings of elementary particles, and as spectacular as the workings of black holes.
Born (arguably) with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia in 1687, Physics nurtured the ancient tradition of natural philosophy and blended it with empiricism: a branch of philosophy that, put simply, claims that there is knowledge to be gained from our experience of the world. As a consequence of this, physicists today typically split themselves into two factions, theorists and experimentalists. The first of these factions investigates current theory or devises new theory to provide better and better insight into the workings of nature. The second faction, our experimentalists, concern themselves with testing nature directly, hopefully verifying or repudiating the predictions of the theorists. Neither of these factions can exist without the other, and ideas are frequently passed between both groups.
The content of physics is also split in an interesting way. Anyone following modern advancements in physics might have noticed the tools used by experimentalists becoming ever more precise, or the mathematics used by theoreticians becoming ever more abstract. This is not without good reason. Within the last hundred years, physics has been revolutionized by the discovery of quantum theory. This discovery was not your typical advancement in physics. Quantum theory implies wholesale replacement of past physics; in place of classical mechanics is installed quantum mechanics, and in place of classical electrodynamics is installed quantum electrodynamics. Quantum phenomena are typically difficult to observe in our everyday life, and become most relevant at very low temperatures or very high energies, hence the need for some heavy-duty equipment.
In the late 19th century, it could have been said without embarrassment that physics may soon come to an end. The classical mechanics originating with Newton and the classical electrodynamics developed by Faraday and Maxwell described things very well. Come the 20th century, however, physicists slowly opened a Pandora’s box of problems while addressing the few known phenomena left undescribed by classical physics.
With such pioneers as Planck, Einstein, Heisenburg, Schrödinger and more, the field of quantum mechanics (QM) was established. Quantum phenomena are generally very difficult to observe as they often concern very small particles or require very cool temperatures. These phenomena also violate many human intuitions; particles can no longer be thought of as small spheres with some defined positions and momenta. Particles must instead be thought of as having wavefunctions, which account for their sometimes wave-like behaviors. Quantum mechanics is peculiar, even in the eyes of well-trained physicists, though it is used in the vast majority of physics research published each year.
In 1916, while quantum mechanics was still in development, Einstein and others greatly advanced classical physics with the publication of general relativity (GR). It is the union of GR and QM that fundamental physics is still struggling with today. String theory and loop quantum gravity are two seemingly viable ways of combining the two, but it is yet unknown how to test them experimentally.
In what follows, we have listed 25 of the most influential living physicists over the last decade. Based on our ranking methodology, all of these individuals have made significant contributions to the field of physics and many have spent a considerable amount of time and effort in popularizing science in the form of books, public lectures, and popular broadcasting. Some have had revolutionary ideas, some may have climbed by popularity, but all are academicians primarily working in sociology. Read more about our methodology.
Note: This isn’t simply a list of the most influential physicists alive today. Here we are focused on the number of citations and web presence of scholars in the last 10 years. There are other highly influential scholars who simply haven’t been cited and talked about as much in the last 10 years, whereas some new faces have been making a splash in the news, speaking events, and publishing, publishing, publishing. Our AI is time sensitive. To find some of the big names you might have expected to see here, we encourage you to use our dynamic ranking system and check influence over the past 20 and 50 years.
Top Influential Physicists 2010-2020
Note: The links above take you to rankings that dynamically change as our AI learns new things!
University of Texas at Austin
Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Chair in Science and Regental Professor
Theoretical Physics, Particle Physics, Supersymmetry, Supergravity
Steven Weinberg was born in New York City in 1933. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and his PhD from Princeton University. Weinberg holds the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, and is a member of both the Physics and the Astronomy departments there. In 2004 the American Philosophical Society called him one of the “preeminent theoretical physicist[s] alive in the world today.” Weinberg received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Cornell University in 1954. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics at Princeton University in 1957.
Weinberg’s research focus in physics is in theoretical particle physics, where he has studied the high energy behavior of quantum field theory and gravity. He describes his approach to quantum field theory in his book The Quantum Theory of Fields and in his later textbook Gravitation and Cosmology. Weinberg is world famous for proposing, while a visiting professor at MIT in 1967, a model of unification for electromagnetism and the model of nuclear weak forces. Interestingly, one of the predictions of Weinberg’s theory was the existence of the Higgs Boson, the particle we encountered when discussing Peter Higgs (in this list, above). In what is known as the “Standard Model” of nuclear physics which has come to define the field, Weinberg has made major and lasting contributions.
Weinberg was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968, and the National Academy of Sciences in 1972. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1991. In 2004, he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences, the American Philosophical Society.
University of Oxford
Sir Roger Penrose was born in Colchester, England in 1931. He is best known for his significant contributions to the mathematical physics of general relativity and cosmology. Penrose attended University College London where he earned his bachelor’s in mathematics. He received a PhD studying algebraic geometry at St John’s College, Cambridge in 1958. In his free time at Cambridge, he attended a few lectures led by Hermann Bondi and Paul Dirac, which lent some of his curiosity in the direction of physics. Penrose went on to become an innovator in the field of mathematical physics, and is now widely regarded as among the greatest living mathematical physicists.
In public life, he speaks frequently on topics of philosophy, addressing questions such as, why can the universe be explained coherently by mathematics? Famously, he has also written extensively on theories of the nature of consciousness, a topic typically broached in the discipline of academic philosophy (and related fields, such as cognitive science). In his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose argued that consciousness arises from quantum effects in the brain, a view that both fascinated and drew criticism from other theorists about the mind. His follow-up book Shadows of the Mind in 1994 further explored his ideas about consciousness.
Roger Penrose is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for his distinguished career in mathematical physics. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1972. In 1988 he won the Wolf Prize for Physics, sharing the award with the late Stephen Hawking for work on black holes. In 1989 he was awarded the Dirac Medal and Prize of the British Institute of Physics, and in 1990 Penrose was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal. In 2000 he was appointed to the Order of Merit by the British Government.
University of Waterloo, University of Toronto
Research Physicist, Professor of Philosophy
Quantum Gravity, Philosophy of Science
Lee Smolin was born in New York City in 1955. Smolin is best known for his foundational contributions to both loop quantum gravity and deformed special relativity. He has contributed to cosmology through the proposal of cosmological natural selection, and has authored four books exploring some of his philosophical concerns in physics. After dropping out of high school, Smolin attended Hampshire College and then Harvard University, where he earned a PhD in theoretical physics in 1979. Smolin is currently faculty at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo. In addition, he is a Philosophy professor at the University of Toronto.
Smolin is known for his criticism of string theory as a viable theory of fundamental physics, in particular with the publication of his 2006 book The Trouble with Physics. Smolin is a bit of a polymath, too, as his research interests vary from particle physics to cosmology, quantum mechanics, and theoretical biology. His theory of quantum gravity, known as loop quantum gravity, has gained adherents for its attempted fusion of quantum mechanics and general relativity, an approach in contradistinction to string theory.
As a philosopher of physics, Smolin has put forth a number of positions, notably that quantum mechanics is not a “complete” theory (because of quantum indeterminacy), and that there is one (and only one) universe, opposing popular accounts of many universes or “multiverses.” Smolin also has formulated fundamental notions of the nature of time and mathematics.
Lee Smolin, a prolific thinker and writer, has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Majorana Prize in 2007, and the Klopsteg Memorial Award in 2009. In 2013, Smolin received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has been dubbed the “new Einstein” by the media for his important and deep work in fundamental physics.
4.Kip S. Thorne
California Institute of Technology
Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics
Astrophysics, Gravitational Physics
Kip Thorne was born in Logan, Utah in 1940. He received a BS from Caltech and earned his PhD in physics from Princeton University. He later returned to CIT to become a full professor at the age of 30. He was the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) until 2009. Thorne is a world renowned physicist who worked closely with the late Stephen Hawking, and was also a friend of Carl Sagan, the famous scientist and popular science writer. Thorne was a scientific consultant for the hit movie Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan.
Thorne focuses on relativistic astrophysics and gravitation physics, fields that cut to the core of our theory of the origin and nature of the universe. One of his theories has reached the mainstream and influenced pop culture: that wormholes can theoretically be used for time travel! Thorne co-founded the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project in 1984, a gravitational wave experiment that seeks to measure gravity waves between any two static points, thus providing experimental support for basic physics theory. Significantly, Thorne also has expertise in engineering design and mathematics applications, and has helped design and develop many aspects of the instrumentation used by the LIGO project.
For his many contributions to fundamental physics, Thorne has received many awards and distinctions. In 1972 alone, Thorne received the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2009, Thorne received the Albert Einstein Medal from the Albert Einstein Society in Bern, Switzerland. Together with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017.
Professor of Theoretical Physics
Holographic Principle, String Theory, Kogut–Susskind Fermions, Fischler–Susskind Mechanism
Leonard Susskind is Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University, and the Founding Director for the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics. Among many specialties in physics, including quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology, Susskind is widely regarded as one of the fathers of string theory. In 1995, he was the first physicist to precisely define the string theory concept for physics. Susskind actually began working as a plumber as a teenager, and later entered the City College of New York, graduating with a B.S. in Physics in 1962. He received his Ph.D. in 1965 in Physics from Cornell University.
Susskind began as an assistant professor of physics at Yeshiva University and then Tel Aviv before landing his role at Stanford University. His career has been marked by notable contributions in the areas of the application of string theory to explanations of the “dual resonance” model of strong interactions in particle physics. Along with colleagues Yoichiro Nambu and Holger Bech Nielsen, Susskind played a major role in bringing string theory into the discussion of physics, thereby cementing his place as a major physicist of the late 20th century.
Susskind’s The Cosmic Landscape and The Black Hole War books have brought him more mainstream attention as a major thinker in physics and cosmology. He won the Pomeranchuk Prize in 2008, an award for distinguished science writing, and the Sakurai Prize in 1998, along with a Boris Pregel Award from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1975.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics
Quantum Field Theory, String Theory
David Gross was born in Washington D.C. in 1941. He earned his BSc and MSc degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and went on to complete a PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966. Gross is currently the Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was formerly KITP director and held the Frederick W. Gluck Chair in Theoretical Physics. Gross is also a member of the Physics Department at UC Santa Barbara.
Gross is known for his work with his former graduate student, Frank Wilczek, for their work on and eventually discovery of asymptotic freedom. This led also to a formulation of quantum chromodynamics, the theory of strong nuclear forces. He has also done important work on string theory, notably the so-called heterotic string—a hybrid of a superstring and a bosonic string (hence “heterotic”).
Gross along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 for his contribution to the theory of asymptotic freedom. He won the Dirac Medal in 1998 and the Harvey Prize in 2000.
Institute for Advanced Study
Professor of Mathematical Physics
M-theory, Seiberg–Witten Theory, Seiberg–Witten Invariants, Wess–Zumino–Witten Model, Weinberg–Witten Theorem
Edward Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1951. He attended Brandeis University where he received a BA studying history and linguistics. After one semester as an economics graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Witten dropped out and swiftly enrolled at Princeton in 1973 where he earned a PhD in physics. Witten is Professor of Mathematical Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
Along with physics, Witten is an accomplished mathematician, and in fact won the coveted Fields Medal given to outstanding mathematicians for his proof of a theorem in general relativity. Witten coined the term “topological quantum field theory,” which led to insights into the topology of space-time (in physics) and also helped pure mathematics, by helping to illuminate ideas in the mathematical theory of knots and 3-manifolds. Amazingly, Witten has also done work on supersymmetry and something known as Morse theory, core areas in particle physics that require deep mathematical understanding.
In addition to winning the Field’s Medal, Witten won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1982, and a Dirac Medal and the Albert Einstein medal in the year 1985. He won the Isaac Newton Medal in 2010 and an Albert Einstein Award in 2016.
Professor of Physics
Quantum Field Theory,’t Hooft–Polyakov Monopole, ’t Hooft Symbol, ’t Hooft Operator
Gerard’t Hooft is a Dutch theoretical physicist and currently Professor of Physics at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Hooft showed mathematical prowess early in his life, earning a silver medal in the second Dutch Math Olympiad. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his Ph.D. in Physics from Utrecht, working on elementary particles in theoretical physics.
Hooft’s work focuses on black holes, quantum gravity, and other fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics. He has done important work on holographic theory, for instance, a view inspired by string theory and thought to be a component of a theory of quantum gravity. Hooft became the editor-in-chief of Foundations for Physics in 2007. He won the Wolf Prize in 1981 and in 1999 Hooft shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with his thesis advisor Veltman for work on the electroweak interactions in physics.
Director of the Quantum Gravity Team
Theoretical Physics, Loop Quantum Gravity
Italian Quantum Physicist Carlo Rovelli currently holds the title of Director of the quantum gravity team at the Centre de Physique Théorique at Aix-Marseille University in Provence, France. Previously, Rovelli was a professor at Pittsburgh University, and held fellowships at Syracuse University and Yale University. Rovelli completed his BS and MS in physics at the University of Bologna in 1981, and his PhD at the University of Padova in 1986.
Rovelli is a prominent figure in quantum and theoretical physics. In particular, he is recognized as a co-founder of the loop quantum gravity theory, along with Lee Smolin and Abhay Ashtekar. In its most distilled version, this theory argues that space itself (not just matter) trends toward what we recognize as an atomic structure. Building on the concept of spin networks, this approach argues that even at a very small level, space and volume are quantized and structured in a discrete way: a series of finite loops. While quantum gravity remains a very theoretical field full of debate, loop quantum gravity theory is a leading view in the conversation.
Notable works from Rovelli include Quantum Gravity, Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity: An Elementary Introduction to Quantum Gravity and Spinfoam Theory, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity.
For his work, Rovelli has received a variety of awards and honors, including an International Xanthopoulos Award, membership with the International Academy of Philosophy of Science, and membership with the Institut Universitaire de France.
Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science
Randall–Sundrum Model, Theorectical Physics, Particle Physics
Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist and currently the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science on the physics faculty of Harvard University. Randall showed mathematical talent at an early age, winning first place in 1980 Westinghouse Science Talent Search at the age of 18. She received a BA degree in Physics and later a Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics from Harvard University in 1987.
Randall has made fundamental contributions to a number of areas of central importance in particle physics, including a contribution to the so-called Randall-Sundrum model, which seeks to explain the universe in terms of higher dimensional spaces. Randall also studies cosmology, with issues such as the nature of dark matter, cosmological inflation, and the cosmology of dimensions, all topics that contribute to our basic understanding of the physics of the universe. Professor Randall was the first tenured woman in the Princeton physics department, and similarly was the first female to receive tenure in Physics at Harvard University.
Randall has written popular accounts of physics, notably her 2005 Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions and Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World published in 2011. Importantly, she wrote an e-book explaining the discovery of the Higgs Boson, titled Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space, and has helped the media and broader public understand the significance of the Higgs discovery as well as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) used for experimental physics. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2004), the National Academy of Sciences (2008), and is a fellow of the American Physical Society.
11.Peter Ware Higgs
University of Edinburgh
Theorectical Physics, Higgs Boson, Higgs Field, Higgs Mechanism, Symmetry Breaking
Peter Higgs was born in Newcastle, England in 1929. He is best known for postulating the existence of a field that exists throughout all of space which gives mass to fundamental particles, now known as the Higgs Field. This was verified experimentally through the discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN in March 2013. For this work, Higgs shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics with François Englert.
Higgs attended King’s College London where he earned his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in first mathematics and then physics. His career began as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He then became lecturer in mathematics at Imperial College London and University College London before returning to Edinburgh to accept an appointment as Lecturer at the Tait Institute of Mathematical Physics. Higgs’s research focused on the phenomenon of mass, where he developed theory of particles acquiring mass after the formation of the universe due to the interaction of a theoretical field which became known as the Higgs Field, eponymously. His early work led to the prediction of the Higgs Boson, a particle later empirically confirmed by experiment in the Large Hadron Collider located in Switzerland at CERN. His discovery is considered an important contribution to the standard model of physics.
Higgs was awarded the coveted 1997 Dirac Medal from the Institute of Physics. He even received a medal named in his honor, the Higgs Medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012. His discovery of the Higgs Boson earned him the ultimate honor, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, shared with François Englert.
University of Minnesota
Ida Cohen Fine Professor of Theoretical Physics
Theoretical High Energy Physics, Penguin Mechanism, Quantum Chromodynamics, Invisible Axion
Mikhail “Misha” Arkadyevich Shifman is a theoretical physicist who is currently Ida Cohen Fine Professor of Theoretical Physics, William I. Fine Theoretical Physics Institute, University of Minnesota. Prior to his appointment at the University of Minnesota he was a physicist at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow, Russia. Misha Shifman is well-known in the physics community for important contributions to a field known as quantum chromodynamics, a theory of the strong interactions between fundamental particles such as quarks and gluons.
Misha is known for the discovery of the so-called ”Penguin Mechanism,” which describes changes in quark behavior. He is also known for contributions to understanding how gluons work, such as the so-called gluon condensates. These areas of physics are fundamental to our understanding of how things fit together in what’s known as the Standard Model of physics.
Shifman has received numerous distinctions and awards for his contributions to theoretical physics, including receiving the Alexander-von-Humboldt Award in 1993. He won the Sakurai Prize in 1999 and the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize in 2006. In 2016 he received the coveted Dirac Medal and Prize. He was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 2018, and is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics
Asymptotic Freedom, Quantum Chromodynamics, Particle Statistics, Axion Model
Frank Wilczek was born in Mineola, New York in 1951. He earned his BSc degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago and proceeded to complete MA and PhD degrees at Princeton in Math and Physics respectively. Wilczek is currently the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also Founding Director of the T. D. Lee Institute as well as Chief Scientist at the Wilczek Quantum Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). Further, he is Distinguished Professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and full Professor at Stockholm University.
Wilczek’s research focuses on a number of key areas on physics, including pure particle physics (such as the interactions between fundamental forces), the behavior of matter such as quarks, the application of particle physics to cosmology (our theory of the universe), the application of field theory to the physics of condensed matter, and quantum theories of black holes. His reach in physics is truly impressive. Early on, as a graduate student, Wilczek proved an important result known as asymptotic freedom, describing the interaction between quarks and the strong interaction force. He has gone on to work on many other core problems in physics.
Wilczek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 along with David Gross and H. David Politzer for the theory of asymptotic freedom. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1982, and won the Dirac Medal in 1994.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Asymptotic Freedom, Quantum Chromodynamics, Particle Statistics, Axion Model
Rainer Weiss currently holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Physics at MIT and also works as an adjunct professor at LSU. He previously also held positions at Tufts University and Princeton University. He was also chair of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Science Working Group. Weiss completed his bachelor of science degree in 1955 at MIT (after having dropped out briefly), and his PhD in 1962. Native to Berlin, Germany, Weiss’ family emigrated to Prague and then to the U.S. fleeing persecution from the Nazis.
Weiss is known as a leading name in gravitational physics and astrophysics. In particular, Weiss is recognized for his work on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory experiment. Weiss pioneered the measurement of cosmic microwave background radiation, which have been used to make inferences about the Big Bang and the origins of the universe. Toward this, Weiss led the way in utilizing lasers for measuring gravitational waves.
Weiss won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 alongside Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for his work at LIGO on gravitational waves. Additionally, he has received awards and honors including the Gruber Prize in Cosmology, the Einstein Prize, the Shaw Prize, and fellowship with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
15.Jocelyn Bell Burnell
University of Oxford
Visiting Professor of Astrophysics
Astrophysics, Radio Pulsars
Jocelyn Bell Burnell currently holds the title of Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford. Previously, she has held professorial and administrative roles at the University of Bath, Princeton University, the Open University, University College London, and University of Southampton. She was also president of the Royal Astronomical Society, president of the Institute of Physics, worked on the Interplanetary Scintillation Array, and was project manager for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. Native to Northern Ireland, Burnell earned her BS in natural philosophy at University of Glasgow in 1965, and her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1969.
Burnell is quite famous for discovering the first radio pulsars while still a graduate student in 1967. While Burnell’s name was included among the five authors of the paper that won the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, Bell did not receive a prize or recognition from the committee; this has been a point of controversy, though Burnell does not herself seem to take issue with it. Given her presence at so many major institutions, both inside and outside of academia, Burnell’s influence in astrophysics is a fundamental one. Her role in advancing our knowledge of pulsars, as well as the application of radio telescopes, has guided the field into the twenty-first century.
Though snubbed by the Nobel committee, Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2012; Burnell promptly donated the entirety of the £2.3 million prize to the Institute of Physics with the goal of helping fund marginalized students in their goals of becoming physics researchers. Additionally, she has received awards and honors such as the Institute of Physics President’s Medal, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, and the Grande Médaille of the French Academy of Sciences.
16.Lawrence M. Krauss
Arizona State University
President of The Origins Project Foundation
Theoretical Physics, Cosmology
Lawrence Krauss was born in New York City in 1954. He received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from Carleton University and proceeded to earn a PhD from MIT having specialized in cosmology. Krauss is currently President of The Origins Project Foundation and is host of The Origins Podcast with Lawrence Krauss. He had professorships in physics in several institutions prior to this, including at Arizona State University, Yale University, and Case Western Reserve University. He founded the Origins Project at Arizona State University and served as its director. Due to allegations of misconduct, however, Krauss has since stepped down from his directorship for the project, though as noted he continues as president of the Foundation.
Krauss has been a lifelong advocate for a public understanding of science as well as a proponent of public policy based on scientific principles like respect for empirical research. In his role as a physicist, Krauss has explored questions in astronomy and cosmology, such as those of the theory of the Big Bang for the origins of the universe. He has been an outspoken critic of string theory, citing it as an example of abstract mathematics without clear empirical evidence for its support. He has authored a number of popular books on science, including his 2005 book Hiding in the Mirror as well as his 2012 book A Universe from Nothing (both books are critical of string theory).
Science writer Claudia Dreifus, writing in Scientific American, called Krauss “one of the few top physicists who is also known as a public intellectual.” In 2012, he was awarded the National Science Board’s Public Service Medal for his contributions to public education in science and engineering in the United States.
Université libre de Bruxelles
Theoretical Physics, Higgs Mechanism
François Englert is a Belgian theoretical physicist and currently Professor emeritus at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), where he is also a member of the Service de Physique Théorique. A person of importance in the study of physics world-wide, he is also Sackler Professor by Special Appointment in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University, Israel and a member of the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University in California. Englert is the 2013 Nobel Prize laureate.
Englert received an electromechanical degree from Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels, Belgium and his Ph.D. in Physics from ULB. He began his career in physics at Cornell University and later coheaded the theoretical physics group at ULB in Belgium. Englert proved, along with physicist Robert Brout, an important result in physics known collectively as the Brout–Englert–Higgs–Guralnik–Hagen–Kibble mechanism. The details of the mechanism are technical, but it is important to note that the result roughly coincides with the Higgs Boson result, and thus provides an important piece of the puzzle in our standard model of physics.
For his work on this important problem and others, Englert received the J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics (with Gerry Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, Tom Kibble, Peter Higgs, and Robert Brout) in 2010. He won the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2004 (with Brout and Higgs) and the High Energy and Particle Prize of the European Physical Society (with Brout and Higgs) in 1997. As mentioned above, in 2013 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Peter Higgs.
Université libre de Bruxelles
String Theory, Theorectical Physics
Brian Greene was born in New York City in 1963. He went to Harvard University, earning a BA in physics and then completed his PhD at Oxford University in 1987. He is Professor of Physics at Columbia University and also serves as chairman of the World Science Festival since co-founding it in 2008.
Greene’s career has focused largely on developing and expounding string theory, and he has published a number of papers on aspects of the theory of strings. He is perhaps most known for his science writing, where for instance he has published the popular account of physics The Elegant Universe (1999), as well as Icarus at the Edge of Time (2008), The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004), and The Hidden Reality (2011). He has also appeared on PBS television specials. He even appeared on The Big Bang Theory episode “The Herb Garden Germination”, as well as the films Frequency and The Last Mimzy.
Greene won the Andrew Gemant Award in 2003 for his contributions to the cultural or humanistic aspect of physics, notably in his many publications about physics intended for the broader public.
Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies
Theorectical Physics, Quantum Gravity
Sabine Hossenfelder is currently a Research Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and heads the Analog Systems for Gravity Duals group. She was previously a professor at Nordita in Stockholm, Sweden, and has held fellowships at University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona. Hossenfelder completed her BS in mathematics at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany in 1997, and stayed there for her MS and PhD studies in theoretical physics, completed in 2003.
Hossenfelder is well known as a prominent figure in popular science, especially in regards to theoretical physics and her primary research interest of quantum gravity. She has published books such as Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray and pieces in magazines including Forbes, Quanta Magazine, and New Scientist, and is involved with the annual Experimental Search for Quantum Gravity conference series.
University of Manchester
Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science
Particle Physics, Large Hadron Collider
Brian Cox was born in Lancashire, England in 1968. He is best known as a popularizer of science, having hosted Wonders of the Universe and many other shows produced by the BBC. He has authored popular science books Why Does E=mc²? and The Quantum Universe and has given a number of talks at TED on the topic of particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
While playing the keyboard for the group Dare, and later for D:Ream, Cox completed his BS and MPhil degrees in physics at the University of Manchester. After D:Ream disbanded, Cox finished his PhD in high energy particle physics, also at UMAN where he can still be found working as a professor of particle physics. His primary focus is on the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. There, he works on a technical aspect of the LHC known as the FP420 experiment, where proton tagging technology is placed at intervals in an attempt to further extend the powers of the LHC.
You might call Brian Cox a “celebrity” physicist, as he makes regular appearances on BBC television series like In Einstein’s Shadow, as well as doing voice over for the BBC. He is also a frequent speaker at TED, where he has given talks on the LHC and particle physics. Cox has received a number of awards for his work as a science presenter, including the Lord Kelvin Medal in 2006, and in 2010 he was awarded the Kelvin Prize as well as the OBE by the British government. In 2012, Cox received the Michael Faraday Prize.
21.Sean M. Carroll
California Institute of Technoloy
Research Professor of Physics
Theoretical Cosmology, Quantum Field Theory
Sean Carroll was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1966. Carroll received a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. Carroll is currently a research professor in the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics in the California Institute of Technology Department of Physics.
Carroll’s work focuses on theoretical cosmology and quantum field theory. Ideas that enter into science fiction, like extra spacetime dimensions, are also part of his theoretical repertoire. Carroll is an effective writer and popularizer of difficult subjects in science and physics. He’s made appearances on the History Channel’s The Universe, the Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Closer to Truth (broadcast on PBS), and even Comedy Central’s popular The Colbert Report. He authored a text book on physics intended for graduate students, titled Spacetime And Geometry, and is the author of four books about science and physics intended for a broad audience.
Carroll was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2010. In 2014, he won the Andrew Gemant Award for cultural, artistic, or humanistic contributions to physics.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Physics
Astrophysics, Cosmology Theory
Max Tegmark was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1967. He received a BA in economics from the Stockholm School of Economics and completed a BSc degree in physics a year later at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. He then ventured to the University of California, Berkeley where he earned an MA and PhD studying physics. He is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Scientific Director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder along with Skype founder Jaan Tallinn of the Future of Life Institute, which examines issues of existential risk, particularly the some think we face by the advance of artificial intelligence leading to superintelligent machines.
Tegmark’s primary work has been in the area of cosmology. Along with physicists Daniel Eisenstein and Wayne Hu, he introduced the idea of using “baryon acoustic oscillations” as a so-called “standard ruler” in cosmology—a known physical length used to measure cosmological phenomena. Baryon acoustic oscillations are fluctuations in the density of visible baryons in the universe. He has also helped develop the theory of the cosmological interpretation of quantum mechanics, where quantum mechanics describes not possibilities by infinite sequences of actual phenomena.
Tegmark’s books include Our Mathematical Universe and Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. He was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2012.
King’s College London
Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics
Penguin Diagram, Theoretical Particle Physics
John Ellis is a theoretical physicist who currently holds the title of Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s College London. He has also worked with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) since 1978, and held post doctoral positions at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and California Institute of Technology in the early 1970s. Ellis earned his PhD in theoretical particle physics in 1971 from King’s College Cambridge.
Ellis’ work has mostly focused on the phenomena of particle physics, with experiments and studies including using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to test theories. He is considered a pioneer in the area of particle astrophysics. Much of his work has focused on understanding and finding Higgs boson particles. In addition to his research, Ellis is recognized as a major voice particle physics, participating in lectures around the world, and advocating for involving non-European nations in CERN scientific activities.
Ellis’ book, Quantum Reflections, introduces the basic philosophical and conceptual questions underlying the formulation of quantum mechanics and compiles a number of essays from leading thinkers in the field who are also inspired by the late John Bell.
For his work, John Ellis has received honors and awards including the Maxwell Medal and the Paul Dirac Prize from the Institute of Physics, fellowship with the Royal Society of London, honorary doctorates, and was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012.Academic Website
University of California, Santa Barbara
Professor of Physics
Joseph Incandela currently holds the title of Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and also works at CERN. Incandela earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1986.
A particle physicist, much of Incandela’s work has focused on boson particles, especially the Higgs Boson. Incandela has worked at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider since 1997. In particular, Incandela was the spokesperson for the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, and in 2012 announced that they had finally discovered the Higgs Boson particle (which had previously only been theorized about).
For his work, Incandela has received awards and honors including the Special Fundamental Physics Prize, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Victor Weisskopf Professor of Physics
Theorectical Particle Physics, Cosmology, Cosmic Inflation
Alan Guth currently holds the title of Victor Weisskopf Professor of Physics at MIT. Previously, Guth has held postdoctoral positions at Princeton University, Columbia University, Cornell University, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). He earned his B.S. in physics at MIT in 1968, and completed his MS and PhD there by 1971.
Guth is a theoretical particle physicist and cosmologist, best known for developing the idea of cosmic inflation (a theory that revises the Big Band theory to explain the expansion of the universe). Over the years, Guth has continued to develop this idea through numerous papers, and it has become a major theory in current cosmology. A popular work from Guth includes The Inflationary Universe which details Guth’s account the origins of the universe through his theory of cosmic inflation.
For his work, Guth has received awards and honors including the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, the Fundamental Physics Prize, the Isaac Newton medal, the Dirac Medal, the Gruber Prize in Cosmology, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.