If you are interested in pursuing a degree or finding a job in the field of physics, everything you need is here. Find the best schools, career information, history of the discipline, influential people in the field, great books, and more.
Table of Contents
What Is Physics?
Physics is a branch of science that deals with energy and matter and how they relate to each other. Physics students study subjects such as thermodynamics, differential equations, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics.
Who are the most influential physicists of all time?
Physics is recognized as an expansive educational discipline, one touching on countless areas of life. This extremely nuanced and complex area of study has been shaped by the influence of pioneers in the field of physics. Below, you will find some of the most influential physicists of all time.
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time. Einstein is known for developing the theory of relativity, but he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Lyceum, the Peripatetic school of philosophy, and the Aristotelian tradition. His writings cover many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, meteorology, geology and government.
Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author who is widely recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians and most influential scientists of all time.
Werner Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent series of papers with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, during the same year, this matrix formulation of quantum mechanics was substantially elaborated. He is known for the uncertainty principle, which he published in 1927. Heisenberg was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the creation of quantum mechanics”.
Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as his work in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model.
Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr was also a philosopher and a promoter of scientific research.
Paul Dirac was an English theoretical physicist who is regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century.Dirac made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation which describes the behaviour of fermions and predicted the existence of antimatter.
Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist and the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1. He has been called the “architect of the nuclear age” and the “architect of the atomic bomb”. He was one of very few physicists to excel in both theoretical physics and experimental physics.
Ernest Rutherford was a New Zealand-born British physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics. Encyclopædia Britannica considers him to be the greatest experimentalist since Michael Faraday .
James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish mathematician and scientist responsible for the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation describing electricity, magnetism and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon for the first time. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” where the first one had been realised by Isaac Newton.
The following are the top physicists in the field today according to our machine-powered Influence Rankings, which are drawn from a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.
Steven 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. Weinberg is world famous for proposing a model of unification for electromagnetism and the model of nuclear weak forces.
Roger Penrose is an innovator in the field of mathematical physics, and is now widely regarded as among the greatest living mathematical physicists.
Lee 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.
Kip Thorne is a world renowned physicist who worked closely with the late Stephen Hawking, and was also a friend of Carl Sagan. Thorne focuses on relativistic astrophysics and gravitation physics. One of his theories has reached the mainstream and influenced pop culture: that wormholes can theoretically be used for time travel!
Leonard Susskind is considered an expert in many areas of 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.
David Gross is known for his discovery of asymptotic freedom with his former graduate student, Frank Wilczek. 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.
Edward 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.
Gerard 't 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.
Carlo 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 .
Lisa 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. 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.
The following are the most influential books in the field of physics today according to our backstage Ranking Analytics tool, which calculates the influence of various sources in both academics and popular culture using a numerical scoring of citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.
The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics by Leonard Susskind is a much-needed book fills a gap between popular physics books that rely on metaphor to get their points across, on the one hand, and actual physics textbooks that use real mathematics, on the other. As such, it is a semi-popular book accessible to the motivated general reader, although it is aimed primarily at the undergraduate physics student who wants an overview of the subject based on the mathematical formalisms that constitute the heart of the discipline.
A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram is an effort to present and document the author’s work on developing a new computational language based on cellular automata for the study of complex systems. His key claim is that physics must make the transition from traditional mathematics to computation-based formalisms if it hopes to bring complex systems into its purview.
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing by Lawrence Krauss is both an exposition of fundamental cosmology and a putative refutation of one of the most important of the traditional “proofs” of the existence of God. This proof poses the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It points out that the existence of any physical object is inherently contingent (non-necessary), meaning that so far as its own nature is concerned, it might just as well not exist.
The Quantum Universeby Tony Hey and Patrick Walters is a serious and sophisticated introduction to the basics of quantum mechanics that is extremely well written and user-friendly. Making use of a popular-science approach that shapes the development of quantum theory in a narrative fashion, including interesting incidents and portraits of many of the individual scientists involved in that history, this book is an attractive alternative to a traditional physics textbook.
Are you a student who has questions about this topic? Submit your question below to have one of our expert team members answer it for you! (Questions will be posted with their answers directly to this article, and we'll notify you when yours is answered!)