greatest scientists

Famous Scientists F-K

Greatest Scientists F-K: Most influential Physicists, Chemists, Astronomers, Mathematicians in History

List of all greatest scientists of all time highlighting their specialisms and notable achievements.

“It doesn’t make a difference what temperature a room is, it’s always room temperature” – Steven Wright, American comedian

We wonder what Gabriel Fahrenheit, who kicks off our greatest scientists list, would have to say about that? Fahrenheit versus Celsius, Centigrade and Kelvin would probably spark a lively debate about the advantages of the Metric System compared to the older Imperial measurement system still used in the USA. Check out ADDucation’s units of measurement list for more info on that subject.

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Greatest Scientists of all timeCountryBorn / DiedSpecialist areasAchievements of Prominent Scientists
Fahrenheit, Gabriel Germany1686-1736PhysicsThe German physicist developed the mercury thermometer in 1714 with a three-point calibration. For the zero point of his scale he used the lowest temperature he could produce at the time: minus 17.8 F°. He defined the freezing point of water as +32 F° and water’s boiling point as +212 F°.
Faraday, Michael Great Britain1791-1867Chemistry, PhysicsWith his discovery of electromagnetic technology he constructed the first dynamo which led to the first electric motor. In 1832 Faraday described the principles of electrolysis and electrostatics. To prove his theory, he built the “Faraday cage”.
Fermat, Pierre de France1601-1665MathematicsThe lawyer Pierre de Fermat only dealt with Mathematics in his spare time and therefore remained unknown during his lifetime. It was only after his death that other greatest scientists spotted the basics of analytic geometry in his writings which he had found independently of René Descartes. He is also renowned for his so-called “Fermat’s Last Theorem” which says that no triples of whole numbers satisfy the equation xn + yn = zn no as soon as n is greater than 2.
Fermi, Enrico Italy1901-1954Physics, Nobel Prize 1938Significant 20th century nuclear physicist. Enrico Fermi bombarded uranium with neutrons and thus prepared the way for nuclear fission. He built the first nuclear reactor in 1944 and received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938.
Fleming, Sir Alexander Great Britain1881-1955Bacteriology, Nobel Prize 1945In 1928 Sir Fleming discovered the first ever antibiotic by accident – returning from holiday he discovered a bacteria-destroying fungus (“penicillin“) in Petri dishes he’d left standing around. This became a remedy for many infections.
Foucault, Léon Jean BernandFrance1819-1868PhysicsLeon Foucault ascertained the speed of light by bouncing it off a series of rotating mirrors and showed that light in the air moves faster than in water. The French physicist also proved Earth’s rotation using what became known as “Foucault’s Pendulum” in a demonstration at the Panthéon, Paris in 1851.
Fraunhofer, Joseph of Germany1787-1826Optics, AstronomyJosef von Fraunhofer created the telescope with which Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784-1846) was able to measure the parallax of a fixed star. He improved lenses and prisms, and through experiments with light found hundreds of spectral lines.
Freud, Sigmund Germany1856-1939Psychology, NeurologySigmund Freud is considered the father of “psychoanalysis”. Sexual drive and death primarily drive our behavior, somewhere in the middle are “displacement”, the “subconscious”, the “ego” and “superego” as well as neuroses.
Galen of Pergamon Greece129-199MedicineGalen was probably the first sports physician of all time. He viewed body and soul as a whole (the origin of psychoanalysis). He wrote 22 books about the organism, pathology, physiology, treatment and pharmacology.
Galilei, Galileo Italy1564-1642Astronomy, Physics, ChemistryGalileo Galilei is the founder of the fields of dynamics mechanics and acoustics. He discovered the laws of falling bodies, ballistics and pendulums, and confirmed Copernicus‘ heliocentric view of the world through astronomical observations using a telescope he’d also improved. In this way, he first saw the moon’s surface and many other stars. The scientific genius also examined gases and proved that air has a weight of its own and is, therefore, also matter.
Gauss, Karl FriedrichGermany1777-1855Mathematics AstronomyGauss was a versatile genius. Aged 15 he had already deduced a connection between prime numbers and logarithms and discovered “the method of least squares”. He influenced the fields of algebra with evidence of the so-called fundamental theorem (an equation of the nth degree has n roots), stochastics, integral calculus (Gaussian set), and magnetism. Ahead of other greatest scientists Gauss was the first to refute the Euclidean parallel postulate and found an easy way to represent complex numbers with the coordinate system. The famous mathematician computed planetary orbits and optical laws. Together with Wilhelm Weber (1804-1891) he built the first electromagnetic telegraph system.
Gilbert, William Great Britain1540-1603Physics, MedicineRealized the Earth itself is magnetic and that our planet has two (and not, as originally thought one) magnetic poles. Born in Colchester, Essex, England, William Gilbert investigated electricity and developed the first electroscope for measuring electricity.
Grassmann, HermannGermany1809-1877Mathematics, PhysicsThe introverted philologist was an autodidact in Mathematics. As such, he conducted research on electrical currents, color theory, acoustics, phonetics and harmony. His mathematical work “The theory of linear extension” contained treatises on quaternions, matrix calculus and vector calculations.
Haber, FritzGermany1868-1934Chemistry, Nobel Prize 1919Regarded as the creator of ammonia synthesis, which is still used in modern agriculture, and the manufacture of explosives. Ahead of other most greatest scientists Fritz Haber was also the first to build a functional catalyst.
Hahn, OttoGermany1879-1968Chemistry, Nobel Prize 1944Irradiated uranium with neutrons in 1938 which split the uranium and freed barium. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for this first “nuclear fission”. Hahn was a close friend of the physicist Lise Meitner.
Halley, Edmond Great Britain1656-1742Astronomy, MathematicsAstronomer Royal, who created a “Catalogus Stellarum Austrialanum” and in 1705 discovered a comet named after him. Also explained geomagnetic phenomena (auroras etc.).
Hamilton, Rowan Great Britain1805-1865Mathematics, PhysicsProdigy who spoke 13 languages, Rowan Hamilton was appointed head of an observatory when just 23. By 27 he was a well-known scientist who created the quaternions (hyper complex numbers a + bi + cj + dk) and vector calculus.
Hawking, Stephen Great Britain1942-2018Astrophysics, MathematicsPossibly the most famous scientist of our time. Despite suffering from ALS (motor neurone disease) for over 50 years, the English physicist Stephen Hawking researched the black holes of our universe, written the 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time and in 2001 The Universe in a Nutshell. Hawking is one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.
Heisenberg, Werner Germany1901-1976PhysicsThe German physicist assumed that electrons can only change by so-called quantum leaps, hence the term quantum theory. Werner Heisenberg found that atoms behave differently when they are observed.
Helmholtz, Hermann von Germany1821-1894Physics, MedicineHelmholtz examined the fermentation, putrefaction and heat production of living beings. In his book on the Conservation of energy (1847) he showed that energy can be transformed, but never be lost.
Heron of Alexandria Egypt100 BCMathematics, MechanicsThis engineer and inventor was a dab hand at putting science into practice. He was among the first to build early machines (taximeter, surveyor, music machines, wind-powered organ etc.) as well as the first type of steam engine.
Herophilos of Chalcedon Greece330-255 BCMedicineWas the first to perform autopsies on people and animals. In doing so discovered basic functions of the liver, spleen, intestines, heart, eyes, nerves, brain and bloodstream. He was also the first to distinguish veins from arteries.
Herschel, William Germany
Great Britain
1738-1822Astronomy, MathematicsThis persistent astronomer sat night after night for hours staring through his home-made telescope watching the starry sky. Among other greatest scientists William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, the Milky Way and the fact that all stars are suns.
Hertz, Heinrich Germany1857-1894PhysicsThe German physicist confirmed the findings of James Maxwell, who discovered radio waves and constructed transmitters as well as receivers electromagnetic waves. His name stands for the unit of frequency.
Hilbert, David Germany1862-1943MathematicsDavid Hilbert reduced geometry to a series of axioms. He is most famous for his list of what he considered the 23 big “problems of mathematics” (his 24th was found later) in 1900. Many of the 23 have since been solved by other greatest scientists.
Hipparchos Greece190-120 BCAstronomy, MathematicsObserved over 1000 stars and recorded them in a catalog and a map of the sky. Hipparchos calculated the length of the sun’s and of the sidereal year as well as the lunar month. He is considered the founder of trigonometry.
Hippocrates Greece460-370 BCMedicineHippocrates is widely considered the father of western medicine. He looked for the causes of disease in lifestyle and diet rather than as punishment by the gods. He was effectively the first general practitioner, surgeon and dietician. Even today, doctors still swear the “Hippocratic Oath“. He used the first medications to be won from nature for healing purposes.
Hooke, Robert Great Britain1635-1703Chemistry, BiologyTogether with Robert Boyle, Hooke improved the air pump devised by Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), developed special microscopes with which he discovered plant cells (named after him).
Howard, LukeGreat Britain1772-1864Chemistry, MeteorologyKnown as the “father of meteorology”, he devised a nomenclature system for clouds in 1802 which – with modifications – is still in use today. He gave names to the three main types of clouds – cumulus, stratus and cirrus and combinations like stratocumulus and cumulonimbus.
Hubble, Edwin USA1889-1953Astronomy, PhysicsIn 1925, Edwin Hubble proved that the “Andromeda Nebula M31” lies far beyond our Milky Way and thereby prepared for the discovery (by Georges Lemaître) of the expansion of the universe.
Huygens, Christian The Netherlands1629-1695Physics, Mathematics, AstronomyJack of all trades. Discovered the rings of Saturn with a self-made telescope, constructed new pendant and pocket watches, explained the theory of probability, described the so-called impact law, founded a new theory of light and dealt with vibration and circular motion (centrifugal force).
Jennings, Edward Great Britain1749-1823Virology, MedicineBrave enough to take risks, in 1796 he inoculated a healthy 8-year-old boy with (cow) smallpox pathogens against smallpox and was successful. Edward Jennings is, therefore, considered the father of the smallpox vaccination.
Joule, James Prescott Great Britain1818-1889Physics, ChemistryProved through experimentation that heat is a form of energy which is dependent on resistance, time and current strength. James Prescott Joule also discovered the internal energy of gases (the Joule-Thomson effect).
Jump Cannon, Annie  USA1863-1941AstronomyAnnie Jump Cannon was a famous astronomer for the “Harvard Classification Scheme” which classified stars based on their temperatures and spectral types. She classified over 300,000 stellar bodies, more than any other person, which earned her the nickname “Census Taker of the Sky”. In 1925 Cannon became the first female recipient of an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. In 1929 Annie Jump Cannon was chosen by the League of Women Voters as one of the “greatest living American women” and in 1994 Cannon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Kelvin, William Thomson Ireland1824-1907Physics, ChemistryAs a researcher of thermodynamics, he developed and fixed the Kelvin units temperature scale. Together with James Joule, he discovered that gases under pressure change their temperature and that at “absolute zero” (-273 ° C), all particles stop moving.
Kepler, Johannes Germany1571-1630Astronomy MathematicsJohannes Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion (ellipses) and recorded a profile of star orbits. To do so, he calculated for the first time with integrals and logarithms. He also confirmed discoveries by Galileo Galilei.
Kirchhoff, Gustav R. Germany1824-1887PhysicsDiscovered spectral analysis together with Robert Bunsen, which made it possible to detect the tiniest amounts of an element. Defined the laws of electric circuits and investigated the sun’s thermal radiation.
Knuth, Donald EmeritusUSA1938Mathematics, Computer ScienceWitty Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, Knuth is famous in the world of computer programming and is known by some as the “father of the analysis of algorithms”. Having created various programming systems and architectures himself he is personally against software patents.
Koch, Robert Germany1843-1910Medicine, Nobel Prize 1905Through painstaking and lengthy (animal) experiments, Robert Koch discovered the spores, bacteria and pathogens of cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, anthrax, sleeping sickness and the plague. Find more greatest scientists on next pages.

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