Newton tops PhysicsWeb poll
Nov 29, 1999
Sir Isaac Newton has come first in the PhysicsWeb survey to find out which scientists have made the most important contributions to physics. Not only does Newton's work on mechanics and gravitation form the basis of much of classical physics, but Newton also made major contributions to the studies of optics, light and heat. Second place goes to Albert Einstein, who developed the theories of special and general relativity and discovered the photoelectric effect. He is followed by James Clerk Maxwell, who unified electricity and magnetism within a single theoretical framework - electromagnetism. The man who paved the way for Newton's laws of gravitation and helped develop the telescope, Galileo, is fourth. And in fifth place is Paul Dirac, one of the founders of quantum mechanics.
Almost 400 people took part in the PhysicsWeb poll, each one naming their top-five physicists. The votes for each physicist were added up and weighted according to how they were ranked by individual voters. This meant that Newton received a higher score than Einstein even though more people voted for the twentieth century physicist. In contrast, a Physics World poll of the world's leading physicists, in which individuals were not asked to rank their choices, put Einstein in the number one spot.
One surprise in both surveys was the large number of theorists in the top ten. And in the PhysicsWeb poll a lot of people voted for Stephen Hawking (who came 16th), while very few voted for nuclear physicist Hans Bethe. In contrast, the Physics World respondents gave Bethe the highest number of votes for a living physicist.
The list below contains all the physicists who scored more than 10 points in the PhysicsWeb survey (where a voter's first choice received five points, their second choice four points, and so on).
|Position||PhysicsWeb survey||Physics World survey|
|1||Sir Isaac Newton||Albert Einstein|
|2||Albert Einstein||Sir Isaac Newton|
|3||James Clerk Maxwell||James Clerk Maxwell|
|4||Galileo Galilei||Niels Bohr|
|5||Paul Dirac||Werner Heisenberg|
|6||Niels Bohr||Galileo Galilei|
|7||Max Planck||Richard Feynman|
Paul Dirac &
|10||Erwin Schrödinger||Ernest Rutherford|
J. J. Thomson