30 Most Influential Scientists of All Time - InvestingChannel

30 Most Influential Scientists of All Time

In this article, we will be taking a look at the 30 most influential scientists of all time. To skip our detailed analysis of these scientists, their achievements, and their roles in shaping the modern world, you can go directly to see the 5 Most Influential Scientists of All Time.

Throughout human history, science has been a vital component, constantly challenging the limits of what we know and grasp about the world we inhabit. Pioneering thinkers of ancient times to contemporary investigators have unveiled revolutionary findings that have profoundly impacted the trajectory of human civilization. From early models for aviation to the discovery of DNA, science has made leaps and bounds across the ages at blinding speeds. At the onset of the 2010s, private space travel was in its early stages, personalized search results were being introduced by Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Google, and CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology was just beginning. However, as the decade progressed, artificial intelligence excelled in various board games, SpaceX rose to prominence, and the genetic modification of human embryos sparked controversy and became a tangible development.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Energy revealed a significant advancement in fusion energy this past December. They achieved a net gain in energy output compared to the input energy used to heat the fuel source. This breakthrough is poised to drive heightened investments in fusion energy, expediting deeper comprehension. If the engineering and economic hurdles can be sufficiently addressed, it holds the potential to bring forth a functional fusion power plant by 2030.

Scientific research was once confined to academic institutions. Nevertheless, with the increasing complexity of societies, the landscape of scientific R&D has transformed, now encompassing non-academic government institutes and both public and private corporations. This is where Open Science, an emerging trend within the scientific community, comes into play. Since the scientific community is distributed across both academic and industrial settings, it is only natural for data sets to be isolated and collaboration to be restricted as communication largely occurs through events like meetings, conferences, and workshops. Open science encourages collaborative drafting, peer reviews, and transparent open-source publications, fostering an inclusive environment for health research practices. This approach benefits researchers, their affiliated institutions, and society at large in achieving common objectives, such as vaccine development.

Based on research publications from academic institutions and corporations, AI and biotechnology are currently the most rapidly advancing scientific domains worldwide. In the academic realm, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are prominent, leading in research within the US. In 2018, their fractional counts for papers published in the journal Nature were 70.67, 39.85, and 37.69, respectively. On the corporate front, tech giants such as Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Nvidia Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) play a dominant role in AI research and development (R&D). Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), particularly through its subsidiary DeepMind, has notably crafted deep learning algorithms like AlphaFold and AlphaTensor. AlphaFold has successfully tackled the structure prediction of human proteins, achieving a remarkable 98.5% accuracy—a significant challenge persisting for over five decades. In a different vein, AlphaTensor is engineered to explore innovative approaches for matrix multiplications, promising potential acceleration of computers by uncovering novel algorithms.

Conversely, Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE:LLY), Novo Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK), and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) are notable corporate entities within the biotechnology sector.

From the genius intellect of Albert Einstein to the pioneering investigations of Marie Curie, the roster of history’s most influential scientists stands as proof of the potent blend of human inquisitiveness and resolve. These remarkable individuals surmounted formidable challenges and hurdles, all driven by the quest to enhance our comprehension of the universe. For this article we will note down some of the pioneers of human advancement, and their lasting impressions on the modern world.

30 Most Influential Scientists of All Time Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

Our Methodology

To create our compilation of the 30 most influential scientists of all time, we carefully reviewed numerous lists presented by credible sources, including Discover Magazine, The Top Tens, The Scientific 100, and Sapaviva, featuring the greatest or most significant scientists of all time, and amalgamated them into a consolidated meta-list. We assigned each name on this list a score based on their number of appearances, and ranked them accordingly.

30. Dmitri Mendeleev

Insider Monkey Score: 6

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and inventor. While earlier attempts had been made to sequence and categorize elements, Dmitri Mendeleev conceived the most intricate and precise system. Consequently, he is acknowledged for one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of the 19th century. Mendeleev’s publication in 1869 received praise for its insightful content. Notably, it encompassed periodic trends of all known elements at the time, the relationships among those within the same groups, and the potential to foresee the properties of yet-to-be-discovered elements. Mendeleev’s contributions had a profound impact on the fields of Chemistry and Physics. They facilitated a more straightforward anticipation of the characteristics, behaviors, and nature not only of elements but also their compounds and mixtures. In addition to implementing the metric system of measurements within the Russian Empire, Dmitri Mendeleev was the driving force behind the formation of the Russian Chemical Society.

29. Rosalind Franklin

Insider Monkey Score: 7

Rosalind Franklin, or Rosalind Elsie Franklin, was a distinguished British scientist renowned for her pivotal role in discovering the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a fundamental component of chromosomes responsible for encoding genetic information. Her contributions extended to providing valuable insights into the structure of viruses, thereby significantly contributing to the foundational knowledge of structural virology.

28. Linus Pauling

Insider Monkey Score: 7

Linus Carl Pauling, the exclusive laureate of two individual Nobel Prizes, brought about a revolution in the realm of chemistry, co-founding the field of molecular biology and achieving significant strides in medical research. Throughout the 1930s, Linus Pauling stood at the forefront, employing quantum mechanics to fathom and explain chemical bonding—the intricate process through which atoms unite to create molecules. His contributions spanned a wide spectrum within the domain of chemistry, encompassing endeavors in delineating the structures of important biological chemical compounds. Notably, in 1951, he unveiled the structure of the alpha helix, a fundamental building block of numerous proteins.

27. Alexander Fleming

Insider Monkey Score: 7

Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician and microbiologist, is renowned for his discovery of the world’s inaugural broadly effective antibiotic substance, named penicillin. This chance finding sparked comprehensive research, leading to the development of several antibiotics in use today. The significance of antibiotics cannot be overstated, spanning from combating infections to reducing post-surgical complications. A myriad of diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and bubonic plague, which had claimed millions of lives and instilled fear even in the mightiest rulers across centuries, were subdued in the 20th century with the advent of antibiotics. Devoid of these remedies, our respective life expectancies would have been significantly lower. Hence, Alexander Fleming’s discovery stands among the most paramount breakthroughs in history. He also shared the Nobel Prize in medicine/physiology with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey in 1945, among other honors.

26. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

Insider Monkey Score: 7

William Thomson Kelvin, a mathematical physicist, held the position of a professor at the University of Glasgow for over half a century. His research encompassed domains such as heat, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, and geology. Presently, he is most renowned for devising the absolute temperature scale, honored through the S.I. unit bearing his name. While the concept of “absolute zero” was acknowledged before Kelvin, it was he who determined its precise value of -273.15°C. Kelvin collaborated with various contemporaries, earning acclaim for contributions pivotal to establishing the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Without a doubt one of the most influential scientists of all time, numerous theorems and concepts are named in his honor, including Kelvin’s Circulation Theorem, Kelvin’s Equation, and Kelvin’s Wave.

25. Alessandro Volta

Insider Monkey Score: 7

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, an Italian physicist and chemist, stands as a pioneer in the realms of electricity and power, recognized as the inventor of the electric battery. The significance of batteries cannot be overstated, permeating through various facets of modern life, from cars and aircraft to cameras and cellphones. Volta’s contributions in this domain garnered widespread acclaim, often overshadowing his other remarkable achievements. For instance, he held the distinction of being the first to identify and isolate methane. His notable accomplishments caught the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte, resulting in him being bestowed the titles of count and senator in his native Lombardy. In honor of his legacy, several entities are named after him, including the 8208 Volta asteroid and the 123-kilometer-wide Volta lunar crater.

24. Johannes Kepler

Insider Monkey Score: 7

Johannes Kepler, a German polymath, excelled as an astronomer, mathematician, astrologer, natural philosopher, and music theorist. A central figure in the 17th-century Scientific Revolution, he gained widespread acclaim for his fundamental laws of planetary motion delineated in books like Astronomia nova, Harmonice Mundi, and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae. Kepler, a luminary of the Renaissance era and one of the most influential scientists of all time, achieved numerous pioneering feats in Astronomy, Mechanics, Waves, Optics, and Mathematical Analysis. Among his groundbreaking contributions, he was the first to propose the elliptical orbits of planets around the sun, dispelling erroneous theories dating back to ancient Greece. Moreover, Kepler accurately elucidated the mechanics of tidal waves, marking another first in scientific understanding. Later on, Isaac Newton drew inspiration from Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, subsequently delving into extensive research to formulate his own Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation.

23. Tim Berners-Lee

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recognized as the inventor of the World Wide Web and listed among Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’, is a distinguished scientist and academic. His forward-thinking and innovative contributions have reshaped nearly every facet of our lives. Currently a professorial research fellow at the University of Oxford and a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Berners-Lee has been bestowed with numerous awards and honors. In the 2004 New Year Honors, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II “for services to the global development of the Internet,” with the formal inauguration taking place on 16 July 2004.

22. James Watt

Insider Monkey Score: 8

James Watt, a Scottish innovator, mechanical engineer, and chemist, significantly enhanced Thomas Newcomen’s 1712 steam engine with his pioneering Watt steam engine in 1776. This invention played a pivotal role in catalyzing the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in both his homeland, Great Britain, and globally. Beyond revolutionizing steam engines, James Watt is credited with establishing the imperial unit for measuring power, known as Horsepower. He utilized this unit to make comparative assessments of diverse steam engine outputs long before turbines, pistons, and electric motors came into existence. Recognized for his impactful contributions, Watt received numerous accolades, and the term “Watt” was designated as the S.I. unit for power.

21. Edwin Hubble

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Edwin Powell Hubble, an American astronomer, held a pivotal role in founding the domains of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology. He provided substantial evidence to debunk the earlier notion that numerous entities believed to be dust and gas clouds, often labeled as “nebulae,” were indeed galaxies situated beyond the Milky Way. Contrary to the earlier perception of a stationary universe, Hubble conclusively demonstrated that galaxies are, in reality, receding from us. Through meticulous analysis of light emanating from diverse galaxies, Hubble detected a discernible shift towards the red end of the spectrum, challenging the static universe belief. Today, the Hubble Space Telescope bears his name, a testament to his lasting impact and contributions to the field of astronomy.

20. Ernest Rutherford

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Ernest Rutherford was a dedicated experimenter with excellence spanning both theoretical and practical domains. His renowned work is primarily attributed to his contributions in Nuclear Chemistry and Atomic Physics. Pioneering terminologies, he was the first to introduce the term “half-life” in describing radioactive decays and utilized “alpha particles,” “beta particles,” and “gamma rays” to characterize these ionizing radiations. His extensive Gold Foil Experiments, also recognized as the Geiger-Marsden Experiments, conducted between 1908 to 1913, led to the postulation of what is now known as the Rutherford Model in Atomic Physics. Notably, both the 13-kilometer-wide Rutherford lunar crater and the synthetic element Rutherfordium bear his name in tribute to his impactful contributions.

19. Max Planck

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Max Planck stands out as one of the most influential scientists of all time, even among his compatriots on this list. His groundbreaking Quantum Theory not only revolutionized physics but also paved a new path for comprehending the atomic and subatomic realms. Unsurprisingly, some of the foremost experts of his era grappled with unraveling the fundamental concepts he introduced. Planck’s significant contributions also extended to elucidating how objects emit and absorb radiations. Furthermore, his support for and contributions to Albert Einstein’s Relativity Theory played a crucial role in its acceptance, both in Germany and on a global scale. Planck’s broad range of works encompassed optics, entropy, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics. In recognition of his achievements, he is associated with significant eponyms like Planck’s constant, Planck units, and the prestigious Max Planck Medal.

18. Thomas Alva Edison

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Thomas Edison, also known as Thomas Alva Edison, was an American inventor acknowledged for holding a remarkable world record of 1,093 patents either solely or in collaboration. Notably, he established the world’s inaugural industrial research laboratory, embodying the essence of the American inventor during the era of Yankee ingenuity. Edison embarked on his professional journey in 1863, a time when the telegraph industry was in its adolescence, and primitive batteries producing a low-voltage current were the primary source of electricity. Widely regarded as one of the most eminent and productive inventors in history, Thomas Alva Edison significantly shaped modern life with his groundbreaking inventions, including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and substantial enhancements to the telegraph and telephone.

17. Gregor Mendel

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Gregor Mendel holds the title of the “Father of Genetics” across the scientific community. His pioneering botanical experiments unraveled the enigmas of heredity, employing plant breeding techniques to compare traits like heights and flower colors. Through analysis using simple statistics, Mendel observed the consistency in outcomes across successive filial generations, enabling accurate predictions. Both his innovative methodologies and definitive conclusions opened a gateway to the captivating realm of hereditary phenomena that continue to captivate us today. However, Mendel’s Laws of Heredity were so advanced for their time that they were only fully appreciated long after his passing. Notably, besides his contributions to genetics, Mendel also delved into astronomy and meteorology, boasting a significant number of treatises on meteorology and even founding Austria’s Meteorological Society.

16. Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier

Insider Monkey Score: 8

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, later known as Antoine Lavoisier after the French Revolution, was a distinguished French chemist and nobleman. He played a pivotal role in the 18th-century chemical revolution, leaving an indelible mark on the histories of both chemistry and biology. Lavoisier made groundbreaking contributions, including establishing the law of conservation of mass, identifying that combustion and respiration stem from chemical reactions involving what he termed “oxygen,” and aiding in the organization of chemical nomenclature. One of the lunar craters, Lavoisier, spanning 70 kilometers in diameter and located between Bunsen, Beigh, and von Braun, is named in his honor.

15. Nicolaus Copernicus

Insider Monkey Score: 8

While the Renaissance originated in Italy, the majority of mathematicians during that era hailed from outside Italy. One of the eminent figures among them was Nicolaus Copernicus, a Catholic Canon and physician of Polish descent. Copernicus drew knowledge from the works of Alhazen Ibn al-Haytham and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. As the foremost European astronomer of his time, Copernicus boldly advocated the accurate concept, albeit risky then, that the sun was at the center of the solar system, around which all other planets orbited. Being a polymath with proficiency in multiple languages, his intellectual pursuits extended across a diverse array of fields encompassing literature, commerce, jurisprudence, medicine, theology, philosophy, ethics, administration, astronomy, and mathematics. His magnum opus, “The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” published shortly after his death in early 1543 and dedicated to Pope Paul III, remains a seminal publication in the entire history of science.

14. John Dalton

Insider Monkey Score: 9

John Dalton, an English scientist, excelled in the fields of chemistry, physics, and meteorology. Renowned for his atomic theory, which revolutionized particle physics and nuclear chemistry, Dalton emerged as one of the most impactful chemists in the 19th century. His primary acclaim rests in introducing the atomic theory to the realm of chemistry and his significant research on color blindness, a condition he personally experienced. This condition is referred to as Daltonism in many languages, named in his honor. Dalton conducted numerous experiments that provided compelling evidence for the existence of atoms. For instance, he delved into properties of gases, particularly pressure, inferring that gases were composed of minuscule, individual particles in constant, random motion. This foundational work led to what is now known as Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures and, subsequent to further experimentation, the Law of Multiple Proportion.

13. Leonardo da Vinci

Insider Monkey Score: 9

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, an Italian architect, engineer, sculptor, draftsman, and painter renowned for his masterful artworks, notably the Mona Lisa, exemplified the Renaissance humanist ideal through his exceptional skill and intellect. His journey into the realm of scientific exploration gained momentum, particularly after his initial period in Milan around 1505. Leonardo’s scientific inquiries encompassed a wide array of subjects, spanning anatomy, zoology, botany, geology, optics, aerodynamics, and hydrodynamics, to name a few. Notably, his groundbreaking research in neuroanatomy, including discoveries related to the frontal sinus and meningeal vessels, underscored his multifaceted contributions.

12. Archimedes

Insider Monkey Score: 10

Archimedes of Syracuse, an esteemed Ancient Greek mathematician, inventor, physicist, engineer, and astronomer hailing from the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily, remains a figure of great importance in the annals of classical antiquity. While limited details are available about his life, he is revered as one of the most influential scientists of that era. Notably, Archimedes made a significant discovery concerning the relationship between the surface and volume of a sphere and its encompassing cylinder. His contributions also include formulating the hydrostatic principle, famously known as “Archimedes’ principle,” and creating innovative devices such as the screw pump, compound pulleys, and defensive war machines aimed at safeguarding his hometown of Syracuse from potential invasion.

11. Stephen Hawking

Insider Monkey Score: 11

Stephen William Hawking, an accomplished English author, cosmologist, and theoretical physicist, held the esteemed position of director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge until his passing. He stood as one of the preeminent physicists and cosmologists of his era, presenting several impactful theorems such as the gravitational singularity theorem. Hawking was credited with pioneering discoveries like Hawking radiation and various significant concepts within the domains of general relativity and quantum gravity.

10. Neils Bohr

Insider Monkey Score: 11

Niels Henrik David Bohr, a Danish physicist, made foundational advancements in understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. Pioneering the application of the quantum concept, which constrains a system’s energy to specific discrete values, Bohr greatly contributed to the comprehension of atomic and molecular structure. His initial foray into the emerging realm of quantum physics began in 1912 during what we now refer to as postdoctoral research in England with Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester. While subsequent refinements were made to his findings, they played a pivotal role in establishing Quantum Mechanics. Niels Bohr received various accolades during and after his lifetime, notably including the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922.

9. Nikola Tesla

Insider Monkey Score: 11

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and visionary, gained widespread recognition for his significant contributions to modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply systems. Revered as one of the greatest engineers in recorded history, he displayed early insight into the profound implications of Faraday’s, Ampère’s, and Oersted’s pioneering experiments. As an engineer, he creatively applied their principles, particularly pioneering the generation, transmission, and utilization of AC electricity. Tesla’s innovative influence extends from electricity and telephony to mechanics and magnetism, leaving an indelible mark across various domains. Despite not receiving ample recognition during his lifetime, his lasting impact was acknowledged when, during the General Conference of Weights and Measures in 1960, the S.I. unit of magnetic flux density was designated with his name, Tesla.

8. Louis Pasteur

Insider Monkey Score: 14

Louis Pasteur, a notable French microbiologist and chemist, achieved renown for his pivotal discoveries in vaccination principles, microbial fermentation, and the process of pasteurization, a technique named in his honor. While his primary contributions were in the realms of microbiology and medicine, Pasteur’s academic background was in chemistry, and he held professorial positions at Strasbourg and Lille universities in France. His investigations into Molecular Asymmetry significantly advanced scientists’ understanding of the optical and crystallographic properties of various organic salts. Alongside publishing scholarly treatises and garnering prestigious awards, Pasteur played a vital role as an educator, mentoring numerous students during his tenure as the Director of Scientific Studies at École Normale Supérieure, Paris.

7. Charles Darwin

Insider Monkey Score: 14

Charles Robert Darwin, an accomplished English biologist, naturalist, and geologist, gained widespread acclaim for his significant contributions to the field of evolutionary biology. His fundamental proposition, stating that all life forms share a common ancestry, has evolved into a widely accepted and pivotal concept in the realm of science. Collaborating with Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin jointly published their scientific theory, elucidating that the branching pattern of evolution stems from a process he termed natural selection. This process, akin to the artificial selection found in selective breeding, is driven by the struggle for existence, shaping the progression of life. Darwin’s theory of evolution revolved around three key components: the occurrence of random variations among members of a species, the hereditary nature of an individual’s traits to its offspring, and the principle that only those with advantageous traits (natural selection or ‘Darwinism’) would endure through the struggle for existence.

6. Michael Faraday

Insider Monkey Score: 14

Michael Faraday, an eminent English scientist, made substantial contributions to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Widely acclaimed as the most influential experimenter in the annals of science, his paramount discoveries encompassed the foundational principles of electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism, and electrolysis. In 1821, he achieved a breakthrough by generating mechanical motion using a permanent magnet and an electric current—a precursor to the modern electric motor. A decade later, he furthered his achievements by transforming magnetic force into electrical force, thus pioneering the world’s first electrical generator. Prominent figures in the realm of science, including the likes of Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford, and James Clerk Maxwell, drew inspiration from Faraday’s profound ideas.

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Disclosure: None. 30 Most Influential Scientists of All Time is originally published on Insider Monkey.

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