If we ask anyone to name a physicist off the top of their head, we may get names like Einstein, Newton, or Galilei. Their eminent reputation has gained them long-standing spots on lists, such as “The Greatest Physicists of All Time” by popular vote, and deservedly so. They made significant contributions to humanity and imprinted their legacies in our minds and cultural consciousness.
However, in their wake, we also have a trail of lesser-known physicists who are perhaps not as recognized or celebrated but by no means less brilliant. They are outstanding heavyweights who made trailblazing discoveries and inventions and made an uplifting impact on the world today as we know it. Here are some lesser-known scientists who changed science and the world with the work of their minds.
1. James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
Maxwell’s name belongs up there beside the Greats. He is known for his discovery of the theory of electromagnetism, widely regarded as one the most significant discoveries of the modern age. The electromagnetic theory proved that electricity, light, and magnetism were manifestations of the same phenomenon.
Modern physicists regard Maxwell as the leading 19th-century scientist with the most significant influence on 20th-century physics. Albert Einstein owes his Special Theory of Relativity to Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equations.
Maxwell paved the way for major technological innovations and modern conveniences through his electromagnetic theory equations and other foundational work, including the cell phone, television, radio, microwave, and the Internet. He also made significant contributions to Colour Theory in optics. On top of that, Maxwell made fundamental contributions to mathematics, engineering, and astronomy.
2. Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
If you are also a chemistry buff, you may have heard of Meitner elsewhere—the chemical element Meitnerium was named in her honour. This Austrian scientist was one of the discoverers of nuclear fission, known as the splitting of atoms in a nuclear reaction that releases massive amounts of energy. Otto Hahn performed the first experiments on this phenomenon but couldn’t explain the results. Meitner published the first paper on “fission”, which she coined, and accurately presented and described how the uranium atom splits when bombarded by neutrons.
When Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize, Meitner was overlooked. She was the first woman in Germany to become a full physics professor at the University of Berlin. She also observed the Auger effect two years before Pierre Auger did. Meitner turned down an offer to work on the Manhattan Project in 1943 because she wanted nothing to do with the atomic bomb.
3. Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974)
Satyendra Nath Bose is the lesser-known part of the familiar terms, Bose-Einstein condensate and Bose-Einstein Statistics. Bose worked on statistical problems in quantum mechanics and was noted for his collaboration with Albert Einstein. Einstein proposed the idea of light quantum—according to him, light behaves as a particle, which we now call a photon. Bose would fill in the missing puzzle pieces by postulating that two photons of the same frequency are indistinguishable and identical and that statistical outcomes govern the physical behaviour of photons. Einstein recognized that Bose’s mathematics applied to atoms as well as light. Bose is recognized as the father of quantum statistics. He also discovered the subatomic particle named in his honour, the boson.
4. John Bardeen (1908-1991)
The American physicist John Bardeen is part of the “Magnificent Four”, the elite group of people who received the Nobel Prize twice. Bardeen studied the atomic structure and properties of semiconductors, which are materials that conduct current without energy loss or resistance. With Water Brattain, he developed the transistor, which marked unprecedented developments in technology (especially computer technology) and heralded the current age of the electronics industry. With the transistor, advances in technology became more frequent, and it is now omnipresent in devices, from headphones to televisions. Bardeen later discovered superconductivity, which is instrumental in inventing CAT and MRI scans in the medical field.
The incredible personages above significantly contributed to scientific endeavours, generated solutions for everyday life, and unravelled the secrets of the universe. Science would not be the same without them. To learn more about them and their contributions to humanity, enrol in a JC Physics Tuition and learn more about the physical world in an enjoyable and practical way.
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