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They weren't all household names, that's why I changed the heading above to "Great" instead of "Famous". I started prefacing the descriptions with "Great" but realized they were ALL great, that's why they're here! My criteria for them being "great" is that I knew of their accomplishments, and to me WERE household names. I began with physicists only but could not in good conscience not include non-physicists like Euler (mathematician) or Crick (biologist). Further, though Thomas Edison was inventor, I would have added him just for what he's best known for. I had to include engineers and industrialists as well. Someday I hope to have more than just a one line description, because the accomplishments of some of these people would fill a page.
Physicist pictures are copyright California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the American Institute of Physics.   Most (other) photos and descriptions taken from Wikipedia. 
Fermat, Pierre de
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
worked with George Gamow
Helped develop geiger counter, bubble chamber, variable focus spectacles.  He used cosmic xrays to show that an Egyptian pyramid had no undiscovered chambers, and that only one killer was involved in the Kennedy assassination.   With son Walter, wrote book about the killer comet/asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65M years ago.  Nobel 1968
Discovered positron, thus confirming the presence of antimatter.   Nobel 1936
French mathematician and physicist did pioneering work on electricity and magnetism.  The unit of electric current , the ampere, is named after him.
Wrote papers on optics, predicted hydrogen in sun.  Angstrom unit, for measuring the wavelength of light is named after him.
Mathematician, the most celebrated of the ancients and one of the greatest of all times.  Invented the Archimedian screw for raising water, discovered formulae for areas and volumes of spheres, parabolas, cylinders, and other plane and solid figures.  Founded the science of hydrostatics of which his Principle (buoyancy) is well known.   Though he was Greek, the Romans knew him to be a great man and ordered that he be spared, but a soldier who did not recognize him killed him in a siege.
Italian, theorized that gases of the same volume at the same temperature must contain the same number of molecules.  This is called Avogadro's Law.  Avogadro number named for him.  6.023 x 10E23 is one mole, the number of molecules in a substance.
German astronomer, discovered Cepheid variables, with which we can measure distances to other stars
Argued for an empirical, inductive approach, known as the scientific method, which is the foundation of modern scientific inquiry.
English mathematician and inventor, made calculator called Analytical Engine.
With William Shockley invented transistor Won Physics Nobel twice, second for superconductivity
The only real important engineer here...he invented television.  Scottish.
French physicist discovered radioactivity in 1896
Scottish-American-Canadian inventor of the telephone.  His descendants still live on family estate in Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.  Bell is buried on the family estate.
German inventor designed first car powered by an internal combustion engine
Swiss mathematician and physicist.  Bernoulli's Principle explains why planes fly.
Director of Atomic Bomb project at Los Alamos.  Nobel winner 1967
Invented the ball point pen
His new model of the atom revolutionized physics. Nobel winner 1922.  To me, one of the top 10 scientists of all times.  Danish scientist applied quantum theory to Rutherford's structure of the atom.
Son of Niels.  Developed another model of the atom based on father's work.  Nobel 1975
Black body radiation,  viscosity work, Boltzmann's Constant in kinetic energy calcs
Showed that state of a particle could only be predicted in terms of probabilities. Nobel 1954
Bothe, Walther
Shared Nobel with Born, improved on scintillation counting, first discovered neutron
 
Irish scientist, formulated Boyle's Law that the pressure and volume of a gas are inversely proportional. Invented matches using newly discovered phosphorus by Humphry Davy.
German engineer, pioneer in rocket building.  Worked on V2 for Germans, then on the mighty Saturn V rocket that put man on the moon.
With John Bardeen and William Shockley, invented the transistor
American inventor of the photocopier. 
English chemist and physicist, discovered hydrogen, and estimated the weight of the earth.
Identified Bothe's radiation as due to neutrons, which he named. Nobel 1935. Knighted 1945.
Has a satellite named after him.  Worked on theory of white dwarf and neutron stars.  Nobel 1983.
Blue light that is generated when water is irradiated is called Cerenkov Radiation  
Polish astronomer developed the theory that planets moved around the sun, not the other way around.
Coulomb's Law, torsion balance, SI unit of electrical charge named after him
English biologist, who with James Watson, discovered the structure of DNA, from Xray photos taken by Rosalind Franklin.
Won Nobel prize in Physics with husband Pierre 1903, and for Chemistry 1911.  First to win Nobel in 2 fields of study
Discovered radium and polonium with wife Marie.  Nobel prize winner with wife Marie 1903
English chemist who suggested that elements are made of atoms which combine to make compounds
English naturalist who first suggested that species evolve and change by natural selection.
Chemist, discovered 10 elements, invented Davy lamp for miners
daVinci, Leonardo
Italian polymath of the Renaissance, whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.
English physicist, contributed greatly to understanding of Quantum theory
Drake equation named for this American astronomer
Astronomer, proved Einstein's theories were correct
Physicist and inventor, the most prolific the world has ever seen.
German born physicist who published Special and General Theory of Relativity
Swiss mathematician, said to be the greatest of them all. Worked on calculus, topology. Went blind, did math in his head.
English scientist who invented the dynamo, generating electric current by spinning a coil in a magnetic field.  Everyone using alternating current (AC) in the world owes this guy a lot.
 
French mathermatician, best known for his Last Theorem
American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics.  Noble in 1965 with Tomonaga and Schwinger.
Italian physicist was the first to control nuclear energy in a nuclear reactor.
Found, Christine
My daughter, MSc in Biology. Works for California Water Commission
Found, Rob
My son, PhD in Biology, studied Elk in Banff, works for Parks Canada
American scientist,and inventor,  worked to explain electricity
Hungarian physicist, invented holography. Nobel 1971
Astronomer, scientist made many discoveries.  He proved that all falling bodies descend with equal acceleration.  His studies of planetary motion supported Copernican theory that planets moved around the sun.
Discovered Quantum tunneling, predicted Cosmic microwave background radiation. Student was Ralph Alpher
Brilliant German mathematician who contributed greatly to the field of mathematics.  Unit of magnetism named after him.
American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles.
English physicist, doctor to Queen Elizabeth I, founded study of magnetism.  First to suggest that earth itself had a magnetic field.
Predicted charm quark, described electroweak interactions for which he won Nobel in 1973. Proposed grand unification theory.
American scientist who did much work in field of rocketry, proving a liquid propellant was feasible. NY Times called him a quack. 
Austrian mathematician and logician
Astrophysicist but worked in biophysics, astronomy, aerospace engineering and geophysics. Backed the Steady State Universe hypotheses, now abandoned by all.  Frank Drake and Carl Sagan were hired by him.
Studied gorillas in Africa
Guth, Allan Guth formally proposed the idea of cosmic inflation in 1981, the idea that the nascent universe passed through a phase of exponential expansion that was driven by a positive vacuum energy density (negative vacuum pressure).
American astronomer, Hale Telescope on Mount Palomar named for him.  
German chemist, who, with Fritz Strassman discovered nuclear fission
Made his friend Isaac Newton publish his theories and laws.  Predicted comet return.
English doctor who discovered how blood circulates through the body.
English physicist who has advanced the understanding of the origin of the universe.  Specialized in black hole theory. Wrote Brief History of Time
Architect of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.  Great German scientist
 
First curator of Smithsonian Institution, did much work with magnetic fields, inventing the relay which allowed for later invention of the telegraph.  Henry has unit for inductance named after him.
Sister to William, did important work assisting her brother
British astronomer and telescope maker, discovered Uranus and infrared radiation
German physicist demonstrated existence of radio waves.  The frequency term Hertz (Hz) is named after him.
German-Canadian pioneering physicist and physical chemist, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971, "for his contributions to the knowledge of electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals"
English physicist discovered relationship between elasticity and force, called Hooke's Law
British astronomer who formulated the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. He also held controversial stances on other scientific matters-in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term coined by him on BBC radio
Hubble telescope named for him.  Proved the existence of galaxies beyond our own. Hubble Law and Hubble's Constant
Dutch physicist and astronomer invented first accurate pendulum clock, recognized Saturn's rings and was the first person to suggest that light travels in waves.
American physicist and radio engineer who in August 1931 first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way. He is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy.
Discovered vaccination, protected boy from smallpox by injecting him with cowpox
The marketing genius behind everything Apple: iPad, iPhone
 
 
English physicist who did important work on heat, and established the principle of conservation of energy.  The joule, a unit of work and energy is named after him.
Michio Kaku American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science.  I read two of his books.
(William Thomson) British physicist and mathematician who did important work in thermodynamics and established the absolute temperature scale whose units are named after him.
German astronomer, discovered the laws of planetary motion
Discovered the Kerr geometry, an exact solution to the Einstein field equation of general relativity. His solution models the gravitational field outside an uncharged rotating massive object, including a rotating black hole.
Invented the integrated circuit.  Because I knew this trivia, I won a Phillips DVM!
Kirchhoff's Current Law, described how currents flow in circuits.  As important as Ohm's Law
 
He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K .  Too many accomplishments to list for this Russian scientist.
 
French lawyer and scientist named oxygen and hydrogen and explained the role of oxygen in combustion.
Co-dicoverer of calculus with Newton.  Newton published first.
Lamarr, Hedy At the beginning of World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers.  Yes, she was a good, pretty actress too!
American nuclear scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939 for his invention of the cyclotron. He is known for his work on uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project
 
 
Dutch scientist who was first to examine bacteria, sperm and blood cells with a microscope
Belgian physicist, mathematician, priest who first proposed the Big Bang Theory
Swedish botanist introduced the method of classifying living things into genus, species and other sub-divisions
English surgeon, first to carry out antiseptic operations
 
English mathematician worked on Babbages Analytical Engine, devising programs which anticipated computer programming.
English physicist and radio astronomer. He was the first Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980
American businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars. He founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death.
Lumiere brothers (Auguste and Louis) were among the first filmmakers in history. They patented an improved cinematograph, which in contrast to Thomas Edison's "peepshow" kinetoscope allowed simultaneous viewing by multiple parties.
"mach" number named after him.  Mach 1 is speed of sound, which varies in different materials and temperature.
Buit the first laser based on theoretical work of Townes and Schalow. 
Italian physicist developed radio telegraphy, sending signals across Atlantic in 1901
Great Scottish scientist.  His equations used by Einstein.  Established the presence of electromagnetic radiation.
Austrian physicist explained nuclear fission for the first time.  Worked with Otto Hann
An Austrian monk and naturalist who developed the laws of heridity
Developed the Periodic Table of the Elements
 
One half of the Michelson/Morley experiment that determined there was no "ether" though which light propagated
 
 
Many mathematical concepts are named after him, including the Möbius plane, the Möbius transformations, important in projective geometry, and the Möbius transform of number theory. His interest in number theory led to the important Möbius function μ(n) and the Möbius inversion formula.
 
the other half of the Michelson/Morley experiment
 
 
Rated Number 2 as the most influential person of the millenium.  The King of all Scientists! Formulated the laws of gravity and motion, discovered light made of spectrum of colors and built the first reflecting telescope.  Also invented calculus.
Swedish chemist invented dynamite, founded the Nobel Prize.
 
Ohm's Law which I use EVERY day.  German physicist who researched electrical resistance.  The unit of resistance, the ohm, is named after him.
OOrt cloud
Leader of the Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb project) at Los Alamos
 
 
Provided evidence that the universe was expanding.  Nobel 2011
 
Pauli Exclusion Principle
 
 
 
 
 
 
Planck's constant
 
 
In antiquity, Pythagoras was credited with many mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagorean tuning, the five regular solids, the Theory of Proportions, the sphericity of the Earth, and the identity of the morning and evening stars as the planet Venus.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Great New Zealand scientist, worked at McGill University.  Phenomenal physicist.
 
 
Schwarzchild radius of black holes
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tesla, Nikola
Gave us alternating current, made BIG sparks
 
Won Nobel prize with Richard Feynman for work on QED (quantum electro dynamics)
 
 
 
 
Van Allen radiation belts named after him 
Experiments with static electricity, Van de Graff Generator 
Unit of "volts" named after him 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Click on name with link to see a photo
Great Scientists
My top 10 have background like this