Section: 0 | Historical Figures in Chemistry and Physics |
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John R. Rumble, ed., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 103rd Edition (Internet Version 2022), CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL.
If a specific table is cited, use the format: "Physical Constants of Organic Compounds," in CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 103rd Edition (Internet Version 2022), John R. Rumble, ed., CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL.


Sir Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

English scientist (physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian)

Born: Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England, December 25, 1642

Died: London, England, March 20, 1727

Fellow of Trinity College of Cambridge University

“Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth.”

“Genius is patience.”

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Neils Bohr

Neils Bohr

Danish physicist

Born: Copenhagen, Denmark, October 7, 1885

Died: Copenhagen, Denmark, November 18, 1962

Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field.”

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

Antoine L. Lavoisier

Antoine L. Lavoisier

French chemist

Born: Paris, France, August 26, 1743

Died: Paris, France, May 8, 1794

Member of the French Academy of Sciences

“A man cannot live more than 24 hours unless he has at least three cubic meters of air that is being constantly replaced.”

“I consider nature a vast chemical laboratory in which all kinds of composition and decompositions are formed. Vegetation is the basic instrument the creator uses to set all of nature in motion.”

Dmitri I. Mendeléev

Dmitri Mendeleev

Russian chemist

Born: Tobol’sk, Siberia, Russia, February 7, 1834

Died: St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia, February 2, 1907

Professor of Chemistry at Saint Petersburg Technological Institute and Saint Petersburg State University; Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures.

“Work, look for peace and calm in work: you will find it nowhere else.”

“The establishment of a law, moreover, does not take place when the first thought of it takes form, or even when its significance is recognised, but only when it has been confirmed by the results of the experiment.”

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei

Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher

Born: Pisa, Italy, February 15, 1564

Died: Arcetri, Italy, January 8, 1642

Chair of Mathematics at University of Pisa and University of Padua

"Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so."

“Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.”

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.”

James Clerk Maxwell

James Maxwell

Scottish theoretical physicist and mathematician

Born: Edinburgh, Scotland, November 13, 1831

Died: Cambridge, England, November 5, 1879

Chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen and King’s College London; first Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge

“All the mathematical sciences are founded on relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of nature to the determination of quantities by operations with numbers.”

“The true logic of this world is the calculus of probabilities.”

Marie Sklodowska Curie


Polish-French chemist and physicist

Born: Warsaw, Poland, November 7, 1867

Died: Haute Savoie, France, July 4, 1934

Professor of Physics at the Sorbonne; Director of French Radium Institute in Paris

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”

“I consider nature a vast chemical laboratory in which all kinds of composition and decompositions are formed. Vegetation is the basic instrument the creator uses to set all of nature in motion.”

Linus Carl Pauling

Linus Pauling

American chemist, biochemist, peace activist, author, and educator

Born: Portland, Oregon, United States, February 28, 1901

Died: Big Sur, California, United States, August 19, 1994

Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at California Institute of Technology

“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

“Science is the search for truth, that is the effort to understand the world: it involves the rejection of bias, of dogma, of revelation, but not the rejection of morality.”

Lord Kelvin (Baron William Thomson Kelvin)

Lord Kelvin

British physicist, mathematician, and engineer

Born: Belfast, Ireland, June 26, 1824

Died: Largs, Scotland, December 17, 1907

Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow

“If you cannot measure it, then it is not science.”

“Accurate and minute measurement seems to the non-scientific imagination, a less lofty and dignified work than looking for something new. But nearly all the grandest discoveries of science have been but the rewards of accurate measurement and patient long-continued labour in the minute sifting of numerical results.”

“Let nobody be afraid of true freedom of thought. Let us be free in thought and criticism; but, with freedom, we are bound to come to the conclusion that science is not antagonistic to religion, but a help to it.”

John Dalton

John Dalton

English chemist, meteorologist, and physicist

Born: Eaglesfield, Cumberland, England, September 6, 1766

Died: Manchester, England, July 27, 1844

Member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society

“Matter, though divisible in an extreme degree, is nevertheless not infinitely divisible. That is, there must be some point beyond which we cannot go in the division of matter. … I have chosen the word ‘atom’ to signify these ultimate particles.”

“I was introduced to Mr. Davy, who has rooms adjoining mine (in the Royal Institution); he is a very agreeable and intelligent young man, and we have interesting conversation in an evening; the principal failing in his character as a philosopher is that he does not smoke.”

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday

English chemist and physicist

Born: Newington Butts, England, September 22, 1791

Died: Hampton Court, Middlesex, England, August 25, 1867

Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

“I could trust a fact and always cross-question an assertion.”

“Nature is our kindest friend and best critic in experimental science if we only allow her intimations to fall unbiased on our minds.”

“Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature.”

“The lecturer should give the audience full reason to believe that all his powers have been exerted for their pleasure and instruction.”

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle

Irish–English chemist, physicist, and natural philosopher

Born: Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland, January 27, 1627

Died: London, England, December 31, 1691

Founder of the Royal Society of London

“I look upon experimental truths as matters of great concernment to mankind.”

“If the omniscient author of nature knew that the study of his works tends to make men disbelieve his Being or Attributes, he would not have given them so many invitations to study and contemplate Nature.”

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

German theoretical physicist and philosopher

Born: Ulm, Kingdom of Württemberg, German Empire, March 14, 1879

Died: Princeton, New Jersey, United States, April 18, 1955

Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton

Most influential physicist of the 20th century; Time Magazine Person of the Century.
Developed the special theory of relativity in 1905 to reconcile differences between classical mechanics and electromagnetism.
Published the general theory of relativity in 1915 to explain gravitational fields and applied this to the structure of the universe.
Known for his mass-energy equivalence formula, E = mc2, dubbed the world’s most famous equation.
Received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.
Moved to the United States after Hitler came to power, becoming an American citizen in 1940.
Endorsed a letter to President F. D. Roosevelt advising him of the potential of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” which led to the Manhattan Project.

“I never think of the future—it comes soon enough.”

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

“What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.”

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I get most joy in life out of music.”

“Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe."

Ludwig Boltzmann

Ludwig Boltzmann

Austrian physicist and philosopher

Born: Vienna, Austrian-Hungarian Empire, February 20, 1844

Died: Tybein near Trieste (present-day Duino, Italy). Suicide, September 5, 1906

Professor of Mathematical Physics at University of Graz

Pioneering work as the founder of statistical mechanics, independent of Gibbs.
Most important scientific contributions were in kinetic theory; Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics and the Boltzmann distribution over energies remain the foundations of classical statistical mechanics.
Known for the logarithmic relation between entropy S and probability W in his kinetic theory of gases expressed as S = k ln W, where k is the Boltzmann constant; equation is written on his tombstone.
Just after his death, values of Avogadro’s number and Boltzmann constant were confirmed along with the existence of atoms/molecules.
Paved the way for development of quantum mechanics with introduction of probability/discrete energy levels.

“Available energy is the main object at stake in the struggle for existence and the evolution of the world.”

“A mathematician will recognise Cauchy, Gauss, Jacobi or Helmholtz after reading a few pages, just as musicians recognise, from the first few bars, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert.”

“In my view all salvation for philosophy may be expected to come from Darwin's theory.”

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Pierre Simon Laplace

French physicist, astronomer, and mathematician

Born: Beaumont-en-Auge, Normandy, France, March 23, 1749

Died: Paris, France, March 5, 1827

Member of the French Académie des sciences

Translated the geometric study of celestial mechanics into one based on calculus; applied Newton’s theory of gravitation to the solar system; proposed that the solar system is completely deterministic.
Developed the Bayesian interpretation of probability; put the method of least squares on a sound physical basis; first to offer a complete analysis of capillary action.
Formulated Laplace’s equation and pioneered the Laplace transform that appears in differential equations and the Laplacian differential operator, widely used in potential theory, all named after him.
Developed the nebular hypothesis of the origin of the Solar System and was one of the first scientists to postulate the existence of black holes/gravitational collapse and the stability of planetary motion.
Recognized as one of the greatest scientists of all time; sometimes referred to as “the Newton of France.”
Appointed to the post of Minister of the Interior during the French Revolution; in 1817 during the Restoration, he was rewarded with the title of Marquis.
His name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.

“Nature laughs at the difficulties of integration.”

“What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.”

“Man follows only phantoms.”

Josiah Willard Gibbs

Josiah  Gibbs

American physicist, chemist, and mathematician

Born: New Haven, Connecticut, February 11, 1839

Died: New Haven, Connecticut, April 28, 1903

Professor of Mathematical Physics at Yale University

His work on the applications of thermodynamics was instrumental in transforming physical chemistry into a rigorous deductive science; developed a relationship among internal energy, pressure, volume, temperature, and entropy that served as the foundation for the theory of thermodynamic equilibrium that came to be known as the Gibbs phase rule; introduced the concept of chemical potential.
His paper “On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances” published in 1878 established his reputation and is considered a groundbreaking work in the field of physical chemistry.
Best known for creating statistical mechanics (a term that Gibbs coined) that explained the laws of thermodynamics as consequences of the statistical properties of large ensembles of particles.
Invented the science of vector analysis; known as the founder of chemical thermodynamics.
Received the first American doctorate of engineering in 1863 from Yale University; became Yale’s first Professor of Mathematical Physics; no salary for first nine years, lived off inheritance; never married.
Praised by Einstein as “the greatest mind in American history;" American Mathematical Society started an annual lecture series in honor of Gibbs in 1923 that still continues; Gibbs free energy named in his honor.
Received in 1901 what was considered the highest honor awarded by the international scientific community, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London.

“The whole is simpler than the sum of its parts.”

“One of the principal objects of theoretical research in my department of knowledge is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity.”

“A mathematician may say anything he pleases, but a physicist must be at least partially sane.”

“Mathematics is a language.”

Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Schrodinger

Austrian physicist and natural science philosopher

Born: Vienna, Austria, August 12, 1887

Died: Vienna, Austria, January 4, 1961

Professor of Physics at the University of Breslau, University of Zürich, Frederick William University, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, University of Graz, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and University of Vienna

Paper published in Annalen der Physik (1926) titled "Quantisierung als Eigenwertproblem" [Eng. Tr. Quantization as an Eigenvalue Problem] on wave mechanics that established the Schrödinger equation as the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics
Interpreted the square of the eigenfunction as related to observable physical quantities, leading to the basis for most quantum chemistry and quantum physical calculations in the past 70 years
Other papers he wrote at about the same time showed the equivalence of the Schrödinger equation with Heisenberg’s matrix formulation of quantum mechanics and treated time-dependent problems (i.e., scattering)
Received the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Paul Dirac) for the "discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory”
Proposed thought experiment (Schrödinger’s Cat) to illustrate problems with the Copenhagen School interpretation of quantum superposition
Wrote the influential book What is Life that explored the relationship of modern physical theory with biology and evolution, in part influencing James Watson and Francis Crick to explore gene theory and the structure of DNA

“The task is ... not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”

“The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists.”

“What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space.”

“Nirvana is a state of pure blissful knowledge ... It has nothing to do with the individual.”

“It is by avoiding the rapid decay into the inert state of ‘equilibrium’ that an organism appears so enigmatic.”

“If a man never contradicts himself, the reason must be that he virtually never says anything at all.”

Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac

English physicist

Born: Bristol, England, August 8, 1902

Died: Tallahassee, Florida, United States, October 20, 1984

Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, University of Miami, and Florida State University

Papers published in Proceedings of the Royal Society titled "The Quantum Theory of the Electron" (1928) and "The Quantum Theory of the Electron Part II" (1929) formulated the first complete and accurate merging of quantum mechanics and relativity, through what is now known as the Dirac equation
The Dirac equation both predicted the anti-electron (positron) and explained the occurrence of spin
Received the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Erwin Schrödinger) for the "discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory”
Proposed the concept of vacuum polarization and helped develop the field of quantum electrodynamics
Demonstrated that the existence of a magnetic monopole would explain the existence of the electric charge
Wrote the 1930 textbook The Principles of Quantum Mechanics that is still in use today
Trained initially as an electrical engineer, he became one of the foremost theoretical scientists of the 20th century

“Scientific progress is measured in units of courage, not intelligence.”

“In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.”

“I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time. They are in opposition.”

“God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.”

“A great deal of my work is just playing with equations and see what they give.”

“If you are humble and receptive, mathematics will lead you by the hand.”

“Pick a flower on earth and you move the farthest star.”

Jacobus Henricus van’t Hoff

Jacobus  vant hoff

Dutch Chemist

Born: Rotterdam, Netherlands, 30 August 1852

Died: Steglitz, Germany, 1 March 1911

Professor of Chemistry at University of Amsterdam, University of Berlin

Published "Voorstel tot Uitbreiding der Tegenwoordige" in de Scheikunde gebruikte Structuurformules in de Ruimte (Proposal for the development of 3-dimensional chemical structural formulae) in 1874, which led to the development of stereochemistry
Proposed the idea of an "asymmetrical carbon atom" that provided an understanding of organic isomers and provided an explanation of optical activity of organic compounds
First recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1901) "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions”
Developed a general thermodynamic relationship between the heat of conversion and changes in equilibrium due to temperature variation -Principle of Mobile Equilibrium (1885) led to the van 't Hoff-Le Chatelier principle
Showed osmotic pressure in solutions sufficiently dilute is proportional to the solute concentration and that thermodynamic laws are not only valid for gases, but also for dilute solutions
Proposed classifying the kinetics of molecular reactions according to the number of molecules involved

“It is sometimes easier to circumvent prevailing difficulties [in science] rather than to attack them”

“A famous name has this peculiarity that it becomes gradually smaller especially in natural sciences where each succeeding discovery invariably overshadows what precedes”

“In Leiden, all was prose – the town, the country, the people. In Bonn, all is poetry.”


Johannes Diderik van der Waals

Dutch physicist

Born: Leiden, Netherlands, November 23, 1837

Died: Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 8, 1923

Professor of Physics at the Municipal University of Amsterdam

Introduced the van der Waals equation that modifies ideal gas behavior by taking into account intramolecular forces and the finite volume of individual molecules
Provided first successful description of real gases that also provided insights into the need for atomistic theory
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1910 for “his work on equation of state of gases and liquids”
Formulated the Law of Corresponding States stating all gases behave alike at the same reduced conditions (a reduced variable is the normal variable divided by the critical value of that variable Pr = P/Pc, etc.)
In 1890, wrote the first treatise on the "Theory of Binary Solutions" that appeared in the Archives Néerlandaises; this gave rise to a numerous series of experiments, including those by J. P. Kuenen, who found characteristics of critical phenomena fully predicted by the theory
Proposed his thermodynamic theory of capillarity in 1893, in which he accepted the existence of a gradual, though very rapid, change of density at the boundary layer between liquid and vapor; Van der Waals also held the view that the molecules are in permanent, rapid motion
Was a high school teacher for 12 years before becoming a professor and made his most famous discoveries in that position

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