You know about Einstein, and you’re no doubt familiar with Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking, but there are plenty of famous physicists alive today that you should know about if you don’t already. Here are a few worth getting to know.
1. Alan Guth
A cosmologist and particle physicist, Guth is most famous for developing the idea of cosmic inflation, or an inflationary universe. This work helped nail down the details and fill in some of the gaps in the Big Bang theory.
Guth’s 1997 book, The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins, helped bring lay readers up to speed on this important work and made him famous outside the halls of academe. Guth is the Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Read more: The 10 Greatest Scientists of All Time
2. Alain Aspect
Aspect won, along with John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger, the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics for work on quantum entanglement, which further confirmed the validity of quantum physics and established a foundation for developing quantum computers.
We already knew quantum theory worked, but Aspect’s work is helping science better understand its signature weirdness. The French physicist works at Université Paris-Saclay.
3. Lisa Randall
In 2007, Randall made Time magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” Her influence on the field of physics involves her work in theoretical particle physics and cosmology.
She’s currently working on, among other things, the search for dark matter. Her many books for lay readers have helped non-scientists better understand modern physics. Randall is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University.
4. Peter Higgs
If you haven’t heard of Peter Higgs, you’ve no doubt heard of his particle. In 1964, the British physicist proposed the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle that would turn out to be central to the formation of … pretty much everything.
In 2012, experiments at the Large Hadron Collider confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle. Higgs, the man, is no fan of the spotlight and probably wouldn’t want to be on this list. But his work, for which he shared a Nobel prize in 2013, was one of the most important discoveries in physics, so here he is.
5. Lee Smolin
Smolin is a theoretical physicist and one of the founders of the theory of quantum gravity, particularly loop quantum gravity and deformed special relativity. He also works on something called cosmological natural selection, which he describes on his website as “a falsifiable mechanism to explain the choice of the laws of physics.”
Many of Smolin’s books for lay readers address the philosophical implications of modern physics and cosmology. He works at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and in the philosophy department at the University of Toronto.
6. Carlo Rovelli
Like Smolin, Rovelli works on quantum loop gravity. He’s also known for his work on relational quantum physics, the idea that objects exist only in their relations with one another.
Rovelli is co-founder of the Global Peace Dividend Initiative, a proposal to reduce military spending worldwide and redirect the money to address critical issues facing the world, such as climate, health and poverty. Foreign Policy magazine listed Rovelli among the 100 most influential global thinkers. Born in Italy, Rovelli is now a professor at Aix-Marseille University in France.
7. Jocelyn Bell Burnell
In 1967, Bell Burnell discovered radio pulsars while a Cambridge University graduate student. In 1974, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for this discovery, but Bell Burnell was not among the recipients because she was still a student when she made the discovery.
She didn’t complain; instead, she went on to make contributions (and win awards for her work) in the field. In 2018, she was awarded a Special Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics for her pulsar discovery and for her lifetime of work in physics. She donated the $3 million prize money to fund scholarships to help women, refugees and people of minority ethnic groups who want to study science.