Who is the Most Famous Chemist?

A little lab discussion this week pondered who is the most famous chemist of all time.

Note that this is not the “best” or “most telling contribution” but most well known to the general public.

Asking the Almighty Google to tell us directs to some terse discussions of the matter, putting forward such names as Marie Curie, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, John Dalton come up. Some others such as Neils Bohr or Antoine Lavoisier – I’m not sure how many people on the street would come up with them.

Our talk came up with Linus Pauling – perhaps more well-known for things he did outside of chemistry, but still a famous chemist (and a Nobel winner too).

It seemed like most of those well known to the general public were those that discovered elements – really at the boundary of chemistry and physics. Several of the lists I saw had people on them that I considered physicists. Heisenberg?

It is doubtful that the greta organic synthetic chemists would get much traction here. Woodward is a top choice among those in his field, but he doesn’t seem that well-known outside it. Which is strange as organic professors are not exactly known for being demur and shy.

Any other opinions out there? Anyone we’ve forgotten?


11 comments on “Who is the Most Famous Chemist?

  1. Stu says:

    We pondered this earlier in the year on the Sceptical Chymist blog – and also wrote an editorial about it.

    • David Perrey says:

      I had the Sceptical Chymist survey in mind when we were talking about it in the lab, but our question is slightly different: not the greatest but most famous. Which requires a cross-over into mainstream culture.

      Though a similar conclusion was reached: chemists just don’t cross over that much, not like Einstein. Even one of the most noted compounds discovered (penicillin) was found by a pharmacologist.

  2. dystopic says:

    Here in Germany Haber / Bosch are definitely on top of the well known Chemists, for obvious and at least partially very sad reasons.

  3. guest says:

    sir issac newton is the best poeple!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Randall says:

    Gonna have to agree with Sir. Isaac Newton. Though he was just a closet alchemist.

  5. Maggie says:

    Isaac Newton doesn’t really fit the classic definition of a chemist like Curie, Boyle, Faraday, and Dalton do. He is really more of a mathematician and physicist.

    I think Curie is the most famous. Just my two cents.

  6. Joseph says:

    Louis Pasteur.

  7. Guest says:

    The most famous chemist today is probably Walter White.

    But seriously, Alfred Nobel?

  8. google.com says:

    Dmitry Mendeleev. The whole chemistry as a science started with his periodic table.

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