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Who is the greatest living physicist?

By James Dacey

This week, the scientific community and the media are celebrating the phenomenal achievements of Stephen Hawking who will celebrate his 70th birthday on Sunday.

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In addition to his work in cosmology, Hawking has been prolific in popularising the complex ideas of theoretical physics through his books, his lectures and his appearances on television. His bestselling book A Brief History of Time has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and it regularly appears in polls charting “the best popular-science books of all time”. Indeed, Hawking is now so famous that he regularly crops up in popular culture – including several appearances on The Simpsons – and even his name has become a by-word for “intelligence”.

Although Hawking’s achievements clearly transcend the science, make no mistake: he has made colossal contributions to physics. Hawking’s work on black holes is considered to be some of the most important physics of the past Century, not least because it started to unify quantum theory, general relativity and thermodynamics. And, here at the Physics World headquarters, all this talk of achievement has led us to wonder whether Hawking should be considered as the greatest among his peers. We want to know your opinion on this issue. In this week’s Facebook poll we are asking the following question:

Who is the greatest living physicist?

Philip Anderson
Stephen Hawking
Steven Weinberg
Frank Wilczek
Ed Witten

To cast your vote, please visit our Facebook page. And, of course, if you would believe that this accolade should be bestowed on another physicist, not on our list, then please feel free to post a comment on the poll.

In our final poll of 2011, we were looking ahead into this year and the exciting discoveries that may be ahead. We asked which of the following is most likely to become a confirmed discovery in 2012: The Higgs boson; neutrinos travel faster than light in a vacuum; both; or neither.

53% of respondents believe that a confirmed Higgs discovery alone is the most likely outcome. The second most popular, with 35% of the votes, was the option was that neither will be discovered. 32% of voters opted for the superluminal neutrinos, and just 21% are optimistic enough to predict that both will become confirmed discoveries.

Brian Kelly, Senior Research Physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, was among the people to comment. He wrote: “Superluminal neutrinos will surely go away. I hope the small Higgs signal is confirmed. If it isn’t, the raison d’etre for construction of the LHC is negated and the future of experimental high energy physics looks dismal.”

Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

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One comment to Who is the greatest living physicist?

  1. Wolfgang

    Ed Witten


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