Name That Physicist

By Cynthia Sanz|Saturday, May 01, 1999


Surely this century could pass as the golden age of physics. With each decade, some discovery or invention--the electron, the cyclotron, the atom bomb--appeared, changing our world forever. But in the rush of developments, it's been easy to forget who discovered what. Let's see, was it Bethe who came up with the maser, or Townes? Or neither one? Did Heisenberg invent the cyclotron, or was that Oppenheimer? Test your knowledge of the people behind the physics by matching their names with their achievements. 

A. Ernest O. Lawrence

B. Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie

C. J. J. Thomson

D. Charles Townes

E. Ernest Rutherford

F. Hans Albrecht Bethe

G. J. Robert Oppenheimer

H. Werner Heisenberg

I. Richard Feynman

J. Albert Einstein

Answers on the next page


Discovered that uranium emits radiation naturally, and isolated two new radioactive elements—polonium and radium. The two won the Nobel Prize for physics (1903); she late won for chemistry (1911).

Studied the mysterious rays that appear in electrical experiments. Said in 1897 that they were made up of “corpuscles of electricity”—what we now call electrons. Won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1906.

Developed a reputation as an irreverent safecracker in a stint at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Work in quantum electrodynamics clarified the interactions between electrons and photons; cowinner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965.

Observed that high-speed particles bounce off a sheet of gold foil. Realized that atoms in the gold must have a hard core—now known as the nucleus—that prevented particles from slipping through. Won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908.

Discovered a way to express quantum mechanics in terms of matrices. Also, described in mathematical terms the paradox of quantum physics: it is impossible to measure precisely the momentum and position of an electron at the same time. Won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1932.

Invented the first cyclotron, an atom smasher that could fit in the palm of a hand. Won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1939.

Described the nuclear reactions that cause stars to shine—generating energy for billions of years. Also worked on the atom bomb, a role that prompted him to help found a journal, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, devoted to science and social responsibility. Awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1967.

Led the team in Los Alamos, New Mexico, that created sustained nuclear fission and produced the atom bomb in 1945. Is said to have mused at the time on a phrase from the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

Name That Physicist Answers

A. Ernest O. Lawrence.

B. Marie Curie and her husband,

Pierre Curie.

C. Sir Joseph Thomson.

D. Sir Ernest Rutherford.

E. Hans Albrecht Bethe.

F. J. Robert Oppenheimer.

G. Werner Heisenberg.

H. Richard Feynman.

I. Albert Einstein and his wife,

Elsa Einstein.

Answers to Name That Physicist:

Top row (from left):

B (the Curies). A (Lawrence).

Second row:

C (Thomson). H (Feynman). 

E (Bethe).

Third row (from far left):

D (Rutherford). H (Heisenberg).

F (Oppenheimer).

Bottom row:

I (Einstein).

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