Fantastic Physics Quotes

Fantastically quotable scientists on physics:

Wolfgang PauliPhysics is very muddled again at the moment; it is much too hard for me anyway, and I wish I were a movie comedian or something like that and had never heard anything about physics!

Wolfgang Pauli, 1900 – 1958
Freeman DysonPhysics is littered with the corpses of dead unified field theories.

Freeman Dyson, b. 1923
ernest rutherfordAll of physics is either impossible or trivial. It is impossible until you understand it, and then it becomes trivial.

Ernest Rutherford, 1871 to 1937
Paul EhrenfestNo two electrons in the same state? That is why atoms are so unnecessarily big, and why metal and stone are so bulky. (Explaining that atoms are as large as they are because of Wolfgang Pauli’s Principle.)

Paul Ehrenfest, 1880 – 1933
Michael FaradayThe condition of matter I have dignified by the term Electronic, THE ELECTRONIC STATE. What do you think of that? Am I not a bold man, ignorant as I am, to coin words?

Michael Faraday, 1791 – 1867
Richard FeynmanWe cannot define anything precisely! If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers, who sit opposite each other, one saying to the other, ‘You don’t know what you are talking about!’ The second one says ‘What do you mean by know? What do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you?’, and so on.

Richard Feynman, 1918 to 1988
100-fred-hoyleThere are many ways of knocking electrons out of atoms. The simplest is to rub two surfaces together.

Fred Hoyle, 1915 to 2001
noWe were a polite society and I expected to lead a quiet life teaching mechanics and listening to my senior colleagues gently but obliquely poking fun at one another. This dream of somnolent peace vanished very quickly when (Ernest) Rutherford came to Cambridge. Rutherford was the only person I have met who immediately impressed me as a great man. He was a big man and made a big noise and he seemed to enjoy every minute of his life. I remember that when transatlantic broadcasting first came in, Rutherford told us at a dinner in Hall how he had spoken into a microphone to America and had been heard all over the continent. One of the bolder of our Fellows said: “Surely you did not need to use apparatus for that.”

Geoffrey Fellows, 1871 to 1937
Rene DescartesI accept no principles of physics which are not also accepted in mathematics.

René Descartes, 1596 to 1650
marie curiePierre Curie voluntarily exposed his arm to the action of radium for several hours. This resulted in damage resembling a burn that developed progressively and required several months to heal. Henri Becquerel had by accident a similar burn as a result of carrying in his vest pocket a glass tube containing radium salt. He came to tell us of this evil effect of radium, exclaiming in a manner at once delighted and annoyed: “I love it, but I owe it a grudge.”

Marie Curie, 1867 to 1934
David GriffithsWhen you hear a physicist invoke the uncertainty principle, keep a hand on your wallet.

David Griffiths, b. 1942
Subrahmanyan ChandrasekharMacroscopic objects, as we see them all around us, are governed by a variety of forces, derived from a variety of approximations to a variety of physical theories. In contrast, the only elements in the construction of black holes are our basic concepts of space and time. They are, thus, almost by definition, the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, 1910 to 1995
david-hilbertPhysics is actually too hard for physicists.

David Hilbert, 1862 to 1943
noPhysicists, being in no way different from the rest of the population, have short memories for what is inconvenient.

Anthony Standen, 1907 – 1993
Richard FeynmanIn its efforts to learn as much as possible about nature, modern physics has found that certain things can never be “known” with certainty. Much of our knowledge must always remain uncertain. The most we can know is in terms of probabilities.

Richard Feynman, 1918 to 1988
James Clerk MaxwellThe chief philosophical value of physics is that it gives the mind something distinct to lay hold of, which, if you don’t, Nature at once tells you you are wrong.

James Clerk Maxwell, 1831 to 1879
Isaac NewtonA cylinder of air reaching to the top of the atmosphere is of equal weight with a cylinder of water about 33 feet high.

Isaac Newton, 1642 to 1727
Samuel C. C. TingIn reality, a theory in natural science cannot be without experimental foundations; physics, in particular, comes from experimental work.

Samuel C. C. Ting, b. 1936
Pierre-Gilles de GennesBenjamin Franklin performed a beautiful experiment using surfactants; on a pond at Clapham Common, he poured a small amount of oleic acid, a natural surfactant which tends to form a dense film at the water-air interface. He measured the volume required to cover all the pond. Knowing the area, he then knew the height of the film, something like three nanometers in our current units.

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, 1932 to 2007
Isaac NewtonThis most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun.

Isaac Newton, 1642 to 1727
James Clerk MaxwellBut though the professed aim of all scientific work is to unravel the secrets of nature, it has another effect, not less valuable, on the mind of the worker. It leaves him in possession of methods which nothing but scientific work could have led him to invent.

James Clerk Maxwell, 1831 to 1879
Murray Gell-MannIn our work, we are always between Scylla and Charybdis; we may fail to abstract enough, and miss important physics, or we may abstract too much and end up with fictitious objects in our models turning into real monsters that devour us.

Murray Gell-Mann, b. 1929
Michael FaradayI am busy just now again on electro-magnetism, and I think I may have got hold of a good thing.

Michael Faraday, 1791 – 1867

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30 Brilliant Scientist Quotes and Brilliant Chemistry Quotes


The 11 Youngest Nobel Prize Winners – Scientists

Here are the 11 youngest winners of a scientific Nobel Prize, with a quick, interesting ‘did you know’ fact about each of them.

And also:

The teenager whose work won a Nobel Prize in physics.
The youngest woman to win a science Nobel Prize.
The youngest winner in each of the three award categories for science:
    • Physics
    • Physiology or Medicine
    • Chemistry

The 11 Youngest Nobel Laureates

Age 25: Lawrence Bragg

Australian-born British physicist.

Lawrence Bragg

Lawrence Bragg won the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.’

Did you know? While working as a physics professor in London, Bragg took part-time employment as a gardener, because he enjoyed gardening so much.


Age 31: Werner Heisenberg

German theoretical physicist.

Werner Heisenberg

Werner Heisenberg won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has… led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen.’

Did you know? With his uncertainty principle, Heisenberg established that we can never know everything about a particle exactly. For example, even if we had a means of measuring an electron’s position and velocity without disturbing the electron, there must always be some uncertainty in the our knowledge of the two quantities. Although Albert Einstein did not like it, Heisenberg showed that God is continuously playing dice with the universe.


Age 31: Paul A.M. Dirac

British theoretical physicist.

Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac won the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory.’

Did you know? Dirac only spoke when it was necessary. He was a man of few words. In his highly readable biography of Richard Feynman, James Gleick reports a journalist’s interview with Dirac:

Journalist: “Now Doctor, will you give me in a few words the low-down on all your investigations?”
Dirac: “No.”
Journalist: “Good. Will it be alright if I put it this way – ‘Professor Dirac solves all the problems of mathematical physics, but is unable to find a better way of figuring out Babe Ruth’s batting average’?”
Dirac: “Yes.”
Journalist: “Do you go to the movies?”
Dirac: “Yes.”
Journalist: “When?”
Dirac: “In 1920 – perhaps also in 1930.”


Age 31: Carl D. Anderson

American physicist.

Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘discovery of the positron.’

Did you know? In addition to discovering the positron in 1932, four years later, Anderson discovered the muon.


Age 31: Tsung-Dao Lee

Chinese-born American physicist.

Tsung-Dao Lee

Tsung-Dao Lee won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles.’

Did you know? Lee’s Ph.D. supervisor was Enrico Fermi, who won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 37.


Age 32: Rudolf Mössbauer

German physicist.

Rudolf Mossbauer

Rudolf Mössbauer won the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘researches concerning the resonance absorption of gamma radiation and his discovery in this connection of the effect which bears his name.’

Did you know? Mössbauer discovered the Mössbauer effect because, as a Ph.D. student, he ignored his supervising professor’s advice about the experimental equipment he should use.


Age 32: Frederick G. Banting

Canadian surgeon and medical research scientist.

Frederick Banting

Frederick G. Banting won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘the discovery of insulin.’

Did you know? Banting failed his first year at university. During World War 1, he was awarded the Military Cross for his heroic actions in helping wounded men.


Age 33: Brian D. Josephson

British theoretical physicist.

Brian Josephson

Brian Josephson won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena which are generally known as the Josephson effects.’ Image courtesy Brian D. Josephson.

Did you know? Josephson was still a Ph.D. student, aged 22, when he did the work that led to his Nobel Prize.


Age 33: Joshua Lederberg

American molecular biologist.

Joshua Lederberg

Joshua Lederberg won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria.’

Did you know? Joshua Lederberg graduated from high school when he was 15 and was awarded his university degree when he was 19.


Age 34: Donald A. Glaser

American physicist.

Donald Glaser

Donald Glaser won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the invention of the bubble chamber.’

Did you know? Glaser was not interested in just physics; he switched fields and became a professor of molecular biology.


Age 34: James Watson

American molecular biologist.

James Watson

James Watson won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.’

Did you know? Watson was only 15 when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago.


Youngest Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Age 35: Frédéric Joliot-Curie

French chemist/physicist.

Fred Joliot-Curie

Frédéric Joliot won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for ‘synthesis of new radioactive elements.’

Did you know? Frédéric Joliot-Curie changed his name from Joliot to Joliot-Curie when he married Marie Curie’s daughter Irène. Frédéric and Irène shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Irène was 38 at the time.


Youngest Scientific Nobel Prize for a Woman

Age 36: Marie Curie

Polish chemist/physicist.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘researches on the radiation phenomena.’

Did you know? Marie Curie also won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She is the only person to have won both prizes.


Youngest age at which Nobel Prize Winning Work was Carried Out

Age 19: Subramanyan Chandrasekhar

Indian-born American physicist.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars.’ He carried out the work aged just 19 on a ship traveling from India to Britain to begin working for a Ph.D. in physics.

Did you know? Chandrasekhar’s uncle was C.V. Raman, who won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 42.


Summing Up

• If you want to win young, it looks like physics is the best option.

• In recent years it’s been getting harder for ‘youngsters’ to win the Nobel Prize; the most recent Nobel Prize on our list above is from over 40 years ago.

• The 11 youngest won in: 1915, 1923, 1932 (twice), 1933, 1938, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1973.