Top 20 Famous American Scientists You Should Know

Top 20 Famous American Scientists You Should Know

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To celebrate scientists and scientific advancements, we have collected a list of the most famous American scientists that will inspire us for the greater good.

It’s easy to forget that all of the world’s greatest inventions were once nothing but crazy ideas scribbled on a piece of paper by someone with a wacky idea. 

The story of how we got here is full of unlikely twists and turns. 

Today, we list the renowned American scientists who contributed to the various aspects of science—technology, medicine, quantum mechanics, and engineering.

This list is a product of intense research —we scoured several publications, such as the Nobel Prize, and watched many videos for these scientists.

Here we go! 

Table of Contents

Famous American Scientists

#20. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943): The Man Who Invented Corn Flakes

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Adventist Encyclopedia 
Credits: Adventist Encyclopedia 

What makes John Harvey Kellogg famous?

John Harvey Kellogg was born in 1852 in Tyrone, Michigan. He studied medicine at the University of Michigan and the Bellevue Hospital Medical College. Kellog is one of the famous American scientists for inventing Corn Flakes—a breakfast cereal that became popular in the United States and abroad. 

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

#19. Lynn Margulis (1938-2011): The Lady Who Challenged Darwinism

Famous American Scientists : Credits:

What makes Lynn Margulis famous?

Lynn Margulis, born in Chicago, was an evolutionary biologist who studied at the University of Wisconsin, then earned her Ph.D. from the University of California. 

Her most well-known contribution to science is her endosymbiotic theory. This theory states that mitochondria were originally free-living bacteria that engulfed other cells and became part of their genome. This resulted in mitochondria becoming organelles found in all living cells.

Margulis has also contributed to our understanding of cell structure and function by demonstrating how viruses can be used as tools for studying biology (for example, by infecting cells with viruses).

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

#18. Ronald McNair (1950-1986): The Young South Carolinian Boy Who Became A NASA Astronaut

Famous American Scientists : Credits: University of California 
Credits: University of California 

What makes Ronald McNair famous?

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be a black man in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly if you were born in the South. 

You know how it was: Jim Crow laws, racial segregation, and racial violence were still rampant. But even if you weren’t personally affected by those issues, there was still something deeply ingrained in our culture—a sense that you could only get so far before being cut off from your full potential.

Then along came Ronald McNair. Born in Lake City, South Carolina, in 1950, McNair was hardly your typical African-American kid growing up in 1950s America. He was an academically gifted athlete who went on to major in physics at MIT and earned his Ph.D. in 1976. 

After working on laser technology development for satellite communication, McNair joined NASA as a mission specialist. At NASA, he was also one of only two black astronauts to go into space—the other being Guion Bluford.

McNair died tragically during the 1986 Challenger disaster when his rocket exploded shortly after takeoff; he was just 35 years old at the time.

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

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#17. Carl Sagan (1934-1996): The Man Who Brought US The Universe 

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Smithsonian Magazine 
Credits: Smithsonian Magazine 

What makes Carl Sagan famous?

Carl Sagan was a planetary scientist born in Brooklyn in 1934 and studied physics at the University of Chicago. He is known for popularizing science through his books and TV shows in the 1970s. His ideas about extraterrestrial life and the science behind them were revolutionary at the time.

Sagan served as a NASA adviser and conducted research largely on extraterrestrial life throughout his career. He is most famous for his work with Voyager Satellites in sending messages to outer space, which he wrote and narrated.

Carl Sagan won several awards for his contributions to cosmology, astronomy, and science in general. He received the NASA’s Distinguished Service award in 1977 and the Pulitzer Prize the following year.

[Source: Smithsonian Magazine]

#16. Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992): The Lady Who Rose To Be a Computer Scientist And Military Leader

Famous American Scientists : Credits: S Moda EL PAÍS
Credits: S Moda EL PAÍS

What makes Grace Hopper famous?

Grace Hopper was a computer scientist who served as US Navy rear admiral. She was born in 1906 in New York City and graduated with a master’s degree from Yale University. 

Hopper joined the US Navy in 1943, where she became involved with programming computers during World War II. She programmed the Mark 1 computer used during this period and helped create a link editor so people could work on multiple computers simultaneously.

Grace Hopper is well-known for being one of the first women in the United States to receive this position and for what she achieved in her career.

Her work with programming languages provided the groundwork for COBOL, an important language used today by programmers everywhere.

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

#15. Jonas Salk (1914-1995): The Scientist Who Conquered Polio

Famous American Scientists : Credits: History 
Credits: History 

What makes Jonas Salk famous?

Jonas Salk was born in New York City. He studied chemistry and later medicine at New York University. Salk is known for his research, particularly on the polio virus.

In 1952, Jonas confirmed an important piece of information about polio: that it could be prevented by vaccination with an inactivated virus vaccine. This discovery led to the development of what became known as Salk’s vaccine—one of the first poliovirus vaccines ever developed. The Salk vaccine proved safe and effective against polio and revolutionized how we protect ourselves from the disease today.

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

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#14. William B. Shockley Jr. (1910-1989): The Man Who Contributed To The Invention of The Transistor

Famous American Scientists : Credits: The Famous People 
Credits: The Famous People 

What makes William B. Shockley famous?

William B. Shockley was born in 1910 in London to American parents. They returned to America after his birth, and he grew up in California. He took his undergraduate studies at Caltech before proceeding to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his Ph.D. in 1936.

John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and Shockley’s research at Bell Telephone Lab on semiconductors led to the creation of the first transistor. This invention would eventually win them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956.

He was also known for his views on eugenics, which he described as “the selective breeding of human beings.”

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

#13. Jean Bartik (1924-2011): The Lady Who Programmed One of The First Computers

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Gogo
Credits: Gogo

What makes Jean Bartik famous?

Jean Bartik was a mathematician and computer programmer born in 1924 in Alanthus Grove, Missouri. She studied mathematics at Northern Missouri State University and the University of Pennsylvania, earning her master’s degree in 1967.

Bartik has been described as a trailblazer for women in the field of computer science. She was one of the six-women group working on the ENIAC, a massive engineering project that would eventually become one of the most important computers. ENIAC was an electronic numerical integrator and computer.

Besides her work on computer programming, Bartik also served as a human-computer for the military. She calculated the trajectories for missiles.

[Source: Computer World]

#12. Steve Gary Wozniak (1959-present): The Father of The Personal Computer Revolution 

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Encyclopedia Britannica 
Credits: Encyclopedia Britannica 

What makes Steve Wozniak famous?

Steve Wozniak is the brain behind Apple. When you think of Apple, you think of the iPhone, the iPad, or maybe even the iPod. But what most people don’t know is that Steve Wozniak is responsible for all of those things—and more.

He was born in San Jose, California, to Margaret and Francis Wozniak. Wozniak studied at Berkeley, where he hacked the University of California’s computer system and got an expulsion.

His career as an engineer and programmer has made him one of the most important figures in the personal computer revolution. Wozniak developed Apple I and contributed to the development of the Apple II. When computers were still a novelty, and only a few people had access to them, he helped make them available to millions worldwide.

Wozniak also co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, who had made his fortune selling computers back when they were first sold individually (rather than as a whole set). Together, they created one of the most iconic companies in history— an innovative company is known for making revolutionary products that changed our lives forever.

What is the best Steve Wozniak quote?

“Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window.”

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

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#11. Jennifer A. Doudna (1964-present): The Curious Child Who Became An Award-Winning Scientist

Famous American Scientists : Credits: The Guardian 
Credits: The Guardian 

What makes Jennifer Doudna famous?

Jennifer Doudna is a biochemist known for her contributions to molecular biology. She holds an MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Doudna’s research focuses on using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to improve crop yields while addressing food security issues worldwide. Her research has led to the development of crops that can tolerate drought conditions and provide higher yields under difficult growing conditions such as salt concentration or salinity levels.

In 2020, Doudna’s team received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their pioneering work in genetic engineering—the first time this chemistry award had been jointly given to two female scientists.

What is the best Jennifer Doudna quote?

“The more we know, the more we realize there is to know.”

[Source: The Nobel Prize]

#10. Claude Shannon (1916-2001): Pioneer of Artificial Intelligence 

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Quanta Magazine
Credits: Quanta Magazine

What makes Claude Shannon famous?

Born in Petoskey, Michigan, Claude Shannon was a master of mathematics and engineering who contributed to the development of digital computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

He is best known for his master’s thesis, which laid the foundation for digital computing by describing how a digital computer could process information using random bits. He also helped develop AI and machine learning at a time when these subjects were still new.

Shannon constructed a robotic mouse in 1950—the first-ever made for research purposes. He also wrote one of the best cryptography papers ever written, explaining how to write an unbreakable code.

Claude Shannon also published a paper that led to the development of super-intelligent chess programs that could beat humans at their own game with unprecedented skill levels.

[Source: Information Theory Society]

#9. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931): One of America’s Greatest Inventors

Famous American Scientists : Credits: ThoughtCo
Credits: ThoughtCo

What makes Thomas Alva Edison famous?

Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio to Samuel and Nancy Elliot. As a boy, he studied arithmetic under the guidance of his mother—a school teacher. Edison would later enroll in a chemistry course, the only course he took from an institution of higher learning.

In 1869, Edison patented his first invention: a vote register and recorder. He went on to create devices that made it possible for people to communicate over long distances and at great speeds.

Thomas Alva Edison was the man behind one of history’s most groundbreaking inventions: the light bulb. His work on the light bulb and motion picture cameras was later adopted by other inventors, who continued to improve on them. 

These inventions changed the world forever—from lighting up our homes and offices to enabling us all to speak with one another across continents.

[Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

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#8. Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928): The man Who Invented the Electric lamp

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Nyongesa Sande
Credits: Nyongesa Sande

What makes Lewis Howard Latimer famous?

Born in Chelsea in 1848, Massachusetts, Lewis Latimer rose to be an inventor who contributed to the development of the telephone and Edison’s light bulb. 

He worked with both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell-what a career

His most famous invention was an electric lamp—the first commercially viable one ever made. He patented it in 1881, but even though he had a patent for it, no one could make any money off it until Thomas Edison heard about it and decided to use it as part of his own inventions.

“We create our future, by well improving present opportunities: however few and small they are “

[Source: Biography]

#7. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790): US Founding Father Who Changed Science

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Grand Canyon University 
Credits: Grand Canyon University 

What makes Benjamin Franklin famous?

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous figures in American history, and for a good reason. He was born in 1706 in Milk Street and became a prolific inventor and diplomat who helped shape our country’s political structure, economic system, and scientific understanding.

Franklin is also famous for being one of the important figures who contributed to the formation of our nation. But as a scientist, his creativity was game-changing.

His more notable inventions include the lightning rod, the Franklin stove (used by many American settlers), bifocals, and a less rigid catheter that is still used today. He also introduced and popularized the use of the words positive, negative, battery, and charge in science to describe electricity.

What is the best Benjamin Franklin quote?

“Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.”

[Source: History]

#6. Norman Borlaug (1914-2009): Father of The Green Revolution Who Saved Millions From Starvation

Famous American Scientists : Credits: BBC
Credits: BBC

What makes Norman Borlaug famous?

If you’re looking for a kind of person who is not only generous but also heroic and inspiring, look no further than Norman Borlaug.

He was born in Cresco, Iowa, in 1914. Borlaug became interested in agriculture at a young age —he worked on his family’s farm. Borlaug then went on to study the subject at the University of Minnesota.

In his career, Borlaug helped pioneer what came to be known as the Green Revolution. This movement involved a series of actions by national governments and international organizations designed to improve production levels for grain crops such as wheat and rice. The movement advocated for increased fertilizer use, irrigation systems, improved seeds, and mechanization techniques.

Borlaug won several awards for his work on improving agricultural productivity, including the Nobel Prize and Presidential and Congressional Medals. He is also famous for establishing one of the prestigious awards in the world—the World Food Prize.

What is the best Norman Borlaug quote?

 “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human mystery.”

[Source: The Nobel Prize]

#5. Vera Rubin (1928-2016): The Astronomer Who Discovered The First Evidence of Dark Matter

Famous American Scientists

What makes Vera Rubin famous?

Vera Rubin was born in Philadelphia in 1928 and studied astronomy at Vassar College. She began her career as an instructor at Montgomery College. Rubin went on to be an assistant professor at Georgetown University.

Rubin would later become the first woman to use a Palomar’s telescope. At that time, many didn’t think women belonged in astronomy—which is why Vera Rubin’s work was so important.

Her research focused on how galaxies rotate, which proved the presence of dark matter—and this discovery led to further research that has led us far beyond what would have been possible without her influence.

What is the best Vera Rubin quote?

“Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.”

[Source: American Museum]

#4. John Forbes Nash Jr. (1928-2015): The Mathematician with a Beautiful Mind

Famous American Scientists : Credits: The New York Times 
Credits: The New York Times 

What makes John Forbes Nash Jr. famous?

John Forbes Nash Jr. was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, on May 22, 1928. He studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology before going to Princeton University to continue his studies in mathematics.

Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994 for his contributions to game theory. He is best known for his Nash equilibria theory, which he first formulated in 1950. The theory has been widely used in economics, game theory, and other fields such as finance and philosophy.

He was also involved in other areas of mathematics, such as partial differential equations, number theory, and graph theory.

His story is the basis for the movie: the Beautiful Mind.

What is the best John Forbes Nash Jr. quote?

“The only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart.”

[Source: The Nobel Prize]

#3. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967): The Father of Atomic Bomb

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Biography 
Credits: Biography 

What makes J. Robert Oppenheimer famous?

If you’re not familiar with J. Robert Oppenheimer, it may be because he’s not a household name. But he is one of the most important people in modern history—not just because he helped develop the atomic bomb that ended World War II.

Oppenheimer was born in 1904 in New York City and received his education from several institutions, including Harvard College and Cambridge University. He would lead the team of scientists who designed the nuclear bomb used in World War II. 

Although he was a member of President Truman’s Atomic Energy Commission, he criticized the development of a thermonuclear weapon.

Afterward, he became a key figure in President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, promoting peaceful uses of nuclear power and development.

What is the best J. Robert Oppenheimer quote?

“I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds.”

[Source: Atomic Heritage Foundation]

#2. Richard Feynman (1918-1988): The Little Jewish Boy Who Became A Nobel Laureate 

Famous American Scientists : Credits: Archinect
Credits: Archinect

What makes Richard Feynman famous?

Richard Feynman was a man who stood at the intersection of two worlds. He was born in New York City in 1918 to Jewish parents. Feynman studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1942.

This theoretical physicist served at the US lab under brilliant genius J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Manhattan Project during World War II. He helped construct the atomic bomb that was used to stop the war.

After the war, Feynman turned his attention to particle physics and developed what we now call the parton model, which explains how quarks are formed within the atomic nucleus. He also helped lay the groundwork for quantum electrodynamics theory, which is still widely used in physics research labs worldwide.

Feynman received a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics in 1965 alongside two other scientists (Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga).

What is the best Richard Feynman quote?

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

[Source: The Nobel Prize]

#1. Linus Pauling (1901-1994): A Pioneering Scientist Who Defied The Odds To Win Two Nobel Prizes

Famous American Scientists : Credits: The Famous People 
Credits: The Famous People 

What makes Linus Pauling famous?

There are a lot of reasons to be inspired by Linus Pauling.

Born in Portland, Oregon, he became one of the most influential American scientists in history. His work helped revolutionize our understanding of the chemical bond and its properties, leading to a host of breakthroughs in medicine and science. He also played a big part in the creation of synthetic plasma, which is now used in many modern technologies.

His research on proteins would prove life-changing. He found evidence that abnormal hemoglobin was the cause of sickle cell anemia. This discovery opened the door to more research on molecular genetics.

Linus Pauling was also an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. He won two Nobel Prizes for his efforts to promote peace and groundbreaking scientific research.

What is the best Linus Pauling quote?

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

[Source: Nobel Prize]

Final Thoughts

Science is the foundation of many industries, such as medicine and information technology. Scientists often play an important role in the advancement of any field by creating new technologies, developing medicines to cure diseases, or deciphering the human genome. 

These famous scientists pioneered the scientific revolution, and you can, too.

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SJ Tsai
Shen Ju Tsai (SJ) is the Chief Editor at His role involves managing a team of writers, overseeing content creation, and conducting research for content planning and keyword selection.

1 thought on “Top 20 Famous American Scientists You Should Know”

  1. Why Albert Einstein is not in this list. I really admire Dr. Linas Pauling, and I believe, Einstein and Dr. Pauling both belong at the top of the list. Mr. Oppenheimer built the bomb using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. He # 3 on this list, but Einstein is not mention any where here.


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