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LostInParadise's avatar

Is Stephen Hawking the best physicist since Einstein?

Asked by LostInParadise (18098 points ) October 2nd, 2010

That seems to be the general consensus, but is it more than hype? He is certainly in the top echelon and I greatly admire his ability to carry on despite ALS. I do not know enough to understand the specifics of what he did, but it seems to me that Richard Feynman’s theoretical work in QED would have greater importance than Hawking’s study of black holes.

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12 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

I think Edward Witten is.

Cruiser's avatar

I think in terms of sheer dedication to the cause they are on par with each other…but in terms of significance of discovery, Einstein will be hard to beat if ever.

marymaryquitecontrary's avatar

Since Einstein? Einstein was great and a very colorful character, but I’m not sure he should be the benchmark against which all others are measured, I think of him more as the American cheerleader for physics in that period. Consider some of the other big names from (or overlapping) his time:
Neils Bohr
Enrico Fermi
Max Born
Werner Heisenberg
Marie Curie
Max Planck
While Einstein and Hawking have both been great storytellers, they both have their limits. Einsteins was quantum physics. He never could get his head around it and protested instead about God not playing dice. And for all his wonderful contributions, I think Hawking is now losing it as he’s now apparently worried about attacks by extra terrestrials.
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/04/27/war-of-the-worlds-why-stephen-hawking-is-wrong-about-aliens/

mammal's avatar

he may well be a competent physicist but as a thinker and all rounder, Einstein was superior. Hawkings ramblings and forays into time travel, are crude, mechanistic and completely impractical. Einstein was more the elegant of the two.

ETpro's avatar

Hawking is brilliant, for sure. But so far, he has not won a Nobel prize. So much of his work is theoretical. It is mathematically sound, but has yet to be confirmed by observation. Till it proves true and not juet mathematically sound, he isn’t likely to rise to the top levels of physics. I’d add Richard Feynman and Albert Fert to @marymaryquitecontrary‘s excellent list.

marymaryquitecontrary's avatar

Thanks, I didn’t mean to imply that this was a comprehensive list, I was just listing some counter-examples to illustrate that Einstein wasn’t the only one contributing to the field at that time.

gasman's avatar

Richard Feynman (the subject of 1992’s best-seller Genius by James Gleick) gets my vote. Feynman’s 3-volume Lectures in Physics, btw, is the best textbook I’ve ever read
on any subject.

Witten is perhaps the best mathematical physicist, given his facility with higher-dimensional string theories. Hawking is obviously very smart and in his work has contributed important insights.

It’s difficult—arguable impossible—to compare levels of greatness when speaking of the top physicists in the world.

Rarebear's avatar

Second vote for Feynman.

ETpro's avatar

@gasman & @Rarebear Make that fourth vote. The OP mentioned him, and I seconded that nomination here.

AstroChuck's avatar

John Bardeen if we are talking experimental physics. Hard to believe his name doesn’t come up more. I mean, come on. He won the Nobel prize for physics twice. Nobody else has ever done that. And if it wasn’t for the transistor we wouldn’t even be able to have this conversation now, would we?

partyparty's avatar

I would suggest Prof Brian Cox is pretty good
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cox_(physicist)

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