History of Physics

A great many scholars from ancient times to modern days have contributed much to the field of Physics’ development. All the major scientists of different times are illustrated here who changed the way of thinking in their own time.

History of Physics


Timeline of Physics



So vast the area of Physics is and so do the discoveries or inventions. A great many scholars from ancient times to modern days have contributed much to the field of Physics’ development. All the major scientists of different times are illustrated here who changed the way of thinking in their own time. 


From 2000 BC to 1000 BC

Physics-related discoveries are pretty older. The older civilizations like the Mesopotamians, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians researched astronomy, a major part of Physics. The Mesopotamians invented the constellations of Leo, Taurus, Scorpius, Gemini, Capricorn, and Sagittarius and that helped them to make a list of the passage of the Sun, the Moon and the planets throughout the year. Around 1600 BC, the Sumerians and the Babylonians developed the earliest astronomical records and star catalogs. They also recorded the position of the planets and solar eclipse dating on clay tablets and built the first solar and lunar calendar. In 1450 BC, the Egyptians built sundials to calculate time using sunlight. The Chinese did not remain behind in this race. They started keeping astronomical records in 1000 BC.


From 1000 BC to AD                                        

Then the Greek scholars flourished Physics with their findings. We have so many of them like Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Thales, Plato, Heraclides and Aristotle. The ancient scientists of that time agreed and debated on the question “What is at the center of the universe?” Some agreed on the earth-centric solar system and some others differed saying that the universe is sun centric. But none denied that the planet moves and it's not still. Aristotle described a geocentric universe and also established geometric theories as well. 


From 1 to 500 AD 

  • 150: The first most important work of this millennium is Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s star catalog listing 48 constellations in 150 AD. In his masterpiece ‘Almagest,’ he endorses the geocentric (Earth-centered) view of the universe and chartered the motions of the stars and planets. 


  • 400: Surya Siddhanta, a Sanskrit treatise on Indian Astronomy, gives the average length of the sidereal year in 400 AD. The length is 1.4 seconds longer than the modern value. So what? They are the first to prove 365 days makes a year.


  • 499: The Indian astronomer and mathematician Aryabhata proposes that the Earth turns on its axis, and describes elliptical orbits around the Sun, which some have interpreted as heliocentrism. 



From 500 to 1000 AD 

  • 628: Indian mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta recognizes gravity as a force of attraction for the first time in 628 AD. He also describes the second law of Newton's law of universal gravitation in his Brahma-Sphuta-Siddhanta.


  • 777: Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭāriq and Muhammad al-Fazari translated Brahmasphutasiddhanta and Surya Siddhanta and compiled them in a book named Zij al-Sindhi.


  • 830: The most notable work by the Arabian astronomers is Zij al-Sindh published by al-Khwarizmi. In this, he illustrated the movements of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets known at the time.


  • 850: Kitab fi Jawani, al-Farghani’s book besides giving a summary of Ptolemy’s cosmography corrected Ptolemy according to the findings of the Arab astronomers.


From 1000 to 1500 AD 

  • 11th Century - The study of physics is present throughout many of Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni’s various works. Earth's gravitation is the cause that attracts all things towards the center of the Earth. He combined hydrostatics with dynamics to create hydrodynamics. He also unified statics and dynamics contributing to the introduction of the experimental scientific method to mechanics.


  • 11th Century - A Persian polymath, Omar Khayyam comes with his ideas that the universe is not moving around Earth. Rather, the Earth revolves on its axis. He also calculated the solar year as 365.24219858156 days pretty correctly.


  • 14th Century - The Arab astronomer and engineer Ibn al-Shatir not only refines and improves the accuracy of the geocentric Ptolemaic model but also develops the first accurate model of lunar motion.


  • 15th Century - The Aristotelian notion of a stationary Earth was rejected by the Turkish/Persian astronomer and mathematician Ali Qushji rejects as he was in favor of a rotating Earth.


  • 15th Century - Somayaji Nilakantha proposed a partially heliocentric planetary model in which Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn orbit the Sun and the Sun then orbits the Earth.


From 1500 to 1700 AD 


  • 1543: Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus explained the heliocentric principle scientifically. He placed the Sun, not the Earth at the center of the solar system.  


  • 1599: Tycho Brahe took an interest in astronomy. His Tychonic system is the ultimate result in which he has combined the Copernican system with the Ptolemaic system. He was one of the last scientists who experimented without a telescope. Johannes Kepler assisted him for a year before his death. 


  • 1604: Galileo Galilei invented the Law of Falling Bodies. He proved that all bodies fall at the same rate denying the Aristotelian belief that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones.


  • 1608: Hans Lippershey, a Dutch eyeglass maker, invented the refracting telescope. 


  • 1609: Johannes Kepler came with his book ‘New Astronomy,’ published in 1609. This book contains his idea of three laws of planetary motion. 


  • 1610: Galileo Galilei invents an astronomical telescope and finds spots on the sun, craters on the moon and four satellites of Jupiter. He also proved that everything does not orbit the earth. Laws of Motion (1687)


  • 1687: Laws of Motion by Isaac Newton is the game-changing theory in Physics. He proved his theory with three major laws. The laws about objects are 1) Without applying an external force an object in motion remains in motion. 2) There is a relationship between an object's mass (m), its acceleration (a) and the applied force (F) and it is F = ma. 3) For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.


  • 1662: Robert Boyle invented the law of gas and we now know it as Boyle’s Law. He formulated a relationship between pressure and the volume of any gas in his law. 


From 1700 to 1800 AD


  • 1705: Edmond Halley measured an interval of the comets from 1456 to 1682 in 1705 AD and predicted that it will appear 76 years later in 1758. It was named after him as an honor when the prediction came to reality. 


  • 1734: Emanuel Swedenborg first suggested parts of the nebular hypothesis.


  • 1738: Daniel Bernoulli developed thermodynamics. His Hydrodynamica shows his idea of the kinetic theory of gases which he applies to explain Boyle's law. He is also notable for his Bernoulli's principle, a mechanism theory that is proved helpful in the carburetor and the airplane wing. 


  • 1785: Charles-Augustin de Coulomb presented his first three reports on Electricity and Magnetism. To describe the electrostatic force of attraction and repulsion he discovered a law which is now called Coulomb's law. He also did important work on friction.


  • 1798: Lord Henry Cavendish used a torsion balance to invent gravitational constant ‘G.’


  • 1800: Thomas Young         worked on the interference of light. Young's double-slit interferometer was a successful attempt to prove the wave theory of light


From 1800 to 1900 AD


  • 1805: The English chemist John Dalton develops his atomic theory, proposing that each chemical element is composed of atoms of a single unique type.


  • 1830: Michael Faraday’s law about electromagnetic induction is today popularly known as the Faraday Law. It is a law that predicts how a magnetic field will interact with an electric circuit.  


  • 1842: To explain the color of binary stars, Christian Doppler used the ‘Doppler Effect’. By using this effect, Doppler monitored the frequency of the wave depends on its relative speed of the observer and the source.


  • 1843: After studying the nature of heat, James Joule discovered there is a relationship between heat and mechanical work. This led to the law of conservation of energy, which led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named after him. 


  • 1848: We will always remember Lord Kelvin for his work on heat and electricity. Kelvin temperature scale of his key innovation and his Thomson effect is also a notable one in thermoelectricity.


  • 1865: James Clerk Maxwell was the first to relate electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. All his findings were illustrated in his ‘A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field’ and published in 1865. His discoveries began a new era in modern physics.


  • 1895: X-ray is a great discovery of Physics. German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength and named it X-Ray in 1895. His discovery earned him Nobel Prize in 1901.


  • 1899: Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck is the inventor of quantum theory. In 1899, he discovered Planck's constant to calculate the energy of a photon. He also discovered the law of heat radiation in the name of Planck's law of black body radiation. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr later worked on his law to flourish quantum theory better. 


From 1900 to 2000 AD 


  • 1903: Antoine Henri Becquerel the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. As a recognition of his discovery, he won Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. The SI unit for radioactivity, the becquerel (Bq), is named after him.


  • 1905: The theory of relativity by Albert Einstein added a new pillar to physics besides quantum mechanics. His theory of relativity is subdivided into two portions; a) special relativity b) general relativity. Albert Einstein published the final form of the theory of general relativity in 1916 that helped astronomical discoveries later.


  • 1927: Werner Heisenberg was best known for his new philosophy of uncertainty and he published his uncertainty principle in 1927. He won Nobel Prize in 1932 for his outstanding contributions to physics. 


  • 1929: De Broglie won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929, after the wave-like behavior of matter was first experimentally demonstrated in 1927. His contribution to quantum physics is immense.


  • 1938: Enrico Fermi is one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century with both theory and experiments. Along with developing quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics, he is best known for his development of the first nuclear reactor ‘Chicago Pile-1’. His developments paved him the way to get Nobel Prize in 1938.



  • 1945: Julius Robert Oppenheimer was among the persons who are often called the "father of the atomic bomb". During World War II, he was a member of the ‘Manhattan Project’. The first atomic bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945.


  • 1951: Edward Teller was also a member of the ‘Manhattan Project’ and he is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Together with Ernest Lawrence, Luis Alvarez, and others, he invented the hydrogen bomb in 1951.                                                                                                                                            
  • 1969: Murray Gell-Mann was an American physicist contributed to physics by his work on the theory of elementary particles and received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics. 


  • 1965: Richard Phillips Feynman, an American physicist who worked many fields including the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium and development in particle physics. His contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics are the efforts for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.


  • 1974: His scientific works on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation and it is known as Hawking radiation now. Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by uniting the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. 


  • 1980: Alan Guth is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist and he is mainly known for his work on elementary particle theory.


  • 1984: Carlo Rubbia was a renowned Italian physicist working in particle physics. He worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and discovered W and Z particles. He won Nobel Prize in 1984. 


From 2000 till now


  • 2002: Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok propose another variation of the inflating universe known as the cyclic model.


  • 2003: Brian Greene’s work has been mainly of the development of the Superstring Theory. He considers the String theory is not proper as it has some flaws. His discoveries earned him the Andrew Gemant Award in 2003.

  • 2008: Michio Kaku is one of the major physicists of the 21st century contributing to the field of theoretical physics. His New York Times Bestseller- ‘Physics of the Impossible’ was published in 2008. ‘Physics of the Future’ and ‘The Future of the Mind’ are some of his famous books in the development of physics. String field theory is also his discovery. 


  • 2010: Andre Geim is a modern physicist working on condensed matter physics. He jointly worked with Konstantin Novoselov on graphene and won Nobel Prize in 2010.


  • 2017: Thorne Kip spent 40 years of his life to detect gravitational waves from the black holes. His developments in LIGO detectors (a device to detect gravitational waves) made him a Nobel Prize winner along with Rainer Weiss and Barry C. Barish in 2017.