Who Are the Most Important Chemists in History?

Modified on by Max Wilbert

most important chemists

Like all sciences, chemistry is additive: it’s a field where people build on the work of those who came before. It’s rare for modern chemists to make breakthroughs, although it does happen.

That being said, the central science has a long history of amazing scientists who made important discoveries. Whether you’re preparing for an AP or MCAT chemistry test, studying Chem 101, or just practicing your general knowledge, these are names worth knowing. Here is our list of the chemists you should know.

The 6 Most Important Chemists

Marie Curie


Due to her somewhat sad story, Marie Curie is a household name. This Polish-born scientist conducted some of the foundational research on radioactivity, the process by which unstable atoms lose energy by emitting radiation. She conducted most of her work in Paris, where she discovered two new elements—radium and polonium—and won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Her work was foundational in the medical applications of x-rays and radiology. Curie worked in mobile X-ray units during World War I, and died in 1934 as a result of complications due to extensive radiation exposure.

John Dalton


Born into a working-class Quaker family in mid-18th century England, John Dalton was a precocious child. By the age of 27, he was instructing mathematics and natural sciences at a college in Manchester. Over his career, he would contribute greatly to meteorology and other fields. His biggest contribution to science came in the realm of chemistry. Dalton was the first person to articulate atomic theory. Atomic theory is based on the notion that matter is composed of tiny particles called atoms, that these atoms can be categorized into different types (or elements), that different types of atoms can combine to form chemical compounds, and that chemical reactions can combine, separate, or rearrange atoms. Atomic theory revolutionized science forever.

Antoine Lavoisier


Known as the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier discovered the relationship between oxygen and metal that leads to rust. He also proved the role of oxygen in respiration and discovered the chemical composition of water and air. Lavoisier identified two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, and was the first to articulate how the latter affects combustion.

Michael Faraday


Although Michael Faraday is primarily known for his research on electromagnetism, he made significant contributions to the field of chemistry, including discovering chlorine and carbon. Faraday also discovered benzene, contributed to the development of electrolysis, and made modern chemistry labs possible by inventing an early Bunsen burner. He is generally considered one of the greatest scientists of all time.

Dmitri Mendeleev


Born in Siberian Russia, Dmitri Mendeleev moved with his family to Saint Petersburg in 1850, where he began his education. Soon after his graduation, he began extensive research and worked as a professor at several institutions. Mendeleev grew to be one of the most highly regarded scientists in the world. His greatest contribution was the creation of the periodic table. Although work along these lines was being pursued by various other scientists already, Mendeleev was unaware of their research and proposed the most complete periodic table — one that allowed for the prediction of the existence and properties of not-yet-discovered elements.

Mario Molina


Mario Molina was part of a team of scientists that discovered the ozone hole over the Antarctic, and predicted that certain chemicals would cause this issue. Molina’s article on the subject, first published in Science magazine in 1974, was a bombshell in the scientific community. Their research showed that the culprit for the ozone hole was a class of chemicals called chloroflourocarbons. This led directly to an international treaty to protect the ozone hole and ban chloroflourocarbons. He currently services as a climate science adviser to the Mexican president. For his work, he received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (along with his colleagues Paul J. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Rowland).

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit brainscape.com or find us on the App Store .

comments powered by Disqus