Physicists on the Money


Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (870-950) appears on the 1 Tenge note from Kazakhstan. A scholar in many areas, including philosophy, linguistics, logic, and music. He also wrote about the nature of science and argued for the existence of the vacuum (empty space).


Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917) appears on the Norwegian 200 Kroner note. Birkeland was a pioneer in studying the magnetic field of the earth and the aurora borealis. He made the suggestion that the aurora were caused by charges emitted by the sun being guided into the earth’s atmosphere by the earth’s magnetic field. An apparatus of his simulating this effect is shown on the bill at the left.


Niels Bohr (1885-1962) appears on the Danish 500 Kroner note. Bohr was one of the main architects of the quantum theory, the basis of our understanding of the properties of matter. He created the first quantized model of the atom (the Bohr model) and played a major role in developing the modern interpretation of the quantum theory.

Ruggero Boscovich (1711-1787) appeared on a series of Croatian notes. (The 25 Dinar is shown here.) Boscovich made contributions to the theory of orbital mechanics and was one of the first to speculate about the forces between atoms.


Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) appeared on the Polish 1000 Zloty note. He was the first modern scientist to propose a model of the solar system in which the sun was at the center, circled by the planets moving in orbits, but not supported by any invisible crystal spheres. He surpressed publication of his work until after his death.


Marie and Pierre Curie (Marie: 1867-1934, Pierre: 1859-1906) appear on the French 500 franc note. (45 K) They led the discovery and classification of radioactive elements and shared the 1903 Nobel prize for that work. Marie Curie won a second Nobel in 1911 for her work on radium. Their daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie also won a Nobel prize!


Democritus (about 460 BC – 370 BC) appears on an old 100 drachma note from Greece. He was one of the earliest of the ancient philosophers to describe matter as made up of small indivisible particles (atoms) moving in empty space.


Albert Einstein (1879-1955) appeared on the Israeli 5 pound note. The greatest physicist of the twentieth century, Einstein not only invented the theories of special relativity (behavior of rapidly moving object) and general relativity (theory of gravitation), but made fundamental contributions to the beginnings of quantum theory.


Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), the Swiss mathematical physicist appears on the Swiss 10 franc note. (65 K) He made numerous contributions to mathematical physics including the theory of fluid flow (used in studying how to make airplanes fly) and the theory of rotations of rigid bodies (used in controlling satellites).


Michael Faraday appears on the British 20 pound note. Faraday was one of the primary discoverers of the roperties of electricity and magnetism and their relationship. This work made possible the construction of electric motors and dynamos.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a pioneer in the field of electricity. He first proposed the conservation of electric charge. He appears on the American 100 dollar bill.


Galileo Gallilei appeared on the Italian 2000 Lire note. In some sense, he was the first modern scientist. He made critical discoveries of how to think about moving bodies.


Carl Frederich Gauss appears on the German 10 mark note. In addition to his many contributions to mathematics, Gauss made important discoveries in the theories of electromagnetism.


Christian Huygens (1629-1695) appears on an out-of-date 25 guilder note from the Netherlands. Huygens was a contemporary of Newton’s who made many important discoveries and inventions. As a result of improvements that he made to the telescope, he was the first to realize that Saturn had rings. (Galileo thought it was a “triple planet”.) He made the first pendulum closk, which substantially improved the accuracy of the measurement of time. His description of how waves propagate form the basis of modern wave theories.


Lord Kelvin (William Thompson) appears on the Scottish 100 pound note. He made contributions to thermodynamics and electricity including proposing an absolute zero of temperature and participating in laying
the first trans-oceanic cable.


Guglielmo Marconi, the developer of the first successful radio, appears on the Italian 2000 Lirenote.


Isaac Newton appeared on the British one pound note. Newton was probably the greatest physicist in history. His work established fundamental elements of the scientific style of inquiry. He made major discoveries in the theory of motion, our understanding of the nature of light, gravitation, and the properties of matter.


Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851) appeared on the Danish 100 kroner note. He discovered in 1820 that an electric current will deflect a magnetic compass needle. This marked the beginning of the unification of electric and magnetic phenomena.


Olaf Rømer (1644-1710) appeared on the Danish 50 kroner note. He was the first to establish that the speed of light was not infinite. He used the anomalies in the occultation of Jupiter’s moons to get an estimate of the speed.


Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) appears on the New Zealand 100 dollar note. Rutherford and his students performed and interpreted experiments that led to the understanding of atomic structure — that most of
the mass of the atom is contained in a very small bit in the center (the nucleus) and that the size of the atom is determined by very light particles — the electrons.


Erwin Schroedinger appears on the Austrian 1000 Schilling note. Schroedinger was one of the primary developers of the quantum theory, the theory that explains the properties of matter as arising from the properties of its constituent parts — electrons and nuclei. The success of this theory has made possible the development of modern electronics, including transistors and lasers.


Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was born in Croatia and immigrated to America. He contributed to the development of electrical technology. Here he is displayed on black and white scan of a 10 Billion Dinar note from the period of the great inflation just before the breakup of Yugoslavia. (The Europeans call it 10 Milliard. In any language that’s
1010! A good reason for using scientific notation.)


Allesandro Volta (1745-1827) constructed the first chemical battery. He appears on the Italian 10,000 Lire note.



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