Are these the century's finest minds?

A FORMER clerk in the Swiss patent office has been voted one of the most influential minds of the past 100 years - the century that split the atom, invented plastic, landed men on the moon and cloned a sheep called Dolly.

The name of Albert Einstein is synonymous with intellectual power, which explains why he heads the list of the 20 most influential thinkers of the past 100 years.

People as diverse as Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian philosopher, William Shockley, the inventor of the transistor, and Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, are among the famous names listed by Time magazine as this century's greatest brains.

The 20th century, Time says, "overthrew our inherited ideas about logic, language, learning, mathematics, economics and even space and time. And behind each of these great inventions is, in most cases, one extraordinary human mind."

Britain is well represented in the list, with seven names among the top 20, including Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of antibiotics, John Maynard Keynes, the influential economist, and Alan Turing, the tortured mathematician and computer scientist.

But it was Einstein who dominated the 20th century with his two theories of relativity. He published his first, "special" theory in 1905 while he was still a patent office clerk, and his more important, "general" theory in 1916.

James Gleick, the science author, writes in Time that the scientific touchstones of the age - the nuclear bomb, space travel and electronics - all bear Einstein's fingerprints. "He discovered, just by thinking about it, the essential structure of the cosmos," he says.

Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, agreed with Time that Einstein dominated the scientific achievements of the 20th century, notably with his general theory of relativity, which explains the relationship between gravity and space.

"If he hadn't come up with his general theory, it might not have been described for several more years. Einstein put a more distinctive mark on science," Sir Martin said.

Many discoveries came about as a result of good luck and "people who made the greatest discovery don't always have the greatest intellect", he said.

Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, made after an accidental contamination in his laboratory, is a prime example of a lucky accident leading to a major breakthrough.

Francis Crick and Jim Watson, the two Cambridge scientists who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, did what others would have done a few years later, said Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College London.

But being first matters, which is why Crick and Watson achieve a place in Time's hall of fame as the co-discoverers of the "secret of life" in 1953.

"Not until decades later, in the age of genetic engineering, would the Promethean power unleashed that day become vivid," the magazine says, referring to late-20th-century developments in biotechnology.

Men dominate Time's list of great thinkers, which includes technology intellectuals such as Tim Berners-Lee, the architect of the Internet, and Wilbur and Orville Wright, the pioneers of powered flight.

But one woman stands out: Rachel Carson, an American biologist, is credited with virtually inventing the environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides.

"Silent Spring, serialised in The New Yorker in June 1962, gored corporate oxen all over the country," Time says.

Not surprisingly, Carson was violently assailed by threats of legal action from some of the biggest companies in the United States, including Monsanto, the agrochemicals giant.

"In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protests to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness. Silent Spring became a runaway best-seller, with international reverberations. Nearly 40 years later, it is still the cornerstone of the new environmentalism," says Time magazine.

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Patent office clerk who became the century's most influential scientist. At 26, developed theory of relativity, basis for advances in quantum physics, space travel and electronics.

SIGMUND FREUD

The father of psychoanalysis. Credited with opening the door to our unconscious selves. Concepts such as ego, repression and penis envy spring from his work.

ALEXANDER FLEMING

Bacteriologist who invented penicillin, world's most effective lifesaver and key to all antibiotics. Found when an experiment was accidentally contaminated.

ENRICO FERMI

Atomic physicist who helped pioneer nuclear fission. Co-inventor and designer of the first nuclear reactor. Hailed as last great physicist to excel both at theory and experimentation.

WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT

Brothers Wilbur and Orville (above) were bicycle mechanics who made first powered human flight in 1903. Ultimately responsible for the aviation age.

ALAN TURING

Computer scientist who built the world's first calculating machines and laid the groundwork for all computer technology. Committed suicide after prosecution for homosexuality.

JONAS SALK

Virologist who invented the polio vaccine in the Fifties after two epidemics which crippled thousands of children. Suffered from in-fighting in US scientific establishment.

LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN

Pioneering philosopher who started out trying to "end philosophy" in 1922 by elegantly codifying all thought in terms of logic. Eventually questioned all original ideas.

JAMES WATSON AND FRANCIS CRICK

Molecular biologists Watson (above) and Crick discovered DNA's double helix, basis of life. Fought opinion in developing theories ranging from crime-fighting to philosophy.

WILLIAM SHOCKLEY

Solid-state physicist and inventor of the transistor, which made computer technology possible. Held radical racial view that black people were inherently less intelligent than whites.

LEO BAEKELAND

Belgian-born chemist who invented the first synthetic plastic - Bakelite. It was discovered in 1909 during his search for an insulating material for the growing electric industry.

TIM BERNERS-LEE

British computer network designer who originated the World Wide Web. Credited with the huge growth of the Internet - 600,000 to 40 million users from its launch in 1991 to 1996.

RACHEL CARSON

Marine biologist who wrote Silent Spring in 1962, forerunner of environmental movement. Listed effects of pesticides on wildlife, despite attack by US chemical companies

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES

Economist thought of as father of modern economics. Theories on pulling economies out of depression by increasing demand credited with saving capitalism.

EDWIN HUBBLE

Astronomer who formulated theory of Big Bang in 1920s, realising universe beyond the Milky Way was expanding. Einstein said Hubble's contribution helped prove his theories.

KURT GODEL

Author of arguably the most important discovery of 20th-century mathematics. His "incompleteness theorem", of 1931, proved wrong nearly 100 years of mathematical research.

ROBERT GODDARD

Rocket scientist who pioneered the technology in the 1930s amid ridicule. Nazis used ideas to produce V2 rockets for attacking London, but rockets did put a man on the moon.

THE LEAKEY FAMILY

British family of pioneering anthropologists - Louis, Mary and son Richard (above) - whose work in Kenya revolutionised the understanding of human evolution.

JEAN PIAGET

Child psychologist who developed the theory that children were not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge but had their own logic with which they constructed their world.

PHILO FARNSWORTH

Inventor of the TV tube, after the ideacame to him at 14. Died in obscurity. "There's nothing on it. We're not watching it in this house," he told his son.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas