5 Nikola Tesla
While many of the greatest minds had the support of their spouses, assistants and peers, Nikola Tesla was a one-man act. As a man ahead of his time and electrical engineer, Tesla owned about 700 patents. While Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse took the credit for the invention of electric light and the currents that they used, it was Tesla, who worked as a consultant for both men, who patented the AC induction motor. In addition to his contribution to the design of today’s AC electric system, Tesla helped invent radio communication and advanced X-ray technologies. He also made a patent for a biplane that uses a tilt-rotor/tilt-wing concept.
4 Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is more than a quadriplegic scientist who uses a computer to help him speak due to complications with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He is the mastermind who developed theories about cosmology, black holes and quantum gravity. He was the first to explain cosmology as a relationship between quantum mechanics and the Einstein’s general theory of relativity. As Hawking’s medical condition advanced, he developed ways to communicate using his eyes and learned to do math equations and develop theories in his head, like his second law of black hole dynamics and his discovery of Hawking radiation in the 1970s. Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time,” was a best-seller in the UK for over four years in the 1980s.
3 Terence Tao
If you think that math is hard, don’t let Terence Tao know. Born in 1975, the modern smarty-pants began solving math problems at age 2 and received a score of 760 on the SAT math section at age 8, which makes him one of only two people to ever score over 700 at that age. Tao started taking college-level math classes when he was 9 and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree at 16. By the time Tao turned 20, he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University and then became a full professor at the University of California, Los Angeles at the age of 24. (Not bad for a first job.) In addition to writing over 230 research papers, fellow scientists celebrate Tao for his prime number proofs and his contributions to harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, additive number theory and combinatorics. And, yes, he married a rocket scientist.
2 Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci didn’t know it, but his studies, sketches and even doodles were centuries ahead of his time. The Renaissance man, famed for works like the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” was one of the first people to research and document the mechanics of human anatomy. He had theories about geographic time and plate tectonics when his peers thought the world was flat. Da Vinci’s technological ingenuity included theories about solar power, hydrodynamics and machines like calculators, tanks, submarines and aircraft.
1 Albert Einstein
When it comes to the world’s geniuses, Albert Einstein is one of the most popular. Time Magazine named Einstein the “Person of the Century” in 1999 for his theories about space and time, like his controversial formula for mass-energy equivalence (E=mc x mc). The famed scientist did extensive studies on wormholes and gravitational fields, and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.