Why aren't there famous chemists/mathematicians in the public?

Haha, you think every elementary school child knows marie curie..lol. Most people learn pasteur in their high school biology with the ''cover meat with plastic and it won't have flies all over it versus the one left out in the open.I learned about Marie Curie when I was in elementary school, but that was because I was interested in science and reading books about famous scientists. I doubt the average elementary school student knows who she is, let alone what she is known for. In summary, despite the fame of physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, chemists and mathematicians often go unnoticed by the general public. This may be due to the fact that physics, with its grandiose concepts of the universe,
  • #1
member 392791
Ok, so everyone in the public knows about Albert einstein, stephen hawking, etc. Yet no one knows any chemists or mathematicians. Are they just bad at marketing themselves, or is it just that physics is more interesting to the public at large since it deals with the grandiose of the universe?
 
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  • #2
Woopydalan said:
Ok, so everyone in the public knows about Albert einstein, stephen hawking, etc. Yet no one knows any chemists or mathematicians. Are they just bad at marketing themselves, or is it just that physics is more interesting to the public at large since it deals with the grandiose of the universe?
WHAT?? Take a look at the list of famous chemists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chemists

Famous mathematicians

http://math.about.com/od/mathematicians/a/mathies.htm

I'm sure members will have favorites to add.
 
  • #3
Physics and math are so closely related I don't think it it makes sense to separate them in that way. See: Newton.

Chemistry? How far back are we going, historically (Einstein is dead, of course -- Hawking is not)? Avogadro? Boyle? Curie? Alphabetical list here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chemists

[edit: damn you, Evo ]
 
  • #4
I think he means famous chemists / mathematicians that Joe public out on the street would be able to recognise / recall.
 
  • #5
Yes, that is what I said in the OP. Obviously people in science know others, but I was talking about the public
 
  • #6
I'd say its probably due to the fact that the majority of people get most of their science knowledge from pop-sci or high school courses and, well chemistry doesn't make for good pop-sci in general as its not as "WOW UNIVERSE IS NOT FLAT" type of amazing.
 
  • #7
Because people don't care one bit about math or chemical reactions, but they care a great deal (or at least can care) about things like cosmic explosions, other planets, and giant particle colliders that may or may not create a black hole inside the Earth. It's all about how well the subject carries over to the uninformed. Plus, people tend to care more about the fundamental rules of how things work than how you can put them together in a million different ways. That's why shows on QM are fairly popular. That plus they quite literally change your understanding of reality.
 
  • #8
Woopydalan said:
Yes, that is what I said in the OP. Obviously people in science know others, but I was talking about the public
Pasteur, as in anything that is pasteuized, Marie Curie you can't tell me that these names aren't known to every elementary school child.
 
  • #9
You've set an impossible bar, since Einstein is probably the most famous recent scientist. Hawking doesn't even come close even though his notoriety is buoyed by the fact that he is still alive and doing guest-spots on TV shows.

Still, I'd say it isn't so much physics as astronomy/cosmology that interests people because they can see it. See: Carl Sagan.
 
  • #10
I asked about half my calculus physics class if they knew who Feynman was, and not a single one of them knew..
 
  • #11
Evo said:
Pasteur, as in anything that is pasteuized, Marie Curie you can't tell me that these names aren't known to every elementary school child.

Haha, you think every elementary school child knows marie curie..lol. Most people learn pasteur in their high school biology with the ''cover meat with plastic and it won't have flies all over it versus the one left out in the open.
 
  • #12
Looking around a little more...

Mr Wizard was an English major.
Bill Nye the Science Guy is a mechanical engineer. These guys are famous because they were on TV.
 
  • #13
Woopydalan said:
Haha, you think every elementary school child knows marie curie..lol. Most people learn pasteur in their high school biology with the ''cover meat with plastic and it won't have flies all over it versus the one left out in the open.
I learned about them in elementary school in our science class. I should say any American child in a public school that paid attention should know.
 
  • #14
Never heard of Mr. Wizard, but no kid knows bill nye as a mechanical engineer, he is known as a scientist (science guy)
 
  • #15
I think they know the name, but if you ask them what Curie did or is known for, I wonder how much they'd know. it is, after all, 2013. how many kids these days actually pay attention to science?
 
  • #16
Woopydalan said:
Never heard of Mr. Wizard...
His show went off the air in 1990: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Herbert

Neo makes reference to him in "The Matrix", and being a 20-something in 1999 would put him at the right age to have watched him as a kid.

Lets flip this over though: I wonder if non-science people in the general public who know Einstein's name know what he is famous for?
 
  • #17
E = mc^2! And most know about relativity I think, atleast have heard of it
 
  • #18
they might know that he's known for relativity or whatever but not know what relativity is. I did not know what relativity was until college
 
  • #19
I know a homeless guy who can probably name ten important chemists from history in under a minute. However, I don't know one chemist who can name 10 important homeless guys.
 
  • #20
russ_watters said:
Let's flip this over though: I wonder if non-science people in the general public who know Einstein's name know what he is famous for?
Good point. I'd bet if people said anything other than he was a scientist, they'd probably say the atom bomb. Saw that in a wiki-answers as the first comment.

What is Albert Einstein famous for?

Answer: He is most famous for the atom bomb
 
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  • #21
the only publicized homeless guy whose name I remember is Adrian Lamo
 
  • #22
Evo said:
Pasteur, as in anything that is pasteuized,

Pasteur was more a microbiologist than a chemist, at least as far as the work he's remembered for goes. Sorry, I have to jump to the defence of *my* profession here. :-p :biggrin:

Marie Curie you can't tell me that these names aren't known to every elementary school child.

And Curie was just as much a physicist as she was a chemist. Possibly more the former - well, her Physics Nobel came 8 years before the Chem one anyway. :smile:
 
  • #23
Evo said:
Good point. I'd bet if people said anything other than he was a scientist, they'd probably say the atom bomb. Saw that in a wiki-answers as the first comment.

I don't think of Einstein first when I think of the atom bomb. The first name that pops into my mine is Robert Oppenheimer. I wonder if the same holds true for Joe Public.
 
  • #24
No, I'm a physics major and never heard of Robert Oppenheimer before
 
  • #25
I can't think of any working mathematicians today who seem all that keen to be in the public eye. Physics has Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene (who's no slouch mathematically, but never really talks about it in his documentaries), Stephen Hawking, etc.

I do feel like really interesting mathematics is hard to communicate to a layperson without watering it down into nothing. The first "whoa"-type thing you could tell someone would be the Banach-Tarski paradox, but even that doesn't really apply in the way people think it does.

An earlier post was probably right - people can get excited about "man the universe is huge" or "wow a black hole is crazy!" but even the stuff that really excites the mathematical community won't be very interesting to most people (e.g. the abc conjecture and Mochizuki's possible proof).
 
  • #26
Curious3141 said:
I don't think of Einstein first when I think of the atom bomb.
We are on a science website, so I would hope that people here know about Einstein. The average American on the street knows the name from jokes and media, and perhaps even know E = mc2 but I would wager that most have no clue what that means or what his main accomplishments were.
 
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  • #27
I'm willing to bet Einstein is the most famous for the average joe, and for the slightly above average, perhaps Neil de Grasse Tyson. However, to the same extent, I can't name any famous ballet performer, opera singer, and artist within the last 100 years minus Andy Warhol. I probably can't name any famous Architects either. I'm a culture black hole, thus I try not to judge people for not knowing who Oppenheimer is.
 
  • #28
MarneMath said:
I'm willing to bet Einstein is the most famous for the average joe, and for the slightly above average, perhaps Neil de Grasse Tyson. However, to the same extent, I can't name any famous ballet performer, opera singer, and artist within the last 100 years minus Andy Warhol. I probably can't name any famous Architects either. I'm a culture black hole, thus I try not to judge people for not knowing who Oppenheimer is.
GASP - Mikhail Baryshnikov, Pavarotti, Norman Rockwell, Frank Lloyd Wright. I'll bet you know all of these.
 
  • #29
Actually no, minus Norman Rockwell, so yay my list grows to 2!
 
  • #30
MarneMath said:
Actually no, minus Norman Rockwell, so yay my list grows to 2!
Uhm, Marne, you know I like you and think you're a great person, father, pet owner, etc... Have you been living under a rock? :cry:
 
  • #31
Evo said:
Uhm, Marne, you know I like you and think you're a great person, father, pet owner, etc... Have you been living under a rock? :cry:

Some of those names sound familiar.
 
  • #32
Drakkith said:
Some of those names sound familiar.
Et tu, Drakkith?
 
  • #33
I was at a school yesterday and asked the kids if they knew who einstein was and what he ways famous for ... one kid said he invented the single use mug, and another said he had the uncanny ability to predict whether it was half full or half empty.
 
  • #34
Out of those you mentioned, Pavarotti and Wright were the only ones I knew xD.
 
  • #35
Chronos said:
I was at a school yesterday and asked the kids if they knew who einstein was and what he ways famous for ... one kid said he invented the single use mug, and another said he had the uncanny ability to predict whether it was half full or half empty.
Worse than I expected. At least the non-science friends I polled knew he was a famous scientist, they just weren't sure why. :cry:
 

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