Here’s the puzzle for the week: For each of the following European countries or areas (basically those that now have a population of 4 million or more) — Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine — name at least one really famous (in America) and important scientist or inventor who was born there (that is, within its modern boundaries), who worked most of his life there, or who is culturally identified with the nation (even if he lived in a colony or a place that is no longer in the country). Also, include people for any of the smaller countries, if you can think of them. It’s surprisingly hard for some countries, even some big and formerly prominent ones, notably Spain.
I have my current list hidden below. If you have some names for the countries that are not yet filled in, please e-mail them to me at volokh at law.ucla.edu. Please include a URL of a page that confirms the person’s affiliation with the country. Please do not send me more names for countries for which people are already included (unless the included people are all somewhat iffy, generally because they may equally be claimed by another country). Please also do not send me messages arguing that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, or Wales should be included.
The test of a famous person: I must have heard of him. Here I represent the typical American layperson who is not a scientist, but who likes science enough that he pays attention to relatively prominent scientists. (It helps, fairly or not, if the person has something named after him.) Special proviso for people now living or recently dead: There must be good reason to think they’ll be famous a century from now.
The test of an important scientist or inventor: Entirely subjective, though if a scientist or inventor is still famous a century or more after his death, that’s a good sign that he’s important. Note, though: For inventors the invention has to be something pretty novel; for instance, much as I like my Glock, Gaston Glock doesn’t count, even though his name is famous. Likewise for Porsche, or the Belarus-born Sukhoi, whose name is famous among military aircraft buffs (a line of Soviet warplanes are named after him). As I said, lots of arbitrariness here.
Austria: Kurt Godel, Wolfgang Pauli, Erwin Schrodinger (thanks to reader Pam Salkeld for the last two). Though Godel was born in what is now the Czech Republic, he spent the most important parts of his career in Austria. Sigmund Freud is also possible, but I don’t think of him as a scientist (and it’s my question, so there). I count Gregor Mendel as primarily Czech.
Belgium: Mercator (no, I hadn’t known he was Belgian, either).
Bulgaria: ?. The closest I’ve found is John Vincent Atanasoff, a pretty important (though not stunningly famous — I was a computer programmer for 12 years, and I’d only heard of him a couple of times) computer pioneer, but he was born and worked in the U.S.; he was the son of a Bulgarian immigrant.
Croatia: Nikola Tesla (but see below, which leads me to still be looking for more).
Czech Republic: Kurt Godel, Gregor Mendel.
Denmark: Niels Bohr, Tycho Brahe.
England: Isaac Newton is the obvious one, but there are many more.
Finland: ?. Maybe Linus Torvalds one day, if some people have their way, but check with me in a century; until then, I want someone more proven.
France: Pascal, Fermat, Pasteur, Descartes, the Curies, many more.
Germany: Einstein, Leibniz, Gauss, Heisenberg, many more.
Greece: Pythagoras in what is now Greece (he was born in Samos), Euclid, Eratosthenes, and more in Greek colonies.
Hungary: Edward Teller, John von Neumann.
Ireland: Robert Boyle, of Boyle’s Law; Beaufort, of the wind scale. Thanks to reader Neil Richards for Boyle.
Italy: Galileo, Enrico Fermi, Marconi, Fibonacci.
Lithuania: It’s a small country, but Hermann Minkowski, a major physicist was born there (though I’m told he’s ethnically German). He’s not famous enough to qualify, but seems important enough to at least give Lithuania an honorable mention.
Moldova: ?. UPDATE: Reader Jordan Ellenberg points out that Jerzy Neyman, who is credited with the confidence interval — certainly an important invention — was born in Moldova, though he was ethnically and culturally Polish, and moved out of Moldova in his early childhood. But while confidence intervals are famous, Neyman is not (except of course to mathematicians).
Northern Ireland: Kelvin (thanks to Mark Eckenwiler for the pointer).
Norway: ?. Reader Pam Salkeld suggested Gerhard Hansen (of Hansen’s Disease), but I’m still looking for more. UPDATE: Some have suggested Neils Abel, of Abelian groups fame, and Sophus Lie, of Lie groups fame — but it isn’t much fame.
Poland: Copernicus, Marie Curie.
Portugal: ?. UPDATE: A couple of people suggested Egaz Moniz, a Nobel prize winner, and the inventor of the lobotomy. Might be important, but certainly fails the fame criterion.
Romania: ?. UPDATE: Reader Timothy Hamilton points out that Nicoale Paulescu is now credited with having discovered insulin — he ought to be famous for that, but he isn’t.
Russia: Lobachevsky, Mendeleev, more.
Scotland: Watt, Maxwell, Kelvin, Alexander Graham Bell — many of the great British scientists and engineers of the 19th century were Scottish.
Serbia: Nikola Tesla, a Serb born in Croatia.
Spain: ?. UPDATE: Several people suggested two Nobelists, Severo Ochoa de Albornoz and Santiago Ramón y Cajal, and 16th century scholar Servetus; and my own search came up with them. All three were medical scientists. Despite their merits, though, I think that none is really famous. (Servetus may have gotten some extra fame through being burnt at the stake by John Calvin, but not enough to pass my test, which is my having heard of him.)
Sweden: Arrhenius (of the rate expression), Linnaeus, Nobel.
Switzerland: Euler, various Bernoullis. Albert Einstein did some of his key work here.
Ukraine: It is a sad fact that the most famous Ukrainian scientist was actually a pseudo-scientist, Lysenko. (Or perhaps he was a scientist, just one who was very badly wrong.) I don’t know of any others. UPDATE: I at first thought Igor Sikorsky just improved the helicopter in fairly marginal ways, but some more searching reveals that he is credited with some extremely important inventions that really made modern helicopters viable. So the honor of Ukraine is saved. ANOTHER UPDATE: My friend Mitch Sklar points to George Gamow, a physicist whom I had heard of, though who isn’t really that famous. Also, Ludwig von Mises was born in what is now the Ukraine (thanks to Davis King for the information), though I take it that he was culturally an Austrian (it was part of Austria-Hungary then); but in any event, much as I respect economics, I don’t see it as a science (an arbitrary distinction, I know). ONE MORE UPDATE: Stanislaw Ulam, a major physicist, was also born in the Ukraine; I know of him because of Ulam’s Spiral. Probably not famous enough to qualify, but still important, so I thought I’d note him.
Wales: Bertrand Russell (thanks to reader Neil Richards).(hide)