I have compiled a very solid list of the 12 most famous PhD theses (plural of thesis) in history. Do realize that this list includes ‘PhD Theses’ and not books/volumes (so Principia by Newton doesn’t count).
This list is based entirely upon my general knowledge, so pardon me if I am limited in my insight. Also, do note that the list is by no means exhaustive or in order. Have a look. You can click titles to read the theses. Enjoy, oh and forgive me for the complexity of the content. I couldn’t help it.
1. Recherches sur les substances radioactives (1903)
- Marie Curie
In English, this translates to “Research on Radioactive Substances”. Marie Curie’s thesisis perhaps one of the most famous scientific document of the 20th century. The thesis documents her discovery of radioactivity materials such as radium and polonium, for which she was awarded 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, and subsequently formed the core of her future research. She also won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911.
2. A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits (1937)
- Claude Shannon
Claude Shannon’s thesis is said to be the most significant thesis of the 20th century, because it laid down the foundations of everything that has to do with ‘digital technology’. It is in here where Claude Shannon, at the ripe age of 21, proved how Boolean Algebra could become the building block of computers. The concept of using binary properties of electrical switches is at the core of all digital circuit design. Put it simply, Shannon’s thesis showed how a bunch 0s and 1s could do magic!
3. Non-cooperative games(1950)
- John Nash
John Nash. You must remember him from the movie A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe. Nash’s thesis, titled “Non Cooperative Games” formed the building block for the Nash equilibrium, and his subsequent Nobel Prize in Economics (1994). His 28 page thesis is online and I’ve linked it in. I challenge you to read a few pages of it without getting dizzy. Nash’s handwriting is too messy. Nash still lives.
4. Recherches sur la théorie des quanta (1924)
- De Broglie
De Broglie. The name is cool, plus he’s got swag (just look at that pose). De Broglie was one of the great theoretical physicists of the 20th century. His 1924 thesis, “On the Theory of Quanta” laid down the revolutionary idea of wave-particle duality, as applied to electrons. This idea is one of the principle ideas of quantum mechanics. De Broglie’s thesis is 70 pages long, which I believe is a short space to describe such an powerful and majestic concept. This thesis was the reason he won the Nobel Prize in Physics a mere five years later.
5. The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics (1942)
- Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman’s 1942 thesis “The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics” laid down the foundation of path integral technique and the famous Feynman diagrams. Feynman diagrams are used by physicists all over the world to pictorially represent the behavior of subatomic particles with mathematical expressions. Although his thesis wasn’t the reason he won a Nobel Prize for Physics, it is very popular in the physics community. After all it’s the work of Master “Feynman”.
6. A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions (1906)
- Albert Einstein
How can a history list be complete without the evergreen Albert Einstein? Einstein’s doctoral thesis “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions” was instrumental in the sense that Einstein ended up with a very accurate value for the Avogadro’s number. The value was in compliance with what he and Planck had found earlier from black-body radiation. Einstein’s thesis laid down the framework for his next breakthrough work on Brownian Motion. Einstein’s doctoral thesis is his most cited work to date.
7. The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature (1841)
- Karl Marx
Karl Marx’s 1841 thesis titled “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature” is a landmark work. In his thesis, Marx argues the differences between two schools of thought that originated from Ancient Greek polymaths namely Democritus and Epicurus. It is in here where Marx debates between “freedom and determinism”. For the philosopher in you, do check the link to his original thesis I’ve added on top.
8. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905)
- Max Weber
Max Weber is considered to be one of the founders of sociology. Weber is known for his 1905 thesis titled “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” in which he combines economic sociology and the sociology of religion. Weber’s thesis discusses key issues about market-driven capitalism, cultural influences on religion and key concepts of social stratification (when groups are segmented based on their social conditions).
9. Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system (1963)
- Ivan Sutherland
Ivan Sutherland’s 1963 PhD thesis is a landmark paper in computer science and human computer interaction. As part of his thesis, Sutherland created Sketchpad, the world’s first graphical user interface or GUI program. GUI is at the core of digital computing today and how we interact with computers has become more intuitive, because of Ivan’s genius work. His thesis was not only a pioneering work in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) but it also gave birth to OOP (Object Oriented Programming), a new paradigm to creating better software.
10. Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation (1991)
- Kim Eric Drexler
Kim Drexler’s 1991 thesis on Molecular Nanotechnology is a pioneering work for a PhD student. Well, he essentially invented the field of molecular nanotechnology with his thesis, which is a really big deal. Kim Drexler’s thesis is so influential that it gave birth to an entirely new concept of mechano-synthesis. It is in here that the idea of “nano-factories” was first proposed. Kim’s thesis has changed the way we look at nanotechnology and perhaps altered the course of how it should be used. Imagine nano robots being manufactured in your body to defeat cancer cells. Marvelous!
11. Logical-Philosophical Treatise (1921)
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractus Logico-Philosophicus (Logical-Philosophical Treatise) 1921 Cambridge thesis is perhaps his more foremost work. The examiners at Cambridge said, “This is far more superior of a work than that is expected by a PhD candidate”. Bertrand Rusell called him “a true genius that he has never seen before”. Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of 20th century’s greatest philosophers and logicians. His masterpiece 78-page thesis “Tractus”, now published as a book was his only published piece ever. “Tractus” discusses all kinds of things that might seem odd at first, but they are thought provoking – for example, things like the limits of science, the relationship between language and reality. I’ve linked in his thesis and you should read it. It is fun because it is in the order of declarative statements (such as 1, 1.1, 1.1.x and so on) instead of arguments.
12. On the Hypotheses which lie at the basis of Geometry (1868)
- Bernhard Riemann
Bernhard Riemann’s 1868 thesis gave birth to Riemannian geometry. His work was well received and turned into a landmark work in geometry just two years after he died. Riemann was a student of Gauss, the great Swiss mathematician. Riemannian geometry is of critical importance, as it was used by Albert Einstein to explain the concept of relativity. This is because Riemannian geometry introcued geometrical objects called tensors which describe how much bent or curved is a point in space. A century and half later, Riemannian geometry was used by Grigori Perelman to solve one of the hardest problems in mathematics, the Poncaire Conjecture.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my list. Share and comment.
About Ali Gajani
Hi. I am Ali Gajani. I started Mr. Geek in early 2012 as a result of my growing enthusiasm and passion for technology. I love sharing my knowledge and helping out the community by creating useful, engaging and compelling content. If you want to write for Mr. Geek, just PM me on my Facebook profile.
Alternative Titles: Louis-Victor, 7e duc de Broglie, Louis-Victor-Pierre-Raymond, 7e duc de Broglie
Louis de Broglie, in full Louis-Victor-Pierre-Raymond, 7e duc de Broglie, (born August 15, 1892, Dieppe, France—died March 19, 1987, Louveciennes), French physicist best known for his research on quantum theory and for predicting the wave nature of electrons. He was awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize for Physics.
De Broglie was the second son of a member of the French nobility. From the Broglie family, whose name is taken from a small town in Normandy, have come high-ranking soldiers, politicians, and diplomats since the 17th century. In choosing science as a profession, Louis de Broglie broke with family tradition, as had his brother Maurice (from whom, after his death, Louis inherited the title of duke). Maurice, who was also a physicist and made notable contributions to the experimental study of the atomic nucleus, kept a well-equipped laboratory in the family mansion in Paris. Louis occasionally joined his brother in his work, but it was the purely conceptual side of physics that attracted him. He described himself as “having much more the state of mind of a pure theoretician than that of an experimenter or engineer, loving especially the general and philosophical view.” He was brought into one of his few contacts with the technical aspects of physics during World War I, when he saw army service in a radio station in the Eiffel Tower.
De Broglie’s interest in what he called the “mysteries” of atomic physics—namely, unsolved conceptual problems of the science—was aroused when he learned from his brother about the work of the German physicists Max Planck and Albert Einstein, but the decision to take up the profession of physicist was long in coming. He began at 18 to study theoretical physics at the Sorbonne, but he was also earning his degree in history (1909), thus moving along the family path toward a career in the diplomatic service. After a period of severe conflict, he declined the research project in French history that he had been assigned and chose for his doctoral thesis a subject in physics.
Theory of electron waves
In this thesis (1924) de Broglie developed his revolutionary theory of electron waves, which he had published earlier in scientific journals. (Seede Broglie wave.) The notion that matter on the atomic scale might have the properties of a wave was rooted in a proposal Einstein had made 20 years before. Einstein had suggested that light of short wavelengths might under some conditions be observed to behave as if it were composed of particles, an idea that was confirmed in 1923. The dual nature of light, however, was just beginning to gain scientific acceptance when de Broglie extended the idea of such a duality to matter. (Seewave-particle duality.)
De Broglie’s proposal answered a question that had been raised by calculations of the motion of electrons within the atom. Experiments had indicated that the electron must move around a nucleus and that, for reasons then obscure, there are restrictions on its motion. De Broglie’s idea of an electron with the properties of a wave offered an explanation of the restricted motion. A wave confined within boundaries imposed by the nuclear charge would be restricted in shape and, thus, in motion, because any wave shape that did not fit within the atomic boundaries would interfere with itself and be canceled out. In 1923, when de Broglie put forward this idea, there was no experimental evidence whatsoever that the electron, the corpuscular properties of which were well established by experiment, might under some conditions behave as if it were radiant energy. De Broglie’s suggestion, his one major contribution to physics, thus constituted a triumph of intuition.
The first publications of de Broglie’s idea of “matter waves” had drawn little attention from other physicists, but a copy of his doctoral thesis was sent to Einstein, whose response was enthusiastic. Einstein stressed the importance of de Broglie’s work both explicitly and by building further on it. In this way the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger learned of the hypothetical waves, and on the basis of the idea, he constructed a mathematical system, wave mechanics, that has become an essential tool of physics. Not until 1927, however, did Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer in the United States and George Thomson in Scotland find the first experimental evidence of the electron’s wave nature.
Later career and writings
After receiving his doctorate, de Broglie remained at the Sorbonne, becoming in 1928 professor of theoretical physics at the newly founded Henri Poincaré Institute, where he taught until his retirement in 1962. He also acted, after 1945, as an adviser to the French Atomic Energy Commissariat.
In addition to winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, de Broglie received, in 1952, the Kalinga Prize, awarded by the United NationsEconomic and Social Council, in recognition of his writings on science for the general public. He was a foreign member of the British Royal Society, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and, like several of his forebears, a member of the Académie Française.
De Broglie’s keen interest in the philosophical implications of modern physics found expression in addresses, articles, and books. The central question for him was whether the statistical considerations that are fundamental to atomic physics reflect an ignorance of underlying causes or whether they express all that there is to be known; the latter would be the case if, as some believe, the act of measuring affects, and is inseparable from, what is measured. For about three decades after his work of 1923, de Broglie held the view that underlying causes could not be delineated in a final sense, but, with the passing of time, he returned to his earlier belief that the statistical theories hide “a completely determined and ascertainable reality behind variables which elude our experimental techniques.”Barbara Lovett ClineThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica