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The Most Influential Professors in Recent History

March 8, 2021

Professors influence the world around them in several different ways. They instruct and guide students through classroom lectures and career advice. They also advance general knowledge of how the world, the universe, and human societies work through their research. Often, they influence others in both ways at the same time, although either research or instruction typically occupies a majority of a professor’s time. Professors of the past have been responsible for breakthroughs that irrevocably changed the way that people live, and today’s professors are constantly seeking new innovations and discoveries. The following are important professors in all different fields who deserve respect and appreciation for their important work and the benefits it offers.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie helped set the stage for future scientific professors, such as Berkeley chemistry professor John Arnold. While many professors today specialize in only one field, Marie Curie studied both chemistry and physics. Through her research on radioactivity, she discovered two elements, radium and polonium.

Despite operating in what was considered at the time to be a man’s field, she broke new ground as the first woman awarded a Nobel Prize. She is still the only woman to receive two Nobel Prizes and the first person of any gender so honored. Not only did she help advance scientific understanding but she also helped promote equal opportunities for women through her work. However, her accomplishments came at a price, and she died in 1934 of a sickness believed to be related to radiation exposure.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is considered the founder of modern linguistics, which is the study of language development and acquisition. Today, he is better known to many for his political activities, but he revolutionized linguistics with an influential theory that the human brain is hard-wired from birth to learn to speak and write. According to the theory, the brains of young children are more receptive to language acquisition, and as they get older, this receptiveness goes away and learning language becomes more difficult.

Barack Obama

Many people may not be aware that Barack Obama was a college professor prior to his landmark presidency. Obama attended Harvard Law School where he broke barriers as the president of the Harvard Law Review. Following graduation, he went on to teach at the University of Chicago Law School where he taught constitutional law.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was a theoretical physicist who overcame a nearly lifelong struggle with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, to become a renowned professor of mathematics. He was also respected in popular culture, in part because of an appearance on the science fiction series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” On a tour of the set, Hawking looked at the warp core, which gives the fictitious Starship Enterprise the power of faster-than-light travel, and remarked that he was working on making it a reality.

Judith Butler

Butler teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley but has been influential in a wide range of fields beyond literary theory. Her work has been applied to queer activism, ethics, and political philosophy, to name a few.

Albert Einstein

Einstein is not only one of the most influential professors of all time but also one of the most iconic, instantly recognizable even to people who have only the barest understanding of his theories. Einstein was something of a Renaissance man who explored different philosophies and had a deep love for music. Raised in the Jewish faith, Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933 to flee Nazi persecution. He was a complicated individual who described himself as a pacifist, yet also lent his considerable talents to the Manhattan Project, the purpose of which was the development of nuclear weapons, out of concern that the Nazis might develop it first. His involvement in nuclear weapons development would be a source of inner conflict for him for the rest of his life.

Of course, there have been many influential professors going back through history, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo. Even Socrates could be considered a professor, though the term wasn’t in use during his time. Professors of the past and present continue to inspire the thinkers of the future.

BIO: Brett Clawson has a degree in Business Management and has started a couple of small businesses. When he’s not focusing his time on those, he spends time with his wife and two sons. His oldest son has entered the wonderful realm of college, and he now enjoys sharing tips that he and his son have found essential for college life.