Here is a list of top 5 physicists living today:
He was a plumber when he was much younger, decided to do theoretical physics. He invented string theory. He’s also the guy who lashed back at Stephen Hawking with his theories on information theory and black holes. He also invented the holographic principle. He works at Stanford now.
He’s a professor at UT Austin. He won a Nobel prize for his most well known work of unifying electric and magnetic forces with the weak force into electroweak theory. He’s also contributed some to quantum gravity (Weinberg-Witten theorem, I think).
The only physicist to have ever won a Field’s medal, Ed Witten is most well known for unifying the different string theories into M-Theory. He is a genius beyond anyone else’s understanding. He studied political science and economics before switching to physics in graduate school.
You know how people say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity? This guy is such a freaking genius that he looks insane even to the smartest physicists of our time. An Englishman, he’s most well known for twistor theory and his slew of theories on quantum gravity and cosmology. He also wrote The Emperor’s New Mind, a book about how quantum theory can affect consciousness.
Probably not a name you know unless you follow quantum gravity efforts. He’s responsible for inventing anti de Sitter/conformal field theory (adS/CFT, as it is often abbreviated) correspondence, which is a pretty big deal. He’s from Argentina and works now at the Institute for Advanced Study.