Considered the father of nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler popularized the possibilities tucked in the folds of reality at the nanoscale. He undertook his major work in the field in the 70s and 80s, and published a landmark book in '92 that split the case wide open. As nanotechnology improves and refines, we owe thanks to Drexler for his frontiersmen work.
Mildred Dresselhaus is lauded as the queen of carbon science, and is best known for her work that investigated energy transference in microscopic structures like nanotubes and nanostructures. Several groundbreaking experiments are named after her and indebted to her strides.
Alain Aspect is best known, in addition to his superb mustache, for his work on quantum entanglement. This is the physical phenomenon that states that two particles can behave in such a way that their quantum activity cannot be independently observed, but only in relation to each other. It's by using this fundamental principle that other behaviors can be induced, like size, position, velocity, spin, etc.
Margaret J Geller is an astrophysicist and cosmologist who was the first to develop systematic ways to measure the interior structures of galactic clusters. She's also been a cartographer to the stars, literally, and has drafted detailed star maps, as well as figured out how galaxies interact with their environment.
Danish physicist Lene Hau is best known for her spectacular work in transferring light to matter, and back again. The process has serious and important implications in quantum computing and encryption.
Peter Higgs is best-known for his pioneering work into elementary and sub-atomic particles, like the W and Z bosons. In July of 2012, the work at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider confirmed the existence of a Higgs-boson like particle.
Considered one of the most important physicists today, Edward Witten is known for his work in string theory, quantum gravity and quantum field theory. These last two attempt to reconcile the general theory of relativity with quantum theory, which are, currently, at odds with each other.
Steve Weinberg, largely considered one of the "foremost theoretical physicists today," made great strides in the studies of weak force and electromagnetism. The former is one of the four forces of nature, and explains the activities of subatomic particles; and the latter, another force of nature, explains how electrically charged particles interact.
Along with Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose helped further the enlightenment of the universe, general relativity and the cosmos. His more recent conjectures include an earlier universe that existed before the Big Bang, as well as potential answers to how consciousness arises from inanimate matter.
This one is debatable, considering the man has already attained fame and celebrity similar to that of Einstein. Stephen Hawking made groundbreaking achievements in quantum theory and, along with Roger Penrose, developed the Penrose-Hawking singularity that helped explain the Big Bang. He has also theorized that black holes emit energy, instead of an energy of zero.
Jeremiah P. Ostriker at Columbia University has been instrumental in the study of dark matter. Rather than the stuff of the universe being visible, it is invisible to the human eye, and yet still exists. His work has had major implications on other fields of study, in which he participates, like interstellar mediums and black holes.
Nathan Seiberg has contributed greatly to the field of string theory, a framework that holds that the particles of space are in reality strings that can interact and influence each other, giving rise to physical phenomena. He has published prolifically, especially on strong-weak duality, that helps scientists simplify complex string theory equations.
The late Charles Townes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for his work, along with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov, on the maser, which is a device that can create microwaves using photons that excite atoms at low energy. The device has been used to successful produce high-powered coherent (forming together) radiation. Time will tell if Townes is celebrated like Einstein is.
Tsung-Dao Lee won the Nobel Prize in 1957 for his work on parity violation, which is an anomaly that occurs in subatomic particles in weak interactions. Parity transformation is when a charge flips to its mirror image in strong interactions. When this equivalence is violated, its considered an identity change, and that's what Lee et al discovered happens in weak interactions.