Great scientists, great moustaches (a Movember posting)

White canvas copy 2.pngAn appreciative look at some great minds, and the moustaches that went (just) before them.

TIR is today celebrating some great facial hair from the world of science, specifically the moustaches adorning the upper lips of some of the most celebrated physicists, chemists, and biologists of the modern era. Moustaches only allowed, beards not.

The charity fund-raising bit:
The Movember foundation (click for more details) is a charity that raises awareness of and supports research into prostate cancer, testicular cancer, suicide prevention, and other men’s health issues. Mo Bros grow a moustache for the month of November in order to raise awareness of these issues. The “Great scientists, great moustaches” series is our annual themed posting on the topic.



Name: Ernest Rutherford
Known for: Being the best experimentalist since Faraday, being the father of nuclear physics, splitting the atom, discovering radioactive half-life, discovering alpha and beta radiation, proposing a model of the structure of the atom, and running the legendary Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge which nurtured umpteen other Nobel laureates.
Moustache: Chevron moustache, with a discreet centre parting, slight growth over the upper lip, and neat ends.
Moustache rating: 8/10. Top marks for grooming. Rutherford talks softly but is carrying a big stick – he’s clearly capable of growing something more extravagant, but is displaying an experimentalist’s caution.

Name: J J Thompson
Known for: Discovering the electron, first experimental evidence of isotopes, pioneered mass spectrometry. Mentored Rutherford, and probably deserves at least equal credit for the Cavendish Laboratory’s success.
Moustache: Pancho Villa moustache (also known as a “droopy” moustache). Thick, downward-pointing ends that almost reach the line of the chin. Neat centre parting.
Moustache rating: 7/10. Requires less grooming, but Thompson demonstrates admirable capacity for growth. His moustache got droopier with age.

Name: Lord Rayleigh
Known for: Discovering argon, major contributions to acoustic theory, and having his name attached to a plethora of things including Rayleigh number, Rayleigh scattering, Rayleigh law, Rayleigh quotient, Rayleigh distribution, Rayleigh criterion, Rayleigh fading, and more besides.
Moustache: Petit handlebar. Bushy growth, with the hairs pulled at a sharp diagonal away from the centre, and with small upward-pointing ends. Augmented with mutton-chop sideburns, although these were bushier in his prime.
Moustache rating: 7/10. A full, assertive moustache that mirrors its wearer’s confidence, but requires little maintenance. Extra points for the sideburns.

Name: Max von Laue
Known for: X-ray diffraction by crystals, contributions to a wide range of topics including optics, relativity, and superconductivity, outspoken opposition to the Nazi regime, major architect of Germany’s postwar scientific recovery.
Moustache: Painter’s brush moustache, with ends extending beyond the corners of the mouth and rounded ends. Uneven centre parting, and slightly ragged ends.
Moustache rating: 5/10. Von Laue is halfway there, but seems reluctant to go overboard and properly groom his lip weasel. Perhaps his mind is on other matters.


(An honourable mention must go here to George de Hevesy, who just misses out; his feat of dissolving von Laue’s gold Nobel Prize in aqua regia and hiding it on a shelf in his lab to prevent its theft by the Nazis is rockstar-worthy.)

Name: Walther Nernst
Known for: Godfather of thermodynamics, gave the Nernst equation to electrochemistry, independently wealthy due to inventing an incandescent lamp that superseded Edison’s model.
Moustache: Hungarian moustache, augmented with wide soul patch. Large, bushy growth the covers the top lip with extended ends.
Moustache rating: 9/10. It’s not well-groomed, but Hungarian moustaches aren’t supposed to be. A forceful and potent moustache that gives the bearer a lot of presence and directs attention to his mouth. You’d listen if he was talking.

Name: Francis William Aston
Known for: Inventing the modern mass spectrometer, using it to discover isotopes, proposing the whole number rule of atomic number. Skilled sportsman, photographer, and musician.
Moustache: Pyramid moustache, which starts at the nose and widens until it reaches the corners of the mouth.
Moustache rating: 8/10. Immaculately done, like everything else by this man. Extra points for giving it a voluminous bushiness too. Like Rutherford, Aston is letting you know any style is within his grasp.

Name: Martin Chalfie
Known for: Development of green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a protein tag and biomarker.
Moustache: Painter’s brush, no centre parting, bit of gravitas from the salt n’ pepper colouration.
Moustache rating: 5/10. Nothing flashy here, but a good facial adornment nonetheless.

Name: Fritz Haber
Known for: Haber-Bosch process for synthesis of ammonia, Born-Haber cycle technique for analysis of reaction energies. Tarnished reputation somewhat and morally compromised by his role as the “father of chemical warfare” during World War I.
Moustache: Lampshade moustache, of unorthodox type. Neatly cropped to the line of the lip, good growth above it. Haber breaks the rules slightly by extending the edges beyond the length of his lip somewhat.
Moustache rating: 7/10. Neat, tidy, but with quiet power.


Unexpectedly, it’s easier to find contemporary biologists with moustaches than in the other two disciplines…

Name: Harold Varmus
Known for: Retroviral oncogenes, genetic basis of cancer.
Moustache: Chevron moustache, in the Tom Selleck style. Wide and fairly thick, with small downward-pointing ends.
Moustache rating: 6/10, not so much for the moustache itself as for the choice of style. Varmus’ use of the chevron contrasts nicely with the somewhat wilder appearance of his head hair, giving him a more dignified appearance than would otherwise be the case.

Name: Randy Schekman
Known for: Using genetic screens to identify molecular components of the endomembrane trafficking network, isolation of transport vesicles and vesicle coats; latterly the founding editor of journal eLife, de facto leader of the open-access science and progressive publishing movement.
Moustache: Painter’s brush.
Moustache rating: 6/10. The moustache hair is kept free of the upper lip, but there’s little other grooming and the component hairs are projecting out at all angles. It’s a brash, confrontational look, enhanced by the reddish colouration; the ‘tache of a man with more important things to occupy his mind.

Name: Frederick Gowland Hopkins
Known for: Discovery of vitamins, glutathione, redox metabolism.
Moustache: Walrus moustache, with a thick mass of hair obscuring the upper lip and projecting downwards at the corners.
Moustache rating: 9/10. Badass. Like Varmus, Hopkins chooses an excellent moustache to complement his facial features, with a magnificent profusion to offset his rather thin visage. Like Nernst’s Hungarian, it’s not supremely well-groomed, but that’s not the point.

Name: Camillo Golgi
Known for: Development of tissue staining techniques for the nervous system (“Golgi stain”), discovery of Golgi complex.
Moustache: Handlebar moustache, textbook example, with splayed soul patch underneath. Full growth that entirely obscures the upper lip, but with long and elegantly curled ends that project upwards.
Moustache rating: 10/10. Trust an Italian to show the rest how it’s done. Not for nothing is the handlebar moustache sometimes known as the “spaghetti moustache”. This is an impeccable combination of masculine virility and conscientious attention to grooming. A thing of beauty and breeding.

Liked this posting? Then check out the sequels from 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

9 thoughts on “Great scientists, great moustaches (a Movember posting)

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