Stuck for that perfect eulogy to sum up the fleeting beauty of human mortality? Sure, you could turn to the depressing wisdom of Keats, or squeeze out some tears with a Pink Floyd track or two.

But for something truly memorable, nothing beats a physicist's take on life, the Universe, and everything. And even if it's not a funeral script you're after, sometimes just a few sage words can make us really appreciate our place in the cosmos.

Niels Bohr 

niels bohr drama of life quote

In a discussion with Einstein in 1949 on the philosophical problems arising from quantum physics, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr reminded his famous colleague that our minds form an important part of the systems of measurement we call physics.

James Clerk Maxwell

maxwell atoms poem quote

James Clerk Maxwell wasn't the only Victorian era scientist to weave science and mathematics into verse. But he certainly did it with style.

This excerpt from Molecular Evolution (a poem) was first published in Nature in 1873, reminding us that chemistry – including that inside our own bodies – is often fleeting.

Richard Feynman

richard feynman born not knowing quote

James Gleick included this quote in his 1992 book on the famous physicist, titled Genius. Richard Feynman was known as much for his wit and humour as he was his genius (not to mention his talent for the bongos!).

Apparent humility aside, Feynman lived life to the fullest, and shared his love for science with his students and the public. He also had a great technique for sorting pseudoscience from the good stuff.

Liese Meitner

meitner life not be empty quote

As a physicist in a world where female scientists were rare, and war was common, Liese Meitner accomplished more than most. In her 1964 essay Looking Back, Meitner reflected on how all young people like to consider their lives.

Her life was certainly full, not just of amazing new discoveries, but in her words, of "lovable personalities with whom my work in physics brought me contact".

Rosalind Franklin

franklin faith in this world quote

In a letter to her father Ellis, Rosalind Franklin questioned the definition of faith, claiming that to her it is simply a belief in doing one's best.

Through effort, Rosalind claimed, we shall come nearer to success. And to her, success was worth striving for.  

Carl Sagan

carl sagan we are on a humdrum planet

Not only did Carl Sagan have a talent for communicating science, he had a knack for conveying the awe and wonder of astronomy, physics, and our place in the Universe.

His 1980s television series Cosmos was for many people an introduction to science as an expression of beauty and humility. And if, like us, you can never get enough of Sagan's wisdom, here are some more quotes.

John Tyndall

tyndall life is a wave quote

In his 1872 book, Scientific Use of the Imagination and Other Essays, John Tyndall marvels at the physics of our Universe. Here he pauses to reflect on the evolution of life on our planet.

Tyndall might have been commenting on the big picture, but even our own existences can be thought of as assortments of ever changing atoms.

Just let that sink in.