National Geographic has listed what it considers to be the 7 Great Innovators in Physics. The list is the usual, big names in physics, but also include what I think are names that the public may not be aware of.
Did I ever told you that I once sat next to Ray Davis (who is listed here) on a Southwest flight from Islip, Long Island to Chicago's Midway? At that time, I didn't know who he was. He was sitting with his wife in the same row as I was, and I was by the window. We started talking and he told me he his name (it didn't ring a bell at that time) and that he was retired but still came in now and then to do stuff in the Chemistry Dept. at Brookhaven (I was doing my postdoc at Brookhaven also at that time).
We started talking and I certain inquired what he did. He told me about the problem with the solar neutrinos, and at that time, the initial results on the flavor oscillation had just came in, so the solar neutrinos problem hadn't been solve just yet. All that time, somehow his name, and the fact that he worked on solar neutrinos, never clicked in my head on who he really was (I must have been totally tired and totally dense back then, which is a common state for a postdoc!).
It was later on when it was announced that he had been awarded the Nobel prize, and I saw his picture in the papers, that I finally put two and two together. Oh yeah, I wanted to kick myself a few times because had I known who he was, I certainly would had asked him a lot of other questions. After all, we had at least 2 boring hours in the plane!
Oh well. I wonder how many other important, noteworthy people I've sat next to and not even aware of it?