Nobel Laureates 2007: where they learned their tricks

The Nobel Prizes for the sciences have been awarded in the past few days. Since I have nothing smart to say about the use of embryonic stem cells, giant magnetoresistance or chemical processes on solid surfaces, I had a look at the careers of the Nobel Prize winners.


The educational and professional careers of the Nobel laureates in Medicine show a lot of usual suspects like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, University College London. All of them however made a move to the more peripheral regions of the UK and the US: Cardiff, Salt Lake City and Chapel Hill. All were born outside of the US, although Capecchi moved from Italy to the US early in his life. Evans has remained loyal to England, while Smithies moved from Oxford, to Toronto, then just over the border to Madison Wisconsin and ended up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The Physics and Chemistry Laureates came from France and Germany and spend most of their life in their home countries. Gerhard Erl held several visiting professorships in the US (Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, UW Milwaukee) but spend most of his career in the technical universities of Germany and the last 20 years in one of the German Max Planck Institutes. Peter Grunberg did his postdoctoral research in Ottawa and spend some time in Illinois, but spend the rest of his professional career in Germany, especially in the Instituts für Festkörperforschung im Forschungszentrum Jülich, where he holds a position since 1972. Albert Fert has been educated and employed in France, in Paris and Grenoble, all his life. Since 1995 he has been Scientific Director at Unité Mixte de Physique CNRS-Thales at the Université Paris-Sud.

Next to come are the Nobel Prizes in Literature (today) and the Peace Nobel Prize (tomorrow). Next Monday the Prize for Economics will be announced. Some hope it will be awarded to an economic sociologist like Mark Granovetter or other sociologists who have had a serious impact on the study of economic behavior. Others are looking more for the hardcore economists based on their impact in the form of citations. Up till now, that has not shown to be a very accurate predictor.

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