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Nobel Prize

UC Berkeley's 22 Nobel Prize winners

Current Faculty Nobel Laureates at Berkeley

Deceased Faculty Nobel Laureates

Earnest O. LawrenceErnest O. Lawrence

Ernest O. Lawrence
Physics, 1939

In 1930, at the age of 29, Ernest O. Lawrence unlocked the gates to the world of the atom with his invention of the cyclotron — an ingenious tool destined to become as important to nuclear science as Galileo’s telescope was to astronomy. Lawrence also invented a new way of doing science. His brilliance and willingness to share his discoveries attracted the brightest young scientists of the time to Berkeley. His personal credo was that there was enough research for all, and he rejoiced in the success of others as in his own. More>

John Northrop, Wendell StanleyJohn Northrop, Wendell Stanley

John Northrop, Wendell Stanley
Chemistry, 1946

Two Berkeley chemists, John Howard Northrop and Wendell Stanley, made breakthrough discoveries about the workings of the human body. Northrop isolated a pure enzyme for the first time in history. Stanley’s great accomplishment was isolating a virus. These discoveries paved the way for such profound achievements as the conquest of polio and charting the human genome. More about Northrop and Stanley >

William Giauque William Giauque

William Giauque
Chemistry, 1949

For more than a century, scientists agreed that absolute zero, minus 459.688 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, was impossible to reach. No one had come closer than minus 458 degrees to realizing it . But William Giauque was undeterred. In 1933, after countless hours in the laboratory, he reached below the minus 458 mark using a magnetic refrigeration system he had invented. Giauque’s trailblazing work proved one of the most basic laws of nature and led to stronger steel, better gasoline, and more efficient processes in a score of industries. More >

Edwin McMillan, Glenn SeaborgEdwin McMillan, Glenn Seaborg

Edwin McMillan, Glenn Seaborg
Chemistry, 1951

A key member of Lawrence’s Rad Lab team, chemist Edwin McMillan searched for an element heavier than uranium. In 1940, he discovered neptunium. Later, Glenn Seaborg, a young chemist who also worked in Lawrence’s laboratory, continued McMillan’s studies on the transuranium elements. In 1942, Seaborg discovered plutonium, a highly radioactive element. Seaborg and his co-workers went on to discover eight more rare-earth elements and a host of valuable medical isotopes, including iodine-131, which was used to prolong his own mother’s life. More about McMillan and Seaborg >

Owen Chamberlain, Emilio SegreOwen Chamberlain, Emilio Segrè

Owen Chamberlain, Emilio Segrè
Physics, 1959

In the period following World War II, the existence of the anti-proton, the atomic particle that would prove nature’s symmetry, still eluded scientists. In 1955, using Berkeley’s powerful new atom smasher, Owen Chamberlain and Emilio Segrè discovered the anti-proton. This discovery signaled a major leap in the study of matter and anti-matter. More about Chamberlain andt Segrè >

Donald GlaserDonald Glaser

Donald Glaser
Physics, 1960

In particle physics, as elsewhere, a picture is worth a thousand words. During the early 1950s, physicist Donald Glaser had this in mind when he noticed the track left by a stream of bubbles in a bottle of beer. This serendipitous event led to the invention of the bubble chamber, a tool second only in importance to Lawrence’s cyclotron. Glaser’s invention allowed scientists to track the movement of atomic particles and marked an important step in the exploration of the structure of matter. More >

Melvin CalvinMelvin Calvin

Melvin Calvin
Chemistry, 1961

Chemist Melvin Calvin explored life’s processes using the carbon-14 isotope discovered in Lawrence’s cyclotron. After a long and complex search, Calvin revealed the complete path of carbon in photosynthesis to explain how plants convert sunlight to food. He went on to develop a leading center for the study of cancer, the brain, solar energy, and the origins of life by incorporating the interdisciplinary style of Lawrence’s radiation laboratory. More >

Charles TownesCharles Townes

Charles Townes
Physics, 1964

Physicist Charles Townes began his research into the properties of light after designing radar systems during World War II. Working with his brother-in-law, Townes conceived the idea for amplifying light into an intense beam that could penetrate the hardest materials on earth. This led to the development of the laser, a tool that has revolutionized industry, medicine, communications and astronomy. More >

Luis AlvarezLuis Alvarez

Luis Alvarez
Physics, 1968

The newly invented bubble chamber captured the imagination of scientist Luis Alvarez, who recognized its great value to physics and set out to improve its design. He substituted hydrogen for ether, which produced a clearer track of speeding particles. This hydrogen bubble chamber vastly increased our knowledge of the atom, and changed the course of nuclear science. More >

Czeslaw MiloszCzeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz
Literature, 1980

Poet and man of letters Czeslaw Milosz became the campus’s first laureate in a nonscientific field. Born in Lithuania in 1911, he lived in the vortex of 20th century history. Milosz' themes include lost homelands, the search for identity and political repression. The Nobel committee cited the Berkeley professor of Slavic languages and literature as a writer who, "with uncompromising clear-sightedness, voices man’s exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts." More >

Gerard DebreuGerard Debreu

Gerard Debreu
Economics, 1983

In a decentralized market, self-interest guides consumers in the choices they make. Economist Gerard Debreu’s elegant mathematical models provided the theoretical structure to explain the law of supply and demand. Through the work of Debreu and others, the conditions of the “invisible hand” in the markeplace were clarified. More >

Yuan T. LeeYuan T. Lee

Yuan T. Lee
Chemistry, 1986

Many years after Charles Townes won a Nobel for his research laying the groundwork for the laser, Yuan Lee took that work steps further. Lee’s designs and experiments with molecular beam devices sent streams of intensely packed molecules into each other at supersonic speeds. Scientists were then able to view chemical reactions and discover how and why they take place. This knowledge has contributed to today’s powerful lasers. More >

John HarsanyiJohn Harsanyi

John Harsanyi
Economics, 1994

It was the hope of economist John Harsanyi that his research could improve social welfare and lead to world peace. In this quest, Harsanyi expanded the application of game theory — a mathematical theory of human behavior in competitive situations — to economic and political conflicts such as arms control. Harsanyi’s contribution to game theory would address the prediction of outcomes in games or circumstances in which players lack complete information about each other or the rules of the game. More >

Daniel McFaddenDaniel McFadden

Daniel McFadden
Economics, 2000

A deep interest in social welfare drives the pioneering research of Daniel McFadden. McFadden ushered Berkeley’s Nobel tradition into the 21st century when his econometric methods for studying behavioral patterns in individual decision-making were recognized. Applications of McFadden’s statistical tools include predicting BART’s initial ridership and measuring the economic damage to individuals from an oil spill. More >

George AkerlofGeorge Akerlof

George Akerlof
Economics, 2001

Macroeconomist George Akerlof broke with established economic theory in illustrating how markets malfunction when buyers and sellers have access to different information. He explored this idea in a landmark 1970 study on the role of asymmetric information in the market for “lemon” used cars. The work has had far-reaching applications in such diverse areas as health insurance, financial markets, employment contracts and unemployment. More >

George SmootGeorge Smoot

George Smoot
Physics, 2006

Astrophysicist George Smoot headed a team that was able to image the infant universe, revealing its newborn form and the patterns which have shaped the universe ever since. Smoot's work helped to change the nature of the quest to understand the origin and evolution of the universe. Historically, cosmology had been essentially a theoretical field. Smoot was one of the first pioneering astrophysicists who devised ways to conduct experiments that produced data and information about the early universe. "People have contemplated the origin and evolution of the universe since before the time of Aristotle," said Smoot. "Very recently, the era of speculation has given way to a time of science. The advance of knowledge and of scientific ingenuity means that at long last, we can actually test our theories."
Nobel Prize Talks: George Smoot
More >

Oliver WilliamsonOliver Williamson

Oliver Williamson
Economics, 2009

Oliver Williamson's research on economic governance, especially the "boundaries of the firm," opened an analytic window into the "make or buy" decisions that all businesses face. Williamson is credited with co-founding "New Institutional Economics." His insights have been applied to improving understanding of a broad range of organizational and institutional compacts, such as the choice and design of contracts, corporate financial structure, antitrust policy, electricity deregulation in California, investment in Eastern Europe, congressional committee structure, the function and operation of political systems, and the size and scope of firms. More >

Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 29 UC Berkeley alumni:

Physiology or Medicine
1944: Joseph Erlanger, 1895
1952: Selman Waksman, Ph.D. '18
1978: Hamilton Smith, '52
2006: Andrew Z. Fire, '78
2009: Carol Greider, Ph.D. '87

1934: Harold Urey, Ph.D. '23
1949: William F. Giauque, B.S. '20, Ph.D. '22
1951: Glenn T. Seaborg, Ph.D. '37
1960: Willard Libby, B.S. '31, Ph.D. '33
1983: Henry Taube, Ph.D. '40
1986: Yuan T. Lee, Ph.D. '62
1989: Thomas Cech, Ph.D. '75
1993: Kary Mullis, Ph.D. '73
1995: Mario Molina, Ph.D. '72
1996: Robert Curl, Ph.D. '57
2000: Alan Heeger, Ph.D. '61

1955: Willis Lamb, B.S. '34, Ph.D. '38
1997: Steven Chu, Ph.D. '76
1998: Robert Laughlin, '72
2004: David Gross, Ph.D. '66
2006: John C. Mather, Ph.D. '74
2011: Saul Perlmutter, Ph.D. '86
2011: Adam Guy Riess, Miller Fellow '96-'99
2012: David J. Wineland, B.A. '65

1980: Lawrence Klein, '42
1993: Douglass North, B.A. '42, Ph.D. '52
2002: Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D. '61
2005: Thomas C. Schelling, B.A. '44
2011: Thomas Sargent, B.A. '64