Jewish Nobel Prize Laureates

In December 1902, the first Nobel Prize was awarded in Stockholm to Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays. Alfred Nobel (1833-96), a Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, had bequeathed a $9 million endowment to fund significant cash prizes ($40,000 in 1901, about $1 million today) to those individuals who had made the most important contributions in five domains (Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace); the sixth, in “Economic Sciences,” was added in 1969.

Nobel could hardly have imagined the almost mythic status that would accrue to the laureates. From the start “The Prize” became one of the most sought-after awards in the world, and eventually the yardstick against which other prizes and recognition were to be measured.

Certainly the roster of Nobel laureates includes many of the most famous names of the 20th century: Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Albert Camus, Boris Pasternak, Albert Schweitzer, the Dalai Lama and many others.

Nobel Prizes have been awarded to approximately 850 laureates of whom at least 177 of them are/were Jewish although Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world's population. In the 20th century, Jews, more than any other minority, ethnic or cultural, have been recipients of the Nobel Prize.
How to account for Jewish proficiency at winning Nobel’s? It's certainly not because Jews do the judging. All but one of the Nobel’s are awarded by Swedish institutions (the Peace Prize by Norway). The standard answer is that the premium placed on study and scholarship in Jewish culture inclines Jews toward more education, which in turn makes a higher proportion of them “Nobel-eligible” than in the larger population. There is no denying that as a rule the laureates in all six domains are highly educated, although there are notable exceptions, such as Mother Teresa. Nevertheless, in a world where so many millions have university degrees it is difficult to see why on that basis alone Jews should prevail in this high-level competition.

Another question is why the physical sciences admired by Alfred Nobel are so attractive to Jewish scientists. Albert Einstein, the successor to Newton, Galileo and Copernicus and the greatest name in modern science, was Jewish. This is more than a matter of historic pride; it is an enormous statistical improbability. And such achievements were not always attained on a level playing field. For example, the Nazis dismissed relativity as “Jewish physics” and caused the uprooting and exile (mostly to the United States) of a generation of German scientists who happened to be Jewish.

In literature and peace as well, Jews are disproportionately represented among the winners. Jewish writers honoured include Henri Bergson, Boris Pasternak, S.Y. Agnon, Nelly Sachs, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Joseph Brodsky and Nadine Gordimer. Peace laureates include Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin, Elie Wiesel, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In economics, for which the Nobel has been awarded for only the last 44 years, 22 laureates are Jewish or 50 percent of the total, including Paul Samuelson, Herbert Simon and Milton Friedman.

But it still seems insufficient to credit all this to reverence for education, skill at theoretical thinking or competitive instincts forged in a millennial-old struggle to survive and prosper.

Perhaps the desire to understand the world is also a strong or defining Jewish cultural trait, leading to education and careers suited to exploration and discovery. Science may have furnished an opportunity to not only understand but to lead, and to have one's work judged without bias in collegial communities that have no use for religious intolerance.

Whatever the reasons, Jewish successes in the high-stakes world of the Nobel Prize are nothing short of astonishing, and a source of understandable pride to Jews throughout the world.

World Peace Laureates

1911 – Alfred Fried and Tobias Michael Carel Asser
1968 – Rene Cassin
1973 – Henry Kissinger
1978 – Menachem Begin
1986 – Elie Wiesel
1994 – Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin
1995 – Joseph Rotblat

Literature Laureates

1910 – Paul Heyse
1927 – Henri Bergson
1958 – Boris Pasternak
1966 – Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nelly Sachs
1976 – Saul Bellow
1978 – Isaac Bashevis Singer
1981 – Elias Canetti
1987 – Joseph Brodsky
1991 – Nadine Gordimer
2001 – Imre Kertesz
2005 – Harold Pinter

Chemistry Laureates

1905 – Adolph Von Baeyer
1906 – Henri Moissan
1910 – Otto Wallach
1915 – Richard Willstaetter
1918 – Fritz Haber
1943 – George Charles de Hevesy
1961 – Melvin Calvin
1962 – Max Ferdinand Perutz
1972 – William Howard Stein
1977 – Ilya Prigogine
1979 – Herbert Charles Brown
1980 – Paul Berg and Walter Gilbert
1981 – Roald Hoffmann
1982 – Aaron Klug
1985 – Herbert Hauptman and Jerome Karle
1989 – Sidney Altman
1992 – Rudolph Marcus
1998 – Walter Kohn
2004 – Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover and Irwin Rose
2006 – Roger Kornberg
2009 – Ada Yonath
2011 – Daniel Schechtman
2012 – Robert Lefkowitz

Economics Laureates

1970 – Paul Samuelson
1971 – Simon Kuznets
1972 – Kenneth Arrow
1973 – Wassily Leontief
1975 – Leonid Kantorovich
1976 – Milton Friedman
1978 – Herbert A. Simon
1980 – Lawrence Robert Klein
1985 – Franco Modigliani
1987 – Robert M. Solow
1990 – Harry Markowitz and Merton Miller
1992 – Gary Becker
1993 – Robert Fogel
1994 – John Harsanyi
1997 – Myron Scholes
2001 – Joseph Stiglitz and George A. Akerlof
2002 – Daniel Kahneman
2005 – Robert Israel Aumann
2007 – Leonid Hurwicz and Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson
2008 – Paul Krugman
2010 – Peter Diamond
2012 – Alvin Roth

Medicine Laureates

1908 – Elie Metchnikoff and Paul Ehrlich
1914 – Robert Barany
1922 – Otto Meyerhof
1930 – Karl Landsteiner
1931 – Otto Warburg
1936 – Otto Loewi
1944 – Herbert Spencer Gasser and Joseph Erlanger
1945 – Ernst Boris Chain
1946 – Hermann Joseph Muller
1947 – Gerty Cori*
1950 – Tadeus Reichstein
1952 – Selman Abraham Waksman
1953 – Hans Krebs and Fritz Lipmann
1958 – Joshua Lederberg
1959 – Arthur Kornberg
1964 – Konrad Bloch
1965 – Francois Jacob and Andre Lwoff
1967 – George Wald
1968 – Marshall Nirenberg
1969 – Salvador Luria
1970 – Julius Axelrod and Bernard Katz
1972 – Gerald Maurice Edelman
1975 – David Baltimore and Howard Temin
1976 – Baruch Blumberg
1977 – Rosalyn Sussman Yalow and Andrew V. Schally
1978 – Daniel Nathans
1980 – Baruj Benacerraf
1984 – Cesar Milstein
1985 – Michael Stuart Brown and Joseph Goldstein
1986 – Stanley Cohen and Rita Levi-Montalcini
1988 – Gertrude Elion
1989 – Harold Varmus
1994 – Alfred Gilman and Martin Rodbell
1997- Stanley B. Prusiner
1998 – Robert Furchgott
2000 – Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel
2002 – H. Robert Horvitz and Sydney Brenner
2004 – Richard Axel
2006 – Andrew Fire
2011 – Ralph Marvin Steinman and Bruce Beutler

Physics Laureates

1907 – Albert Abraham Michelson
1908 – Gabriel Lippmann
1921 – Albert Einstein
1922 – Niels Bohr
1925 – James Franck and Gustav Hertz
1943 – Otto Stern
1944 – Isidor Issac Rabi
1945 – Wolfgang Pauli
1952 – Felix Bloch
1954 – Max Born
1958 – Igor Tamm and Il'ja Mikhailovich Frank
1959 – Emilio Segrè
1960 – Donald A. Glaser
1961 – Robert Hofstadter
1962 – Lev Davidovich Landau
1963 – Eugene Wigner
1965 – Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger
1967 – Hans Bethe
1969 – Murray Gell-Mann
1971 – Dennis Gabor
1972 – Leon Cooper
1973 – Brian David Josephson
1975 – Benjamin Mottleson
1976 – Burton Richter
1978 – Arno Penzias and Pyotr Kapitsa
1979 – Stephen Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow
1988 – Leon Lederman and Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger
1990 – Jerome Friedman
1992- Georges Charpak
1995 – Martin Perl and Fredrick Reines
1996 – Douglas D. Osheroff and David M. Lee
1997 – Claude Cohen-Tannoudji
2000 – Zhores I. Alferov
2003 – Vitaly Ginzburg and Alexei A. Abrikosov
2004 – H. David Politzer and David Gross
2005 – Roy Glauber
2011 – Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess
2012 – Serge Haroche

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www.science.co.il/nobel.asp

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