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Dr. Kat’s List: Five Schools Where You Can Find Nobel Prize Winners

It’s nomination season! We’re not talking the Oscars or Senate offices. Nobel prize winners were announced last week. When Alfred Nobel signed his will in 1885, he set aside the bulk of his fortune to fund the prizes and the Nobel Foundation was founded in 1901. The prize is awarded for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The internationally acclaimed award is presented every year in Stockholm, Sweden. Each winner receives a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award. We’ve put together a list of schools where you’ll have a good chance of crossing paths with past or even future winners, whether they are in the classroom or in the dorm room down the hall!

University of California – Berkley, Berkley, CA
This public university is the founding member of the University of California (UC) system, and is considered by academics to be among the top universities in the world. The university has seen 65 Nobel Prize winners walk its halls, either as faculty members, alumni, or researchers. Twenty-five University of California—Berkeley (UC Berkeley) students have gone on to win the distinguished prize, including 11 alums who received recognition for their work in Chemistry, and five for Physics. Perhaps they were taught by Physics winner, George Smooth, who won the award in 2006 for his work imaging the infant universe and its changes since. He now teaches undergrad and graduate classes at UC Berkeley. Sixteen prize recipients won while serving as faculty at UC Berkeley. In fact, the school has such a reputation for having prize laureates that faculty Nobel winners can take advantage of exclusive parking spaces around campus.

Besides being home to so many laureates, UC Berkeley is the birthplace of some notable inventions, including The Mouse and the InfoPad, “one of the first mobile, wireless Internet devices.” Think iPad, but retro! Even Cal’s school spirit is well acclaimed. UC Berkeley sports games are known for their “card stunts” in which fans hold up large, brightly colored cards that form images when seen from afar. A well-known stunt consists of tracing ‘Cal’ in yellow script on a blue background.

A newer tradition awaits incoming and returning students. In front of the Sather Tower, known to most as the Campanile — the third largest bell and clock tower in the world — rests a non-functional fountain. The sphere in the fountain has taken on the name of the 4.0 Ball. It is believed that rubbing it before taking an exam is good luck. Don’t forget to wear your lucky socks, get a good night’s sleep, and study. Maybe if you rub the 4.0 Ball, you’ll go on to win a Nobel Prize!

Columbia University, New York, NY
Since 1901, 79 Columbians have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Winners span every category; recent winners are Martin Chalfie (2008 Chemistry), Orphan Pamuk (2006 Literature), and Edmund S. Phelps (2006 Economics). Thirteen laureates won the Nobel Prize while teaching at this private university in New York City; 17 undergraduates went on to win the prize later in their lives. That means you have the opportunity to learn from the top-notch professors. Take a class with Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Economics award in 2001 and still serves on the faculty. Or discuss medicine with Eric Kandel, who won the 2000 award in Physiology and Medicine for his work and discoveries concerning the basis of memory storage in neurons. Undergraduates can work in Chalfie’s biology lab assisting with research on the sense of touch.

There are opportunities for students off campus as well. Through the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program, students can participate in the Experiential Education Program (CEEP). The program provides research and experiential opportunities outside of the classroom. For example, students have the opportunity to work in New York City’s Office of the Mayor, focusing on climate change and its effects on the city and state. Students with an interest in film (or avid theater-goers) can attend or participate in the National Undergraduate Film Festival. Professionals in the film industry judge entries and awards are given in categories like Best Editing and The Frontiers Award for most original film.

Immediately enter Columbia well-versed in school traditions, ranging from obscure to normal. Attend the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Annual Bad Poetry Contest. Or get ahead of your classmates in finding the owl tucked within the folds of the Daniel Chester French sculpture of Alma Mater. Legend has it that the first freshman to find it will graduate as valedictorian.

University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
The University of Rochester (UR) boasts eight laureate affiliates. Notable laureate alumni of this public institution are Arthur Kornberg (1959 Physiology or Medicine), Vincent de Vigneaud (1955 Chemistry), and George Whipple (1934 Physiology or Medicine), founding dean of The School of Medicine and Dentistry. UR has celebrated more than Nobel laureates; the school has also had 12 Pulitzer Prize winners and Francis Bellamy, class of 1876, wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance.

Perhaps today’s students can get started on the path to Nobel greatness through the school’s Take Five Scholars Program, which has received acclaim from the New York Times. The program allows students to take an extra semester or year to explore/finish their major or another academic interest, tuition free. If you want to use that time to explore aerospace, you’re in the right spot. Rochester faculty and alumni represent nearly a quarter of the scientists on NASA’s advisory board for the development of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to replace the Hubble Telescope in 2011.

Rochester students and faculty are not only in the classroom; you can probably find them working in the community as well. Wilson Day is an annual university-wide community service project. Freshmen, staff, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts, Sciences & Engineering go to downtown Rochester and volunteer at nursing homes or help paint houses, among other things. The day is part of Freshmen Orientation and occurs the Friday before classes begin.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL
The University of Illinois is tucked away in the center of Illinois, about two-and-a-half hours from Chicago. Twenty-two alumni and faculty at University of Illinois have received the Nobel Prize. John Bardeem, a faculty member from 1951-1991, was the only laureate to win two prizes in Physics (1956, 1972). Al Gore shared his 2007 Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Eight University of Illinois faculty and scientists served on the IPCC and were recognized for their help.

At Illinois, you have the opportunity to study at unique research centers. The Center for the Study of Reading focuses on developmental projects and research that aims to build knowledge about reading and reading instruction. Or consider visiting the Center for Zoonoses Research, which studies diseases that pass from animals to humans. Interested in leadership? I-Programs, at the Illinois Leadership Center, teach, moderate discussion, and conduct activities designed to build leadership skills. If physics is more your style, you can take a course from Anthony Leggett, 2003 Physics winner. His class Space, Time, and Matter explores theories of the physical world, such as space and time.

Illinois has 800 registered student organizations. Join A Novel Idea, a social book club that also organizes volunteer work. Are you a fan of trivia and quizbowls? Try out for the Academic Buzzer Team. Team members participate in tournaments and answer academic questions from categories like fine arts, history, and science.

University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
The University of Cambridge is an internationally acclaimed university in England. Of the 17,000 students, about 1,000 are international students. American applicants also have the opportunity to apply for summer programs and terms abroad, spanning a semester or year.

Since 1904, the Nobel foundation has recognized 87 winners who were affiliated with the University of Cambridge. Twenty-nine have won in Physics and 24 in Medicine. Sixteen laureates won while at Cambridge. Frederick Sanger, from St. John’s College and a fellow of King’s College, is one of only four individuals to win a Nobel Prize twice. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958 and 1980. Cambridge is able to call William Lawrence Bragg an alum; he is the youngest laureate to date. He won the Physics award in 1915 with his father when he was just 25!

Perhaps most unique about Cambridge University’s system is its division between university and colleges. Students live, eat, and socialize within one of 31 colleges. They also receive small tutoring sessions — known as supervisions — with college faculty members. Students take courses and receive their degree from the university. The first 10 award winners from Cambridge graduated from Trinity College. Trinity now has 32 winners, the most of any Cambridge college.

After finals end in June, students can be found participating in May Week — it used to happen in May before exams became more demanding. Students enjoy garden parties, all-night galas, and June Events — special themed parties with entertainment, film screenings, and food. Cambridge was founded in 1209 and with hundreds of years of traditions, unusual names for ordinary things have endured over time. For instance, student common rooms are called ‘combination rooms,’ and two-part degree courses are ‘triposes.’ If you’re looking for a smashing good time, Cambridge may be the place for you!

The Nobel Prize isn’t the only prestigious award out there. Check out theMacArthur Fellows Program, nicknamed the “Genius Grant.” The MacArthur Grant is awarded to individuals who, “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” In 1991, Harvard University started a spoof on the Nobel Prize called the Ig Nobel Prize. Ten prizes are given each year to honor achievements that “first make people laugh, then make them think.” In 2009, Dr. Elena Bodnar won the Public Health prize for her Emergency Bra; in a pinch the brassiere can be converted into a pair of protective facemasks. If you’re looking to learn in institutions that have been home to some of Nobel’s great intellectuals, these schools are worth a look.


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