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Where did Nobel Prize winners complete their undergraduate education? Compiled list

AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,693 Senior Member
edited November 2011 in College Search & Selection
It has been a while since the resident idiot savant (yours truly) started a thread, and this one should be as useless as most of them!

Many throw around Nobel Prize affiliations as proof of quality of education. So I decided to compile a list of colleges and universities according to where Nobel Prize winners completed their undergraduate education.

First, the ground rules:

1. I only included winners of the prize for Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Medicine and Physics. I did not include winners of the Peace prize.

2. I decided to add Fields Medalists since their is no Prize for Mathematics and the Fields medal is extremely prestigious.

Most of the results were expected, although I was surprised at how few prize winners had graduated from several elite universities (especially Brown, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Northwestern, Princeton and Stanford).

The conclusion, I think most will agree after seeing the numbers, is that one cannot rely on the production of Nobel Prize winners as an indicator of quality of undergraduate education because only 7 universities have produced more than 5!

The summarized list of universities according to the number of Nobel Prize winners (unergraduate degree only):

Harvard University: 21
Columbia University: 16
University of Chicago: 13
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 11
University of California-Berkeley: 11
Yale University: 11
California Institute of Technology: 8
Cornell University: 5
Swarthmore College: 5
University of California-Los Angeles: 5
University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign: 5
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor: 5
Amherst College: 4
Carnegie Mellon University: 3
Case Western Reserve University: 3
Dartmouth College: 3
Princeton University: 3
University of Pennsylvania: 3
University of Rochester: 3
University of Washington: 3
University of Wisconsin-Madison 3
Brandeis University: 2
Haverford College: 2
Johns Hopkins University: 2
Oberlin College: 2
Purdue University-West Lafayette: 2
Rice University: 2
Rutgers University: 2
Stanford University: 2
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: 2
Williams College: 2
Brown University: 1
College of the Holy Cross: 1
Georgia Institute of Technology: 1
Grinnell College: 1
Hamilton College: 1
Michigan state University: 1
New York University: 1
Northwestern University: 1
Ohio State University: 1
United States Naval Academy: 1
University of California-Riverside: 1
University of California-San Diego: 1
University of California-Santa Barbara: 1
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: 1
University of Texas-Austin: 1
Vanderbilt University: 1
Post edited by Alexandre on
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Replies to: Where did Nobel Prize winners complete their undergraduate education? Compiled list

  • beyphybeyphy Registered User Posts: 2,237 Senior Member
    Hm, i'd have expected Stanford to have more, and i'm surprised by how many Chicago has.
  • cherokeejewcherokeejew Registered User Posts: 402 Member
    I thought CUNY would have more
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,693 Senior Member
    CUNY did have several, but they do not specify which campus. I definitely did not include all universities, although I did include the vast majority of them. I think Brooklyn also produced one or two.
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,693 Senior Member
    beyphy, upon reflection, I think many universities fall short of expectations. Princeton only produced 3, including 1 Fields Medalist. Michigan only produced 5, including 1 Fields medalist. Cornell is a Chemistry and Physics powerhouse and also has produced only 5. Penn is relatively large and has only produced 3. Duke has produced none. Johns Hopkins only 2.

    The only ones that really impressed me were Amherst (4) and Swarthmore (5).
  • JamieBrownJamieBrown - Posts: 401 Member
    Harvard University: 21
    Columbia University: 16
    University of Chicago: 13
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 11
    University of California-Berkeley: 11
    Yale University: 11
    California Institute of Technology: 8
    Cornell University: 5
    Swarthmore College: 5
    University of California-Los Angeles: 5
    University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign: 5
    University of Michigan-Ann Arbor: 5
    Amherst College: 4
    Princeton University: 4*
    Carnegie Mellon University: 3
    Case Western Reserve University: 3
    Dartmouth College: 3
    University of Pennsylvania: 3
    University of Rochester: 3
    University of Washington: 3
    University of Wisconsin-Madison 3
    Brandeis University: 2
    Haverford College: 2
    Johns Hopkins University: 2
    Oberlin College: 2
    Purdue University-West Lafayette: 2
    Rice University: 2
    Rutgers University: 2
    Stanford University: 2
    University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: 2
    Williams College: 2
    Brown University: 1
    College of the Holy Cross: 1
    Georgia Institute of Technology: 1
    Grinnell College: 1
    Hamilton College: 1
    Michigan state University: 1
    New York University: 1
    Northwestern University: 1
    Ohio State University: 1
    United States Naval Academy: 1
    University of California-Riverside: 1
    University of California-San Diego: 1
    University of California-Santa Barbara: 1
    University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: 1
    University of Texas-Austin: 1
    Vanderbilt University: 1

    ========

    *note:
    Princeton University (4):
    Gary Stanley Becker, Economics
    John Milnor, Mathematics (Field Medal)
    Andrew Michael Spence, Economics
    Eugene O'Neill, Literature
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,693 Senior Member
    Jamie Brown, the list only includes alumni. Eugene O'Neill spend on one year at Princeton and never graduated. Princeton's count remains 3.
  • al6200al6200 Registered User Posts: 1,579 Senior Member
    What is the relationship with the age of the school? JHU, Duke, and Stanford are much younger than Harvard and Yale. The prize was started in 1900. If an undergraduate school graduated its first class in 1900, then it wouldn't be possible for them to have nobel prize winners until 30-40 years after the graduation of the first class. JHU did not have a 4 year undergraduate program until 1907.
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,693 Senior Member
    al6200, Cal, Caltech and Chicago are no older than Duke, JHU or Stanford and yet they have produced a combined 33 Nobel Prize winners. Age of the institution really should not play a role here. Besides, JHU and Stanford were original members of the American Association of Universities back in 1900. That pretty much proves that those two universities were considered academic and research powerhouses since the Nobel Prize was founded. Duke did not join the AAU until the late 1930s, but the university itself was founded way back in the first half of the 19th century.
  • annasdadannasdad Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    Your list is incomplete. J. Michael Bishop, Physiology or Medicine 1989, Gettysburg College 1957. Where, incidentally, he was a classmate and fraternity brother of Ron Paul.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,606 Senior Member
    ^^ The first University of Chicago alumnus to win the prize, in any field, did not win it until 1923 (that was Robert A. Millikan for Physics). The next one after that did not win it until 1937. All 11 Chicago alumni who have won it in Economics did so in 1970 or later. Ditto for 3 of the 4 in Chemistry, the 1 in Literature, 2 out of 4 in Medicine, and 6 of 13 in Physics.
    (Nobel Laureates | The University of Chicago)

    More Chicago alumni have won the Nobel in Economics since 1970 alone than the number of Duke affiliates (alumni, professors, staff) who have won it in any field, ever.
  • LookingInLookingIn Registered User Posts: 78 Junior Member
    The size of the school is also relevant here. The most impressive is Cal Tech. 120 years old, fewer than 1000 undergraduates, and 8 prizes. My guess is that they have by far the highest Nobel / alumnus ratio.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,606 Senior Member
    ^ To really do the per capita adjustment correctly, I think you'd need to assess the populations only for the fields in which the prize is awarded. How many Nobels per capita only for the Physics community at Caltech? etc.

    There are about 50 professors in Caltech's current Physics department (The Physics Faculty and Their Research). Columbia (a much larger institution overall) lists about the same number of Physics faculty (Faculty Directory). That's without adjusting for full-time v. part-time, joint appointments and so forth.

    In 2010, 25% of Caltech's graduating class majored in physical sciences. That's what, 50 students? Only 5% of graduating Harvard students majored in physical sciences. That must have been about 80 students (assuming ~1600 graduating seniors).
  • par72par72 Registered User Posts: 4,208 Senior Member
    Go Holy Cross! Among LAC's Swarthmore, Amherst, Williams, Haverford have multiple winners, while Holy Cross appears to be the sole Jesuit school representative. Also no winners from Wellesley, Smith, Mt Holyoke. Holy Cross alums outperform in business(CNBC payscale study ranked HC 12TH among all schools, Roll Call-publication rated HC as number1 per capita in production of Congressmen, and Holy Cross has 3 affiliations on current Supreme Court(including 1 alum). Holy Cross also improved to #29 in latest US News LAC ranking(hc should be 10 spots higher).
  • ScipioScipio Registered User Posts: 8,939 Senior Member
    Add: BYU - 1. Paul Boyer, 1997 Nobel laureate, earned his undergrad degree at BYU.
  • LookingInLookingIn Registered User Posts: 78 Junior Member
    There are about 50 professors in Caltech's current Physics department (The Physics Faculty and Their Research). Columbia (a much larger institution overall) lists about the same number of Physics faculty (Faculty Directory). That's without adjusting for full-time v. part-time, joint appointments and so forth.

    Columbia also has twice the student:faculty ratio as Cal Tech. I'm not trying to knock Columbia (it's a great school). But I think Cal Tech is really an exceptional school that often gets overlooked because it's so small.
    In 2010, 25% of Caltech's graduating class majored in physical sciences. That's what, 50 students? Only 5% of graduating Harvard students majored in physical sciences. That must have been about 80 students (assuming ~1600 graduating seniors).

    But then consider that Harvard graduates more economics majors each year than the entire size of the graduating class at Cal Tech.

    You could try to break this down in different ways, and I'm sure the results would be interesting. You're right in that this list is a function of

    1) Quality of instruction,
    2) Quality of incoming students,
    3) The total number of undergraduate degrees awarded in the relevant fields in the Nobel era.

    Unfortunately, I don't know if anyone has the data for the last two factors, which makes it tricky to try to use this list as a measure of the first.

    But we're probably over-analyzing. This is a fun list to read, and I'm sure it will provide lots of material for ridiculous flame wars on this site.
This discussion has been closed.