Nobel Prize winners

Among its distinguished alumni and associates, the University has links with many Nobel Prize winners.

The awards are made annually in recognition of internationally significant cultural and scientific advances.

Prizes are given each year for Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, and Physiology or Medicine.

In pictures

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Pioneering science

In 2013 Peter Higgs, Emeritus Professor at the University, received a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in predicting the Higgs boson, which explains how fundamental particles acquire mass.

His theory was confirmed by the discovery of the predicted particle at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2012.

This is not the first time that a prize linked to fundamental physics has been awarded to someone associated with the University.

The development of quantum mechanics was the subject of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded to Max Born, a Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh.

Research on radiation

Some Nobel-winning discoveries have spanned the boundaries between different scientific disciplines, for example, research into X-rays.

Professor Hermann Muller, who worked at the University’s Institute of Animal Genetics, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1946 for research that revealed the damaging effects of X-ray radiation.

Charles Glover Barkla, a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1917 for his discovery of characteristic X-ray elements. His prize was presented a year later.

Barkla’s work defined how X-rays themselves behave, whereas Muller demonstrated what they can do in medical practice.

Also in the area of radiation, Professor Igor Tamm, a former student, received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1958 for the joint discovery and interpretation of the Cherenkov-Vavilov effect.

This can be used to measure the intensity of a nuclear reaction and how much radioactivity is left in spent nuclear fuel rods.

Leading technology

Visiting Professor Kurt Wüthrich received the Prize in Chemistry in 2002 for the development of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy.

The technique enables scientists to assess the physical and chemical properties of compounds, and has greatly aided progression of the life sciences.

Sir Edward Appleton, former Principal, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1947 for his contribution to the development of radar.

Groundbreaking medicine

Several Laureates operating in the field of life sciences have Edinburgh links.

Sir Robert Edwards, an Edinburgh alumnus, who won his Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010.

His award was made for the development of in-vitro fertilisation, the technique behind test tube babies.

Other Physiology or Medicine laureates include Professor Peter Doherty, an Edinburgh graduate, who received a prize in 1996 for discovering how the body’s immune system protects against viruses.

Health benefits

Sir Paul Nurse, a former post-doctorate researcher at Edinburgh, received an award in 2001 for the discovery of a gene that controls cell cycle regulation.

Sir Paul's discovery of the Cdk1 gene could aid cancer research.

Former Rector Sir Alexander Fleming received a prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 for the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.

A hormone involved in childbirth, called oxytocin, was the focus of former medical researcher Professor Vincent du Vigneaud, who received the 1955 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

His work focused on unravelling the structure and synthesis of the hormone. Artificial forms of oxytocin can be given to induce labour.

Insight into genetics

There have been several laureates in relation to DNA, the molecule that defines living organisms.

Peter Mitchell, a Visiting Professor at Edinburgh, received a prize in Chemistry in 1978. He discovered how cells generate the energy they need, called ATP, by the movement of hydrogen across cell membranes.

Lord Alexander Todd, a researcher at the University, received a prize in Chemistry in 1957. He was recognised for his work on the structure and synthesis of nucleotides, the molecules that form DNA, and their co-enzymes, which help the molecules to function properly.

Climate change research

Scientists associated with the University contributed to the work of the International Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Prize for Peace with Al Gore.

Contributors included Professor Gabi Hegerl and Professor Mark Rounsevell, both of the School of GeoSciences.

Dr Terry Barker, a former student at Edinburgh, also took part in the work of the IPCC.

Benefits for society

Two Nobel awards associated with the University are in the arts and social sciences.

Sir Winston Churchil, another former Rector, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

In the field of economics, former student Sir James Mirrlees received the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize.

Mirrlees was honoured for his pioneering economic theories, including studies on income tax.

His award, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, is not officially a Nobel prize but is considered to be the equivalent.

Mathematical excellence

The Abel Prize for Mathematics is the equivalent to a Nobel.

Honorary Professor Sir Michael Atiyah received this prize in 2004 for the Atiyah-Singer theorem, with Professor Isadore Singer.

The theorem is considered one of the landmark discoveries of modern mathematics and is used in theoretical physics.

Photography credits: Robert Edwards, Bourn Hall Clinic. Edward Appleton, Charles Glover Barkla, Igor Tamm, Max Born, Nobel foundation. Peter Higgs, Peter Tuffy (the University of Edinburgh).

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