Nobel Prizes

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

The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually by a group of Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of internationally significant cultural and scientific advances.

Established by the 1895 will of Alfred Nobel, Nobel Prizes are awarded to individuals who make outstanding contributions in the fields of Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine.

Nobel Laureates

Some 19 Nobel laureates are directly affiliated with the University as alumni, faculty members or researchers.

Nobel prize
Professor Peter Higgs receives the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. © Nobel Media AB, Alexander Mahmoud.

The Nobel Prize in Physics

2013 - Professor Peter Higgs

Emeritus Professor Peter Higgs received a Nobel Prize 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.

1958 - Professor Igor Tamm

Professor Igor Tamm, a former student, received a Nobel Prize 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.

1954 - Max Born

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.

1917 - Charles Glover Barkla

Charles Glover Barkla, a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University, was awarded a Prize for his discovery of characteristic X-ray elements. His work defined how X-rays behave. Barkla's Prize was presented in 191 later.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2017 - Dr Richard Henderson

Physics alumnus and honorary Doctor of Science Dr Richard Henderson was jointly awarded the prize with Professor Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne and Professor Joachim Frank of Columbia University, New York, US.

Their award was made for developing cryo-electron microscopy, which has enabled high-resolution imaging of biomolecules in solution.

2016 - Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart

Chemistry alumnus Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart shared the Prize with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Bernard Feringa for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.

The award recognised Professor Stoddart’s pioneering development of the rotaxane molecule, enabling molecules to move, which he did in 1991.

2002 - Professor Kurt Wüthrich

Visiting Professor Kurt Wüthrich received a Prize 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.

1978 - Professor Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell, a Visiting Professor at Edinburgh, discovered how cells generate the energy they need, called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), by the movement of hydrogen across cell membranes.

1957 - Lord Alexander Todd

Lord Alexander Todd, a researcher at the University, 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.

1955 - Professor Vincent du Vigneaud

Former medical researcher Professor Vincent du Vigneaud was awarded a Prize for work that focused on unravelling the structure and synthesis of the hormone oxytocin, which is involved in childbirth, called. Artificial forms of oxytocin can be given to induce labour.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

2017 - Professor Michael Rosbash

Professor Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University in Waltham, US,  was a researcher at Edinburgh in the early 1970s.

He is one of three scientists recognised for their work in so-called circadian rhythms - the 24-hour cycle that controls sleeping, waking, and other basic processes in living things.

Professor Rosbash shares the prize with Professor Jeffrey Hall, also of Brandeis, and Professor Michael Young of Rockefeller University.

2014 - Professor Edvard Moser and Professor May-Britt Moser

Professor Edvard Moser and Professor May-Britt Moser, both university affiliates, received the Prize for their work on discoveries of spatial cells in the brain.

From 1995 to 1997, the husband-and-wife team worked as post-doctoral researchers with Professor Richard Morris at the University's Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems.

Edvard Moser is an Honorary Professor at Edinburgh.

2010 - Sir Robert Edwards

Sir Robert Edwards, an Edinburgh alumnus, won his prize for the development of in-vitro fertilisation, the technique behind test tube babies.

2001 - Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse, a former post-doctorate researcher at Edinburgh, was recognised for his discovery of a gene that controls cell cycle regulation. The gene - cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1) - could aid cancer research.

1996 - Professor Peter Doherty

Professor Peter Doherty, an Edinburgh graduate, received his Prize for discovering how the body’s immune system protects against viruses

1946 - Professor Hermann Muller

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

The Nobel Peace Prize

1995 - Sir Joseph Rotblat

Sir Joseph, who was Montague Visiting Professor of International Relations at the University from 1975–1976, was awarded a prize for efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.

His prize was shared with the Pugwash Conferences, an international organisation that sought to reduce the danger of armed conflict and to seek solutions to global security threats, particularly relating to nuclear warfare.

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics - The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, established in 1968, is also awarded annually. It is commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics.

1996 - Sir James Mirrlees

Former student Sir James Mirrlees was honoured for his pioneering economic theories, including studies on income tax.

Other affiliations to Nobel Prizes

There are a number of additional links between the University and the Nobel Prizes via other connections, with past and present rectors, honorary graduates and visiting students winning the awards.

The Nobel Prize in Physics

1947 - Sir Edward Appleton

Sir Edward Appleton, former Principal, received a Prize for his contribution to the development of radar.

The Nobel Prize in Literature

1953 - Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill, former Rector of the University, received the Prize for "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values".

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

2013 - Professor Randy Schekman

Professor Schekman, who studied as an undergraduate exchange student at Edinburgh from 1968–1969, shared the 2013 award with James Rothman and Thomas C Südhof for their groundbreaking work on cell membrane vesicle trafficking - a way in which cells transport materials.

1945 - Sir Alexander Fleming

Former Rector Sir Alexander Fleming was awarded a Prize for his discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.

The Nobel Peace Prize

2017 - Mr Daniel Högsta

Mr Daniel Högsta was a key member International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 prize in recognition of ICAN’s work in driving the process to achieve the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Mr Högsta graduated from the Edinburgh Law School in 2012.  

2014 - Malala Yousafzai

Honorary graduate Malala Yousafzai was recognised for her support of children and young people.

Ms Yousafzai is the youngest recipient to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

2007 - Professor Gabi Hegerl, Professor Mark Rounsevell and Dr Terry Barker

Professor Gabi Hegerl and Professor Mark Rounsevell, both of the School of GeoSciences, contributed to the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

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

Nobel equivalent prizes

The University is also affiliated with two awards considered to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

The Abel Prize, awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians, and the Association for Computing Machinery’s AM Turing Award, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Computing.

Abel Prize for Mathematics

2004 - Sir Michael Atiyah

Honorary Professor Sir Michael Atiyah received an Abel Prize along with Professor Isadore Singer for the Atiyah-Singer theorem.

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

Turing Award

The annual Association for Computing Machinery’s AM Turing Award is recognised as the highest distinction in computer science and the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

2018 - Professor Geoffrey Hinton

Professor Geoffrey Hinton, who undertook his PhD at Edinburgh, was presented with the 2018 Turing Award for work on deep neural networks.

2010 - Professor Leslie Valiant

Professor Leslie Valiant, who taught at Edinburgh from 1977-1982, won the Turing Award in 2010 for his contributions to computation theory.

2003 - Professor Alan Kay

Professor Alan Kay, an honorary graduate of the University, received the Turing Award in 2003 for his work on programming languages.

1991 - Professor Robin Milner

The 1991 Turing Award was given to Professor Robin Milner, who taught at the University of Edinburgh from 1973 until the early 1990s, where he co-founded the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science.

He returned to Edinburgh in 2009 as a Research Fellow and held a part-time Chair of Computer Science post.

Related links

Nobel Prizes

Abel Prize

Turing Award