Caltech Nobel Recipients [List 1] [List 2]






Caltech President David Baltimore shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with former faculty member Renato Dulbecco and alumnus Howard Temin (PhD ’60). The three were recognized for research that led to the identification of the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which allows a molecule of RNA from a cancer-causing virus to change into DNA (thus reversing the normal sequence of information flow) and then splice itself to the DNA of a host cell. This discovery greatly expanded scientific understanding of retroviruses—the most infamous of which is HIV.

Baltimore did his undergraduate work at Swarthmore College and earned his doctorate at Rockefeller University. He later worked as a research associate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. He joined the MIT faculty in 1968, and was appointed a full professor in 1972. After founding the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in 1982, he served as its first director until 1990. Baltimore was president of Rockefeller University from 1990 to 1991. Before becoming Caltech’s president in 1997, he was the Ivan R. Cottrell Professor of Molecular Biology and Immunology and the American Cancer Society Research Professor at MIT. Baltimore has also been a major figure in Washington as head of the National Institutes of Health AIDS Vaccine Research Committee

Renato Dulbecco shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Temin and David Baltimore “for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell.”

Dulbecco was born in Italy, where he graduated from the University of Torino, receiving his medical degree in 1936. In 1947 he joined his former fellow student Salvador Luria at Indiana University in Bloomington, and then moved on to Caltech in 1949. At the Institute, he worked with Max Delbrück on phages before moving into the field of animal virology. Howard Temin was one of his graduate students, and their work started his interest in tumor viruses. In 1962, Dulbecco went to the Salk Institute, and in 1972 to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories in London.

Howard Temin shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Renato Dulbecco and David Baltimore for their joint discovery of the enzyme reverse transcriptase. Identification of this enzyme helped explain how certain viruses transform the cells they infect into cancer cells.

While doing graduate work with Dulbecco at Caltech, Temin began investigating how the Rous sarcoma virus causes cancer in animals. During these investigations, he observed that the virus—whose essential component is RNA—could not infect a cell if the cell’s synthesis of DNA was stopped. After receiving his PhD in 1959, Temin spent another year working with Dulbecco, then joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he continued his research. In 1964, he proposed that the virus caused cancer by somehow changing its RNA into DNA, an idea that contradicted the contemporary belief that genetic information could only pass from DNA to RNA. In 1970, Temin’s hypothesis was validated by his and Baltimore’s identification of reverse transcriptase as the mechanism whereby RNA is changed into DNA. Temin continued to teach and pursue research at the University of Wisconsin for the rest of his career.

William Lipscomb was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1976 for his studies on the structure of boranes (boron hydride compounds), work which also answered general questions about chemical bonding. Boranes became important in chemical research in the 1940s and ‘50s because of the need to find volatile uranium compounds (borohydrides) for isotope separation, as well as the need to develop high-energy fuels for rockets and jet aircraft. To map the molecular structures of boranes, Lipscomb also developed x-ray techniques that later found application in many other areas of chemical research.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1941, Lipscomb came to Caltech to pursue graduate study. He received his PhD in 1946, then joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota, where he eventually became head of the physical chemistry division. In 1959, he left Minnesota to become professor of chemistry at Harvard. He served as chair of Harvard’s chemistry department from 1962 to 1965.

Robert Wilson shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics with Arno Penzias for finding the cosmic background radiation—new evidence of the Big Bang, the explosion of matter that scientists theorize created the universe.

Wilson attended Rice University as an undergraduate, then earned a PhD from Caltech in 1962. Starting in 1963, he worked at Bell Labs, where he and Penzias conducted experiments in connection with the first Telstar communication satellite. While tracking radio emissions from gases around the Milky Way, they detected excess radio noise that seemed to be coming from all directions at once. After comparing notes with scientists doing similar research at MIT and Princeton, they concluded that they had discovered a universal thermal radiation field with a temperature of about 3 kelvins—a remnant of the Big Bang. Wilson has since continued to study and measure various properties of interstellar molecules. In 1976, he became head of Bell Labs’ Radio Physics Department.

Roger Sperry was a corecipient (with David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel) of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on the workings of the brain. Sperry was particularly recognized for discovering that each brain hemisphere controls different kinds of functions.

Sperry studied English literature as an undergraduate, then received a master’s degree in psychology from Oberlin College. He did doctoral work in zoology at the University of Chicago, where he earned a PhD in 1941. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1954, then came to Caltech as Hixon Professor of Psychobiology. Sperry was best known for his studies of “split brain” patients—usually epileptics whose corpus callosum (the nerve bundle connecting the two halves of the brain) had been severed. Using innovative experimental and surgical techniques, he demonstrated that the brain’s right hemisphere is normally dominant for such things as spatial awareness and musical comprehension, whereas the left hemisphere tends to control verbal and analytical tasks. Sperry taught and conducted research at the Institute until 1984, when he was named emeritus.
Kenneth Wilson was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work to construct improved theories about the transformations of matter called continuous, or second-order, phase transitions. His research led to a very general and effective mathematical strategy for understanding how complex microscopic behavior underlies gross macroscopic effects.

Wilson received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1956. He then came to Caltech to do graduate work with Murray Gell-Mann. He received his doctorate in 1961. He worked for a year with the European Council for Nuclear Research, then joined the faculty at Cornell University, where he remained until 1988. Since 1988, he has taught at the Ohio State University.

Willy Fowler shared (with S. Chandrasekhar) the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on nucleosynthesis, the process whereby the nuclei of lighter chemical elements fuse to create heavier ones. In groundbreaking work in the late 1950s, he and his colleagues demonstrated that, starting only with the hydrogen and helium produced in the Big Bang, all the elements from carbon to uranium could be produced by the nuclear processes in stars.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in 1933, Fowler came to Caltech to study with Charles Lauritsen. He received his doctorate in 1936, and remained at the Institute as a research fellow until 1939, when he was appointed assistant professor. He was named Institute Professor of Physics in 1970, and emeritus in 1982. During World War II, he carried out research and development on rocket ordnance and proximity fuses for Caltech’s rocket project. More recently, Fowler studied neutrinos (the subatomic particles released during nuclear reactions), quasars, and pulsars.
Rudy Marcus won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1992 for his development of a theory of electron transfer in chemical reactions. This work has increased scientific understanding of a wide variety of fundamental processes, including photosynthesis, corrosion, and cell metabolism.

Marcus, a native of Canada, was educated at McGill University in Montreal. He received his PhD in 1946. He did postdoctoral research for the next five years, then joined the faculty of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Marcus began in the 1950s to study the forces that govern electrons as they move from one atom to another in chemical reactions, and first published his ideas between 1956 and 1965. In 1964 he moved to the University of Illinois, where he spent 14 years with the division of physical chemistry. In 1978 he came to Caltech as Noyes Professor of Chemistry, the post he holds today. Although not universally accepted until validated experimentally in the mid-1980s, Marcus’s theories brought new order and method to many different subspecialties of chemistry. His predictions about why some chemical reactions proceed much faster than others were accessible to both theorists and experimentalists, and helped sort out what had been a mass of contradictory observations.

EDWARD B. LEWIS (1918-2004)
Ed Lewis shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus for their research into “the genetic control of early embryonic development.” He was specifically recognized for his studies of how genetic mutations in Drosophila fruit flies affect the insect’s development.

Lewis received his bachelor’s degree in biostatistics from the University of Minnesota, then came to Caltech to do graduate work. He received his PhD in 1942. He then studied meteorology at the Institute as an Army Air Force cadet. During World War II, he served as a weather forecaster in Hawaii and on board a ship outside Okinawa. In 1946, Lewis returned to Caltech as a member of the biology faculty, and in 1966 was named the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor Biology. He became emeritus in 1988, but still can be found studying flies in his campus lab. Though focused chiefly on Drosophila, Lewis’s work has helped expand scientific understanding of development in other organisms as well. Of particular significance were his discoveries about homeotic genes. These genes tell the initially undifferentiated cells of an embryo where and how to form the many different tissues and organs of the body, and are remarkably similar in all creatures—from fruit flies to mice to humans.

Douglas Osheroff (with David Lee and Robert Richardson) was honored with the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the transition of helium-3 into a superfluid state.

Osheroff attended Caltech as an undergraduate, earning his BS degree in physics in 1967. He went to Cornell to do his graduate work, where he studied under David Lee, his future fellow Nobel laureate. After receiving his PhD in 1972, he went to work at Bell Labs for the next 15 years, where he did research during what was considered the golden era at the labs. In 1987, he left to become a professor of physics at Stanford University, where he continues to work on superfluid and solid helium-3. Besides supervising his graduate students, he also teaches undergraduate physics, and has won Stanford’s Gores Award for excellence in teaching.
Robert Merton shared the 1997 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (with Myron Scholes) for his work in developing models for risk evaluation of options and other derivatives.

Merton received his BS in engineering mathematics in 1966 from Columbia University. He then went to Caltech to pursue a PhD in applied mathematics. During his first year there, he decided to study economics. Since Caltech in 1967 had yet to add a graduate economics program, Merton had to seek elsewhere for a doctoral program. His Caltech master’s degree served him well, however, for he appreciated Caltech’s “creed of placing students from the outset in a research framework . . . instead of merely passively learning the material.” As a doctoral student at MIT he studied under well-known economist Paul Samuelson. After earning his PhD in 1970, he taught finance for 18 years at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he met Myron Scholes. Merton moved to Harvard Business School in 1988, where he is currently John and Natty McArthur University Professor. He is also a principal and co-founder of Long-Term Capital Management.

AHMED H. ZEWAIL (b.1946)
Ahmed H. Zewail won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking work in viewing and studying chemical reactions at the atomic level as they occur. He is internationally known as a pioneer in the field of femtochemistry, in which investigators use ultrafast lasers to probe chemical reactions in real time. Because reactions can take place in a millionth of a billionth of a second, Zewail's state-of-the-art lasers have made it possible to observe and study this motion for the first time, allowing scientists to understand at a fundamental level how chemical bonds form and break. Femtochemistry has had wide-ranging impact on chemistry and photobiology all over the world.

Zewail, a native of Egypt and now a U.S. citizen, is Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics and professor of physics at Caltech. He received both his bachelor's and his master's degrees from Alexandria University. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and joined the Caltech faculty in 1976.
Leland Hartwell was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with co-recipients Timothy Hunt and Paul Nurse) “for his discoveries of a specific class of genes that control the cell cycle. One of these genes called ‘start’ was found to have a central role in controlling the first step of each cell cycle. Hartwell also introduced the concept ‘checkpoint,’ a valuable aid to understanding the cell cycle.”

By combining mutants and time-lapse photomicroscopy, Hartwell has identified 32 genes that regulate the cell cycle, and he has used genetics to define many of the steps in the signal transduction pathway that feeds into start, a control point in the cell cycle. The gene controlling start, CDC28, was cloned in his lab and was the first CDK identified. He has discovered that limitation or overexpression of many essential cell-cycle components leads to errors in chromosome transmission.

After graduating from Caltech in 1961 with a BS in biology, Hartwell received his PhD from MIT in 1964. He is a full professor at the University of Washington, where he has been since 1968. In 1996 he joined the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a full member and senior advisor for scientific affairs, and in 1997 was named president and director of the center

Vernon L. Smith shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Princeton's Daniel Kahneman. Smith was recognized "for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms." His research focuses on real people facing real choices (and with the potential to earn real money payoffs) to create data on economic choices and incentives.

Smith received his BS degree in electrical engineering from Caltech in 1949. As a senior, he had taken an economics course, which so intrigued him that he decided to pursue the subject further. He earned a master's degree at the University of Kansas, and then a PhD at Harvard, both in economics, and joined the faculty at Purdue. In the years that followed, he also taught at Stanford, Brown, and the University of Massachusetts. In the early 1970s he began a long-standing collaboration with Caltech experimental economist Charles Plott, and spent 1973-74 at the Institute as a Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar. He stayed on in California through 1974-75 with a joint appointment at Caltech and USC. In 1975 he moved to the University of Arizona, where he remained for 26 years. Smith is currently professor of economics and law at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, a research scholar in the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, and a fellow of the Mercatus Center.

Hugh David Politzer won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics for work he began as a graduate student on how the elementary particles known as quarks are bound together to form the protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei.

Politzer, a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech, shares the prize with David Gross and Frank Wilczek. The key discovery was made in 1973, when Politzer, a Harvard University graduate student at the time, and two physicists working independently from Politzer at Princeton University—Gross and his graduate student Wilczek—theorized that quarks actually become bound more tightly the farther they get from each other.

ROBERT H. GRUBBS (b. 1942)
Robert H. Grubbs shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Yves Chauvin (Institut Français du Pétrole) and Richard R. Schrock (MIT) for "the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis." Metathesis is an organic reaction in which chemists selectively strip out certain atoms in a compound and replace them with atoms that were previously part of another compound, resulting in a custom-built molecule with specialized properties. Grubbs's work on olefin metathesis in particular has produced powerful new catalysts that have enabled the custom synthesis of valuable molecules, among them pharmaceuticals and polymers with novel materials properties.

Grubbs earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Florida in 1963 and 1965, respectively. He received his PhD from Columbia University in 1968, then spent a year at Stanford as a postdoctoral fellow before joining the Michigan State University faculty. He came to Caltech in 1978 as a full professor, and was named the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry in 1990.

California Nobel Prize Centennial
Caltech Centennial Information
Nobel Centennial Information