Caltech Nobel Recipients [List 1] [List 2]


Robert A. Millikan was Caltech’s first Nobel Prize winner. He was awarded the physics prize in 1923 for isolating the electron and measuring its charge. An impressive experimentalist, Millikan is also credited with the verification of Einstein’s photoelectric equations and with the numerical determination of Planck’s constant. He also initiated serious study of cosmic rays, and in fact gave them their present name

Millikan left a professorship at the University of Chicago to become director of Caltech’s new Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics in 1921. With George Ellery Hale and A. A. Noyes, Millikan formed the executive council that molded the Institute into a preeminent research university. Refusing the presidency of Caltech, he instead served as the chairman of the council from 1921 until his retirement in 1945. In his will, he left one-fifth of his estate—$100,000—as an endowment fund for one of his favorite campus organizations: the Caltech Y.

Thomas Hunt Morgan won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for his chromosome theory of heredity. On the basis of experimental research with the fruit fly (Drosophila), he demonstrated that genes are linked in a series on chromosomes and that they determine identifiable, hereditary traits.

An embryologist by training, Morgan turned his attention to Drosophila in 1908. On the basis of fly-breeding experiments, he developed a hypothesis of sex-linked characteristics, which he theorized were part of the X chromosome of females. In 1928, he came to Caltech to organize work in biology. The most influential biologist in America at that time, Morgan pioneered the new science of genetics, the essential science for the future of biology. In 1930, he also established a marine biology laboratory at Corona del Mar (the lab is still in use today). By then, Morgan had left Drosophila genetics and had returned to his earlier interest in developmental biology. He often spent weekends at the marine station working with an organism called the sea squirt. He remained on the Caltech faculty for the rest of his career.

Carl D. Anderson was a corecipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936, when he was only 31 years old and still an assistant professor at Caltech. Anderson won the prize for discovering the positron, the first empirical evidence for the existence of antimatter, in the course of his cosmic-ray researches. (He shared the physics prize with Victor F. Hess of Austria, the discoverer of cosmic rays.) It was Robert A. Millikan, Anderson’s graduate advisor, who had steered Anderson into cosmic-ray research.

Anderson arrived at Caltech in 1923 as an 18-year-old freshman, and never left. He discovered the positron in 1932, using a cloud chamber. Shortly thereafter, Anderson and his graduate student, Seth Neddermeyer, discovered mu-mesons, or muons. During World War II, Caltech scientists produced and tested land and aircraft rockets for the United States Navy. Anderson supervised the testing of aircraft rockets at China Lake and later visited the front lines in Europe to observe how the rockets performed. He served as chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1962 to 1970, and was named emeritus in 1976.

Edwin M. McMillan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for his discovery of element 93, neptunium, the first so-called transuranium (heavier than uranium) element. He shared the prize that year with Glenn T. Seaborg.

McMillan received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Caltech in 1928 and 1929, respectively, then earned his doctorate at Princeton University in 1932. He then accepted a faculty position at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was named professor in 1946 and director of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in 1958. He discovered neptunium, a decay product of uranium-239, in 1940, while studying nuclear fission. In 1945, he made a major advance in the development of Ernest Lawrence’s cyclotron, when he synchronized the device’s electrical pulses to allow atoms to accelerate indefinitely. McMillan served as president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1968 to 1971.

Linus Pauling was the only winner of two unshared Nobel Prizes in different categories. He is also considered by many to be the greatest chemist of the 20th century. He was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on molecular structure and chemical bonds, and he won the Peace Prize in 1962 for his efforts to prevent the testing and use of nuclear weapons.

Pauling came to Caltech as a graduate student, receiving his PhD in physical chemistry in 1925. He then joined the faculty, becoming a full professor in 1931 (at the age of 30), and chair of the chemistry and chemical engineering division six years later. In addition to his research on chemical bonding, he made important discoveries in molecular biology, such as identifying the genetic defect in the hemoglobin molecule that causes sickle-cell disease. In 1951, Pauling and Robert Corey discovered the alpha helix structure that serves as a universal structural building block for protein molecules. In the 1970s, Pauling provoked controversy by suggesting that large doses of Vitamin C would promote good health. After leaving Caltech in 1963, he was a member of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, a professor at Stanford University, and director of research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto.

William B. Shockley shared the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics with John Bardeen and Walter H. Brattain for their development of the transistor, which largely replaced the much-larger, less-efficient vacuum tube and made possible the construction of microelectronic devices.

Schockley received his BS degree at Caltech in 1932; he then earned a PhD at Harvard. In 1936, he accepted a position on the technical staff of Bell Labs, where he began the work that ultimately produced the transistor. He served as director of research for the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group of the U.S. Navy during World War II. Schockley returned to Caltech in 1954 as a visiting professor of physics, then worked for a year as deputy director of Weapons Systems Evaluation for the Department of Defense. He joined Beckman Instruments, Inc., in 1955, and founded the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory there. In 1958, he went to Stanford University, where he became the first Poniatoff Professor of Engineering Science in 1963. He retired in 1974.

George W. Beadle was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 for his “one gene-one enzyme” theory of gene action. His early experiments with Drosophila revealed that even such an apparently simple characteristic as eye color was the result of a long series of genetically determined chemical reactions. Later experiments with the bread mold Neurospora enabled him to conclude that each gene determined the structure of a particular enzyme, which in turn controlled a single chemical reaction. A pioneer in the field of biochemical genetics, the series of discoveries he made between 1941 and 1953 closed out the era of classical genetics à la Morgan and ushered in the molecular age.

Beadle came to Caltech in 1931, after earning his PhD in corn genetics from Cornell University and having been awarded a National Research Council Fellowship to do postdoctoral work in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s Division of Biology. He spent several subsequent years on other genetic research in collaboration with scientists at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris, at Harvard, and at Stanford. In 1946, he became professor and chairman of the biology division at Caltech, where he remaineduntil 1960, when he was named chancellor of the University of Chicago. After retiring from that position, he directed the American Medical Association’s Institute for Biomedical Research from 1968 to 1970. He also returned to experimental biology, working on a problem close to his heart: the origin of maize.

Donald Glaser was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1960 for his invention of the bubble chamber. This instrument became widely used in physics research because it allowed scientists to observe the behavior of subatomic particles and to measure their paths precisely.

In 1946, after completing his undergraduate work at the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Glaser came to Caltech to pursue graduate study with Carl Anderson. He received his PhD in physics from the Institute in 1949. He then joined the physics faculty at the University of Michigan, where he taught and pursued research that led to the development of the bubble chamber. In 1959, Glaser left Michigan to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. He was named professor of physics and molecular biology in 1964.
Rudolf Mössbauer was a cowinner (with Robert Hofstadter) of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Mössbauer effect. He was 32 years old when he received the prize, one of the youngest scientists ever to be so honored. The effect that bears his name involves the production of gamma rays of a single, precise energy from the nuclei of atoms embedded in crystals. It is a yardstick that makes it possible to measure with an unprecedented sensitivity the effects of gravity, electricity, and magnetism on photons and atomic nuclei.

Mössbauer first observed the effect in 1957, while still a graduate student at the Technical Academy of Munich. He received his PhD in 1958, and came to Caltech as a research fellow in 1960. He was named professor of physics in 1961. Mössbauer returned to Munich a few years later to join the physics faculty at the Technical Academy. He was a visiting professor of physics at Caltech in 1964.
Charles Townes was a corecipient (with the Soviet physicists Prokhorov and Basov) of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in the then-new field of quantum electronics, and particularly for his role in the invention of the maser and the laser.

Townes came to Caltech as a graduate student in 1937, and received his PhD in 1939. Later that year he became a member of the technical staff at Bell Labs, where he stayed until 1948. He then joined the faculty at Columbia University, and began the work that in 1953 produced the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). From 1959 to 1961 he headed the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C. He then served as provost and professor of physics at MIT for six years. In 1967, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where his pioneering program in radio and infrared astronomy led to the discovery of ammonia and water molecules in the interstellar medium. He was named emeritus in 1986
Richard Feynman shared the Nobel Prize in Physics (with Julian Schwinger and Tomonaga Shin’ichiro) in 1965 for his formulation of a comprehensive theory of quantum electrodynamics—how electrically charged particles interact with photons and with each other. His version of this theory, and its accompanying “Feynman diagrams”—intuitive, pictorial representations of interactions among elementary particles—revolutionized the way scientists think about these processes in many fields of physics.

After receiving his PhD from Princeton University in 1942, Feynman worked on the atomic bomb project, both at Princeton and at Los Alamos, New Mexico. At the end of the war, he joined the physics faculty at Cornell University, where he taught and continued his quantum electrodynamics research. In 1950, he became professor of theoretical physics at Caltech, where he remained for the rest of his career. While at the Institute, he pursued a number of projects, including devising a quantum mechanical explanation of superfluidity, and developing (with Murray Gell-Mann) a theory of the weak force. In 1968 he proposed a theory of “partons”—hypothetical hard particles inside the nucleus of the atom—that contributed to the understanding of quarks. In 1986, Feynman became known to an even larger audience through his participation—and his famous ice-water experiment—on the Presidential Commission investigating the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Murray Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969 for his efforts to develop a unifying scheme of classification for subatomic particles and their interactions.

Gell-Mann received his doctorate in physics from MIT in 1951, at the age of 21. In 1952 he joined the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, where his research yielded the first definition of the quantum property of “strangeness.” The concept of strangeness helped explain certain particle decay patterns that had long mystified scientists. Gell-Mann came to Caltech in 1955. Six years later, he first proposed his “Eightfold Way,” a scheme for classifying protons and neutrons into families. This work led him to theorize further that the behavior of known particles might be explained in terms of the even more fundamental building blocks he dubbed “quarks” (the word is borrowed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake). Gell-Mann was appointed Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1967. He now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is associated with the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary think-tank he cofounded in 1984.
MAX DELBRÜCK (1906–1981)
Max Delbrück shared (with Alfred Hershey and Salvador Luria) the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on bacteriophages, a class of viruses that infect bacteria.

Originally trained as a theoretical physicist, Delbrück received his PhD from the University of Göttingen (Germany) in 1930. While doing postdoctoral research with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, he became interested in how the issues and methods of physics might apply to biology. In 1937, as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow, he came to Caltech because of its strength in Drosophila genetics. He soon teamed up with E. L. Ellis to do phage research, seeing the bacteriophage as the ideal organism through which to apply the quantitative methods of physics to the study of genes. In 1939, he joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University, where he stayed for seven years. He returned to Caltech as a professor of biology in 1947, and remained for the rest of his career. In the early 1950s, Delbrück’s research interests shifted yet again, from molecular genetics to sensory physiology.

Leo Rainwater was a corecipient (with A. N. Bohr and Ben Mottelson) of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1975. His research contributed to the determination that certain atoms have asymmetrical nuclei.

Rainwater received his bachelor’s degree from Caltech in 1939, then went on to earn a PhD at Columbia University in 1946. During World War II, he worked on the atomic bomb project. In 1949, he began developing his theory that, contrary to what was then believed, not all atomic nuclei are spherical. His ideas were later tested and confirmed by Bohr’s and Mottelson’s experiments. Rainwater also contributed to the scientific understanding of x-rays and participated in Atomic Energy Commission and naval research projects. He joined the physics faculty at Columbia in 1952, where he was named Pupin Professor of Physics in 1982

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