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U.S. Immigrants and the Nobel Prize

October 25, 2021

Alfred Nobel Prize Gold Medallion

America is known as the Land of Dreams and Opportunities and for many immigrants that also means a pathway to receiving a Nobel Prize. In 2021, three of the four recipients of the medicine, chemistry, and physics Nobel Prizes are U.S. immigrants. In fact, immigrants have played a key role in the development of science in America in the last decades. Since 2000, 38% (40 out of 104) of Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, and physics awarded to Americans were given to immigrants.

This year the recognized immigrants awarded the Nobel Prizes came to the U.S. for different reasons. One came as a student, another came for work, and another came to escape violence in the Middle East. What they all have in common is that they came to the U.S. looking for a more prosperous future where they could develop and expand their unique abilities.

David MacMillan, born in Scotland in 1968, came to the U.S. looking to achieve his dream of earning his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California-Irvine, which after working very hard he earned it 1996. He shared his Nobel Prize with Benjamin List for their development of new tools to build molecules that has created many advances and new opportunities in the area of pharmaceutical research. Currently, he is a distinguished professor of chemistry at the renown Princeton University in the United States.

Syukuro Manabe, born in Japan in 1931, came to the U.S. to work as a research meteorologist and climatologist after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. Together with Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his contributions to the physical model of earth’s climate to predict climate change and its global consequences. Today, he is a senior meteorologist and climatologist professor also at Princeton University.

Dr. Ardem Patapoutian, born to an Armenian family in Beirut in 1967, had a different reason than his fellow foreign-born colleagues who also received Nobel Prizes in 2021 to immigrate to the U.S. Dr. Patapoutian had to flee Lebanon to escape its devastating civil war in 1986 at age 18. Once he arrived in California, he had to work several jobs (pizza delivery, doing electrical work, writing for an Armenian newspaper, etc.) to be able to pay for his studies. He earned his Ph.D. in biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1996. This year he received the Nobel Prize in medicine together with David Julius (American born) for their research that determines how the human body senses touch and other mechanical stimuli clarifying a long-standing mystery. He is now a neuroscience professor and investigator at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

Since 1901, of all the Nobel Prizes awarded to American researchers and scientists, 35% (109 of 311) have been awarded to immigrants increasing the reputation of American institutions and showing the willingness of the country to welcome new immigrants to the United States and help it remain a global leader in research, science, and technology.

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  1. https://www.forbes.com
  2. https://www.wikipedia.org

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