Nobel Laureates of Cambridge


What’s it like to win a Nobel Prize?

We meet some of the 121 affiliates of the University of Cambridge who have been awarded the Nobel Prize – and find out how the honour was a turning point for one.

Nobel Prize Medal

“The Nobel committee has voted to award you a Nobel Prize.”

Every year a group of men and women will hear these words just minutes before the news is announced to the wider world. They will join almost a thousand Laureates since 1901 who, in the words of Alfred Nobel “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.

Nobel was a Swedish chemist, inventor, entrepreneur, businessman, poet and writer. He left a large share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) added to the annual accolades by establishing The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

A total of 121 affiliates of the University of Cambridge have been honoured with a Nobel Prize. We meet some of them here – and find out what it's like to become a Nobel Laureate.

The day I won a Nobel Prize – and what happened next

Didier Queloz

“It was a turning point in my life. It changed the way I see my work.”

On 8 October 2019, Professor Didier Queloz won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in the cosmos with Professor James Peebles (Princeton University) and Professor Michel Mayor (University of Geneva). The Prize celebrated his work leading to the first confirmation of an exoplanet – a planet that orbits a star other than our Sun.

Twenty-five years previously he'd been a PhD student with Mayor at the University of Geneva when he spotted that a light emitted from a star 50 light years from Earth was wobbling. It was as if something big was getting in the way. That something was an exoplanet.

“Back then, exoplanet research was a very small field. I think there were about 50 of us and we were seen as weirdos,” says Didier, who moved to the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in 2013.

The discovery changed the way we understand the universe and our place within it. But, he says, it took a few years of hard work convincing the world that his discovery wasn’t a data glitch but instead a gas-giant planet the size of Jupiter orbiting its star 51-Pegasi every four days.

More than 5,000 exoplanets have since been added to the list, including 300 discovered by Queloz himself, and space missions are being planned to discover more about the massive super-Earths, super-Jupiters, gas giants, rocky giants and mini-Neptunes.

“Finding the exoplanet offered a new window in astrophysics,” he says. “There are so many questions you can start to ask that will have an impact on us – questions about life, about why are we are like we are – and they become something we can tackle, starting with the nature and atmosphere of these planets.”

Few scientists have the chance to make a major discovery – did he think he might one day be awarded a Nobel Prize?

“To tell the truth, people have been mentioning the Nobel Prize to me since early on and in a strange way you get used to hearing this. But you also know there are so many great discoveries elsewhere that are deserving of a Nobel Prize. Thinking about it tends to fade away.”

On 8 October, the morning had started badly with a flat tyre on his bike. He was running a scientific meeting, so had ignored a call from an unknown Stockholm number – a call, it turned out, from the Nobel Prize Committee. But when a Cambridge number came up on his phone, he picked it up, assuming it to be about a contract that needed to be signed in order for his research to move ahead.

“It was the University of Cambridge press office asking if I’d heard the news. My first reaction was that it was a joke. And then I couldn’t think at all. My mind had a complete black-out for a couple of minutes because emotionally it was extremely intense.”

Later that day he was asked whether he thought the Prize would change his life. “I hope not too much,” he said. “I feel like a scientist. I really want to continue being a scientist.”

Three years later – does he feel any different?

“You know, it's such a high privilege to be awarded a Nobel Prize. It takes a bit of time for reflecting and thinking about what to do with that.”

The first thing he noticed was that he become known outside of his field. He’d had a hint of this in 2019 on the train home from London after a press conference with the world’s media, when a passenger asked if he was the same person he was reading about in the news. Yes, he said. Applause erupted up and down the carriage. “Nowadays, I can start talking with people out of my field and they seem to listen to me.”

And something else happened. He began to take note of the broader vision of Alfred Nobel to bequeath his fortune “to those who benefited humanity” through science, literature and peace.

“The concept that you can do something that is not benefitting one nation alone but is universally beneficial is so powerful that I now feel a little responsible for helping to promote the value of knowledge.”

He took the conscious decision to reduce his research by half. This has given him more time “to establish new ideas, promote research, generate interest, raise funds – all with the end point of trying to engage more people with the societal benefits of knowledge. I feel so fortunate to be a scientist – I had already lived with that passion for science for over 40 years when I won the Nobel Prize. I can certainly give a bit of that back if it can help the future of science.”

Queloz likens the process of science to building a cathedral “when you do an experiment to increase the sum of knowledge it’s like adding a brick, taking gradual steps towards something bigger. Cathedrals took generations to build. Having won a Nobel Prize, it feels like I can build a bit faster and maybe with a bigger impact on society. So yes, it was a turning point in my life. It changed the way I see my work.”

He now does a lot of public engagement “to explain what science is and what science is not, and why we need knowledge and truth. I'm trying to do this as best as I can,” he says, with his characteristic enthusiasm and beaming smile.

And he still leads a research group at the Cavendish Laboratory: “we are always moving towards new territory and every time you do something you are surprised – that’s the fascination of the field – it’s just that now my research has moved from detecting a planet to questions about life in the universe. I feel the same excitement today as I had as a PhD student. There are still so many more things to discover.”

Watch the film to find out more about the research behind the prize.

Prize Facts

  • 121 affiliates* of the University of Cambridge have been awarded the Nobel Prize since 1904
  • Trinity College has 34 Nobel Laureates, the most of any College at Cambridge
  • Dorothy Hodgkin was the first woman from Cambridge to have been awarded a Nobel Prize, for her work on the structure of compounds used in fighting anaemia
  • In 1950, Bertrand Russell became the first person from Cambridge to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, for his 1946 work A History of Western Philosophy
  • Frederick Sanger, from St John’s and a Fellow of King’s, is one of only four individuals to have been awarded a Nobel Prize twice – he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958 and 1980
  • William Lawrence Bragg was one of the youngest to win a Nobel Prize – he was only 25 years old – sharing the 1915 prize in Physics with his father Sir William Henry Bragg, who was also at Trinity College
  • Another father–son pair, both at Trinity College, won Nobel Prizes in Physics 31 years apart: JJ Thomson in 1906 and George Paget Thomson in 1937

*What does affiliate mean? Alumni, academics who carried out research at the University in postdoctoral or faculty positions, and official appointments such as visiting fellowships or lectureships. The list doesn't include informal positions, non-academic positions and honorary positions. We've also omitted several Laureates where there is insufficient information available to confirm their connection with the University.

Nobel Words

Sir Greg Winter

Sir Greg Winter

Chemistry (2018)

"Work on something important that matters to you but also most preferentially will matter to other people as well"

Read more

Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn

Physiology or Medicine (2009)

“The way you do science should have an intrinsic beauty to it”

Read more

Wole Solynka

Wole Solynka

Literature (1986)

”In a number of my works, I am just narrating a tale for whoever is interested”

Read more

Cambridge Laureates

2020

Sir Roger Penrose (St John's College, 1952, and honorary fellow)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.

2019

Didier Queloz (Trinity College) 
Nobel Prize in Physics with Michel Mayor from the University of Geneva for the first discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star (the other half of this prize was awarded to James Peebles, Princeton University, for his work on the evolution of the Universe).

Sir Peter Ratcliffe (Gonville & Caius, 1972)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with William G. Kaelin Jr (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA) and Gregg L. Semenza (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA), for discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

2018

Sir Gregory Winter (Trinity College alumnus and Master), MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Nobel Prize in Chemistry with George P Smith from the University of Missouri, USA, for the phage display of peptides and antibodies (the other half of this prize was awarded to Frances H Arnold, California Institute of Technology, USA, for the directed evolution of enzymes).

William Nordhaus (Senior Visitor, 1970-1971)
Awarded one half of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis. The other half of the Prize was awarded to Paul Romer for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis.

2017

Richard Henderson (Corpus Christi College and Darwin College) and Joachim Frank, former Cavendish senior research associate
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Jacques Dubochet from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

2016

Oliver Hart (King's College 1966)​
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his contributions to contract theory.

David Thouless (Trinity Hall 1952), Duncan Haldane (Christ’s College 1970) and Michael Kosterlitz (Gonville and Caius College 1962)
Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.

2015

Angus Deaton (Fitzwilliam College)​​
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare.

William Campbell (visiting researcher in the laboratory of Lord Soulsby, Baron of Swaffham Prior)
Awarded one half jointly of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Satoshi Ōmura for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites. The other half of the Prize was awarded to Tu Youyou for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria.

2013

Michael Levitt (Gonville and Caius College and Peterhouse)
​Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.

2012

John Gurdon (Churchill College and Magdalene College), Emeritus Professor in Cell Biology
Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.

2010

Robert G Edwards (Churchill College), Emeritus Professor of Human Reproduction
Nobel Prize in Medicine for the development of in vitro fertilisation.

Peter Diamond (Churchill College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for analysis of markets with search frictions.

Mario Vargas Llosa (former Simón Bolívar Professor, 1977-1978)
Nobel Prize in Literature for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat.

2009

Venki Ramakrishnan (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.

Elizabeth H Blackburn (Darwin College 1971)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

2008

Roger Y Tsien (Churchill College and Gonville and Caius College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein GFP.

2007

Martin Evans (Christ's College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells.

Eric Maskin (Jesus College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory

2005

Richard R Schrock
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.

2002

Sydney Brenner (King's College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.

John Sulston (Pembroke College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.

2001

Tim Hunt (Clare College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle.

Joseph Stiglitz (Gonville and Caius College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for analyses of markets with asymmetric information.

2000

Paul Greengard
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.

Alan McDiarmid (Sidney Sussex College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery and development of conductive polymers.

Kim Dae-jung (Visiting and Honorary Fellow of Clare College)
Nobel Peace Prize for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.

1998

John Pople (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of computational methods in quantum chemistry.

Amartya Sen (Trinity College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his contributions to welfare economics.

1997

John Walker (Sidney Sussex College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studying how a spinning enzyme creates the molecule that powers cells in muscles.

1996

James Mirrlees (Trinity College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for studying behaviour in the absence of complete information.

1995

Edward Lewis (Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, 1947-1948)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development.

1993

Robert Fogel (Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change.

1990

Octavio Paz (Simón Bolívar Professor) (Churchill College)
Nobel Prize in Literature for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterised by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.

1989

Norman Ramsey (Clare College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the separated field method.

1987

Jean-Marie Lehn (Alexander Todd Visiting Professor of Chemistry)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity.

Joseph Brodsky (Clare Hall)
Nobel Prize in Literature for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.

1986

Wole Soyinka (Churchill College, Overseas Fellow in 1973)
Nobel Prize in Literature for 'in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashion[ing] the drama of existence'.

1984

Richard Stone (Gonville and Caius College and Fellow of King's College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for developing a national income accounting system.

Georges Kohler and Cesar Milstein (Fellow of Darwin College and Fitzwilliam College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing a technique for the production of monoclonal antibodies.

1983

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Trinity College) and William Fowler (Pembroke College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the evolution and devolution of stars.

Gerard Debreu (Churchill College, Overseas Fellow 1972)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for reforming the theory of general equilibrium.

1982

Aaron Klug (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the structure of biologically active substances.

1980

Walter Gilbert (Trinity College) and Frederick Sanger (St John's College and Fellow of King's College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the theory of nucleotide links in nucleic acids.

1979

Abdus Salam (St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for electromagnetic and weak particle interactions.

Allan Cormack (St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing CAT scans.

1978

Pyotr Kapitsa (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the helium liquefier.

Peter Mitchell (Jesus College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the energy transfer processes in biological systems.

1977

Philip Anderson (Churchill College) and Nevill Mott (Gonville and Caius College and St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the behaviour of electrons in magnetic solids.

James Meade (Christ's College and Trinity College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for contributions to the theory of international trade.

1976

Milton Friedman (Gonville and Caius College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and the complexity of stabilisation policy.

1974

Antony Hewish (Gonville and Caius College and Churchill College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars.

Martin Ryle (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of aperture synthesis.

1973

Brian Josephson (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the tunnelling in superconductors and semiconductors.​

Ivar Giaever (Clare Hall)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the tunnelling in superconductors and semiconductors​.

Patrick White (King's College)
Nobel Prize in Literature for an epic and psychological narrative art.

1972

Kenneth J Arrow (Churchill College) and John Hicks (Gonville and Caius College)
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for the equilibrium theory.

Rodney Porter (Pembroke College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for the chemical structure of antibodies.

Stanford Moore
Awarded one half jointly of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with William Stein for their contribution to the understanding of the connection between chemical structure and catalytic activity of the active centre of the ribonuclease molecule. The other half of the Prize was awarded to Christian Anfinsen for his work on ribonuclease, especially concerning the connection between the amino acid sequence and the biologically active conformation.

1970

Luis Leloir (Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Biochemistry, 1936-1937)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of sugar nucleotides and their role in the biosynthesis of carbohydrates.

 

1969

Murray Gell-Mann (Churchill College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.

1968

Lars Onsager (Fulbright Scholar with David Schoenberg at the Mond Laboratory)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the reciprocal relations bearing his name, which are fundamental for the thermodynamics of irreversible processes.

Har Gobind Khorana
Awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.

1967

Ronald Norrish (Emmanuel College) and George Porter (Emmanuel College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the study of fast chemical reactions.

George Wald (Guggenheim Fellow, 1963-1964)
Awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Ragnar Granit and Haldan Keffer Hartline for their discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye.

1965

André Lwoff
Awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with François Jacob and Jacques Monod for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.

1964

Dorothy Hodgkin (Newnham College and Girton College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the structure of compounds used to fight anaemia.

1963

Alan Hodgkin (Trinity College) and Andrew Huxley (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for the transmission of impulses along a nerve fibre.

1962

John Kendrew (Trinity College) and Max Perutz (Peterhouse)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for determining the structure of haemoproteins.

Maurice Wilkins (St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for determining the structure of DNA.

Francis Crick (Gonville and Caius College and Churchill College) and James Watson (Clare College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for determining the structure of DNA.

1959

Philip Noel-Baker (King's College)
Nobel Prize in Peace for work towards global disarmament.

1958

Frederick Sanger (St John's College and Fellow of King's College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the structure of the insulin molecule.

1957

Alexander Todd (Christ's College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on nucleotides.

1954

Max Born (Gonville and Caius College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for fundamental research into quantum mechanics.

1953

Hans Krebs
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the citric acid cycle.

1952

Richard Synge (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing partition chromatography.

1952

Archer Martin (Peterhouse)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing partition chromatography.

1951

John Cockcroft (St John's College and Churchill College) and Ernest Walton (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for using accelerated particles to study atomic nuclei.

1950

Cecil Powell (Sidney Sussex College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for photography of nuclear processes.

Bertrand Russell (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Literature for A History of Western Philosophy (1946).

1948

Patrick Blackett (Magdalene College and King's College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for nuclear physics and cosmic radiation.

1947

Edward Appleton (St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the Appleton Layer.

1945

Ernst Chain (Fitzwilliam College) and Howard Florey (Gonville and Caius College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine (with Alexander Fleming) for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.

1937

George Thomson (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for interference in crystals irradiated by electrons.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Fitzwilliam College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for combustion in biology.

1936

Henry Dale (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for the chemical transmission of nerve impulses.

1935

James Chadwick (Gonville and Caius College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the neutron.

1933

Paul Dirac (St John's College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for quantum mechanics.

1932

Lord Edgar Adrian (Trinity College) and Charles Sherrington (Gonville and Caius College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for work on the function of neurons.

1929

Frederick Hopkins (Trinity College and Emmanuel College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering growth stimulating vitamins

1928

Owen Richardson (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for creating Richardson's Law.

1927

Charles Wilson (Sidney Sussex College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the cloud chamber.

Arthur Holly Compton
Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering wavelength change in diffused X-rays.

1925

Austen Chamberlain (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Peace for work on the Locarno Pact (1925).

1922

Niels Bohr (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for investigating atomic structure and radiation.

Francis Aston (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on mass spectroscopy.

Archibald Hill (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Medicine for work on heat production in the muscles.

1918

Fritz Haber
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the synthesis of ammonia from its elements.

1917

Charles Barkla (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the characteristics of X-radiation.

1915

Lawrence Bragg (Trinity College) and William Bragg (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for analysing crystal structure using X-rays.

1908

Ernest Rutherford (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for atomic structure and radioactivity.

1906

JJ Thomson (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for investigating the electrical conductivity of gases.

1904

Lord Rayleigh – John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (Trinity College)
Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering Argon.

Published 30 September 2022

Written by Louise Walsh
Archival fact checking by Charis Goodyear
Banner image by Alison Fair

Photography
Nobel Prize Medal: by kind permission of the Nobel Foundation. The Nobel Prize Medal is a registered trademark of the Nobel Foundation.
Didier Queloz: Craig Brierley
Greg Winter: Nick Saffell
Elizabeth Blackburn: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: © Prolineserver 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License