American Research Universities and the Nobel Prize

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish inventor and manufacturer who became wealthy in the late 19th century from his 355 inventions, the most well known of which is dynamite. In his will in 1895, he established a significant endowment and procedure by which a set of annual international awards was to be bestowed by a Board representing Swedish and Norwegian institutions. These awards would be granted in recognition of “academic, cultural, and scientific advances that constitute outstanding contributions to humanity”.

Nobel prizes continue to be awarded in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, Economics, Peace, and Literature. Prizes for each of these fields aren’t necessarily granted every year if the Board determines that an award isn’t justified. Single awards are often split among multiple recipients (laureates).

A variable monetary prize ($1.2 million in 2016) accompanies each award. If there are multiple laureates, the monetary prize is divided among them at the discretion of the Board. It’s common, but not required, that laureates donate their prize money to benefit scientific, cultural, or humanitarian causes. Most Nobel Prizes in scientific and economics are awarded to individuals in association with their affiliated institution. In a majority of cases, the affiliated institution is a research university.

Last month, we posted an article titled “America’s Great Research Universities” that described how U.S. academic institutions have risen to the forefront of scientific achievement worldwide. Evidence of this status lies in the 881 Nobel Prizes that have been awarded to laureates associated with American research universities, far more than the universities of any other country. Table A below lists these American universities. They’re ranked by the number of individual and shared Nobel laureates associated with each institution.

Table A: Top 40 American Research Universities – Nobel Laureates







1Harvard University151
2Columbia University101
3University of Chicago89
4Massachusetts Institute of Technology83
5University of California – Berkeley69
6Stanford University58
7Yale University52
8Cornell University43
9Princeton University37
10Johns Hopkins University36
11New York University35
12California Institute of Technology33
13University of Pennsylvania29
14University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign24
15Rockefeller University24
16University of Minnesota23
17Washington University in St. Louis22
18Carnegie Mellon21
19University of California – San Diego20
20University of Michigan – Ann Arbor20
21University of Wisconsin – Madison19
22Case Western Reserve University16
23University of California – Los Angeles15
24City University of New York13
25Duke University12
26University of Washington – Seattle12
27Northwestern University11
28University of Colorado – Boulder11
29Purdue University10
30University of California – Santa Barbara10
31University of Texas at Austin9
32Boston University8
33University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill8
34University of Rochester8
35Brown University7
36University of Southern California7
37Vanderbilt University7
38Indiana University – Bloomington7
39University of Maryland – College Park7
40University of Virginia – Charlottesville7

In addition to the 40 institutions listed above, there are 77 other American colleges and universities that have each been awarded between 1 and 6 Nobel Prizes. However, one should not assume that American research universities are so dominant that scientists and institutions in other countries haven’t also been successful in garnering Nobel Prizes through the years. The top ten non-U.S. Nobel Prize winning institutions are listed in Table B below.

 Table B: Top 10 International Research Universities – Nobel Laureates







3University of Cambridge – U.K.90
7University of Oxford – U.K.58
10University of Paris – France51
11University of Gottingen – Germany46
13Heidelberg University – Germany41
14Humboldt University of Berlin – Germany40
17Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – Germany35
20ETH Zurich – Switzerland31
22University College London – U.K.27
23University of Manchester – U.K.25

The number of Nobel laureates isn’t, by itself, sufficient reason for a student to target a particular institution for admission, but it’s a meaningful factor in the identification of best-fit universities for a science-oriented student. The Nobel Prize is relevant in an assessment of the relative quality of research universities. In fact, third-party ranking services like U.S. News & World Report and Money Magazine use it as part of their calculations.

A rewarding career in science based on an education at one of America’s top-tier research universities is an excellent strategy for a motivated student with the requisite aptitude. If you feel that you are such a student, you should retain the services of IvySelect as your college admissions consulting firm to guide you through the complex admissions process.

IvySelect provides superior comprehensive and individualized counseling based on years of experience in assisting students to attain their educational goals. Some of the elite research institutions to which our students have been admitted include the eight members of the Ivy League; Penn, Columbia, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth, as well as Stanford, MIT, Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, USC, Duke, NYU, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Swarthmore, Caltech, Virginia, Berkeley, Michigan, and UCLA.

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