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Nobel Prize Winners Associated with BNL

Six Nobel Prizes have been awarded for discoveries made at Brookhaven by resident and visiting scientists. But science is about much more than the final discovery. It’s about collaboration, training, and the sharing of ideas. Whether as summer students, visiting scientists, or special guests, a large number of eventual Nobel laureates have spent time at the Lab, contributing to Brookhaven’s vast scientific expertise, and possibly leaving with award-winning ideas.

2008 | 2004 | 1996 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1989 | 1983 | 1981

2008: Crystal Structure of Green Fluorescent Protein

Roger Y. Tsien, University of California, San Diego, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Green fluorescent protein (GFP), which glows green under ultraviolet light, has become a ubiquitous tool in bioscience. It turns out that the structure of GFP was first solved with the help of x-ray studies at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source. Tsien was an author on that seminal paper.

2004: Studies of the “Strong” Force

Frank Wilczek, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nobel Prize in Physics

Wilczek's work as a theoretical physicist brought him to Brookhaven Lab several times. His first connection with the lab began in 1976, when he worked as an assistant visiting physicist from June to July. He returned in 1978 to serve on Brookhaven's High Energy Advisory Committee until 1982 and, during that time, also worked briefly as a guest research collaborator in the Physics Department. Additionally, Wilczek was appointed a Leland J. Haworth Distinguished Scientist at the lab from September 1994 until June 1997, and continues to provide advice to Brookhaven scientists on an informal basis.

1996: Discovery of Superfluidity in a Rare Form of Helium

David Lee, Cornell University, Nobel Prize in Physics

Two Brookhaven-related theoretical physicists — Victor Emery in the Physics Department and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Andrew Sessler — wrote a paper in 1960 that helped start pioneering experiments in liquid helium-3. In 1966, Lee spent a sabbatical year at Brookhaven, working on some of the techniques later used in his prize-winning research.

1994: Development of Neutron Spectroscopy

Bertram N. Brockhouse, Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories, Canada, Nobel Prize in Physics

In late 1952, Bertram Brockhouse was working at the National Research Experimental reactor at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in Ontario, when the machine was temporarily shut down because of an accident. For the next 10 months, Brockhouse served as the first foreign guest scientist in the Reactor Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory. During this time, he studied multiple scattering by flat specimens and magnetic scattering by zinc ferrite, powder magnetic diffraction of copper oxide, the development of improved monochromator crystals, the scattering by liquid aluminum, and a measurement of the incoherent cross sections of copper and gold.

Brockhouse, who received the Nobel Prize “for the development of neutron spectroscopy,” did not perform any actual spectroscopic work while at Brookhaven, but he still credits it as an important part of his scientific career.

“The time was very profitable for me,” Brockhouse said about Brookhaven in his Nobel Prize autobiography. “I worked on several experiments, with collaborators and without…I met Donald Hughes and Harry Palevsky, now also thinking about inelastic scattering and in particular thinking about the “Cold Neutron” or (Beryllium) Filter-Chopper method. And I met Leon Van Hove and learned about the new generalized (time-dependent) correlations, which Noel K. Pope and I were later to put to good use.”

Upon his return to Chalk River, Brockhouse developed a new way to “see” atoms by using neutrons – the triple-axis spectrometer. A spectrometer is a device that measures the angle, wavelength, and energy of light or other type of radiation, in this case neutron radiation caused by bombarding a sample with the particles. Today, triple axis neutron spectrometers are used by thousands of physicists in labs worldwide, including Brookhaven, to study the structure of condensed matter.

1993: Discovery of the First Binary Pulsar

Joseph Taylor, Princeton University, Nobel Prize in Physics

Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse of Princeton University shared the Nobel Prize in physics for their 1974 discovery of the first binary pulsar. Taylor, a former Brookhaven summer student, was elected in 1987 to the Board of Trustees of Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), which managed Brookhaven for the U.S. Department of Energy from 1947 to 1997. The 1989 Nobel in physics was shared by Norman Ramsey, one of AUI's founders and the first chairman of Brookhaven's Physics Department. Ramsey's prize was awarded for his invention of the separated oscillatory fields method for precisely measuring movements within an atom, an advance that provided the basis for the world time standard-keeping cesium atomic clock. 

1992: Theory of Electron Transfer Reactions in Chemical Systems

Rudolph A. Marcus, California Institute of Technology, 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

According to members of the Chemistry Department, some of the early definitive tests of Rudolph Marcus’s Nobel Prize-winning theoretical work were conducted at Brookhaven.

Marcus, a Canadian-born chemist who received the Nobel Prize “for his contributions to the theory of electron transfer reactions in chemical systems,” was on the faculty of Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn from 1951 to 1964. He started working on his electron-transfer theory in the early 1950s and soon discovered that out east, Brookhaven had a strong experimental program on electron-transfer reactions. Beginning in 1958, Marcus held a series of formal appointments at BNL, including consultant, visiting senior chemist, and research collaborator. Marcus’s Nobel Prize-winning work is a mathematical analysis of how the overall energy in a system of interacting molecules changes and induces an electron to jump from one molecule to another. It sheds light on many complex chemical reactions, including photosynthesis, corrosion, and electrical conductivity in polymers.

Of Marcus’s papers describing electron transfer, seven include Brookhaven Lab under his byline, and four are coauthored with former Brookhaven Chemistry Chairman Norman Sutin.

Marcus acknowledged BNL in an article on his work in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry: “Frequent visits to the Chemistry Department of the Brookhaven National Laboratory during this period and discussions there of experiments with Dick Dodson and Norman Sutin served as a considerable stimulus. It was indeed in a conversation with Norman around 1962 that I mentioned the cross-relation to him. Norman had the various rate constants at his fingertips and, to our delight, the relation seemed to work.”

Marcus’s last visit to the Lab was in 1987, when he returned for his third and final three-week stay as a Haworth Distinguished Scientist.

1989: Separated Oscillatory Fields Method

Norman Ramsey, Harvard University, Nobel Prize in Physics

Ramsey participated in the founding of Brookhaven National Laboratory and served as the first chair of the Physics Department.

1983: Genetic Transposition

Barbara McClintock, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Nobel Prize in Medicine

In the summer of 1979, a corn crop consisting of McClintock’s transposable element stocks was grown at Brookhaven National Laboratory, by arrangement with lab biologists Frances and Ben Burr.

1981: Increasing Understanding of Chemical Reactions

Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

A Brookhaven summer student from 1957 Roald Hoffmann, went on to share the 1981 Nobel in chemistry for his theoretical work in the behavior of atoms and molecules.


Did you know?

2004 Nobel Prize winner, physicist Frank Wilczek, was appointed a Leland J. Haworth Distinguished Scientist at BNL from September 1994 until June 1997, and continues to frequently provide advice to Brookhaven scientists on an informal basis.


A Brookhaven summer student from 1957, Roald Hoffmann, went on to share the 1981 Nobel in chemistry for his theoretical work in the behavior of atoms and molecules.


The 1989 Nobel in physics was shared by Norman Ramsey, the first chairman of Brookhaven's Physics Department. Ramsey's prize was awarded for his invention of the separated oscillatory fields method for precisely measuring movements within an atom, an advance that provided the basis for the world time standard-keeping cesium atomic clock.


In 1993, Joseph Taylor (below) and Russell Hulse of Princeton University shared the Nobel Prize in physics for their 1974 discovery of the first binary pulsar. Taylor, a former Brookhaven summer student, was elected in 1987 to the Board of Trustees of Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), which managed Brookhaven for the U.S. Department of Energy from 1947 to 1997.