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Brookhaven National Laboratory is home to world-class research facilities and scientific departments which attract resident and visiting scientists in many fields. This outstanding mix of machine- and mind-power has on seven occasions produced research deemed worthy of the greatest honor in science: the Nobel Prize.


The Structure and Function of the Ribosome

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, a former employee in Brookhaven’s biology department, and a long-time user of Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), and Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University, also a long-time NSLS user, shared the prize with Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science for studying the structure and function of the ribosome.



Structural and Mechanistic Studies of Ion Channels

Roderick MacKinnon, M.D., a visiting researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory, won one half of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work explaining how a class of proteins helps to generate nerve impulses — the electrical activity that underlies all movement, sensation, and perhaps even thought.



The Detection of Cosmic Neutrinos

Raymond Davis Jr., a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for detecting solar neutrinos, ghostlike particles produced in the nuclear reactions that power the sun. Davis shared the prize with Masatoshi Koshiba of Japan, and Riccardo Giacconi of the U.S.



Discovery of the Muon Neutrino

Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger received the 1988 Physics prize for their 1962 discovery of the muon-neutrino. At the time, only the electron-neutrino was known. Using Brookhaven's Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, they detected a new type of the ghostlike particles that pass through everything.



Discovery of Violations of Fundamental Symmetry Principles

The 1980 physics Nobel was awarded to James W. Cronin (right) and Val L. Fitch, both then of Princeton University, whose 1963 experiment at Brookhaven's Alternating Gradient Synchrotron discovered a flaw in physics' central belief that the universe is symmetrical. They discovered the phenomenon known as "CP violation".



Discovery of a New Heavy Elementary Particle

The 1976 Nobel Prize in physics was shared by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who used Brookhaven's Alternating Gradient Synchrotron to discover a new particle and confirm the existence of the charmed quark. Samuel C.C. Ting was credited for finding what he called the "J" particle, the same particle as the "psi" found at nearly the same time by Burton Richter.



Investigation of Parity Laws

In 1957, T. D. Lee (left), of Columbia University, and C. N. Yang, then of Brookhaven, interpreted results of particle decay experiments at Brookhaven's Cosmotron particle accelerator. They discovered particles which had the same masses, lifetimes and scattering behaviors, but which decayed differently, proving that the fundamental and supposedly absolute law of parity conservation can be violated.


Other Brookhaven Nobel Prize Connections

2023: mRNA Vaccines Against COVID-19

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman ”for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.” The press release and video announcement of the prize mention the importance of earlier work that introduced the “promising idea” of mRNA vaccines. This included the demonstration “40 years ago that large amounts of mRNA can be produced without cells, for example, using the T7 in vitro transcription system.” The T7 system was developed in the 1980s by F. William Studier, then a senior biophysicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in collaboration with colleagues in the Biology Department. The T7 system has been used by researchers and companies around the world to make mRNA and proteins for research and for products. Karikó and Weissman used T7 in their research to show how modifying mRNA could make it more stable for use in vaccines. And Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, makers of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, use T7-derived components in the production of their life-saving shots. Details…

2015: Neutrino Experiments

Physicists Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald were awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for their roles in demonstrating the “flavor-changing” property of neutrinos. Kajita presented the discovery that neutrinos from the atmosphere switch between two identities (“flavors”) on their way to the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan, while McDonald led experiments showing that neutrinos from the Sun were not disappearing on their way to Earth, but rather changing their flavor before arriving at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in Canada. Brookhaven Lab scientists made important contributions to both of these neutrino experiments, fueled by the Lab’s legacy in the study of these abundant yet elusive subatomic particles. Details...

2013: Higgs Boson

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their prediction of the Higgs particle and the mechanism by which it gives mass to the building blocks of our universe. This amazing particle, discovered at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012, makes possible our very existence. More than 100 scientists, technicians and engineers at Brookhaven National Laboratory have played significant roles in designing, building and conducting the experiments that led to the Higgs discovery. For example, Brookhaven scientists and engineers built 20 of the superconducting magnets that make up the 17-mile circular LHC accelerator, drawing on experience gained by building our own Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). Brookhaven Lab led the U.S. effort on the ATLAS Experiment, one of LHC's two large Higgs-tracking detectors. Many essential components of ATLAS were designed and constructed by physicists, engineers and technicians at Brookhaven and Stony Brook University. And Brookhaven serves as a central hub for collecting, analyzing, and distributing the data from the ATLAS to the physicists around the world who brought the Higgs out of hiding. Details...

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
Wilcek'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, 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 did not perform any actual spectroscopic work while at Brookhaven, but he still credits it as an important part of his scientific career.

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, Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Some of the early definitive tests of Marcus’s Nobel Prize-winning theoretical work were conducted at Brookhaven. Marcus, a Canadian-born chemist, 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 Brookhaven Lab, including consultant, visiting senior chemist, and research collaborator. 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 Brookhaven 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.”

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.