Brookhaven National Lab and the Nobel Prize

Other BNL Nobel Prize Connections

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.