Environment & Science

10 fun facts about California's Nobel Prize winners

A screenshot of the Nobel Prizes webpage showing the 2013 chemistry laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel.
A screenshot of the Nobel Prizes webpage showing the 2013 chemistry laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel.
Claudio Bresciani/AP

This week, USC professor Arieh Warshel was one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. They pioneered work on computer programs that simulate complex chemical processes.

Warshel now joins the list of more than a dozen Southern Californian chemists who've won the award over the past six decades.

"There are actually 16 chemists that have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Southern California — you know, places like Caltech and USC. UCLA has a few," said Dr. Marinda Wu, president of the American Chemical Society.

"UCLA, in fact, has four Nobel Chemistry professors over these number of years since 1950," Wu told KPCC's Nick Roman.

Following up on that fun fact, we dove into the records of past winners kept on the official Nobel Prize website to see what we could learn about California's other laureates.

But first, a caveat. Our list includes winners who were affiliated with or working at an institution in the state of California at the time of their award. It's quite possible you would come up with a different list if you were to count an affiliation only when the work being honored was carried out at that location. 

Keeping that in mind, here are nine more fun facts about California's celebrity scientists and poets, followed by a full list of California winners since 1901, when the first Nobel Prizes were given.

1. Eighty-five Nobel laureates were affiliated with California institutions at the time of their award. That's out of 834 individuals to win a Nobel between 1901 and 2012, which puts California's contribution to the global brain trust at more than 10 percent.

2. Only one Nobel Prize in Literature has been given to a California native, and that was to John Steinbeck in 1962 (who's not counted in the 85 above).

3. Only two women are among California's laureates. That's out of a total of 45 women honored in the history of the prize.

4. A little more than 15 percent of the 555 total prizes awarded between 1901 and 2012 went to recipients who were then working at or affiliated with California institutions.

5. A Californian is the only person so far to win two unshared Nobel Prizes. Linus Carl Pauling won the Chemistry Prize in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1962. Pauling was working at Caltech in Pasadena at the time of both awards. Solo prizes are more common than shared, but winning twice is rare. Linus is one of only four people ever to win more than once. Another American, Wisconsin-born John Bardeen, shares that distinction, winning for physics in 1956 and 1972.

6. One California institution boasts father-and-son laureates. Arthur Kornberg won the prize in physiology/medicine in 1959. His son, Arthur, won for chemistry in 2006. Both were working for Stanford University when they won.

7. Two Californians were among the 10 youngest people to win a Nobel Prize. Winning for physics at just 31, Carl D. Anderson actually made the top five youngest list. He won in 1936 while working at Caltech. Rudolf Mössbauer won for physics at 32. He won in 1961 while working jointly for Caltech and Munich Technical University.

8. The second oldest person ever to win a Nobel Prize was Lloyd Shapley of UCLA, who won the prize in economic sciences in 2012 at the ripe age of 89.

9. Twenty-one laureates were affiliated with Stanford University at the time of their award, more than any other institution in the state. UC Berkeley boasts 18, and Caltech follows closely with 15.

For the full list, explore the table below.

Source: NobelPrize.org