Nobel Prize Winning Oxbridge Graduates | Varsity Education

Nobel Prize Winning Oxbridge Graduates

As two of the world’s top universities, it comes as no surprise that Oxford and Cambridge each have an extensive list of affiliated Nobel Prize winners, many of whom were attendees, researchers or academic staff. By this definition, Cambridge can claim 96 Nobel Prize winners, significantly more than Oxford. However, there are plenty of Nobel Prize winners who launched their careers by studying as graduates or post-graduates at Oxford or Cambridge too. Here are 10 of them:

  1. Aung San Suu Kyi
    Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 in recognition of “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” in her home country of Myanmar. She studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics as an undergraduate at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and then went on to obtain a master’s degree in Politics.After spending many of the subsequent years abroad, Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988 to look after her ailing mother. However, she was put under house arrest by the country’s military government in 1989, having helped found the National League for Democracy (NLD) the previous year. In 1990, the ruling military junta called a general election which was won resoundingly by the NLD. However, the government refused to accept the result, and for the next 21 years Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for a total of 15 years, separated from her sons and her husband. Although she was permitted to leave Myanmar under the condition that she would never return, she refused to do so, sacrificing her family life to remain committed to her people.
  2. Peter Medawar
    Peter Medawar, born in Brazil to a Lebanese father and British mother, shared the 1960 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Frank Macfarlane Burnet for the “discovery of acquired immunological tolerance.” This research became the foundation of tissue and organ transplantation. He graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, with a first-class honours degree in zoology in 1935, and began his involvement with transplant research during World War 2, when he investigated possible improvements in skin grafts.
  3. Dorothy Hodgkin
    Dorothy Hodgkin became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, for her work in developing protein crystallography.  She is credited with advancing the technique of X-ray crystallography, a method used to determine the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. Dorothy was born in Cairo to two archaeologists. She started studying Chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, at the age of 18, and in 1932 she became the third woman to ever receive a first-class honours degree at the university.
  4. Bertrand Russell
    A philosopher, mathematician, writer and political activist to name just a few of his pursuits and talents, Bertrand Russell was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.” He is frequently credited with being one of the founders of analytic philosophy, but dedicated much of his life to political and social activism.Russell was a scion of one of England’s foremost aristocratic families. His grandfather had served twice as the British prime minister, and his parents were prominent figures, known for their radical views. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  5. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
    Born in Lahore in 1910, Chandrasekhar was awarded a scholarship by the Government of India to pursue graduate studies in Trinity College Cambridge, having already achieved his bachelor’s degree in physics in Chennai.  He would later earn his PhD at Cambridge too.Chandrasekhar was a highly influential astrophysicist and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, with William A. Fowler, in 1983 for his work on the structure and evolution of stars. His work led to many of the best theoretical models of the late evolutionary stages of massive stars and black holes. The Chandrasekhar limit is a scientific term which describes the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star.
  6. Elizabeth Blackburn
    The only Tasmanian-born Nobel laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009. She shared it with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak for co-discovering the enzyme telomerase. Having initially obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the University of Melbourne, she studied for her PhD in Cambridge, and subsequently spent much of her career working in the United States, focusing on molecular biology.
  7. Amartya Sen
    Awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998 for his work in welfare economics, Amartya Sen was born in present-day Bangladesh. After earning a degree in Economics in Kolkata and surviving oral cancer, Sen earned his second Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College in Cambridge, studying Economics again and graduating with a First Class degree. He was later elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College, and he decided to study philosophy. Sen has written many influential books and papers in the field of development economics, and argues that development should advance the freedom of individuals rather than simply focus on increasing measures of wealth.
  8. Abdus Salam
    Abdus Salam was a Pakistani theoretical physicist who became the first Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize in science in 1979, shared with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for his contribution to the electroweak unification theory. He was awarded a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1946, which he completed three years later, receiving a Double First-Class Honours in Mathematics and Physics. After a short spell at home, he returned to Cambridge to study for a PhD in Theoretical Physics. Salam rapidly attracted international attention for his work, and is considered a major figure in 20th century physics.
  9. J. Michael Kosterlitz
    The son of award winning biochemist Hans Kosterlitz, Michael was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016 for his work on condensed matter physics. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the latter before going on to earn his Doctorate from Brasenose College, Oxford.
  10. V. S. Naipaul
    V. S. Naipaul is a Trinidadian novelist who was knighted in 1989 and won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. As a young man, he won a scholarship from the Trinidad Government and chose to study at Oxford, inspired by his journalist father to become a writer. He subsequently wrote a series of novels and non-fiction books, focusing on his Caribbean home, the legacy of empire, his travels to India and Africa and more. The Nobel Prize was awarded to Naipaul “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.”

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