Nobel Laureates

Nobel Laureates

Of the 22 Nobel Prizes awarded to UC Berkeley faculty, approximately one-third are from Physics! The UC Berkeley Physics Department is proud to have nine long-term faculty members and seven alums as Nobel Prize winners.

The complete list of UC Berkeley Nobel Prize winners can be found here.

Ernest O. Lawrence

Physics, 1939 
In 1930, at the age of 29, Ernest O. Lawrence unlocked the gates to the world of the atom with his invention of the cyclotron — an ingenious tool destined to become as important to nuclear science as Galileo’s telescope was to astronomy. Lawrence also invented a new way of doing science. His brilliance and willingness to share his discoveries attracted the brightest young scientists of the time to Berkeley. His personal credo was that there was enough research for all, and he rejoiced in the success of others as in his own. Read more

Edwin McMillan, Glenn Seaborg 

Chemistry, 1951
A key member of Lawrence’s Rad Lab team, physicist Edwin McMillan searched for an element heavier than uranium. In 1940, he discovered neptunium. Later, Glenn Seaborg, a young chemist who also worked in Lawrence’s laboratory, continued McMillan’s studies on the transuranium elements. In 1942, Seaborg discovered plutonium, a highly radioactive element. Seaborg and his co-workers went on to discover eight more rare-earth elements and a host of valuable medical isotopes, including iodine-131, which was used to prolong his own mother’s life. Read more

Owen Chamberlain, Emilio Segrè

Physics, 1959
In the period following World War II, the existence of the anti-proton, the atomic particle that would prove nature’s symmetry, still eluded scientists. In 1955, using Berkeley’s powerful new atom smasher, Owen Chamberlain and Emilio Segrè discovered the anti-proton. This discovery signaled a major leap in the study of matter and anti-matter. Read more

Donald Glaser

Physics, 1960 
In particle physics, as elsewhere, a picture is worth a thousand words. During the early 1950s, physicist Donald Glaser had this in mind when he noticed the track left by a stream of bubbles in a bottle of beer. This serendipitous event led to the invention of the bubble chamber, a tool second only in importance to Lawrence’s cyclotron. Glaser’s invention allowed scientists to track the movement of atomic particles and marked an important step in the exploration of the structure of matter. Read more

Charles Townes

Physics, 1964
Physicist Charles Townes began his research into the properties of light after designing radar systems during World War II. Working with his brother-in-law, Townes conceived the idea for amplifying light into an intense beam that could penetrate the hardest materials on earth. This led to the development of the laser, a tool that has revolutionized industry, medicine, communications and astronomy. Read more

Luis Alvarez

Physics, 1968
The newly invented bubble chamber captured the imagination of scientist Luis Alvarez, who recognized its great value to physics and set out to improve its design. He substituted hydrogen for ether, which produced a clearer track of speeding particles. This hydrogen bubble chamber vastly increased our knowledge of the atom, and changed the course of nuclear science. Read more

George Smoot

Physics, 2006
Astrophysicist George Smoot headed a team that was able to image the infant universe, revealing its newborn form and the patterns which have shaped the universe ever since. Smoot's work helped to change the nature of the quest to understand the origin and evolution of the universe. Historically, cosmology had been essentially a theoretical field. Smoot was one of the first pioneering astrophysicists who devised ways to conduct experiments that produced data and information about the early universe. "People have contemplated the origin and evolution of the universe since before the time of Aristotle," said Smoot. "Very recently, the era of speculation has given way to a time of science. The advance of knowledge and of scientific ingenuity means that at long last, we can actually test our theories." Read more

Saul Perlmutter

Physics, 2011
Saul Perlmutter, who led one of two teams that simultaneously discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, to be shared with two members of the rival team. Perlmutter, 52, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), led the Supernova Cosmology Project that, in 1998, discovered that galaxies are receding from one another faster now than they were billions of years ago. He will share the prize with Adam G. Riess, 41, of The Johns Hopkins University and Brian Schmidt, 44, of Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories, two members of the competing High-Z Supernova Search team. When the discovery was made, Riess was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley working with astronomer Alex Filippenko, who at different times was a member of both teams. Read more

Read more about Saul Perlmutter in the UC Berkeley News

Physics Alumni

The following alumni were also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, unless otherwise stated:

1997: Steve Chu (PhD ’76)

Awarded jointly with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light” (Advisor: Eugene Commins)

2004: David J. Gross (Ph.D. ’66) 

Awarded jointly with H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek "for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction” (Advisor: Geoffrey Chew)

2000 in Chemistry: Alan J. Heeger (Ph.D. ’61) 

Awarded jointly with Alan G. MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa “for the discovery and development of conductive polymers” (Advisor: Alan Portis)

1998: Robert B. Laughlin (BA ’72)

Awarded jointly with Horst L. Störmer and Daniel C. Tsui “for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations.”

2006: John Mather

Awarded jointly with George Smoot "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation". Read more

1955: Willis E. Lamb, Jr. (PhD ’38)

Awarded "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum” (Advisor: Robert J. Oppenheimer)

2012: David Wineland (BA ’65)

Awarded jointly with Serge Haroche "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems" Read more