Nobel Prize

What are the characteristics of the laureates of this prize?

compiled by Philip Yim

Outline of this analysis


Analysis of the laureates from 1901 to 1950

An article written to explore this phenomena has revealed some interesting findings:

Nobel population 1901-50: anatomy of a scientific elite
Feature: November 2001 Next month sees the centenary of the award of the first Nobel prizes. But how representative are the physics Nobel laureates of the international physics community?

Candidates between 1901 and 1950 also came from a very narrow range of countries. Of the 2416 nominations in physics, three-quarters were for scientists from only four nations: Germany (25%), the US (21%), France (16%) and Britain (13%). Germany in particular did very well early on (see figure). The rest were mainly distributed among other European countries, notably Scandinavia, eastern Europe, the Netherlands and Italy. Candidates from other continents - Latin America (Peru and Brazil) or Asia (India and Japan) - accounted for less than 2% of nominations. Africa was completely absent from the Nobel map.


The vast majority of nominations in physics (67%) were for candidates based in university teaching departments and laboratories. The second largest group of nominees (10%) worked in institutes of technology - anything from technical schools to universities of technology. A few nominees worked in independent research institutes and government labs, such as James Dewar of the Royal Institution in London and Friedrich Kohlrausch of the German Bureau of Standards, although neither won a prize. Industrial physicists were also few and far between. Guglielmo Marconi, who shared the 1909 physics prize for his development of wireless telegraphy, was a rare example. The rest of the nominees included physicists such as Oliver Heaviside and William Crookes who had "no affiliation" and worked in laboratories that they had set up at home - a practice that was not uncommon at the start of the 20th century.

Germany's rise and fall

At the start of the 20th century, most physicists who were nominated for a Nobel prize came from just four nations: Britain, France, Germany and the US.

However, after Hitler came to power in 1933, he passed a law that prohibited German citizens from receiving a Nobel prize. This led to a sharp decline in the number of nominations for German physicists, with the few that remained coming from outside Germany. The data also reveal the spectacular growth of the US as a scientific power.

[Special note: The sudden drop for all the countries is due to World War II, and the prize is suspended for several years.]

US "dominates" Nobel prize after the World War II

But after the World War II, the tendency has become more "centralized", while US has most of the share.

Americans again dominate in science: What makes them so special?
By Svenska CNN Writer Bitte Roth

This year's science awards (1997) featured Americans in each of the four science categories.
And since the first prizes were awarded in 1901,
Americans have won 76 medicine prizes, 65 physics prizes, 44 chemistry prizes and 27 prizes in economics.


Survey in this year (2002): US laureates in every award except the literature

For example, this year (2002), all the following awards, including Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, and Economics has at least one US scholar awarded (Physics has two).


Age Range of the Laureates (Laureates from 1901 to 1979.)

Besides, the age at which they publish the works that got the award is (mostly at )

Fields (no. of person)
Age range (percentage of person)
Physics (111 )
31-35 (29.8%)
Chemistry (91 )
36-40 (22.1%) 31-35 (20.8%)
Physiology (103)
36-40 (33%)


Peace Prize US laureates (from 1973 to 2002)

Even in the peace prize, there are many US laureates (in compared to other countries):