Cancer connection

Combining therapeutics with dietarychanges could prove effective against some forms of cancer. Continue Reading →

Climate in crisis

Advances in reclaiming carbon from wastewater, lithium-ion-battery recycling, innovative building materials and new approaches to urban infrastructures are active areas of research at Princeton. Continue Reading →

Between living bodies and objects

Text courtesy of the Lewis Center for the Arts Dancers navigate sculptures’ dangerously sharp elements in the performance installation Two Person Operating System Type 2, a collaboration between Lewis Center for the Arts’ Martha Friedman, Continue Reading →

A NOBEL YEAR – Princeton scholars and alumni received an unprecedented five Nobel Prizes

Nobel medal
David MacMillan


‘This idea took off’

By Liz Fuller-Wright

David MacMillan, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in inventing the field of organocatalysis, which finds revolutionary ways to design and build small organic molecules to drive chemical reactions.

Organocatalysts, which are greener than traditional metal catalysts, are used to construct new drugs and materials, and their impact ranges from industrial applications to pharmaceuticals to everyday products like clothing, shampoo, carpet fibers and more.

“All scientists have so many ideas along the way,” MacMillan said. “We have way more ideas than ever succeed — but this one took off, and it took off like gangbusters.”

Princeton University senior meteorologist Syukuro “Suki” Manabe


‘Following my curiosity’

By Liz Fuller-Wright

Princeton University senior meteorologist Syukuro “Suki” Manabe received the Nobel Prize in physics for his climate science research, which laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.

Manabe has been on the Princeton faculty since 1968. During a press conference on the day of the announcement, Manabe repeatedly cited the “great fun” to be had in modeling Earth’s climate and urged students to follow their curiosity and their joy, rather than trying to predict what research may prove impactful in future decades. “I never imagined that this thing I was beginning to study [would have] such huge consequences,” he said. “I was doing it just because of my curiosity.”

Maria Ressa, Joshua Angrist and David Card


Safeguarding freedom, insights on the labor market

By Denise Valenti

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Princeton graduate Maria Ressa of the Class of 1986 for her efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for more than 30 years, serving as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta and founding the online news site

Princeton alumni David Card and Joshua Angrist were awarded the 2021 Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences for providing new insights about the labor market. Card (Ph.D. ’83) taught at Princeton from 1983-96 and is now at the University of California-Berkeley. Angrist (Ph.D. ’89) is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Dean’s welcome

Computer drawing of proposed entrance to new facility
Pablo Debenedetti

An extraordinary year for research

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that research can provide solutions to global challenges.

Without research, we would not have the benefit of highly effective and safe vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. We would not understand how the virus spreads, and how important masking is as a public health measure. In other words, we would not have the tools that will help us turn the corner on this deadly pandemic.

As we celebrate research that provides direct benefits to our everyday lives, it is important to recognize that many of these discoveries originated as open-ended explorations, questions asked not with personal or corporate gain in mind, but because the asker wanted to know the answer.
Princeton is a place that encourages the pursuit of open-ended questions of the kind that can lead to unexpected places and, in some cases, to great societal rewards. Whether the research is aimed broadly at enriching human knowledge or aimed at a specific challenge, curiosity is often the starting point.

This year’s Nobel Prize winners, five of whom have substantial ties to Princeton, remind us of the
impact of open-ended, curiosity-driven research. Two faculty members received Nobel Prizes, in
chemistry and physics, and three alumni won Nobel Prizes, one for peace and two for economic sciences.
Physics Nobelist Syukuro Manabe, a senior meteorologist who has been at Princeton since 1968, earned the prize for work that laid the foundation for the development of current climate models. Manabe stated of his research, “I was doing it just because of my curiosity. I really enjoyed studying climate change.”

David MacMillan, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for making catalysts from inexpensive organic materials. Little did he know at the time that the innovation would transform the manufacture of products like pharmaceuticals, clothing and shampoo. “What we care about is trying to invent chemistry that has an impact on society and can do some good,” MacMillan said, “and I am thrilled to have a part in that.”

These are sentiments that most of our faculty researchers at Princeton can endorse, whether we are conducting open-ended, theoretical work or, as you’ll read in these pages, trying to address societal challenges such as preventing pandemics, treating cancer, or protecting our environment.

At Princeton, research and curiosity are integrally woven into the endeavors of our undergraduates and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty and research staff. I believe these values help explain Princeton’s disproportionate share of Nobels this year.

And when the next pandemic strikes — or when we are called upon as a society to address the consequences of our continued reliance on fossil fuels — curiosity will be one of the drivers that spurs our researchers to bold explorations, some producing tangible benefits for humankind, and others enriching our intellect.

Pablo G. Debenedetti
Dean for Research
Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science
Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering