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

Nobel medal
David MacMillan

NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY

‘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

NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS

‘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

NOBEL PRIZES FOR PEACE, ECONOMICS

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 Rappler.com.

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.

Of lava lamps and living cells

Professor Clifford Brangwynne sees similarities between living cells and salad dressing, in which oil and vinegar separate according to the laws of physics. The idea has caught on. Continue Reading →

Cascade sets the stage for superconductivity in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene

Princeton researchers used scanning tunneling microscopy to observe what happens when they add electrons to magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene. They observed a cascade of transitions in the electronic properties, patterns that could help unlock how superconductivity emerge in these materials. Continue Reading →

Motion-capture technology assists in neuroscience studies

A new technology can automatically track animals’ body parts in video to measure the behavior of animals. Continue Reading →

Princeton scientists discover surprising quantum effect in an exotic superconductor

Superconductors are already in use in various capacities, but newer iron-based superconductors are an active area of investigation. Researchers led by a Princeton team have studied what happens to the superconducting nature of these materials when impurities are added. The results shed light on how superconductivity behaves in these materials Continue Reading →

A quantum magnet with a topological twist

Taking their name from an intricate Japanese basket pattern, kagome magnets are thought to have electronic properties that could be valuable for future quantum devices and applications. Theories predict that some electrons in these materials Continue Reading →

Controllable electron flow in quantum wires

Princeton University researchers have demonstrated a new way of making controllable “quantum wires” in the presence of a magnetic field, according to a new study published online today in the journal Nature. The researchers detected channels Continue Reading →

Finding meaning among the junk

By Kevin McElwee Only about 10 percent of the human genome are actually genes. The other 90 percent? Once called “junk DNA,” researchers now know that this genetic material contains on-off switches that can activate Continue Reading →

Beyond Einstein: Physicists find surprising connections in the cosmos

By Catherine Zandonella Albert Einstein’s desk can still be found on the second floor of Princeton’s physics department. Positioned in front of a floor-to-ceiling blackboard covered with equations, the desk seems to embody the spirit Continue Reading →

Eight win Guggenheim Fellowships

PHOTO CREDITS FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: TOP ROW: JOHN LUCAS, RICHARD SODEN, PETER HURLEY, HANNAH DUNPHY BOTTOM ROW: DAVID BROWN, NINA KATCHADOURIAN, DENISE APPLEWHITE, JILL DOLAN Eight Princeton faculty members have received 2017 Guggenheim Fellowships Continue Reading →

The Little Book of Black Holes

Authors: Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius, professors of physics Publisher: Princeton University Press, October 2017 Black holes, predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago, have long intrigued scientists and Continue Reading →

Students create exotic state of matter

By Bennett McIntosh IN THE SUMMER OF 2015, Princeton students Joseph Scherrer and Adam Bowman experienced something few undergraduates can claim: they built, from scratch, a laser system capable of coaxing lithium atoms into a Continue Reading →

Atom catcher: With lasers and magnets, Waseem Bakr traps atoms for study under the microscope

By Bennett McIntosh THE COLDEST SPOT on the Princeton campus is a cluster of a few thousand atoms suspended above a table in Waseem Bakr’s laboratory. When trapped in a lattice of intersecting lasers at Continue Reading →

F. Duncan Haldane receives Nobel Prize in Physics

F. Duncan Haldane, Princeton’s Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics, was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” Considered key to finally realizing highly Continue Reading →

JEREMIAH OSTRIKER and LYMAN PAGE receive Gruber Cosmology Prize

The 2015 Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize has been awarded to Jeremiah Ostriker and Lyman Page for “individual and collective contributions to the study of the universe on the largest scales.” The two share the prize Continue Reading →

Cosmic background: 51 years ago, an accidental discovery sparked a big bang in astrophysics

ON NEW YEAR’S DAY 2015, A BALLOON-BORNE SPACECRAFT ascended above Antarctica and snapped crisp photos of space, unobscured by the humidity of Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, a telescope located 4,000 miles to the north, in the Continue Reading →

Imaging system tracks brain activity of a freely moving worm

TO EXPLORE HOW THE BRAIN controls behavior, researchers have for the first time captured the whole-brain activity of a freely moving animal, in this case a nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. Using an imaging system Continue Reading →

Elusive particles found

IN THE PAST YEAR, PRINCETON PHYSICISTS have detected two particles that were predicted decades ago to exist but had not been found until now. Both particles were detected using a scanning-tunneling microscope to image the Continue Reading →

Striking resemblance: A physical law may govern very different biological activities

FLOCKS OF BIRDS FLY ACROSS THE SKY in shifting configurations. In the retina of an eye, millions of neurons ignite in ever-changing combinations, translating light into meaningful images. Yet both of these seemingly random behaviors Continue Reading →

Telescopes take the universe’s temperature

Two telescopes on a Chilean mountaintop are poised to tell us much about the universe in its infancy. They are surveying the faint temperature fluctuations left over from the explosive birth of the universe, with Continue Reading →

Alexander Polyakov wins Fundamental Physics Prize

Alexander Polyakov, the Joseph Henry Professor of Physics, received the $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2013 for his work in field theory and string theory. His ideas have dominated work in these fields during Continue Reading →

Quantum computing moves forward

New technologies that exploit quantum behavior for computing and other applications are closer than ever to being realized due to recent advances. These advances could enable the creation of immensely powerful computers as well as Continue Reading →

Planck mission brings universe into sharp focus

Princeton researchers contributed extensively to the Planck space mission that earlier this year released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, Continue Reading →