Nobel Family Tree


“I was not always the best student with the highest grades, but my teachers saw something in me and tried to encourage me”
– May-Britt Moser, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014

There is always a teacher that stands out the most in our school memories. The first-grade teacher who taught you to read. The high school maths teacher that was endlessly demanding, but thanks to whom the maths courses at university seemed like a breeze. Roy Glauber remembers such a teacher in the following interview:

 The complete video is availabel here.

Or the inspiring professor, who gave lectures in lecture theatres so packed, students were standing in the doorways. Teachers can point us down career paths and give memorable advice, but the teacher-student relationship is particularly important in academia, where teachers become mentors, supervisors, lab mates, and hopefully friends.

During the 2019 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, dedicated to Physics, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji mentioned his university professors, among them the Nobel Laureate Alfred Kastler, who motivated Cohen-Tannoudji to switch from studying mathematics to physics:

Meeting a mentor and switching fields
(00:03:06 - 00:03:56)

The complete video is available here.

The students of Nobel Laureates often become Nobel Laureates themselves, forming something like an academic family tree that spans decades of research, springs from one scientific field to another and migrates from one country to the next. There are even scientific articles looking at the statistics behind the success; “performance measures” of particular scientific communities[1]. It is also not uncommon for one Nobel Laureate to collaborate with more than one Nobel Laureate, adding even more branches to the Nobel Family tree. In the case of Cohen-Tannoudji, three Nobel Prizes in Physics came from his laboratory in fifty years; Alfred Kastler in 1966, Cohen-Tannoudji in 1997, and Cohen-Tannoudji’s first research student, Serge Haroche, in 2012:

The complete video is available here.


From Organic Dyes to Cell Transport Systems

This tree shows a selection of the Nobel Family starting with Adolf von Baeyer. This tree may miss some links but nevertheless shows how the scientific legacy of Adolf von Baeyer has been carried to the 21st century. The colours of the frames indicate the discipline of the Nobel Laureate: blue for Chemistry, green for Physiology or Medicine and orange for Physics.
This tree shows a selection of the Nobel Family starting with Adolf von Baeyer. This tree may miss some links but nevertheless shows how the scientific legacy of Adolf von Baeyer has been carried to the 21st century. The colours of the frames indicate the discipline of the Nobel Laureate: blue for Chemistry, green for Physiology or Medicine and orange for Physics.

 Johan Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer started a Nobel Family tree that reaches to the 21st century. The German chemist received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1905, “in recognition of his services in the advancement of organic chemistry and the chemical industry, through his work on organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds”. Von Baeyer’s research career was marked with discoveries – barbituric acid, phenolphthalein and the synthesis of the dye indigo are just a small sample of his achievements at the bench[2]. Von Baeyer was already a distinguished professor at the time of his Nobel Prize, but, as is sometimes the case, his student, Hermann Emil Fischer, also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but three years before his mentor, in 1902. Von Baeyer was Fischer’s doctoral supervisor at the University of Strasbourg, and at this stage Fischer’s research also focussed on organic dyes – fluorescein and orcin-phthalein. A year after obtaining his doctoral degree, in 1875, Fischer followed von Baeyer to the University of Munich, where they worked together for several more years until Fischer became Professor at the University of Erlangen. It was there, and later at the University of Würzburg, where Fischer’s prolific contributions to chemistry would take place. To name just several discoveries, Fischer synthesised caffeine and theobromine, established the structure of purines, and discovered several amino acids[3]. He synthesised polypeptides, the first nucleotide, as well as glucose, fructose and mannose. His work on proteins, carbohydrates and lipids filled three thick volumes. The carbohydrate volume, “Untersuchungen über Kohlenhydrate und Fermente (1884 – 1908)” became a standard textbook for many years to come[4]. A large number of his discoveries became used in industrial processes[5]. Fischer was supervisor to three future Nobel Laureates; Otto Diels, Otto Warburg and Karl Landsteiner. Diels won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with his student, Kurt Alder. Warburg and Landsteiner also studied medicine in addition to chemistry and were awarded Nobel Prizes in recognition of their achievements in Physiology or Medicine. An article describing Warburg’s biography mentions that Fischer “was a demanding teacher, requiring precision in experiments and thinking, and perseverance in the lab”[6]. Unfortunately, Fischer’s personal life was scarred with tragedy. Widowed at an early age, he then lost two sons in the First World War – one died in battle and another committed suicide because of compulsory military training. This, as well as the diagnosis of a terminal illness, caused him to take his own life in 1919[5].

Otto Warburg was destined for a life in science. He was the son of Emil Warburg, a physics professor and later the Director of the Institute of Physics in Berlin. Albert Einstein and Max Planck were close family friends. Otto Warburg studied polypeptides with Fischer for his doctoral degree in chemistry, which he obtained in 1906. While studying medicine at the University of Heidelberg, Warburg met Otto Meyerhof, who became his assistant. The two often travelled to the Marine Station in Naples to conduct experiments on sea urchin eggs[6]. Warburg demonstrated that oxygen uptake was much higher after the eggs were fertilised, a study that became the basis of his second doctoral degree. This interest in oxidation was to remain Warburg’s prime research objective of his career. Warburg studied respiratory processes in cells, ultimately receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1931, “for his discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme”[7]. In later years, Warburg became well-known for his controversial ideas on tumour metabolism and photosynthesis, subjects that he delivered lectures on at Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. He attended five Meetings, including the very first Meetingin 1951. Scientists from around the world were drawn to Warburg’s labs, several of whom became Nobel Laureates themselves; Hugo Theorell, Severo Ochoa, George Wald, Hans Krebs, Fritz Lipmann, Archibald Hill. Krebs and Warburg remained lifelong friends. Krebs wrote a biography of his mentor, and believed he owed his success to Warburg’s training[8].

Otto Meyerhof first trained as a doctor specialising in psychiatry, but under Warburg’s influence at Heidelberg, he diverted his attention to research in cell physiology and physical chemistry[9]. At the University of Kiel, Meyerhof became interested in how energy is transformed in the body, specifically what reactions are at the core of energy transformation between food intake and the production of heat. By the end of the First World War, Meyerhof began to collaborate with Archibald Hill, an English physiologist who had determined methods of measuring heat production in muscle contractions. In the ensuing years, both scientists worked on establishing the lactic acid cycle and its’ links to cell respiration. During muscle contraction, glycogen, a polysaccharide used as an energy storage, is converted to lactic acid in the absence of oxygen. Once oxygen supply is restored, the lactic acid is converted back to glycogen. This was an important first step in solving the glycolytic pathway, a series of biochemical reactions, where energy and the intermediate pyruvate is derived from glucose. The intricacies of metabolic pathways were to generate several Nobel Prizes in the coming decades. Meyerhof and Hill were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1922. Sadly, despite Meyerhof’s recognition, he was unable to secure a permanent post at the University of Kiel due to political reasons (Meyerhof was Jewish). Fortunately, Meyerhof’s former supervisor, Otto Warburg, offered him lab space at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Berlin-Dahlem, where Warburg was director. The facilities were meagre, but nevertheless, the first-rate research environment paved the way for Meyerhof’s future accomplishments. Warburg lobbied on behalf of Meyerhof to offer him the position of director of the Institute of Physiology at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, which Meyerhof accepted in 1929[10].

The prestige of the research carried out by Warburg and Meyerhof attracted scientists from near and far. George Wald, a young zoologist from New York University, came to Germany in 1932 to carry out research at both Warburg’s and Meyerhof’s labs. The experience lay the foundation for Wald’s research in visual pigments, which would eventually lead to the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1967. John E. Dowling, professor emeritus of Harvard University, and one of Wald’s students, wrote that from 1960 to his retirement in 1977, Wald taught an introductory course in biology at Harvard University, titled, “The Nature of Living Things”, which was so popular,Wald was named by Time magazine as one of the ten best teachers in the United States in 1966[11]. Wald attended three Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and proved himself to be a talented speaker here as well, focusing more on social and political subjects, rather than his own research domain. In 1978, at the close of his lecture, “Life in a Lethal Society”, Wald called out to the audience on the role of the scientist, “Are we scientists merely to study and measure and record what goes on as nature goes down the drain?” His lecture was awarded with long and thunderous applause:


George Wald pointing out the responsibility of scientists towards society
(00:48:03 - 00:49:37)

The complete video is available here.

One of Meyerhof’s first postdoctoral researchers at Heidelberg was Severo Ochoa, who had come from Madrid to work with Meyerhof on muscle physiology and biochemistry. Ochoa remained in Heidelberg for two years, and then returned for a brief period in 1936 as a Guest Research Assistant[12]. Many years later, Ochoa was to say, “Meyerhof was the teacher who most contributed towards my formation, and the most influential in directing my life’s work”[13]. Ochoa’s research centred around enzymatic reactions in cell metabolism. In 1941 he emigrated to the United States, and for several months worked in the laboratory of Carl and Gerty Cori at the Washington University School of Medicine, which was “a mecca of enzymology”, as described by another Nobel Laureate and Ochoa’s student, Arthur Kornberg[14]. The Coris were a husband-and-wife team, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947 for demonstrating that lactic acid is transported by blood to the liver, where it is synthesised into glucose. The glucose is then used to produce energy in glycolysis. The cycle is known as the Cori cycle[15].

Ochoa later accepted the position of Research Associate at the New York University School of Medicine, where he was to remain until 1974. Arthur Kornberg joined Ochoa’s laboratory in 1946 as a postdoc with the purpose of learning enzymology and biochemistry. In 2001, in the article, “Remembering Our Teachers”, Kornberg reminisced, “Those early months in 1946, learning the rudiments of dynamic biochemistry, enzyme fractionation, and spectrophotometry, were the most exciting in my life. I was awed by enzymes and fell instantly in love with them.”[16]. Ochoa and Kornberg shared the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for discovering “the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid”, specifically the enzymes polynucleotide phosphorylase (Ochoa) and DNA polymerase (Kornberg)[17]. Ochoa frequently attended the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and gave lectures on the genetic code. During his first Meeting at Lindau in 1966, Ochoa gave a basic overview of DNA transcription and amino acid formation:

Severo Ochoa on the basics of DNA transcription and amino acid formation
(00:02:34 - 00:06:31)

The complete video is available here.

Two of Kornberg’s students went on to win Nobel Prizes; Paul Berg in Chemistry in 1980, and Randy Schekman in Physiology or Medicine in 2013. Kornberg’s son, Roger D. Kornberg, also won a Nobel Prize, in Chemistry in 2006. In his Nobel biography, Schekman wrote that while he was spending a year abroad at the University of Edinburgh, a colleague introduced him to some research carried out at Kornberg’s lab at Stanford University. It was at that point that Schekman realised he wanted to join Kornberg’s team; “I resolved to learn biochemistry from a master such as Kornberg”[18]. Schekman’s undergraduate supervisor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Professor Dan Ray, remembers that Schekman stopped by at Stanford to see Kornberg and tell him about the significant achievements of his undergraduate years. “What incredible confidence! No big surprise that Kornberg later accepted Randy as a graduate student”, said Ray[19]. In 2013, Schekman became the seventh UCLA alumnus to win the Nobel Prize. “Kornberg was a dominant figure with a powerful personality and intellect”, wrote Schekman in his Nobel lecture[20]. In his Nobel biography, he mentioned his “intense and sometime acrimonious battles (with) Kornberg”[18]. Schekman believes his graduate years at Kornberg’s lab gave him a solid foundation for the decades of research to come, but he eventually decided to drift away from the very competitive field of DNA enzymology, and was soon inspired by another Nobel Laureate, George Palade, to study cell vesicle transport:

Randy Shekman describing the influence of George Palade on his work
(00:02:45 - 00:04:38)

The complete video is available here.

This Nobel Family tree is well over a hundred years old, linking seven generations of Nobel Laureates, teaching and mentoring the next generation of scientists. Still more Nobel Prizes may be reaped by this legacy as time goes by. The research of the tree originated from the prolific findings of early 20th century chemists, which would set the stage not only for modern-day chemistry, but also many industrial applications. The progression of the tree from chemistry to physiology or medicine became important components of a succession of Nobel Prizes awarded for the numerous milestones reached in cell biochemistry.


The Birth of the Electron and a Nobel Family Tree

This tree shows a selection of the Nobel Family starting with J.J. Thomson. This tree may miss some links but nevertheless shows how the scientific legacy of J.J Thomas has been carried to the 21st century. The colours of the frames indicate the discipline of the Nobel Laureate: blue for Chemistry, green for Physiology or Medicine and orange for Physics.
This tree shows a selection of the Nobel Family starting with J.J. Thomson. This tree may miss some links but nevertheless shows how the scientific legacy of J.J Thomas has been carried to the 21st century. The colours of the frames indicate the discipline of the Nobel Laureate: blue for Chemistry, green for Physiology or Medicine and orange for Physics.

Joseph John Thomson was an English physicist most famous for discovering the electron in 1897, and for this achievement he obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906[21]. He proposed a theory on atomic structure that is now known as the plum pudding model – that negatively-charged electrons are embedded in the positively-charged core, like raisins in a pudding. One of his many notable students, Ernest Rutherford, disproved this theory[22]. By this time, Rutherford had already received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 for work on radioactive elements. Seven of Thomson’s students became Nobel Laureates, as well as his son, George Paget Thomson[23]. Max Born came to Cambridge to study under Thomson in 1906, shortly after graduating from the University of Göttingen. As he recalled in Thomson’s obituary in 1940, he visited Cambridge, and whilst there decided to visit his former professor. Thomson’s son led him to the basement of the Cavendish laboratory, where “J.J.” was working. “I was introduced: ‘Father, here is an old pupil of yours who studied with you years ago...’. The grey head, bent over a glowing vacuum tube, was lifted for a minute: ‘How do you do. Now, look here, this is the spectrum of...’, and we were in the midst of the realm of research, forgetting the chasm of years, war and after-war, which lay between this rencontre and the days of our first acquaintance. This was Thomson in the Cavendish: science personified.”[24]. Born won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 for research in quantum mechanics. He spent twenty years in Britain, mostly as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. After his retirement in 1953, he returned to his native Germany and became a frequent speaker at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

Three of Max Born’s students won the Nobel Prize; Enrico Fermi in Physics in 1938, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in Physics in 1963, and Max Delbrück, surprisingly in Physiology or Medicine in 1969[25]. Delbrück studied physics in Göttingen, which was the centre for quantum mechanics at the time. He later travelled to England, Switzerland and Denmark. In Denmark, Delbrück worked with Niels Bohr, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, and it was Bohr who first suggested that Delbrück steer towards the biological aspects of quantum physics[*][26]. Delbrück emigrated to the United States in 1937 and joined the California Institute of Technology’s biology department, where he focused on the genetics of the fruit fly. Together with Salvador Luria and Alfred Hershey, he worked on the molecular genetics of bacterial viruses, which led to the Nobel Prize for all three scientists.

Enrico Fermi joined Max Born’s group at the University of Göttingen in 1923, on a fellowship from the Italian Ministry of Public Instruction. According to Fermi’s wife Laura, Born was kind and hospitable, but Fermi did not fit into the group and felt unsure of himself among the great physicists. “He was hoping for a pat on the back from Professor Max Born.”[27]. Fermi returned to Italy after several months and became a lecturer at the University of Florence, then Professor at the University of Rome. Immediately after becoming the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938, “for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons”, Fermi moved to the United States, where he accepted the position of Professor of Physics at Columbia University and later headed the construction of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile 1[28].

Fermi’s first doctoral student, Emilio Segrè, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1959, and gave his only lecture at Lindau in 1979. He introduced Fermi to the audience as a remarkable physicist:

Segrè elaborating on his forefathers of science in Italy
(00:12:45 - 00:20:25)

 The complete video is available here.

Five other of Fermi’s students became Nobel Laureates, among them Jack Steinberger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988, along with his former assistant, Melvin Schwartz, and Leon Lederman. In his Nobel biography, Steinberger mentioned that he owes the greatest gratitude to Fermi, his professor: “The courses of Fermi were gems of simplicity and clarity and he made a great effort to help us become good physicists also outside the regular class-room work, by arranging evening discussions on a widespread series of topics, where he also showed us how to solve problems.”[29]

In 2016, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2005, Roy J. Glauber, delivered a unique lecture at Lindau, during which he shared memories from the Manhattan Project, headquartered at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Glauber was just eighteen years old at the time and had the amazing opportunity to work with many eminent physicists of the day. The scientists were united by a common cause – the construction of an atomic bomb, but as Glauber noted, “they all knew one another”.


Roy Glauber (2016) - Some Recollections of the Manhattan Project 1943-1945

How do you do? I have gotten a slightly late start. And I hope you’ll pardon me. It’s of course a late start in describing what happened about 70 years ago. Now, what I’m going to try to do is to relate to you some of the experiences and some of the memories I have from a period when I was in fact just 18 years old. The year was 1943. I want first, however, to go back just a bit prior to that. And let me see if I can get this system working. Can you see Enrico Fermi? The year was 1938 and he had been doing a succession of experiments using neutrons. Neutrons were the neutral particle that resides in the nucleus but only discovered really in about 1931. There were many mysteries before that. That clarification led to a great many experiments that could be done. And Fermi was primary among the experimenters in discovering what it was that neutrons did to nuclei. He did a long succession of such experiments in the middle 1930s. Some of the last experiments he did would shine a beam of neutrons on uranium, the heaviest of the known nuclei at that time. He discovered quite a complex of things going on but had no time to analyse them because he not only received the Nobel Prize but used that as the occasion to himself, for himself and his family to leave Italy. After visiting Stockholm briefly he went to Columbia University in New York. And there really began a great deal of the story that I am going to tell you. He left many questions unsettled regarding what neutrons do to uranium. One of the greatest of the radio chemists of the day, Otto Hahn, began investigating that seriously and discovered that there was quite a variety of particles that emerged from these neutron-uranium collisions and they had chemical properties which were absolutely bewildering. As a radio chemist, he could verify that several elements at least that emerged from these collisions had the same properties as familiar and much lighter elements. The person who really resolved this problem was also a refugee at the time. In 1938 she left Berlin, aided by Otto Hahn, her boss, and settled in Stockholm where with a nephew of hers, Otto Frisch, this woman, who was Lise Meitner, developed the theory that what was happening was in fact a split up of the uranium nucleus. That 2 fragments, approximately half the mass of the original uranium nucleus, were emerging. And there were many chemical consequences because this was a variety of nuclei, roughly in the middle of the atomic table. Now, this idea which in fact was hers, she was never rewarded for it, did lead to quite some activity. In particular Leo Szilard, a young Hungarian who loved thinking of the future, realised that these were nuclei being produced which had a few neutrons too many. That not only would these fission fragments, these heavy fission fragments emerge but more neutrons. He was aware, in other words, that it might be possible to create a neutron chain reaction. And disturbed by the possibilities that might be opened by that, he decided that he had to communicate with Franklin Roosevelt, the president, and see to it that America was aware of the dangers involved. He wrote a letter on behalf of Albert Einstein to Roosevelt. And here he is meeting with Einstein at a summer vacation spot in 1939 at the end of Long Island, drafting that letter which Einstein was happy to sign. And that letter was then transmitted by a well-known banker to Roosevelt who was duly impressed and appointed the only technically trained person he would know who was the leader, the chairman of the Bureau of Standards in Washington, Vannevar Bush, and asked him to put together a committee to look further into this matter. Well, here you have that committee. It, as you can see, was seemingly a rather joyous occasion to these people, 3 or 4 of them Nobel Prize winners. Including in the centre you had James Conant who was President of Harvard University but who in fact was a chemist! And well, I won’t go through the naming of these worthy individuals but the truth of the matter is that besides enjoying themselves and appointing still other committees they did virtually nothing. (Laughter) So that is, I think, really the true introduction to this matter. A man who was peripherally involved was Kenneth Bainbridge who was a mass spectroscopist at Harvard and who told us the correct masses of the various fragments that were coming off in uranium fission which was thereby understood for the first time. Bainbridge also built a cyclotron. Here he is proud of his new cyclotron. The year must have been about 1940 or ’41 when the cyclotron was completed. As the interest in doing experiments with fission arose. And there was even a desire to do more experiments. Here you have someone whom you will recognise as Robert Wilson. There in the centre is Robert Wilson whom you'll recognise. I think he was at that point at Princeton University, years later at Cornell, and finally the director of the Fermi laboratory in America, the great accelerator laboratory in the mid-west. But here he was negotiating on behalf of a fictitious organisation called the St. Louis Medical Depot, trying to secure the cyclotron itself and have it shipped somewhere to the west. Where was it being shipped? Well, many people by late 1943 had learned one particular address. This was it. It was the only information I was given when I turned 18 and had had quite a few of the courses as they existed at the time, most of the graduate courses, and was asked to go to this place. Well, this place was Post Office Box 1663. And I shortly learned, you know a post office box in America is about the size of a shoe box. And it might have had some difficulty accommodating the 2 trunks of books and belongings I sent there. But just imagine the difficulty that it must have had accommodating the moving vans and freight cars full of materials that everybody else was sending to this location. We were not even sure it was in New Mexico – but that was where we were being sent. In fact it turned out to be not Santa Fe, but Lamy, which is a tiny wooden rail station about 15 or so miles from Santa Fe. Well, there was a man who got off the train when I did. He wore a Derby hat and a navy blue overcoat and he announced that his name was Mr. Newman. Well, when we got to Santa Fe, where there was a small office run by the project, and signed the register I could see that his name was in fact John von Neumann. He was in fact the author of one of the famous texts I had been reading at just that time. He was met, I should say, by someone who looked for all the world like a cowboy. He wore inevitably dungarees, a checked shirt and in fact a ten-gallon hat. He seemed to be a cowboy of some sort, hired as a chauffeur. And there started a conversation, a really remarkable conversation, between Mr. Newman and this 'cowboy', whom I later discovered was in fact Jack Hawking, a member of the theory group and a mathematician at the laboratory. The trip up to the laboratory was geographically remarkable. This is a picture taken a little later. The original bridge across the Rio Grande, which runs north-south there, had been in fact washed out and you can see it in the background here, that’s the original bridge. This was a bridge that appeared about a year later on the way up to what we call 'the hill' which was back here behind these great bluffs. We had to drive north some distance to Espanola in order to cross the Rio Grande and go back south and this was the sort of vista. There were magnificent vistas that began to unfold as we climbed up into the Jemez Mountains. That’s the main chain, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, you see, literally looking across the Rio Grande in the bottom of that valley. Here is where we got to the entrance to the project area such as it was. It was on a plateau which was high above the Rio Grande valley, about 7,000 feet of altitude. It turned out that this plateau was crossed by a great many canyons so that the country would be virtually impassable, except by the 1 or 2 roads that led to a nearby pueblo ruin. Well, that’s the entrance. When it got a little busier a few weeks later there were many MPs examining the credentials of people wanting to get in. And many stories conveyed back out by the truck drivers and various individuals not bearing any responsibility to the project but just telling about bizarre things they had seen up there on the hill. This is something called 'the big house'. What was up there was the Los Alamos Ranch School for Boys. In particular several parents, whose sons had tubercular problems and were sent to this school to get a high school education and at the same time breathe the fresh clean air of New Mexico. And if I jump ahead now, it became a laboratory. It became a laboratory with a fenced area which was quite considerable in size. It had many buildings, laboratory buildings within it. And when finally they made the place look much more respectable – this is the way the gate looked but this was not there, I would have to say, for the first 2 or 3 years. Here is how people’s credentials and baggage were examined entering the technical area. I just happened to get hold of this picture because the man being interrogated is Robert Marshak who was a group leader in the project. After the project was going for a year or 2 there was a fair amount of construction and in fact much of it rather awkward. The technical area had begun on this side of the road but had soon filled the area up to the fences. And they decided they had to move to the other side of the main road. And the only way of managing the problem of examining people’s credentials was to construct elevated passageways across the road to take you from one part of the technical area to another. This happened eventually to be E building or the seat of the theoretical division which I was made a tiny part of. Now, to move further ahead, this was typical housing for 4 families. Most of the people at the laboratory were very young. They were families just beginning with the result that the hospital, for example, had quite a high birth rate relative to the population. These young families were producing more people than virtually any other army-run hospital. (Laughter) The housing varied quite a bit. I like this particular picture, not just because it showed the way people live but a forest fire in the distance. The country was very dry. Virtually no water at all, except for a carefully managed pond in the middle of the Mesa, and it was a devil of a job trying to put out even those very tiny forest fires. Here is more housing. Here is some housing unique in that it had all the single women in the laboratory, about 12 or 14 of them. This is what a dormitory room looked like - not mine but you couldn’t have told mine from this one. It was a single room in a temporary structure which at least kept people out of the elements, out of the rain, and where we occasionally held dormitory parties. There were other features there. A great many young men who were being drafted and whom the government - there was no established means of determining people’s talents when they entered the army. So people with quite a variety of different talents were thought perhaps to have engineering skills or something of the sort and were sent to Los Alamos to live in these barracks. The assignments they had were, as war time assignments go, pretty interesting and kept them very busy. But unfortunately the army felt that this group of privates ought to have some officer leadership. These officers were people who had no technical training whatever and could see no purpose in their being there other than to give drills to these engineers. Getting them up at 6 in the morning, having them line up and exacting from them whatever calisthenics or drills were considered beneficial. It led to a great deal of complaint. These were men who had, as far as the army is concerned, very safe and useful positions but you never heard so much complaining in your life. In later years - there’s this little monument which was not there. This is where the original faculty of the Los Alamos Ranch School for Boys lived. There were several such stone houses. Now, of the people who were there the man who headed the theory division was Hans Bethe. He was a remarkable choice in that he was unbelievably versatile. He could give you a 2-significant-figure estimate of virtually any ridiculous problem that you could invent on the spur of the moment. He was an extraordinary leader for the theory division. Here is the leader of the entire project – Robert Oppenheimer. And he too was an extraordinary leader. For one thing, of course, you never saw him except with a cigarette in his mouth. He was a great teacher but didn’t believe in making things easy for anybody. He expressed himself in literary, at times almost poetic, terms and in that way he had the admiration of a great many rough-and-tumble scientists who were really very impressed by him. Wherever he went, and he visited every part of the project including all of the experiments, you would see his porkpie-hat as a kind of calling card. Now, another figure, who was away when I first came there in January of ’44, had gone off in a huff. He had left and, in fact, abandoned the project for a month until Oppenheimer talked him into returning and promised him a certain sector of the project as his own fiefdom as it were. Edward Teller had done a certain amount of work on thermonuclear reactions, possible astrophysical thermonuclear reactions, and he had adopted as his primary interest securing a burning process of some sort in among the light hydrogen isotopes, in particular deuterium and tritium. He was persuaded that somehow the nuclear bomb could be used as a match to light that continuing fire. He believed in that passionately and felt that he had been altogether neglected in the original organisation of Los Alamos. Oppenheimer had at that point to persuade him to come back. And come back he did. And you have heard a great deal about what he did subsequently. This is Emilio Segrè, Segrè had been a collaborator with Fermi in Rome. He was already in America and he had been given a remarkable sort of assignment in the early days in Los Alamos. Which was to go to an isolated place in one of the canyons where the neutron background would be minimal and determine whether the newly created element, plutonium, in particular the form in which it was created in the nuclear reactors in Chicago, to determine whether that particular nucleus underwent spontaneous fission to any considerable extent. That was important because spontaneous fission meant that there would be neutrons bouncing around within the material whatever materials you were using. And the original plan for creating the bomb was a relatively simple one of shooting a cylinder of, it was in that case uranium 235, shooting that cylinder into a hollowed-out cylinder in a spherical mass. And neither of these 2 masses of uranium 235 would be above the critical point. They would not individually support chain reactions. But when amalgamated, when joined together, they would indeed. Now, there was a difficult period of time while you were assembling these pieces and if, indeed, a chain reaction started in that period it would be pre-detonation and you’d get a much smaller explosion. In uranium 235 the spontaneous fission rate was slow enough so that that was not a serious danger. If one used a canon to thrust the cylindrical projectile into the hollowed-out volume one would have milliseconds to do that in. And that was just possible with a canon. However, Segrè discovered very quickly that the spontaneous fission rate in plutonium which was even by that time being produced more rapidly than uranium 235 which required isotope separation, that the spontaneous fission rate and the background of neutrons would mean that you would have to assemble the plutonium bomb in microseconds rather than milliseconds. A microsecond is millionth of a second. And that was the principle problem that the entire project had really to deal with in the subsequent years. Now, here is the rest of Segrè’s group. And I just show you what a group looked like and what the background and the technical area looked like. But here in the back behind Segrè you have Owen Chamberlain who was inseparable from him. And the 2 of course won the Nobel Prize several years later in Berkeley for using the Bevatron to identify the anti-proton. That’s Martin Deutsch. At that point I’m afraid I can’t recognise the other faces too easily. Well, here is another familiar figure, Dick Feynman. Feynman was not only an extraordinarily creative mathematician for theoretical problems, he was also a bit of a clown and a performer. Whenever you saw a cluster of a few women who were around, you would discover that they were clustered around Feynman who was performing. Feynman was always performing. And some of us got to hear his stories, later collected by Ralph Leighton, the son of Robert Leighton. It was Leighton who wrote the books “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and the subsequent ones. Anyway, he was certainly one of the most prominent characters at Los Alamos. Here is the way we heard colloquia, sitting in canvas chairs which were put out in the gymnasium after the place had been searched down thoroughly for any lurking gymnasts or spies. And here is our friend, the Polish mathematician, whose name slips me at this moment but you probably all know better than I, who actually solved the problem of how to ignite the 'Super', as it was called, the thermonuclear reaction in the light elements. And here he is on a bench sitting in the Plaza of Santa Fe with von Neumann and Feynman. Now, presently I’ll run through just some pictures of individuals. This is perhaps the most famous individual we had in the place whose name was Nicholas Baker. At least that’s the name that was broadcast on the PA system, because one of the most unspoken names in the place was 'Niels Bohr'. Bohr always spoke up but never said very much. And whatever it was he said you could not really resolve because Danish is a language not given to high resolution (laughter) and because he was forever puffing on that pipe. Now, what he would do is to scratch matches, take a deep draft of match smoke and strike one match after another. That would go on all day. I have here a picture of Bohr with his son Aage who accompanied him everywhere. This is a picture which does not come from Los Alamos. It’s very typical of Copenhagen. Anyway, the 2 were an inseparable pair. Aage, who by the way also received the Nobel Prize, not for the most effective nuclear model of the day in the early 1950s, not for anything that necessarily related him to the Bohr family. Now, the man who directed the project officially was Leslie Groves. He was a rather heavy-set man with a very military mind and remarkably little understanding of science considering the nature of the project that he was dealing with. Here is a rather idealised painting that was made of him (laughter) and which now is to be seen there. General Groves and Oppenheimer often appeared together. They were not pretending to be the Gold Dust Twins. They represented really the 2 things that went on: Military authority which was in a sense the propulsion what made the whole thing go, and the intelligence that directed it on the other hand. Well, the one thing one could do in the winter was ski. There were many ski parties, rather primitive ones, they were wooden skis as a rule and the simplest of poles. This was a group that included Fermi, Bethe, Weisskopf and a couple of others. I won’t delay you with all the names. This is a photo I’ve included because it dates from about 1931 and it involves many of the same characters. They all knew one another. There is Heisenberg. And if there was such a project, and on a certain plane there was such a project as this in Germany, it was Heisenberg who was the principle authority. But sitting next to him is Rudolf Peierls who ran the project, and who really initiated the project in Britain. And in the background you have people from several other locations. Victor Weisskopf was a young student at the time. And Felix Bloch, fairly young himself. George Placzek. A man who worked on the same sorts of things in Italy was Gian-Carlo Wick in the background. These people all knew one another. Now, it was a large project. This is the electromagnetic separation plant in Tennessee. Here in Hanford, Washington, is the reactor complex that actually produced the plutonium. And there are many stories connected with that which there is no time for. Let me introduce a couple of stories which you probably never did hear about Los Alamos. There was a need to calibrate the explosion that was planned for the Trinity test. How would one calibrate that explosion? What did you have to work with? Well, the inspiration was another explosion. So this is the platform from which that would be created. Here is literally 100 tons of TNT on a wooden platform which was in fact exploded well in advance of the Trinity test in order simply to calibrate their instruments. Here is another strange thing: a piece of steel, a steel tank, as a matter of fact. And we were assured that it was the largest ever fabricated. It was quite thick steel. This was as it was being shipped to Los Alamos. The reason for this was that the original tests would not have involved very high explosives for the assembly of the bomb but it was thought that the material was infinitely precious uranium 235 or plutonium had somehow to be saved. You couldn’t just let that be dispersed everywhere. So you had to try, given whatever explosive means you had, to use in order to assemble the bomb. The idea was to be able to collect the pieces and salvage the fissionable material. So this was a tank promptly named 'Jumbo' - it was the name of a mystical elephant at the time. Here it was being shipped to Los Alamos. Now, was Jumbo ever used? Well, it was realised that the explosive means that was necessary to assemble the bomb was going to be a bit too much even for that tank. And so it was never used. Whatever it cost and whatever it involved getting it from Pittsburgh all the way to the New Mexican desert. Someone after the war – this is a post-war development – decided to find out what would happen if he put several pounds of TNT inside this tank. (Laughter) And that’s the result. Let me move on very quickly to Trinity. I’m afraid we’re running a bit late. This is a 100 foot tower that was set up, the bomb to be placed on the top. The point was to keep its detonation away from the ground so that the ground not contaminate the explosion. Let the explosion take place up 100 feet. Well, here it is. There is the bomb. Not quite assembled yet but sitting atop the tower. Here exercising his curiosity to see the thing is – you can see who that is, can’t you, just from the silhouette. Oppenheimer wouldn’t have missed going up the tower to examine the bomb before it was detonated. Here you have a much more complete assembly of the bomb. These were all detonation devices to detonate in effect a sphere of high explosive. And this was a very complex sphere because it was a sphere which had not simply to explode outward but to create a blast wave that converged spherically upon the material in the centre. It was an extraordinary development that and probably the central one at Los Alamos. Here is the explosion after the first couple of milliseconds. This is the explosion at Trinity. Here it is a second or 2 later. Here is what was left seen from the air. The sand surrounding the tower was turned to a greenish sort of fused glass. And every last bit of it taken up by souvenir seekers presently. The circle you see here, this is where the 100 ton explosion was set off, just ordinary TNT in order to calibrate the instrumentation. And here are the first individuals coming in and looking at the stumps left over from the tower. The tower above had of course been completely evaporated. And this was one of the 4 supports of the tower. There, inevitably again, is the inseparable pair, Oppenheimer and General Groves. This is Victor Weisskopf off on the right. I don’t immediately recognise any of the others. Well, when we saw that - and I happen to have seen that explosion take place. As a theorist I was not welcome at the Trinity site, and so some of us managed to drive cars, which were even pretty scarce then, to the top of a peak, Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, where we had quite a distant view. And I managed by staying there all night and waiting until 5.30 in the morning, which was about 4 hours after we expected the blast to take place. I saw what amounted to a sunrise in the south. A very short time later there was a sunrise in the east. Well, here is what went on in the 3 weeks following the mid-July Trinity test. This was on Tinian Island. This is the implosion bomb, the spherical one. And also, by the way, that was the one tested at the Trinity site. And as you know it worked and that was a cause for celebration by 2 people out of 3 in the Potsdam conference. Truman had been informed about the test immediately. Stalin was probably not informed immediately, but he was surely informed. And there was a bit of a celebration when the war ended, involving of course General Groves and the President of the University of California who formally directed and oversaw the project. But President Sproul had never set foot in the place and never seen, it’s not even clear that he had known about the existence of the project. Oppenheimer, of course, became something of a celebrity. And a year later in the Harvard commencement you had this collection of people: Conant again sitting in the centre, General Marshal who was about to unveil the Marshal plan, General Omar Bradley and here somewhat lost off in the corner is J. Robert Oppenheimer, a Harvard alumnus. And I must say this was quite a reunion seeing him there again. He became something of a celebrity. Now, I don’t know how much further to go with all of this because there are a great many pictures and it’s gotten a bit late for the end of this talk. Maybe if there is a slide machine where we will be talking in the afternoon? It's said I will be with some students, and maybe we can put the slides, the remainder of the slides together. There are a few interesting ones. But they have entirely to do with post-war matters. This is a collection of theorists who gathered at Shelter Island 2 years after the end of the war. But there’s a considerable number of names you would recognise in that. Let me cut it off here in order not to run too substantially over and I’ll see if we can do more this afternoon. Thank you.

Roy J. Glauber talking about his time at the Manhatten Project with the most famouse physicist of that time
(00:36:19 - 00:37:51)

 The complete video is available here.

Glauber himself went on to obtain his doctoral degree with a Nobel Laureate, Julian Schwinger. Here, Glauber stated his reason for choosing his PhD supervisor: “The principal reason for my remaining at Harvard was the addition of Julian Schwinger to the faculty. I had met him during a brief appearance he made at Los Alamos, late in 1945, and was immediately so impressed with his knowledge and his incredibly informative lecturing style that I felt he was unique among teachers and would be the ideal thesis advisor as well.” [30]

 The complete video is available here.


Nobel Family Trees of Tomorrow

The year 2019 marked the formation of the first family tree in the economic sciences. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the third and fourth generation of a Nobel Family tree in Economic Sciences. Banerjee and Kremer were students of the 2007 Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin, whereas Maskin’s doctoral supervisor was Kenneth Arrow, who won the Nobel Prize in 1972.

Mentorship and the formation of Nobel Family trees, of which only a small example is cited in this topic cluster, will undoubtedly keep growing, as Nobel Laureates continue to attract and inspire students. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings offer the opportunity to meet and discuss with Nobel Laureates, facilitating these connections. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji concluded his warm-hearted lecture by saying that teaching and encouraging students is a means of expressing gratitude towards one’s own mentors:

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji about expressing gratitude towards one’s own mentors

 The complete video is available here.




[* ]These aspects refer to the complementarity principle, a tenet of quantum physics postulated by Niels Bohr, whereby biological processes at every scale should be viewed as a whole without relying on a single method of observation (see


[1] Chariker, J.H., Zhang, Y., Pani, J.R., and Rouchka, E. C. (2017). Identification of successful mentoring communities using network-based analysis of mentor-mentee relationships across Nobel laureates. Scientometrics 111(3), pp. 1733-1749.
[2] Biography of Adolf von Baeyer,
[3] Biography of Emil Fischer,
[4] Untersuchungen über Kohlenhydrate und Fermente (1884–1908), article by Emil from Fisher
[5] Fisher, C.H., Chapter 6, Emil Fischer – Pioneer in Monomer and Polymer Science, (1989) in: Pioneers in Polymer Science. Seymour, R.B. (ed.), Kluwer Academic Publishers.
[6] Otto, A.M. (2016) Warburg effect(s) – a biographical sketch of Otto Warburg and his impacts on tumor metabolism. Cancer & Metabolism 4.
[7] Biography of Otto Warburg,
[8] Wilson, B.A., Schisler, J.C., Willis, M.S. (2010). Sir Hans Adolf Krebs: Architect of Metabolic Cycles. Laboratory Medicine 41(6), pp. 377-380.
[9] Biography of Otto Meyerhof,
[10]Otto Meyerhof and the Physiology Institute: the Birth of Modern Biochemistry
[11] Dowling, J.E. (2000). Chapter: George Wald. Biographical Memoirs. Volume 78. The National Academies Press, pp. 298-317.
[12] Biography of Severo Ochoa,
[13] Kornberg, A. (ed.), Horecker, B.L., Cornudella, L., and Oró, J. (1976). Reflections on Biochemistry: In Honour of Severo Ochoa. Pergamon Press, pp.1.
[14] Exton, J.H. (2013) The Crucible of Science: The Story of the Cori Laboratory. Oxford University Press, pp. 114
[15] Nobelprize in Physiology or Medicine 1947,
[16] Kornberg, A. (2001). Remembering Our Teachers. The Journal of Biological Chemistry 276, pp. 3-11.
[17] Nobelprize in Physiology or Medicine 1959,
[18] Biography of Randy Scheckman,
[19] Randy Schekman, molecular biologist and UCLA alumnus, wins 2013 Nobel Prize
[20] Nobel Lecture of Randy Schekman,
[21] Biography of J.J. Thomson,
[22] Bryson, B. (2004) A Short History of Nearly Everything. Black Swan, pp. 182
[23] Sir Joseph John Thomson, OM, FRS, Trinity College
[24] Gratzer, W. (2002). Eurekas and Euphorias. The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes. Oxford University Press, p. 143.
[25] Max Born giving is 1959 Lindau Lecture on "Optical Problems", German presentation
[26] Biography of Max Delbrück,
[27] Fermi, L. (1954) Atoms in the Family. My Life with Enrico Fermi. The University of Chicago Press, p. 31.
[28] Biography of Enrico Fermi,
[29] Biography of Jack Steinberg,
[30] Biography of Roy J. Glauber,



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