Swarthmore Among Top Schools for Producing Nobel Prize Winners

Clothier Hall on the campus of Swarthmore College

Nature: Where Nobel winners get their start

Swarthmore College has produced the fourth-most Nobel prize winners per undergraduate student, according to a new study recently featured in Nature.

In the study, Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at Duke University and Stephen Hsu, a physicist at Michigan State University, examined the 81 institutions worldwide with at least three alumni who have received Nobel prizes in chemistry, physiology or medicine, physics, and economics between 1901 and 2015. With five Nobel recipients — Christian Anfinsen '37, David Baltimore '60, John Mather '68, Edward Prescott '62, and Howard Temin '55 — Swarthmore has produced 0.00027 Nobel winners per undergraduate student, placing it fourth among colleges and universities worldwide, only behind École Normale Supérieure in France (0.00135), the California Institute of Technology (0.00067), and Harvard University (0.00032).

“This is a way to identify colleges that have a history of producing major impact,” says Wai of the analysis. 

Hsu and Wai previously performed two similar studies of the rate at which U.S. universities produce winners of the Nobel prize, Fields Medal, or Turing Award, as well as members of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Swarthmore placed fourth in each of those analyses.

The researchers tell Nature that their findings suggest that more attention should be paid to the role that undergraduate institutions have in their graduates’ outstanding accomplishments. “It gives us a new way of thinking about and evaluating what makes an undergraduate institution great,” says Wai. 

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