In 2021, immigrants have kept doing what they have done for years—winning Nobel Prizes. Three of the four American winners of the 2021 Nobel Prizes in physics, medicine and chemistry were immigrants to the United States. New research shows immigrants have played a remarkable role in scientific achievement in America.
“Immigrants have been awarded 38%, or 40 of 104, of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics since 2000,” according to a new analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP). “Between 1901 and 2021, immigrants have been awarded 35%, or 109 of 311, of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics.”
The three immigrants to the United States who won a Nobel Prize this year in physics, chemistry and medicine arrived here through different paths. One came for work, another as an international student and the third fled violence in the Middle East.
In 1958, after earning a Ph.D. at the University of Tokyo, Syukuro Manabe came to America to work as a research meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Bureau “to use physics to model weather systems.” He joined the Princeton University faculty in 1968 and today is a senior meteorologist at the school. Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, in Germany, shared the 2021 Nobel Prize for physics “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.” (Giorgio Parisi at the Sapienza University of Rome, in Italy, received half of the 2021 physics award.)
David W.C. MacMillan was born in Scotland and arrived in America as an international student. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of California-Irvine. Today, MacMillan is a professor of chemistry at Princeton. He shared the 2021 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Benjamin List, director of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Germany.
MORE FOR YOU
“The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for their development of a new tool to build molecules, work that has spurred advances in pharmaceutical research and lessened the impact of chemistry on the environment,” according to the New York Times. “Their work, while unseen by consumers, is an essential part in many leading industries and is crucial for research.”
Dr. Ardem Patapoutian, an immigrant from Lebanon, traveled a more arduous path to America than his fellow foreign-born Nobel Prize winners. Dr. Patapoutian, a professor in the Dorris Neuroscience Center at Scripps Research in La Jolla, CA, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, shared the 2021 Nobel Prize in medicine with David Julius (born in the U.S.) for “groundbreaking research that solved a long-standing mystery of how the body senses touch and other mechanical stimuli.”
“Dr. Patapoutian, who is of Armenian origin, grew up in Lebanon during the country’s long and calamitous civil war before fleeing to the United States with his brother in 1986 at age 18,” reported the New York Times. “Needing to establish residency in California so that he could afford college, Dr. Patapoutian worked eclectic jobs for a year, delivering pizzas and writing the weekly horoscopes for an Armenian newspaper. At UCLA, in the course of preparing to apply to medical school, he joined a research laboratory so that the professor would write him a good recommendation.”
Dr. Patapoutian once described how he traveled to Los Angeles after being “captured and held by armed militants” in Lebanon: “I had three havens of childhood I remember with fondness: my sports club where I played basketball (not well, see height above) and table tennis (local champ!), our trips to the Mediterranean Sea and the wooded mountains surrounding Beirut, and the beautiful campus of the American University of Beirut, where I attended one year of undergraduate classes as a pre-med major. However, the conflict continued to escalate, and one fateful and terrifying morning, I was captured and held by armed militants. A few months later, I moved to Los Angeles.
“This first year in LA was a different kind of struggle to adapt, perhaps as challenging a year as a young adult as any I had experienced as a child in Beirut. Suffice to say, a highlight was writing horoscopes for the local Armenian newspaper. What a relief it was to gain admission to UCLA to resume my student life.”
Ardem Patapoutian is an example of how immigration can open up new possibilities, allowing individuals to reach their full potential. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Patapoutian said, “I fell in love with doing basic research. That changed the trajectory of my career. In Lebanon, I didn’t even know about scientists as a career.”
Among the other findings in the NFAP research:
– “The proper immigration laws matter, particularly in determining whether the United States gains from increased globalization and rising educational achievement in the world. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the discriminatory national origin quotas and opened the door to Asian immigrants, while the Immigration Act of 1990 increased employment-based green card numbers. Those two pieces of legislation have been essential factors in drawing international students to the country and enhancing the ability of America to assimilate talented individuals into our culture and economy.
– “The rise in immigrant Nobel Prize winners reflects an overall increase in the reputation and capability of American institutions and researchers post-1960, and a greater openness to immigration has helped make the United States the leading global destination for research in many different science and technology fields, including computer and information sciences, cancer research and others.
– “One can see the increasing influence and importance of immigrants on science in America reflected in Nobel Prize winners. Between 1901 and 1959, immigrants won 21 Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics but won 88 prizes in these fields—more than four times as many—between 1960 and 2021.
– “The pre-1960 immigrant (and U.S.) Nobel Prize total would have been lower if not for the many Jewish scientists who overcame significant restrictions against immigration in the 1930s and fled to the United States to escape European fascism.
– “Since 2000, immigrants have been awarded 44% of the U.S. Nobel Prizes in physics, 37% in chemistry and 33% in medicine.”
Americans should be proud to live in a country where people come here by choice and pursue their dreams. When immigrants achieve those dreams, their successes become our successes as well.