Cambridge and Harvard’s Nobel Prize Legacy

Filed in Lifestyle by on October 6, 2009 2 Comments


Cambridge Massachusetts has long been known as a smart city.  There is no better proof of that than the sheer number of Nobel Prizes that have been awarded to faculty and alumni of it’s 2 biggest universities.  Yesterday a Harvard Medical School professor of 30 years received the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  Professor Jack Szostak shares the prize with Carol Greider currently running her own lab in Maryland and Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California.  Szostak is also and investigator at Mass General.

Their discovery has implications for both cancer and aging research but beyond that it revealed a fundamental function in the duplication of DNA when cells divide.  The Boston Globe described it better than I can:

Repetitive sequences of DNA on the tips of chromosomes formed a kind of molecular “cap’’ that keeps chromosomes from unraveling – often compared to the plastic tip that keeps a shoelace from fraying. That cap is built by a special enzyme, which ensures that as cells divide, the chromosomes are completely copied.

Though my background isn’t scientific, when I started college at BU many years ago I took an intro class in Genetics as part of my orientation program in the summer.  DNA is fascinating and is the building blocks of life.  Szostak, Greider and Blackburn’s discovery of telomeres and it’s role has become basic in the research of drugs and processes revolving around cell duplication.  Too be honest it was basic but is amazing.  The path to the Nobel Prize can be long since the work Szostak and his fellow laureates are being recognized for started with a paper Szosnak wrote in 1982.

The Noble Prize was established in 1895 by Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel.  The first prizes were bestowed in 1901 due to some confusion around Alfred Nobel’s will.  The prize is awarded to laureates in Physiology Or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics.  The Economics prize was established in 1968 by Sweden’s Central Bank in his name.  The prize brings prestige and recognition to the winners as well as a monetary prize of approximately $1.4 million US.

Cambridge’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard have been associated with 17 and 32 Nobel prizes respectively.  That makes for a total of 49 Nobel Prize Laureates out of 871 that have been awarded in the history of the prize.  The list of winners broken down by university can be found on the official Nobel website.  Since the awards are international in nature that is a truly impressive number with these Cambridge universities associated with about 6% of all the recipients.  The number would be even more if you added other Boston institutions like Boston University’s School of Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Other recipients are being awarded as the week progresses.  I wonder if Cambridge can add to that number?

Here is a video of Professor Szostak as he experiences his first day of being a Nobel Laureate:

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  1. Jim says:

    Somewhat amazing that 7 Harvard/MIT grads won the Nobel prize in 2011.

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