Michigan State University’s Nobel Prize Winners Spartans Will? Spartans Did.

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Dec. 10 is known internationally as Nobel Prize Day. While modern-day earth shakers such as Malala Yousafzai and Albert Einstein are famously known for their Nobel Prizes, this year we’re looking back at Nobel Prize winners that have reinvigorated their industry with academic, cultural or scientific advances while also being proud Spartans. 

History of the Nobel Prize

The first Nobel Prizes were given in 1901 by Swedish and Norwegian institutions recognizing outstanding contributions to the following categories: Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine.  The Nobel Prize was widely acknowledged as the most prestigious award a scholar could achieve. 

Alfred Nobel, also known as the inventor of dynamite, bequeathed his entire fortune to the Nobel Prize in the year 1895. His hope was that the prize would be awarded to someone who promoted peace and new developments in the world, and that legacy remains today. Similarly, Nobel’s name survives in the element, nobelium, and various modern-day companies. 

The first Spartan to receive the Nobel Prize was Alfred Hershey in 1969, whose work prompted a new age of discovery in science and health. Learn more about Hershey and other Spartan Nobel Prize winners below. 

Alfred Hershey 

MSU alumnus Alfred Hershey received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969. Born in Owosso, Michigan, Hershey received his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and his Ph.D. in bacteriology at MSU. 

Hershey was awarded the Nobel Prize alongside Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück for their notable discovery of the replication of viruses and their unique genetic structure. Prior to the award, Hershey and his assistant Martha Chase performed the famous Hershey-Chase experiment, which proved that DNA, not protein, was the genetic material of life. 

He moved with his assistant Martha Chase to Laurel Hollow, New York in 1950 to join the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Genetics, where they performed their famous experiment. Their evidence on DNA changed the way that scientists now study genetics. 

Hershey passed in 1997, at the age of 88.

Robert H. Grubbs

In 2005, Robert H. Grubbs was awarded the Nobel Prize in the field of Chemistry for his discovery on olefin metathesis, “an organic reaction that entails the redistribution of fragments of alkenes (olefins) by the scission and regeneration of carbon-carbon double bonds,” from the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. 

Grubbs began his career as a chemist here at MSU. He received an honorary doctorate in science from MSU in 2006 for his outstanding work and contribution to chemistry at MSU and beyond. 

“Professor Grubbs has had a positive and lasting influence on innumerable colleagues and students throughout his academic career,” George Leroi, former dean of the College of Natural Science, said in a press release by MSU. 

Grubbs is currently the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology and continues to teach at MSU as a visiting professor. 

Albert Fert

Adjunct professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at MSU, Albert Fert, alongside his German colleague, was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007. He was awarded for his work with technology used to read information from computer hard drives, known to the science field as “the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance.” 

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at MSU has long-time ties to Fert and his work. It is because of Fert’s discovery that hard drives have become smaller and smaller over time. 

Not only did these Spartans make extraordinary contributions to their fields, but they also brought their findings back to MSU’s campus to inspire and educate a new generation. 

Nobel wanted this prize to be awarded to those who promote peace and education. These people all made contributions that initiated advancement, as well as a more understandable, and hopefully more equitable and peaceful, world.