Jewish Nobel Prize Winners Part I: Chemistry

Fact Paper 44-I

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer, winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Von Baeyer was the first of nineteen Jewish chemists to win the Nobel Prize. The first group of these distinguished Jewish scientists stemmed from upper class, aristocratic circles. As the years passed and the virulence of antisemitism burgeoned in Europe, emigration took place, and both the Jews and their science took root in England, Sweden and the Americas. No longer stemming from a privileged class, they lifted themselves up by their bootstraps to exalted positions in science. Photograph by courtesy of the Nobel e-Museum

A Question of Identification

There were 19 Jewish laureates of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in the 20th century, beginning with Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer who was honored with the prize in the year 1905 and ending with Alan J. Heeger, who received his prize in the year 2000.

Almost all stemmed from central Europe, at first as nationals, and then universally as emigrants or as the children of emigrants from Europe. An intriguing sociological pattern emerges as the roster of distinguished scientists is juxtaposed against the historical time line. During the earlier years of the millennium, these scientists were the scions of middle or upper class families, some of which had even been granted noble status. They were privileged to attend Europe's greatest universities. They identified themselves as patriotic nationals of their countries, and only peripherally as Jews.

As the 1920's melded into the 1930's, the rise of virulent antisemitism brought the scientists ever closer to recognition of their Jewish ethnicity, until, during the latter half of the 1930's, they were brutally brought to face up to their origins. A shift away from Europe to the western hemisphere ensued, first by emigration and then by birth from emigrant parents. In the process Jewish identification became integral to the psyche of these extraordinary people.

The early group came from long established families, high in governmental status and affairs, and generally of noteworthy accomplishment. The economic and political composition of the Jewish Nobel Prize winners shifted toward modest means as emigration took place. The latest group were composed of children of immigrant parents, gifted young people who lifted themselves up by their bootstraps to the pinnacle of academia.

First and Last; German Establishment to American Midwest

* Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1905, was the first of these distinguished personages. Friedrich, as his name suggests, was typical of the exalted Jewish hierarchy from which the earliest Jewish Nobel Prize winners in chemistry stemmed. He was born in Berlin on October 31, 1835, the son of Johann Jakob Baeyer and Eugenie née Hitzig. The family was already distinguished both in literature and the natural sciences. His father, Johann, enjoyed the rank of a lieutenant general. He is deservedly renowned on his own as the originator of the European system of geodetic measurement.

The common denominator between the families of all the Jewish Nobel Prize winners was a reverence for education. Friedrich's family provided the background for the scientific bent of their clearly brilliant son, encouraging his interest in doing chemical experiments. Friedrich made his first discovery at twelve years of age: a new double salt of copper.

Von Baeyer "devoted his first years as a student at the University of Berlin chiefly to physics and mathematics. In 1855 his old love for chemistry drew him to Bunsen's laboratory in Heidelberg. His studies on methyl chloride resulted in his first published work, which was issued in 1857. Next year he worked in Heidelberg in the private laboratory of the then-renowned Kekulé, and was associated with developing his ingenious structure theory. "Baeyer's life work was soon to bring this indeed most brilliant of chemical theories much resounding success."

* Alan J. Heegar, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000, by contrast, was born of a family that had immigrated to Iowa from Russia as Jewish immigrants in 1904. Alan's father had been four years old at the time of the move from the pogroms of Tzarist Russia to freedom in the "Golden Land." His mother was born in Omaha (Nebraska), a first generation child of Jewish immigrants. "My mother and father were married in the midst of the Great Depression," reported Alan, "... I was born on a bitter cold morning (20 deg. F. below zero) in Sioux City on January 22, 1936. I was told that when my father went out in the cold that morning, to go to the hospital to visit his wife, and newborn first son, his car would not start. Despite advice to the contrary, he walked to the hospital; his ears were frostbitten on the way."

Alan's father died when Alan was nine years of age. The family moved to Omaha, so that his mother could be close to her family. Alan and his brother Gerald were raised by his mother as a single parent in a house that they shared with her sister and her sister's children.

"One of my earliest memories," recalled Alan Heeger, "(long before my father died), is of my mother telling me of the importance of getting a university education. When she graduated from high school, she received a scholarship to go to university, but went to work instead; she was needed by her parents to help support the family. It was always clear to me that it was my responsibility to go to university."

"My early years," Alan Heeger wrote, "were spent in Akron (Iowa), a small mid-western town of 1000 people... I went to elementary school in Akron... " After his father's death and the move of the family to Omaha, Alan spent his undergraduate years at the University of Nebraska. He and his wife Ruth (a high school romance had led to marriage), moved into student housing at UC Berkeley. With Ph. D in hand, Alan joined the Physics department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained for over twenty years. The opportunity to build a special Physics department. at the UC Santa Barbara led Professor Heegar to spend there the following fifteen years.

Otto Wallach and Walter Kohn, second and eighteenth winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1910/1998). They typify the sociological change that took place through the twentieth century as the social standing of Jewish scientists changed from aristocratic to plebeian, and as the burgeoning virulence of antisemitism drove the scientists to emigration to England, Sweden and the Americas. Photographs courtesy of Nobel e-Museum

The Second and Eighteenth Prize Winners

* Otto Wallach, the winner of the 1910 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, was born in 1847 in Königsberg, Germany. He was the son of Gerhard Wallach and his wife, née Otilie Homa. His father was a high-ranking civil servant, who later became Auditor General at Potsdam.

Subjects like chemistry were rarely taught in secondary school in those days. Nor was Otto initially intrigued with science. He passed his early school years at the humanistic "Gymnasium" at Potsdam, in pursuit of history and art.

Otto's bent for science, however, soon made itself known at Gttingen, where he studied chemistry under several distinguished teachers. He soon left for Berlin, where he studied only one semester under other noted teachers and returned to Gttingen. By this time he had become so infatuated with the study of chemistry that he worked day and night, working so hard that he obtained his Ph. D after only five semesters.

Launched onto a scientific career Otto went on to eventually become Director of the Chemical Institute at Gttingen. In 1915, five years after receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, he retired from that and other prestigious posts. His retirement at the start of World War I was occasioned by the fact that six of his assistants were killed in action.

* Walter Kohn, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, wrote that he "was born in 1923 into a middle class Jewish family in Vienna... An early photo of my older sister and myself... -I look about 7 years old - shows me dressed up in a dark suit and a black top hat, toy glasses pushed down my nose, and carrying a large sign under my arm with the inscription "Professor Know-Nothing..."

"My mother was a highly educated woman with a good knowledge of German, Latin, Polish, and French and some acquaintance with Greek, Hebrew and English. Through her parents we maintained contact with traditional Judaism."

"...My mother enlisted me in the Akademische Gymnasium, a fine public high school in Vienna.... During this time it was my tacit understanding that I would eventually be asked to take over the family business."

".. The Anschluss changed everything. The family business was confiscated but my father was required to continue its management without compensation; my sister managed to emigrate rather promptly to England; and I was expelled from my school."

"My father, who had lost a brother, fighting on the Austria n side in World War I, was a committed pacifist. However, while the Nazi barbarians and their collaborators threatened the entire world, I could not accept his philosophy." Walter enlisted in the Canadian Infantry Corps during the last year of World War I. Later on "...I became active in attempts to bring an end to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race... My commitment to a humane and peaceful world remains strong and vibrant to this day."

"My feelings toward Austria,""my native land, are - and will remain - very painful. They are dominated by my vivid recollections of 1 years as a Jewish boy under Austrian Nazi regime, and by the subsequent murder of my parents, Salomon and Gittie Kohn, of other relatives and several teachers, during the holocaust..."

The Burgeoning of Antisemitism

* Richard Martin Willstäter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1915, was born in Karlsruhe in Baden on August 13, 1872. After his family moved to Nuremberg, he entered the Technical School there. At 18 years of age he went to the University of Munich, where he

studied science. There he entered into the Department of Chemistry under the future Nobel Prize winner von Baeter (see above). He was honored with the title of Extraordinary Professor in 1902. Willstäter married Sophie Leser, the daughter of a Heidelberg University professor.

Herr Professor Willstäter accepted a Professorial Chair at the Federal Technical College in Zurich. During the next seven years he followed up his already significant researches on the structure and synthesis of plant alkaloids.

Willstäter was recalled to Germany with an offer of a Research Laboratory and an honorary professorship at the University of Berlin. In the following two years he led a team of collaborators into his research into chlorophyll, haemoglobin and plant pigments, leading to the granting to him of the Nobel Prize in 1915.

The rising tide of antisemitism in Germany brought Willstäter's career to a tragic end, when, in 1924, as a gesture against the insidious entry of intolerance into German academia, he announced his retirement. The faculty, his students, and the Minister pleaded with the fifty-three year old to remain at his post. He refused, and thereafter rejected dazzling offers from at home and abroad. In 1938 he fled from the Gestapo with the help of his pupil, A. Stoll, losing all but a meager portion of his possessions.

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Chemistry

In 1911 Kaiser Wilhelm established the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry, and its offshoot, the Institute of Chemistry. The significant contributions of Jews to German science are made startlingly evident in the formation and early accomplishments of the Institute.

Jewish contributions to German science, to the German state and to its military might, glare out of the Institute's history. The substantive contributions made by Jews earned nothing but ingratitude.

The Institute was made possible by a generous endowment from Leopold Koppel, a wealthy industrialist and banker who endowed 700,000 marks were endowed for its building and equipment, together with an ten-year annual grant of 35,000 marks toward the operating expenses. At the opening ceremony Koppel announced an additional donation of 300,000 marks..The State of Prussia added an additional annual allocation of 50,000 marks.

* Fritz Haber, a Jewish chemist who subsequently won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918, was appointed Director of the Institute. Fritz was born in 1868 of one of the oldest families of Breslau. His father, Siegfried Haber, was a successful merchant. Fritz began his academic studies at the University of Heidelberg. In 1896 Haber qualified as a Privatdozent with a thesis on the composition and combustion of hydrocarbons. In 1906 was appointed Director of the Institute at Karlsruhe, established to study these matters. His brilliant electrochemical and numerous subsequent researches, and his evident directorial talents were recognized with his appointment as Director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Chemistry.

The outbreak of World War I radically changed the function of the Institute. It was placed under military control and undertook researches on explosives, chemical weapons and methods of protection against them. At the end of the war Fritz Haber's military research led the Allies to label him a "War Criminal." Nonetheless, in recognition of his numerous scientific innovations, the Swedes conferred upon him the 1918 Nobel Prize for Chemistry,

After the war, Haber was able to return to fundamental research. The Institute became a Mecca for physical chemists. The outstanding achievements of the array of scientists inspired by the heady environment of the facility led to the period being dubbed the "Golden Years" of scientific research in Berlin.

In 1933, the stimulating environment was abruptly brought to an end. The Nazis demanded that Haber dismiss all racially undesirable staff members. Haber was excepted from the decree, but he refused to submit to it and rendered his resignation. The Department heads, Freundlich and Polynyi likewise resigned and escaped from Germany.

Haber had no alternative but exile. He emigrated to England in the autumn of 1933. In 1934 Haber went to visit the recently founded Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot, Palestine. The Sieff Institute became the Weizman Institute, one of the most creative and productive institutes for scientific research on the contemporary scene.

Fritz Haber, tragically, did not live to see that dream become a reality. He died in Basle on his way to Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel.

The Fritz Haber center was initiated in 1981 as the first Minerva center in the Hebrew University.

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry, and its parallel Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Chemistry. They were founded in 1911 and placed under the directorship of Fritz Haber, a Jewish future winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A large proportion of Jewish scientists were among the staffs of both Institutes, and they made significant contributions to German science and military might. Nonetheless, Director Haber was ordered in 1933 to dismiss “all racially undesirable staff members.” Haber resigned. Photograph courtesy of Nobel e-Museum

Emigration of the Jewish Chemists

* George de Hevesy, winner of the 1943 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was born in Budapest in 1885. He was the son of Louis de Hevesy, Court Counselor, and Eugénie, née Baroness Schlosberger. Hevesy was a typical representative of the Jewish scions of European aristocracy. Albeit other Prize winners were subsequently born in Europe, they came from less affluent families, and lived the American dream rather than enjoyed the advantages of European privilege.

George de Hevesy ended up abroad, not because he suffered Nazi brutality, but because he had left before antisemitism infected Germany and Hungary.

Hevesy studied at Budapest University, at Berlin Technical University, and gained his Ph. D. in 1908 at the University of Freiberg. He witnessed the fundamental work of Haber (see above) at the University of Switzerland, and then traveled to study in Manchester, England. In 1915 he was drafted into the Austrian-Hungarian army, and in 1919, after the war, he went to Copenhagen to participate in the projected Niehls Bohr Institute. He settled in Copenhagen.

Six years later Hevesy returned to Freiberg, but in 1930 he accepted an appointment as Baker lecturer at Cornell University, returning four years later to the Niehls Bohr Institute in Stockholm.

* Melvin Calvin, winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was born in St. Paul, Minnesota of Russian immigrant parents. He married Genevieve, née Jemtegaard, daughter of Norwegian immigrants.

After receiving his Ph. D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Calvin spent two years at the University of Manchester. On return to the USA, in 1937 he began a noteworthy academic career at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Director of the big-organic chemistry in the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory since 1947. His laboratory is peopled by emigrants from all areas of science on both sides of chemistry-physics on the one hand and biology on the other.

Dr. Calvin was honored with a Nobel Prize for his large body of creative work, but specifically for his innovative work in photosynthesis.

* Max Ferdinand Perutz, winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, was born in Vienna in 1914. Both his parents, Hugo Perutz and Dely Goldschmidt, came from the families of affluent textile manufacturers. They had made their fortune in the nineteenth century with the introduction of mechanical spinning and weaving into Austria.

In 1932 Max entered Vienna University where he said that he "wasted five semesters in an exacting course of inorganic analysis." His father financed his maintenance as a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He has been at Cambridge ever since.

Max Perutz was fortunate in being in England at the time of Hitler's Anschluss into Austria and Czechoslovakia.

The family's business was expropriated, and the family became refugees. Without support, and involved with the rescue and sustenance of his family, his funds were soon exhausted. Circumstances changed when, in recognition of his talents, he was appointed research assistant to Sir Lawrence Bragg under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1939. In 1942 he married Gisela Piser

In 1947 Perutz was made head of the newly constituted Medical Council Research Unit for Molecular Biology. He was one of only two scientists constituting the entire staff. Perutz's researches ranged from the`structure of haemoglobin to the mechanism of glacial flow!

* William H. Stein, winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was born in New York City to Freed M. and Beatrice Borg Stein. "My father," Stein wrote in his autobiography, "was a business man who was greatly interested in communal affairs, particularly those dealing with health, and he retired quite early in life to devote his full time to such matters as the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association, Montefiore Hospital, and others. My mother, too, was greatly interested in communal affairs and devoted most of her life to bettering the lot of the children of New York City. During my childhood, I received much encouragement from both of my parents to enter into medicine or a fundamental science."

Stein received a fine New York City education at Columbia University's Lincoln School of Teachers College. Mainly devoted to th creative arts, music and writing, a single course offered in chemistry inspired Stein at 16 to leave for the Phillips Exeter Academy in New England, from which he passed on to Harvard. A year later Stein found his final nook in science at the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons. "While still graduate student, I had the extreme good fortune to marry, in 1936, Phoebe Hockstader who has been of enormous support to me ever since."

* Herbert C. Brown, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was the son of Charles Brovarnik and Pearl Goldstein. They "were born in Zhitomir in the Ukraine," wrote Brown, "and came to London in 1908 as part of the vast Jewish immigration in the early part of [the twentieth] century.... In June, 1914, my father decided to join his mother and father and other members of his family in Chicago... My grandfather's name had been anglicized to Brown, and that became my name."

"... My father had been trained as a cabinet maker, doing delicate inlaid work. However, he found little market for his skills in the U. S. and turned to carpentry."

"The Depression of 1920 persuaded him to go into business and he opened a small hardware store in Chicago at 18th and State Street, largely a black neighborhood. We lived in an apartment above the store..."

Brown's high school education was interrupted by the death of his father, and Brown went to work running the store. His mother, noting that Brown spent more time reading than attending to business, took over his duties and allowed her son to return to school.

In 1930 the depression forced the sale of the store. With little hope of finding a job, Brown entered Crane Junior College, became fascinated with chemistry, and remained with the discipline thereafter. After one semester, the college was closed for "lack of funds."

"I then heard that one of the instructors at Crane, Dr. Nicholas Cheronis, had opened his laboratory to several students... I went there and grew to know and love a fellow student, Sarah Baylen."

"In 1934 Wright Junior College opened its doors. We went there and graduated in 1934." Herbert and Sarah entered the University of Chicago in 1935. Brown took ten courses instead of the usual three, and earned his B.S. one year later in 1936.

Sarah went to work to keep them solvent. Brown's academic career was launched with a post-doctorate position at Wayne University. In 1960 Brown was granted a post as Wetherill Distinguished Professor.

* Walter Gilbert, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was born in 1932 in Boston. " My father," wrote Gilbert in his autobiography, "Richard V. Gilbert, an economist, was at that time at Harvard University. He worked for the Office of Price Administration during the Second World War, and later headed up a planning group advising th Pakistani government. My mother, Emma Cohen, was a child psychologist, who practiced giving intelligence tests to me and my younger sister. She educated us at home for the first few years... In 1939 my family moved to Washington D.C.; I was educated there...

Gilbert went to Harvard, majoring in chemistry and physics., working on the "theory of elementary particle and the quantum theory of fields." He then went to Cambridge where he received his doctorate. On return to a Harvard he taught a wide range of courses in theoretical physics.

"In the course of 1960, Jim Watson told me about an experiment that he and Francois Gros and his students were working on. I found these ideas exciting and joined in for the summer. We were trying to identify messenger RNA... which serves as a carrier of information from the genome to the ribosomes, the factories that make proteins..."

* Paul Berg, the 1980 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was born in 1926 to Harry Berg and Sarah Brodsky in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in New York, studied biochemistry at Pennsylvania State College and served in the U. S. Navy from 1944-46.

Berg pursued graduate studies at Western Reserve University, obtained postgraduate training at the Institute of Cytopathology in Copenhagen, Denmark and continued that training at Washington University, where he became an Assistant Professor of Microbiology. In 1939, at the age of 33 he become a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine.. He was chairman of the Department of Biochemistry from 1969-74.

Paul Berg was in the forefront of recombinant DNA research. In 1985 Berg became the director of the New Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. In 1991 he was named head of the influential Human Genome Project Scientific Advisory Committee..

* Roald Hoffman, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was the son of Hillel Safran and Clara Rosen in 1937 in Zlocow Poland. "I was named after Roald Amund-son, my first Scandinavian connection. My father was a civil engineer... my mother by training a school teacher."

"... In 1940 darkness descended and the annihilation of Polish Jewry began. We went to a ghetto, then a labor camp. My father smuggled my mother and me out of the camp in early 1943, and for the remainder of the year we were hidden by a good Ukrainian in the attic of a school house in a nearby village. My father remained behind in the camp. He organized a breakout attempt which was discovered." Hoffman's father and most of the rest of the family were killed. "My mother and I, and a handful of relatives... were freed by the Red Army in June 1944... My mother remarried, and Paul Hoffmnan was a kind and gentle father to me until his death."

The family left Poland for Czechoslovakia, moved from camp to camp until they came to the United States in 1949. Roald went to "the great Stuyvesant High School, one of New York's selective science schools... I went to Camp Juvenile in the Catskills, a formative experience."

Hoffman attended Columbia College as a premedical student, worked in the summer at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington. The following summer he worked at the Brookhaven National Laboratory where he was thrust into the joys of research. In 1958 he began graduate work at Harvard, obtained a scholarship at a school on Lidingö, an island outside of Stockholm. "I met Eva Börjesson... and we were married the following year."

Dr. Hoffman also wrote poetry and essays. " Some of my poems are about science, some not. I don't stress the science because science is only one part of my life... One thing is certainly not true: that scientists have some greater insight into the working of nature than poets."

* Aaron Klug, winner of the 1982 Noble Prize in Chemistry was "born in 1926 to Lazar and Bella (née Siln) Klug in Zilvas, Lithuania, but [I] remember nothing of the place because I was brought to South Africa as a child of two. My father was trained as a saddler."

Klug was inspired to study medicine after reading Microbe Hunters, by Paul de Kruif. He went on from a pre-medical course to biochemistry, physics and mathematics at the University of Cape Town on a scholarship offered in return for demonstrating in laboratory classes. "The University lay in a beautiful site on the slopes of Table Mountain, which one climbed on weekends." There he did research in optics, and stayed on to work on the x-ray analysis of some small organic compounds. Other scholarships enabled Klug to enter Cambridge in 1949.

Before entering Cambridge Klug married Liebe Bobrow, whom he had met in Cape Town. She had trained in modern dance, and became a choreographer and coordinator for the Cambridge Dance Group.

After earning his Ph. D. at Cambridge, Klug spent the next year in the Colloid Science department, work which led Klug to biological science and to the discoveries that earned him a Nobel Prize.

* Jerome Karle, winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was the second winner to have had his early schooling at Abraham Lincoln High School in New York City. His mother was an accomplished pianist and organist, who encouraged Jerome to become a professional pianist.

Graduating at 14 years of age, he had suffered embarrassment among students 3 years his senior. City College proved a challenge for the young lad, especially since he had to spend three hours each day on the subway to college, marking the end of piano practicing. Karle earned his masters after a mere year at Harvard.

Lack of finances made it impossible for Karle to continue. "I went to work with the New York State Health Department in Albany [where] I developed a procedure for determining the amount of Fluorine in water supplies that became a standard method. This was my first modest contribution to science."

After earning enough to continue studies, "I entered the Chemistry Department of the University of Michigan in 1940, where I met my wife Isabella Lugoski, whom I married in 1942 at an adjoining laboratory desk the first day I went to physical chemistry class... [I] went to work on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago. Isabella joined me on this project a few months later."

Jerome and Isabella shared much of the subsequent research together, after Karle passed a stint at the University of Michigan, they both went to work permanently in Washington for the Naval Research Laboratory. This did not prevent Isabella from mothering three children!

* Herbert A. Hauptman, likewise a winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was the son of Israel Hauptman and Leah Rosenfeld. Hauptman is another distinguished graduate of the City College of New York, where he pursued his early bent for science. He went on to earn a masters degree in mathematics from Columbia University. He married Edith Citynell in 1940.

After the war Hauptman pursued a basic career in science in collaboration with Jerome Karle (see above) at the Naval Research Laboratory. "By 1954 I had received my Ph. D. degree and Dr. Karle and I had laid the foundation of the direct methods in x-ray crystallography.

In 1972, after two years with the crystallographic group of the Medical Foundation of Buffalo, Hauptman became its Research Director.

* Sidney Altman, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, "was born in Montreal in 1939, the second son of immigrant parents. My mother worked in a textile mill and my father in a grocery store before they met and married."

"... For our immediate family and relatives, Canada was a land of opportunity. However, it was made clear to the first generation of Canadian-born children that the path to opportunity was through education. No sacrifice was too great to forward education."

Sidney's fascination with science was occasioned at six years of age by two stimuli that he remembers clearly: the appearance of the A-bomb, and seven years later, a book about the periodic table. Altman attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There I experienced four years of over-stimulation among brilliant, arrogant and zany peers and outstanding teachers... During my final semester at MIT, I took a short introductory course in molecular biology to find out what the excitement was all about. That course, taught by Cyrus Levinthal, familiarized me with nucleic acids and molecular genetics and prepared me for future encounters with these topics."

Altman was hooked. He went on to Columbia, the university of Colorado Medial Center, Harvard, and then landed at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. "It turned out to be scientific heaven."

In 1985 he became the Dean of Yale College.

* Rudolph A Marcus, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, pursued his interest in mathematics and science at McGill where he followed through to his Ph. D. Like most of the other Nobel Prize winners, Marcus thereafter gained rich experiences, opportunities for research and stimulating associates in a wide variety of academic campuses. It seems that such training, for a receptive and capable researcher has much to do with the creative work that leads to recognition. Marcus entered a post-doctoral program at the National Council of Canada in Ottawa, passed on to a research fellowship at the University of North Carolina, a position at Brooklyn Poly, and subsequently at New York University. In 1964 Marcus joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, did a stint as Visiting Professor at Oxford and as a Humboldt Awardee at the Technical University of Munich. In 1978 he became a Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

Marcus acknowledged his debt in retrospect. "There was a time when I had wondered about how much time and energy had been lost doing experiments during most of my stay at Brooklyn Poly... and during all of my stay at NRC and at McGill. In retrospect, I realized that this experimental background heavily flavored my attitude and interests in theoretical research."

The same could be said about all the Nobel Prize winners. It becomes evident from the record that an equally seminal factor was the traditionally Judaic reverence for literacy and learning that they all experienced in their families during their formative young years.

Neither of Marcus' parents were fortunate enough to have been able to receive a higher education. Nonetheless, Marcus proudly recounts that "my mother used to wheel me about the [McGill] campus when we lived in that neighborhood, and, as she recounted years later, she would tell me that I would go to McGill. There was some precedent for my going, since two of my father's brothers received their M. D.'s at McGill."


This paper did not enter significantly into the massive scientific accomplishments of the Nobel Prize winners. Those who wish to review technical aspects of their work can log into the website, or into the individual websites of the scientists. We acknowledge that debt with heart-felt thanks.

This paper quoted and paraphrased those sources to such an extent that it would be far too unwieldy to annotate every reference.