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Eight from MIT win Nobels in 5 fields; Kofi Annan's Peace Prize caps week

Eight Nobel Prize recipients with MIT connections won Nobel Prizes in five fields this week--medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and peace.

The Peace Prize award Friday to the United Nations and Kofi Annan (MIT S.M. 1972) capped a week in which a current professor, a former professor and six alumni shared the prestigious prizes.

MIT President Charles M. Vest commented, "It is thrilling and absolutely extraordinary that eight people who have taught or studied at MIT are among the 13 Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, biology, economics, and peace. This is testimony to the excellence of students and faculty who are attracted to MIT, and to our dedication to intense work in fields of fundamental importance. Among the winners I know personally, the quality and creativity of students at MIT is frequently cited as a great strength of MIT.

"Looking at the history of the Nobel Prizes in recent years, it is noteworthy that in many fields, the basic research done early in an individual's career, shortly after attaining a Ph.D., is the work that is rewarded years later with the Nobel Prize," Vest said.


Leland H. Hartwell (MIT Ph.D. 1964), director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and professor at the University of Washington, shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with two British scientists, R. Timothy Hunt and Sir Paul M. Nurse of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Hertfordshire and London.

The award was given for their discovery of key molecules that regulate how cells multiply in living things. Hartwell, who studied at MIT under the mentorship of Professor Boris Magasanik, won the award for his 1970-71 experiments at the University of Washington.


Wolfgang Ketterle, John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics, on Tuesday shared the Nobel Prize for physics with Eric A. Cornell, a 1990 MIT Ph.D. recipient and now a senior scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colo.; and Carl E. Wieman, a 1973 MIT physics graduate and a physics professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Cornell studied under MIT physics professor David Pritchard and Weiman studied under MIT physics professor Daniel Kleppner.

They won the award for discovering a new kind of matter in the Bose-Einstein condensate, an ultra-cold state of matter in which atoms "sing in unison." The new state of matter was predicted in 1924 by the Indian physicist Satyendra Bose and Albert Einstein.


K. Barry Sharpless, an MIT chemistry professor for 17 years until he joined Scripps Research Institute in 1990, on Tuesday shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in chemistry with retired Monsanto Company chemist William S. Knowles and Professor of Chemistry Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University.

They won the Nobel for developing molecules that can catalyze important chemical reactions so that only one of two mirror-image forms is reproduced. Such knowledge could have prevented the thalidomide disaster in the 1960s, which was caused by a molecule with the harmful mirror image.

Sharpless started his quest for a practical catalyst for asymmetric epoxidation while at MIT and completed his quest at MIT, following a key breakthrough that took place in January 1980 at Stanford, where he taught for three years. He then moved back to MIT and fully developed the process now known as the Sharpless Asymmetric Epoxidation and the Sharpless Asymmetric Dihydroxylation.


George A. Akerlof of the University of California at Berkeley and Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University, both of whom earned the Ph.D. from MIT in economics in 1966, shared the Nobel Prize in economics with Michael Spence of the Stanford Business School.

They studied the economics of goods where the buyer and seller have imperfect information. The prize was awarded "for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information." Both Akerlof and Stiglitz studied at MIT with Institute Professor Emeritus Robert Solow, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1987.


Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, who earned his S.M. in management in 1972, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations. The prize was awarded for "their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said, "Kofi Annan has devoted almost his entire working life to the UN. As Secretary-General, he has been pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization. While clearly underlining the UN's traditional responsibility for peace and security, he has also emphasized its obligations with regard to human rights. He has risen to such new challenges as HIV/AIDS and international terrorism, and brought about more efficient utilization of the UN's modest resources. In an organization that can hardly become more than its members permit, he has made clear that sovereignty can not be a shield behind which member states conceal their violations."

It concluded, "The only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations."

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