Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are the most recent examples of mega-philanthropy on the part of extremely successful entrepreneurs. Though the lasting impact of their acts of generosity is uncertain, if the legacy of Alfred Nobel is any indication, then that impact may be transformational.
Nobel left his fortune to endow "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind." Since the first awards in 1901, when the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Wilhelm Conrad Rӧntgen for development of x-ray technology, Nobel Prize Laureates continue to make a lasting contribution to humanity. Between 1901 and 2015 the Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences were awarded 573 times to a total of 874 individuals and 26 organizations. The achievements the Prizes have rewarded, and the accomplishments they have motivated, are legion.
Scientists, writers and peacemakers from the United States have played a key part in the Nobel legacy. Considering all the Nobel Prizes from 1901 to 2015, 42% were awarded to people in the US. This represents a "benefit to mankind" in which many Americans rightly take great pride. However, when we investigate the proportion of Nobel Laureates from the US who are foreign-born, a fascinating side of the story emerges. From 1901 through 2015, 31% of the U.S. Nobel Laureates were born outside of the US, even though since 1901 the immigrant proportion of the general US never exceeded 15% and now stands at 13%.
This year's Laureates reinforce the trend. Nine individuals have been designated as Noel Laureates this year. Four of these nine are affiliated with US research institutions, but only one of these four, Paul Modrich, was born in the US. Here are the stories of the recent US Nobel Prize winners who were immigrants to the US.
Dr. William Campbell: 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Born in Ireland, Dr. William Campbell, a Research Fellow Emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, shares a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Satoshi Omura of Japan. Dr. Campbell received an early Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin to complete a doctorate on liver flukes, a type of flatworm and became a US citizen in 1962. His contributions have since aided in revolutionizing the treatment of parasitic diseases. His work led to the near eradication of river blindness and substantially reduced the incidence of lymphatic filariasis, which afflicts more than 100 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of permanent disability.
Angus Deaton: 2015 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel
Born in Scotland, Princeton University economist Angus Deaton received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his analyses of the relationships between consumption, poverty, and welfare. Professor Deaton helped to transform the field of economics by creating connections between individual choices and aggregate outcomes. In particular, his work is motivated by three key questions essential to designing policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty: 1) How do consumers distribute their spending among different goods? 2) How much of society's income is spent and how much is saved? 3) How do we best measure and analyze welfare and poverty?
Aziz Sancar: 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Professor Aziz Sancar was born in Savur, Turkey and is currently at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Sancar was one of eight children born to illiterate parents. After earning a medical degree at Istanbul University he completed his doctoral studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. Professor Sancar is one of three members of a Nobel Prize winning team of chemists studying the molecular systems that monitor and repair DNA. In particular, Professor Sancar has worked to map the means by which cells repair ultra violet damage to DNA. His basic research into the functioning of cells offers insights for the development of new treatments for skin cancer.
Shuji Nakamura: 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics
If we look back to the 2014 Nobel Laureates, Shuji Nakamura, who won the Physics Prize, is another shining example. Professor Nakamura won his prize for his role in the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which allow for more efficient sources of light. After receiving his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tokushima, Japan, Dr. Nakamura left his position at Nichia, a Japanese-based chemical engineering and manufacturing company, to come to the United States as a professor of materials and electrical & computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Currently, he holds more than 200 US patents and over 300 Japanese patents.
Immigrant Nobel Prize Winners Contributing to the US and the World
From the x-ray to treatments for cancer and river blindness, from shaping public policy to the small energy efficient blue lights that are ubiquitous in today's electronics, Alfred Nobel's legacy has truly made our world a better place. In doing so Alfred Nobel set a high bar for today's generation of mega-philanthropists.
Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett have something else in common, beyond their outsized philanthropic tendencies that resonates with the Nobel bequest. Gates and Buffett united with Sheldon Adelson in a 2014 New York Times Op-Ed contribution to urge Congress to "Break the Immigration Impasse". And Zuckerberg, in his letter announcing that he would give 99% of the value of his Facebook shares to charitable causes, wrote: "Can we truly empower everyone -- women, children, underrepresented minorities, immigrants and the unconnected? If our generation makes the right investments, the answer ... can be yes -- and hopefully within your lifetime."
As in the past, this year's Nobel Prize celebrates the best mankind has to offer. And, as in the past, immigrants to the US figure prominently in this year's celebration. Immigrants to America have continually played a key role in the success of Alfred Nobel's behest, if the US can implement the immigration reform favored by today's philanthropists, then future immigrants to America may not only realize the potential of modern day patrons, but also sustain the contribution of American immigrants to Alfred Nobel's legacy.
More information on the immigrant Nobel Laureates in the U.S. may be found here.
Co-authored by Alysia Blake