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Physics Nobels dominated by refugees and migrants

23 November 20210 comments

More than a quarter of Nobel Prize for Physics winners are refugees or migrants, according to a survey by PhysicsWorld magazine.

The magazine, which reports on the science of Physics, looked at the backgrounds of the Physics Nobel laureates.

It found that some of the most famous names in Physics are migrants, and include: Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and Guglielmo Marconi.

There were no migrant laureates this year, with Roger Penrose, Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel all currently living in the countries where they were born.

But in 2020, Canada-born James Peebles won while living in the US and Switzerland-born Didier Queloz while living in the UK.

PhysicsWorld says that out of a total of 215 physics Nobel laureates, 56 are immigrants – or more than a quarter.

Sir William Bragg was an Australian-born physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1915 for his work in X-ray crystallography while working in the UK.

American-born Professor Brian Schmidt, who is the Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, won the 2011 Nobel Prize for work proving that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. 

No other field has such a high percentage of migrants at the pinnacle of achievement, with the possible exception of professional football, the magazine says.

Physics writer Hamish Johnston says that one of the joys of working in physics is that it is a truly global affair.

“Many university physics departments, for example, have large numbers of people who were born abroad – from students to senior professors,’ he said.

“I believe that this diversity is crucial to the success of these institutions, which seek to attract the best physicists from around the world.

“Also, people from elsewhere bring with them a broad range of experiences that can enhance how research is done. And from a personal point of view, I suspect many physicists enjoy meeting and working with scientists from different cultures,” Dr Johnston said.

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