Australia for its small population has produced a remarkable number of
Nobel Prize winners.
- Lawrence Bragg & William
Bragg, physicists received the Nobel Prize in 1915 for their work in
x-ray crystallography. They remain the only father and son team to be
awarded the prize,
and Lawrence who was aged 25 at the time is still the youngest recipient
of the Nobel Prize for science.
- Howard Florey received the
prize in 1945 along with Alexander Fleming and Ernest Chain (both
British) for their work on the medicinal properties of penicillin. It
was Florey who later turned penicillin into the practical drug which was
to save millions of lives. (See
also Who was the Inventor?)
- Macfarlane Burnet
received the prize in 1960 for his work on immunology.
- John Eccles received the
prize in 1963 along with Andrew Huxley and Alan Hodgkin (both British)
for their work on nerve cells.
- Bernard Katz - received the prize in 1970 for Physiology and
- Patrick White received the
prize in 1973 for literature.
- John Cornforth received the prize in 1975 for chemistry.
- John Harsanyi (Hungarian & Australian) who received the prize
in 1994 for his mathematical contributions to economics.
- Peter Doherty and Rolf
M. Zinkernagel (Swiss & Australian) who received the prize in 1996
for their work in immunology.
- Barry Marshall and
Robin Warren received the prize in 2005 for their discovery in 1982
of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which causes stomach ulcers
- Elizabeth Blackburn
(dual Australian/American citizen) became Australia's first female Nobel
Prize winner for her work in chemistry and genetics in October 2009
sharing the prize with her US-based colleagues Carol Greider and Jack
- Brian Schmidt received
the prize in 2011 together with Adam Riess a and Saul Perlmutter (both
American) for their work in physics which showed that universe was
expanding at an accelerating rate.
Are they Australian?
We have used the
criteria as for our significant Australians in labelling people as
World class scientists often have to live and work where the research is
being conducted. Thus, while Sir John Cornforth was born and educated in
Australia (graduating from Sydney University despite his deafness) he did
most of his work in Britain. William & Lawrence Bragg did much of their work
in Britain, even though Lawrence was born in Adelaide and both worked there
for some time. Patrick White was sometimes scathing of his home country,
whereas Sir MacFarlane Burnett did most of his significant work in
Australia. Bernard Katz had been born in Germany but had long been a
naturalised Australian when he won the prize having served with the
Australian air force in WWII.
We have made two inclusions which some may see as stretching our
definition of 'Australian' too far. We have decided to include John
Harsanyi because, even though he did his initial study in Hungary and
his later work in USA, it was his postgraduate studies at Sydney University
that laid the groundwork for his change of direction from sociology to
economics in which he was to win his Nobel Prize. Brian Schmidt is a
joint US-Australian citizen and dis his groundbreaking work in Canberra,
Australia. We have also included Rolf Zinkernagel since he enrolled
at the Australian National University at the age of 28 and received his PhD
from that institution in 1975 and he did collaborate in his Nobel Prize
winning research with Peter Doherty. We suggest you read the brief
autobiographies they wrote at the time of the award and decide for yourself
whether you would include them on a list of Australian Nobel Prize winners.
(For the autobiographies see
John Harsanyi and
Rolf M. Zinkernagel)
We have decided not to include on our list Aleksandr Prokhorov who
won the Nobel Prize in 1964 for Physics. Although he was Australian born, he
left Australia at the age of seven and did all his major work in Russia. We
therefore would describe him as Australian-born rather than Australian.
Similarly Robert Robinson who had been Professor of Organic Chemistry
at the University of Sydney during the 1910s and received a Nobel Prize in
1947, was born in the UK and did most of his work there so we we have not
included him on our list.
Regardless of where they were born, where they worked, or what main
nationality they would claim, they are all remarkable people and worthy of
Currently, Sir John Cornforth, Peter Doherty, Rolf Zinkernagel, Barry
Marshall, Robin Warren, Elizabeth Blackburn and Brian Schmidt are
Australia's only living Nobel Prize Winners.
A number of Australians have shared in Nobel Prizes that have been
presented to groups or organisations. For instance in 2007 the Nobel Peace
Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on on Climate Change
(IPCC). Thus Professor Neville Nichols as a lead author together with a
number of other Australian scientists involved in the work shared in the
An Australian 'mentioned in despatches' at the Nobel Prize ceremonies was
F. M. Alexander who invented
'The Alexander Technique'. When accepting his Nobel Prize for Physiology and
Medicine in 1973, Professor Nikolaas Tinbergen said that Alexander's
"story of perceptiveness, of intelligence, and of persistence, shown by a
man without medical training, is one of the true epics of medical research
In addition we should mention another Nobel Prize Winner living in
Australia - John M. Coetzee. Coetzee was born in South Africa and won
the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003. He had lived in the UK and USA
before choosing to settle in Adelaide in 2002. He became an Australian
citizen in 2006.