Science and Mathematics

The following is a growing list of Princeton alumni who have made contributions in the area of science and mathematics.

Please note: As is traditional when referring to Princeton alumni, each name is followed by the individual's graduation year. Those with undergraduate degrees are preceded with an apostrophe (e.g., David Billington '50), and those with graduate degrees are preceded with an asterisk (e.g., Elaine Fuchs *77). All alumni who graduated prior to 1930 will have their class year spelled out — including undergraduate alumni (e.g., Henry B. Fine, Class of 1880) and graduate alumni (e.g., Clinton Davisson, GS 1911).

Frances Arnold '79 – Scientist at Caltech who received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the directed evolution of enzymes". Arnold, who earned her B.S.E. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, is the first Princeton alumna to win a Nobel Prize and the first undergraduate alum — male or female — to win in the natural sciences.

William O. Baker *39 – President of Bell Labs from 1973 to 79; advances made during his tenure led to the first operational fiber-optic system. Served as scientific adviser to presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan; received 11 patents for his research on the crystalline molecular structure of plastic and rubber; awarded the Presidential National Security Medal in 1982 and National Medal of Science in 1988.

John Bardeen *36 – Only two-time Nobel laureate in physics, in 1956 as co-inventor of the transistor, in 1972 for discovery of superconductivity.

David Billington '50 – Professor of engineering from 1961 to 2010, director of the program in architecture and engineering from 1990 to 2008; legendary teacher of more than 5000 engineers at Princeton; named and revolutionized study of structural art as a formal part of the engineering curriculum, bridging fine arts, architecture and engineering.

T. Berry Brazelton '40 – Pediatrician; author of 26 books on pediatrics and child development; host of popular cable TV program, "What Every Baby Knows"; often called the most influential baby doctor since Dr. Spock. Hospitals worldwide use the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS).

Michael Brown '87 – Astronomer and professor at Caltech; discovered Eris, the largest dwarf planet and most distant object to orbit the sun. The discovery has helped answer questions about the atmosphere surrounding Eris and Pluto.

Don Cleveland *77 – While still in graduate school, developed a rapid method for identifying and characterizing proteins. Solved a 100-year-old genetic puzzle and determined that the same genetic mechanism that drives tumor growth also can act as a tumor suppressor.

Arthur Holly Compton, GS 1916 – Nobel laureate in physics in 1927 for his discovery and explanation of the Compton Effect (change in wavelength of X-rays and other energetic forms of electromagnetic radiation when they collide with electrons). Later was instrumental in initiating the Manhattan Project, and directed the development of the first nuclear reactors.

Karl Compton, GS 1912 – President of MIT from 1930 to 1948. Developed a new approach to the teaching of science and engineering and set up the graduate school. Member of the committee that advised President Harry Truman on the use of the atomic bomb, and helped organize the American Institute of Physics.

Charles "Pete" Conrad '53 – Astronaut who walked on moon on the Apollo XII mission in 1969 (bringing the Princeton flag); space commander of Gemini XI, setting a world record in highest achieved altitude; commander of Skylab II, the first U.S. space station.

Clinton Davisson, GS 1911 – Nobel laureate in physics in 1937 for his discovery that electrons can be diffracted like light waves, thus verifying the thesis of Louis de Broglie that electrons behave both as waves and as particles. This discovery verified quantum mechanics' understanding of the dual nature of subatomic particles and proved to be useful in the study of nuclear, atomic and molecular structure.

Sidney Drell '47 – Physicist, influential arms-control specialist, winner of MacArthur Fellowship, co-author of two books on quantum mechanics, member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and Science Advisory Committee.

Richard Feynman *42 – Nobel laureate in physics in 1965 for expanding the theory of quantum electrodynamics; also did important research into particle theory and the superfluidity of liquid helium. Assisted in the creation of the atomic bomb; invented Feynman diagrams, a tool to calculate and conceptualize subatomic particles.

Henry B. Fine, Class of 1880 – Leading 19th-century mathematician and mathematical and scientific educator; made Princeton a leading center for the study of mathematics.

Elaine Fuchs *77 – Cell biologist and pioneer in biochemical and molecular studies of human skin diseases; leader in the modernization of dermatology; pioneer in reverse genetics.

Margaret Geller *75 – MacArthur Fellow; co-discoverer of the Great Wall of Galaxies, a cluster of galaxies 200 million light-years away.

Peter Gott '57 *58 – Author of America's most popular medical-advice column, "Ask Dr. Gott"; more than 10,000 readers write to him each month with questions concerning health.

Harry Hammond Hess *32 – In 1960 made the century's most important advance in geological science by theorizing that the Earth's crust moved laterally from long, volcanically active oceanic ridges. "Sea-floor spreading," as the process was later named, helped establish the concept of continental drift and plate tectonics.

Robert Hofstadter *38 – Physicist, received the Nobel Prize in 1961 for his research on electron scattering in atomic nuclei and his discoveries concerning the structure of the nucleons.

Craig Jordan *91 – Stem-cell researcher, identified a molecular switch involved in cell survival that appears to be unique to leukemia stem cells. This has led to the testing of drugs that appear effective at killing leukemia stem cells while sparing healthy stem cells.

Robert Kahn *64 – Former director at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, where he developed ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet.

Eric Lander '78 – Leader of the Human Genome Project; founder/director of the Broad Institute, a partnership between Harvard, MIT, the Whitehead Institute and other hospital systems with the goal of using the human genome to understand and treat diseases.

Walsh McDermott, Class of 1930 – Influential public-health official; developed anti-tuberculosis drug, Isoniazid, which is used worldwide today to prevent and treat tuberculosis.

William McElroy *43 – Discovered luciferase, the enzyme that causes fireflies to glow. This can be used in the detection of disease, in forensics and in other applications.

Edwin McMillan *33 – Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1951. He discovered neptunium, the first element heavier than uranium, and made important advances in the development of the cyclotron, a machine used to accelerate charged particles. Today this machine can help treat cancer in addition to being utilized in nuclear physics experiments.

William Francis Magie, Class of 1879 – Founder of the American Physical Society. An influential, longtime Princeton physics professor who was instrumental in the transformation of Princeton from a college to a university.

John Milnor '50 *54 – Mathematician known for his work in differential topology, K-theory, and dynamical systems. His most celebrated single result is his proof of the existence of 7-dimensional spheres with nonstandard differential structure. Winner of the Fields Medal, the highest honor for mathematicians.

W. Jason Morgan *64 – The first to propose that the Earth's surface was formed of plates; winner, 2000 Vetlesen Prize for Earth Science Achievement, National Medal of Science 2002; Princeton professor.

John Forbes Nash *50 – Nobel laureate in economics in 1994 for his work related to game theory; best known in popular culture as subject of the best-selling biography and popular motion picture "A Beautiful Mind."

Henry Fairfield Osborn, Class of 1877 – Eminent paleontologist and the driving force behind the establishment of the American Museum of Natural History as a preeminent scientific institution. Promoted eugenics.

Tullis Onstott *80 – Princeton geology professor known for his research into endolithic life beneath the Earth's surface, named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world (2007) because his work has shown that life can exist in extreme conditions on earth and hence possibly in outer space.

Wilder Penfield, Class of 1913 – Neurosurgeon; did important research on causes of epilepsy; found a physical basis for memory; developed a map of the brain.

Sydney Pestka '57 – One of the developers of the anti-cancer drug interferon, which helps the immune system by inhibiting the reproduction of viruses and certain cancer cells.

John Prausnitz *55 – Creator of an entire discipline, molecular thermodynamics, and ranks among the most influential engineers of the last 50 years. His work (more than 660 papers, a major textbook and five monographs) combines approximate molecular theory with strategic data and computational power.

George Prendergast *89 – Cancer researcher, specializes in the areas of cancer-cell signaling and molecular cancer therapies. Current work focuses on genes that suppress cancer cells and on a novel immunomodulatory therapy. Also deputy editor at Cancer Research, the leading cancer journal.

Benjamin Rush, Class of 1760 – Physician who served as surgeon general during the American Revolution. Advocated preventive medicine, including inoculations for smallpox and yellow fever, as well as hospital sanitation and respect for patients (especially the insane).

Henry Norris Russell, GS 1900 – Astronomer and director of the observatory at Princeton; established (with a colleague) the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which was crucial to understanding stellar evolution.

Lewis Sarett *42 – First chemist to synthesize cortisone; great contributor to the treatment of arthritis.

William B. Scott, Class of 1877 – Vertebrate paleontologist; leader of Princeton Patagonian expeditions; brought one of the most prominent paleontological collections in the world to the Princeton museum of geology and archaeology.

John H. Seinfeld *67 – Professor at the California Institute of Technology, atmospheric scientist who developed the first mathematical models for describing urban air quality that are now used by air-quality managers around the world.

Frederick Seitz *34 – Co-inventor of the Wigner-Seitz unit cell, an important concept in solid state physics; president of Rockefeller University from 1968 to 1978; noted skeptic about global warming and whether CFCs damage the ozone layer.

Richard Smalley *74 – Nobel laureate in 1996 in chemistry, for the discovery of a pure form of carbon called buckminsterfullerene, the so-called "Bucky Balls" (the most symmetrical molecules ever discovered). The carbon is significant because it helps physicists attain a deeper understanding of high-temperature superconductivity.

Henry DeWolf Smyth, Class of 1918, GS 1921 – Professor of physics from 1924 to 1966. Physicist, diplomat and government official who played several key roles in the early development of nuclear energy. Authored the first official history of the Manhattan Project; commissioner on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1949 to 1954; U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1961 to 1970.

Gerald Soffen *61 – Project scientist for the Viking Mars Project; founder of the Mission to Planet Earth program; creator of the NASA Academy (10-week summer program designed to give future leaders/astronauts a look into how NASA functions).

David Spergel '82 – Astrophysics professor at Princeton; developer of the WMAP satellite and mission, which continues to beam back data from space about the origins of the universe. In 2006, Spergel and his team released groundbreaking results in support of inflation theory, a model that explains the growth of the universe following the Big Bang.

Lyman Spitzer *38 – Physicist known as the "Father of the Hubble Space Telescope." Princeton professor from 1947 to 1997; founder of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory; NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope honors his work.

Connie Liu Trimble '84 – Oncologist whose research has helped lead to a vaccine against cervical cancer.

John Tukey *39 – Mathematician/statistician known for his work in the telecommunications industry; coined the terms "bit" and "software"; Princeton professor from 1950 to 2000.

Alan Turing *38 – Developed foundation for the modern computer; leader in breaking German "Enigma" codes during WWII.

Steven Weinberg *57 –Nobel Prize in physics in 1979 for his work in unified field theory. Weinberg theorized that two forces in physics, the electromagnetic and the weak force, are the same at extremely high energy levels — an important step toward finding a single elegant equation to explain all the matter and forces in nature.

Frank Wilczek *75 – Nobel Prize winner in physics in 2004 for explaining the force that holds the parts of an atomic nucleus together — another important step toward developing a unified theory for everything.

Edward Witten *76 – Pioneer in string theory; winner of the Fields Medal, the highest honor for mathematicians; professor, Institute for Advanced Study.