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Physics
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Credit: Getty Images, PhotoDisc

Physics discoveries recognized by Nobel Prizes run the gamut from research into the properties of matter at its most fundamental level to the origins of stars, galaxies and the universe. NSF supports research at both these extremes and in many other areas of physics.

The NSF physics division supports the research of more than a thousand college and university faculty, and NSF-supported physics facilities serve thousands more researchers. NSF is also the lead federal agency for the support of ground-based astronomy, and NSF's astronomical sciences division supports both individual researchers and the operations of some of the largest ground-based telescopes in the world.

Since 1950, NSF has supported 62 Nobel Laureates in physics. For more on the Nobel Prize in Physics and each of the laureates listed here, see the Nobel Prize Web site.

2012

SERGE HAROCHE
DAVID J. WINELAND
“For ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.”
Haroche and Wineland were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. They independently invented and developed methods for measuring and manipulating individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature, in ways previously thought unattainable. Haroche, of the Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, received support from NSF as a principal investigator (PI) and co-PI in the 1980s, when he was at Yale University. Wineland, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado Boulder, was selected for a Graduate Research Fellowship in 1965.

2011

SAUL PERLMUTTER
BRIAN P. SCHMIDT
ADAM G. RIESS

“ For the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.” Perlmutter of the Supernova Cosmology Project of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley; Schmidt of the High-z Supernova Search Team, Australian National University; and Riess of the High-z Supernova Search Team, Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute revolutionized our understanding of the universe. In 1998, as key members of two research teams, they presented findings that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The acceleration is thought to be caused by "dark energy," so-called because little is known about it. NSF played a role in the foundations of the work, as numerous NSF-supported groups and instruments contributed to the discovery. NSF-funded researcher Robert Kirshner was a key player, and both Schmidt and Riess worked in his group when they were graduate students at Harvard University. Schmidt and Riess were supported by Kirshner's NSF grants during the period in the 1990s when key supernovae observations were made. Later, the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Perlmutter, and another team--the High-z Supernova Search Team, led by Schmidt in which Riess played a major role--examined the amount of light that was being emitted by a particular type of supernova, called Type-Ia supernova, in order to determine the distance of these stars. The work of the Supernova Cosmology Project was partly supported by NSF through the Center for Astroparticle Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. The two independent teams found that the light of over 50 distant supernovae was weaker than predicted--the supernovae, still set in their galaxies, were fading as they were being pushed away at an accelerated rate. Crucial observations of supernovae were made using the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) Blanco 4-meter Telescope operated by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), which is funded by NSF. NOAO's Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Gemini Observatory also played important roles either in the discovery phase or in follow-up observations.

2008

YOICHIRO NAMBU
“For the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics” Nambu's theories permeate the Standard Model of elementary particle physics which unifies the smallest building blocks of all matter and three of nature's four forces in one single theory. Nambu, of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago, received NSF support for research on theoretical elementary particle physics from the 1974 (7408833) to 1999 (9901194).

2006

JOHN C. MATHER
GEORGE F. SMOOT
“For the discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation” Mather, of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Smoot, of the University of California, Berkeley, shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work studying the infant Universe and contributing to a better understanding of the origin of stars and galaxies. Using the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite launched by NASA in 1989, they analyzed the cosmic microwave background radiation that is a relic of the "Big Bang." The detection of extremely small variations in the temperature of the radiation offered a clue to the distribution of matter in the early Universe. An NSF-funded summer physics program following 11th grade inspired Mather to become a scientist and he received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 1968. NSF supported Smoot's research for more than 20 years.

2005

ROY J. GLAUBER
“For his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence” Glauber received half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in physics. His analysis of quantum effects in laser optics laid the foundations for modern applications such as quantum cryptography. NSF supported Glauber's research with several grants in the 1970s.
Affiliation: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
THEODOR W. HÄNSCH
“For their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique” The other half of the physics prize went to John L. Hall of JILA (a research laboratory) and Hänsch for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique. Their work has made it possible to measure frequencies with an accuracy of fifteen digits. NSF funded Hänsch from 1977 through 1985. HÄNSCH
Affiliation: Max-Planck-Institute

2004

DAVID J. GROSS
H. DAVID POLITZER
FRANK WILCZEK
"For the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction." Gross, Politzer and Wilczek received the prize for their work related to the strong force, which binds quarks into protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. Both Wilczek and Politzer were supported by NSF graduate fellowships while they conducted their Nobel-recognized research. NSF support for Gross spans many years, beginning at Princeton University where Wilczek was his graduate student, and since the mid-1990s at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. NSF has supported the KITP since its creation in 1979 and supported Wilczek when he was a member of the KITP in the 1980s.

2003

ANTHONY J. LEGGETT
“For pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids.” Leggett was honored for his groundbreaking work in explaining the behavior of atoms in superfluids. Leggett, whose research NSF has supported over the past 20 years, formulated a theory to explain the complex superfluid behavior in the rare form of helium. The theory for this quantum phenomenon has also been able to shed light in other areas, including particle physics, cosmology and the study of turbulence. NSF support includes a series of awards from 1983 (8315550) through the present (0121568).

2002

RAYMOND DAVIS JR.
“For pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos.” NSF support has included five awards from 1985 (8512601) to 1991 (9115517) for observation of solar neutrinos. RICCARDO GIACCONI
“for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources” NSF support to Giacconi includes five awards from 1992 (9223814) through the present (0331358) for the operations of the NSF-funded National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). He was president from 1999-2004 of Associated Universities, Inc., which operates NRAO.

2001

ERIC A. CORNELL
WOLFGANG KETTERLE
CARL E. WIEMAN
“For the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates.” Cornell was honored by NSF with the 1997 Alan T. Waterman Award (9725291) and a research award in 2000 (0096822), while he was at JILA at the University of Colorado. NSF support for Wieman includes a long series of nearly 20 awards dating from as early as 1977 (7725712), and as recent as 2003 (0302134). Ketterle's NSF support includes three awards, starting in 1995 (9501984).

2000

HERBERT KROEMER
“For developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed-and opto-electronics.” NSF support includes a 1983 equipment award (8305131) to University of California, Santa Barbara and participation in a 1992 award for U.S.-German collaboration (9222876).

1998

ROBERT B. LAUGHLIN
HORST L. STÖRMER
DANIEL C. TSUI
“For their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations.” NSF support for Laughlin includes five awards from 1985 (8510062) to 1998 (9813899). While at Bell Labs, Störmer conducted the Nobel work using the Francis Bitter National Magnetic Laboratory at MIT, supported at the time by NSF as a user facility (7420706, 8211416, 8813164). He has since been a user at the NSF-supported National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (9016241, 9527035) at the University of Florida, a member of the MRSEC at Columbia University (9809687),and as of 2003, co-director of Columbia's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (0117752). Tsui's NSF support includes a continuous series of more than 10 awards spaaning from 1982 (8212167) through 2003 (0315710).

1997

STEVEN CHU
WILLIAM D. PHILLIPS
“For development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” NSF support for Chu began with an NSF Fellowship in 1977 (7712322) and continued with 10 awards in the 1990s (9320142). Phillips was supported by an NSF Fellowship (1970-1973). He has spent much of his career at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

1996

DAVID M. LEE
DOUGLAS D. OSHEROFF
ROBERT C. RICHARDSON
“For [their] discovery of superfluidity in helium-3.” NSF support for Lee dates back as early as a 1960 physics award and continued with electronically available awards through 1982 (8211508). Osheroff's NSF support includes an NSF Fellowship and five awards since 1988 (8803301). NSF support for Richardson includes a series of nearly 15 awards, beginning in 1975 with an a research award on low-temperature properties of helium-3 (7515933), and continuing through 2000 (0071630). Richardson also served as a member of the National Science Board from 1998-2004.

1995

FREDERICK REINES
“For the detection of the neutrino.” NSF support included three awards in the 1970s (7204474, 7523206, 7818359) related to the pursuit of the neutrino.

1994

CLIFFORD G. SHULL
“For the development of the neutron diffraction technique.” NSF support began with an award in 1962 and several electronically-available materials research awards in the 1970s (7001857) related to magnetic ordering and neutron physics.

1993

JOSEPH H. TAYLOR JR.
RUSSELL A. HULSE
“For the discovery of a new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation.” NSF support for Taylor includes four awards, beginning in 1975 (7523581), related to observation of pulsars. Hulse's NSF support includes an NSF Graduate Traineeship (1970-1973) and support as a student of Taylor.

1990

HENRY W. KENDALL
“For their pioneering investigations concerning deep inelastic scattering of electrons on protons and bound neutrons, which have been of essential importance for the development of the quark model in particle physics.” NSF support for Kendall includes an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at MIT (1954-1956).

1989

NORMAN F. RAMSEY
“For the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method and its use in the hydrogen maser and other atomic clocks.” NSF support dates back to awards in 1958 and 1960, as well as a series of seven electronically-available awards since 1974 (7412429) related to molecular beam, hydrogen maser and stored atom research. HANS G. DEHMELT
“For the development of the ion trap technique.” NSF support includes awards beginning as early as 1958, and a string of 15 awards from 1974 (7413727) through 1997 (9732444) related to isolating atomic particles at rest in space.

1988

LEON M. LEDERMAN
MELVIN SCHWARTZ
JACK STEINBERGER
“For the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino.” NSF supported Lederman as early as 1966 and during the 1970s at Columbia University as part of the team that discovered the bottom quark. NSF also supported Lederman through a number of awards (8120902, 8303817) for workshop and conference activities. NSF support for Schwartz includes an NSF Fellowship (1953-55) and awards beginning as early as 1962. His electronically-available awards include several in the 1970s (7308920). For Steinberger, NSF support began with a Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship in 1960 and an award in 1962.

1983

SUBRAMANYAN CHANDRASEKHAR
“For his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars.” NSF support includes four electronically-available awards starting in 1974 (7417456) related to gravitational physics and relativistic astrophysics. WILLIAM A. FOWLER
“For his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe.” Fowler cited NSF support in his Nobel Lecture. His NSF awards span from 1968 through the 1990s, often as part of the WK Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech. Fowler was also a member of the National Science Board from 1968-1974.

1982

KENNETH G. WILSON
“For his theory for critical phenomena in connection with phase transitions.” Wilson's NSF support dates back to an NSF Fellowship, an award from 1979 (7927167) for the purchase of a computer, and numerous awards through 1995 (9511923). Wilson was also director of the NSF-funded Cornell Theory Center of the Supercomputer Centers Program from 1985-1988.

1981

ARTHUR L. SCHAWLOW
“For their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy.” NSF support for Schawlow includes a series of seven awards related to spectroscopy and quantum electronics from 1974 (7414786) through 1990 (9022233).

1980

JAMES W. CRONIN
“For the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons.” Cronin's extensive NSF support includes an NSF Fellowship (1952-54) and a series of 28 high-energy physics awards spanning a quarter century from 1975 (7522664) through 2001 (0103717).

1979

SHELDON L. GLASHOW
STEVEN WEINBERG
“For their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alia the prediction of the weak neutral current.” Glashow's NSF support includes an NSF Fellowship (1955-1960) and a series of awards from 1973 (7305038) through 2000 (0099539) on the interactions of particles and fields. Weinberg's NSF support also includes a NSF Fellowship (1954-1956) as well as awards from 1973 through 2000 (0071512), some of which were joint with Glashow.

1978

ROBERT W. WILSON
“For [joint] discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation.” NSF supported Wilson with an NSF Graduate Fellowship (1958-1960). His Nobel work was later conducted at Bell Labs.

1977

PHILIP W. ANDERSON
“For their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems.” After working at Bell Labs, Anderson moved to Princeton University in 1975. NSF support for Anderson includes a series of awards starting in 1976 (7600886) on applications of the many-body theory and continuing through 1997 (9725913).

1976

BURTON RICHTER
“For [joint] pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind.” NSF support includes a Graduate Student Fellowship (1952-1953), after which Richter spent much of his career at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, supported by the Department of Energy. He later received workshop and symposium awards in 1985 (8511457) and 1998 (9806632).

1975

JAMES RAINWATER
“For the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection.” NSF support includes awards in the 1960s and 1970s (7001850, 7517396, 7707577) for research and synchrocyclotron operation.

1973

IVAR GIAEVER*
“For [joint] experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors, respectively.” Giaever was a researcher with General Electric. NSF support includes a 1977 engineering award (7723604) for studies of antibody-antigen interaction.

1972

LEON N. COOPER
J. ROBERT SCHRIEFFER
“For their jointly developed theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory.” NSF support for Cooper began with an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (1954-1955) and includes awards in the 1960s, a 1973 award (7302605) on solid state and many body theory and later biology and engineering awards in 1987 (8719102, 8720084) and 1993 (9319373) related to learning and memory. Schrieffer's NSF support includes an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (1957-1958) and a series of physics awards beginning as early as 1965 and including awards from 1973 (7307682) through 1996 (9629987). From 1984-1989, he was director of the NSF-funded Institute for Theoretical Physics at University of California, Santa Barbara. Since 1992, Schrieffer has been chief scientist of the NSF-supported National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University.

1969

MURRAY GELL-MANN
“For his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.” NSF support includes international travel grants, including one in 1954, a Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship in 1959 and a 1985 workshop award (8512949).

1967

HANS ALBRECHT BETHE
“For his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars.” NSF support includes awards in 1965 and 1968 for research on fundamental nuclear physics and astrophysics and a 1974 astronomy award (7419018) on theoretical particle physics.

1964

CHARLES H. TOWNES
“For fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle” NSF support began with an award in 1961 and has included more than a dozen electronically-available awards from 1975 (7520353) through 2000 (0097994).

1963

EUGENE P. WIGNER
“For his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles.” NSF support includes an international travel grant in 1953 and three electronically-available awards beginning in 1978 (7815282).

1961

ROBERT HOFSTADTER*
“For his pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his thereby-achieved discoveries concerning the structure of the nucleons.” NSF support began with an award in 1961 and included nearly 10 electronically-available awards from 1973 (7308749) through 1984 (8411168).

1960

DONALD A. GLASER
“For the invention of the bubble chamber.” According to his biography on the Nobel Web site, NSF supported Glaser in the 1950s (first award in 1954), and more recently he received an award in 1985 (8519590).

1959

OWEN CHAMBERLAIN*
“For [joint] discovery of the antiproton” NSF support includes a 1975 interagency award (7520422) on solid-state studies by muon spin precession.

1957

CHEN NING YANG*
“For [joint] penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles.” NSF support has included a series of 16 awards while Yang was at SUNY, Stony Brook, from 1974 (7413208) to 1997 (9722101).

1955

WILLIS E. LAMB*
“For his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum.” NSF support includes four electronically-available awards in the 1970s (7503549) when Lamb moved to the University of Arizona. POLYKARP KUSCH*
“For his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron.” NSF support began with physics awards in 1955 and 1957 and, more recently, includes a 1977 award (7703174) while Kusch was at the University of Texas, Dallas.

In addition to the researchers named above, six other laureates have received funding from NSF for travel grants: John Bardeen (1956, 1972), Richard Feynman (1965), Julian Schwinger (1965), Luis Alvarez (1968), John Van Vleck (1977) and Nicolaas Bloembergen (1981).

Nobel Prizes - The NSF Connection A Special Report