The 11 Youngest Nobel Prize Winners – Scientists

Here are the 11 youngest winners of a scientific Nobel Prize, with a quick, interesting ‘did you know’ fact about each of them.

And also:

The teenager whose work won a Nobel Prize in physics.
The youngest woman to win a science Nobel Prize.
The youngest winner in each of the three award categories for science:
    • Physics
    • Physiology or Medicine
    • Chemistry

The 11 Youngest Nobel Laureates

Age 25: Lawrence Bragg

Australian-born British physicist.

Lawrence Bragg

Lawrence Bragg won the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.’

Did you know? While working as a physics professor in London, Bragg took part-time employment as a gardener, because he enjoyed gardening so much.

 

Age 31: Werner Heisenberg

German theoretical physicist.

Werner Heisenberg

Werner Heisenberg won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has… led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen.’

Did you know? With his uncertainty principle, Heisenberg established that we can never know everything about a particle exactly. For example, even if we had a means of measuring an electron’s position and velocity without disturbing the electron, there must always be some uncertainty in the our knowledge of the two quantities. Although Albert Einstein did not like it, Heisenberg showed that God is continuously playing dice with the universe.

 

Age 31: Paul A.M. Dirac

British theoretical physicist.

Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac won the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory.’

Did you know? Dirac only spoke when it was necessary. He was a man of few words. In his highly readable biography of Richard Feynman, James Gleick reports a journalist’s interview with Dirac:

Journalist: “Now Doctor, will you give me in a few words the low-down on all your investigations?”
Dirac: “No.”
Journalist: “Good. Will it be alright if I put it this way – ‘Professor Dirac solves all the problems of mathematical physics, but is unable to find a better way of figuring out Babe Ruth’s batting average’?”
Dirac: “Yes.”
Journalist: “Do you go to the movies?”
Dirac: “Yes.”
Journalist: “When?”
Dirac: “In 1920 – perhaps also in 1930.”

 

Age 31: Carl D. Anderson

American physicist.

Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘discovery of the positron.’

Did you know? In addition to discovering the positron in 1932, four years later, Anderson discovered the muon.

 

Age 31: Tsung-Dao Lee

Chinese-born American physicist.

Tsung-Dao Lee

Tsung-Dao Lee won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles.’

Did you know? Lee’s Ph.D. supervisor was Enrico Fermi, who won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 37.

 

Age 32: Rudolf Mössbauer

German physicist.

Rudolf Mossbauer

Rudolf Mössbauer won the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘researches concerning the resonance absorption of gamma radiation and his discovery in this connection of the effect which bears his name.’

Did you know? Mössbauer discovered the Mössbauer effect because, as a Ph.D. student, he ignored his supervising professor’s advice about the experimental equipment he should use.

 

Age 32: Frederick G. Banting

Canadian surgeon and medical research scientist.

Frederick Banting

Frederick G. Banting won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘the discovery of insulin.’

Did you know? Banting failed his first year at university. During World War 1, he was awarded the Military Cross for his heroic actions in helping wounded men.

 

Age 33: Brian D. Josephson

British theoretical physicist.

Brian Josephson

Brian Josephson won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena which are generally known as the Josephson effects.’ Image courtesy Brian D. Josephson.

Did you know? Josephson was still a Ph.D. student, aged 22, when he did the work that led to his Nobel Prize.

 

Age 33: Joshua Lederberg

American molecular biologist.

Joshua Lederberg

Joshua Lederberg won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria.’

Did you know? Joshua Lederberg graduated from high school when he was 15 and was awarded his university degree when he was 19.

 

Age 34: Donald A. Glaser

American physicist.

Donald Glaser

Donald Glaser won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘the invention of the bubble chamber.’

Did you know? Glaser was not interested in just physics; he switched fields and became a professor of molecular biology.

 

Age 34: James Watson

American molecular biologist.

James Watson

James Watson won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.’

Did you know? Watson was only 15 when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago.

 

Youngest Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Age 35: Frédéric Joliot-Curie

French chemist/physicist.

Fred Joliot-Curie

Frédéric Joliot won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for ‘synthesis of new radioactive elements.’

Did you know? Frédéric Joliot-Curie changed his name from Joliot to Joliot-Curie when he married Marie Curie’s daughter Irène. Frédéric and Irène shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Irène was 38 at the time.

 

Youngest Scientific Nobel Prize for a Woman

Age 36: Marie Curie

Polish chemist/physicist.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘researches on the radiation phenomena.’

Did you know? Marie Curie also won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She is the only person to have won both prizes.

 

Youngest age at which Nobel Prize Winning Work was Carried Out

Age 19: Subramanyan Chandrasekhar

Indian-born American physicist.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars.’ He carried out the work aged just 19 on a ship traveling from India to Britain to begin working for a Ph.D. in physics.

Did you know? Chandrasekhar’s uncle was C.V. Raman, who won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 42.

 

Summing Up

• If you want to win young, it looks like physics is the best option.

• In recent years it’s been getting harder for ‘youngsters’ to win the Nobel Prize; the most recent Nobel Prize on our list above is from over 40 years ago.

• The 11 youngest won in: 1915, 1923, 1932 (twice), 1933, 1938, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1973.

 

Science Quiz: Which came first?

question

Challenge

Try our science quiz. It’s just ten questions.

Which came first

Decide which of the following events came first to test your knowledge of scientific progress.

Hint

In each question, the two events compared are always at least one decade apart – usually more.

Answers:

Come after the images below each question.

Assessment:

Check what your score means at the bottom of the page. Are you an Einstein, or… ?

Which Came First?

1. The discovery of the first Neanderthal skull or the discovery of the Rosetta Stone?

Neanderthal Rosetta

Answer 1

The discovery of The Rosetta Stone – 1799, Pierre-François Bouchard in Egypt – came before the discovery of first Neanderthal skull – 1829, Philippe-Charles Schmerling in Belgium.

2. The discovery of infrared radiation or the first use of rabies vaccine?

infrared-rabies

Answer 2

The discovery of infrared radiation – 1800, Sir William Herschel – came before the first use of rabies vaccine – 1885, Louis Pasteur/Pierre Roux.

3. The discovery of irrational numbers or the first use of negative numbers?

irrational-negative

Answer 3

Irrational numbers – c. 520 BC, Pythagoreans – came before the first use of negative numbers – c. 200 BC, Han Dynasty mathematicians.

4. The discovery and isolation of the hormone insulin or the discovery of radioactivity?

insulin-radioactivity

Answer 4

The discovery of radioactivity – 1896, Antoine-Henri Becquerel – came before the isolation of insulin – 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

5. The discovery of hydrogen’s isotope deuterium or the invention of radiocarbon dating?

deuterium-radiocarbon

Answer 5

The discovery of hydrogen’s isotope deuterium – 1931, Harold Urey – came before the invention of radiocarbon dating – 1947, Willard Libby.

6. The invention of the Richter Scale for earthquake measurement or the discovery of the electron?

richter-electron

Answer 6

The discovery of the electron – 1897, J.J. Thomson – came before the invention of the Richter Scale – 1935, Charles Richter.

7. The invention of group theory in mathematics or the invention of dynamite?

grouptheory-dynamite

Answer 7

The invention of group theory in mathematics – 1830, Evariste Galois – came before the invention of dynamite – 1866, Alfred Nobel.

8. The discovery of new forms of life at deep-sea vents or Moore’s Law of silicon chip processing power doubling every two years?

vent-siliconchip

Answer 8

Moore’s Law – 1965, Gordon Moore – came before the discovery of new forms of life at deep-sea vents – 1977, Robert Ballard and John Corliss.

9. The invention of the mercury thermometer or the discovery of the planet Uranus?

thermometer-uranus

Answer 9

The invention of the mercury thermometer – 1714, Daniel Fahrenheit – came before the discovery of Uranus – 1781, Sir William Herschel.

10. The Goldbach Conjecture or the invention of the electric battery?

goldbach-battery

Answer 10

The Goldbach Conjecture – 1742, Christian Goldbach – came before the invention of the electric battery – 1800, Alessandro Volta.

Your Score?

10 out of 10. When it comes to the history of science, you are an Einstein.

8 or 9 out of 10. Not quite Einstein, but enough for a Nobel Prize.

7 out of 10. No prizes, but definitely a professor in the making.

5 or 6 out of 10. A little more effort, and you’ll be up there with the best of them.

4 or less. Ooops. Guessing the answers at random will usually give a better result than this!