From its founding in 1817, Membership in the Academy has been democratic—open to anyone with an interest in science—rather than an honor bestowed on prominent researchers already acknowledged for their great achievements.
So it speaks to the high caliber of those that choose to be Academy Members that dozens of Nobel laureates have joined in the last century, and some 30 Nobel laureates serve today on our President’s Council.
Of course, the Academy attracted leaders and thinkers to its ranks long before the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901. Who is to say whether Charles Darwin or Alexander von Humboldt would have received a Nobel if it had existed in the 1800s? But the Academy and the Nobel Prize have linked from the very beginning.
Chemist Emil Fischer had been elected an Honorary Member of the Academy in 1901. The next year, in 1902, Fischer became the first of our Nobel laureate Members, when he was recognized for bringing chemistry to biology, and in particular, discovering the chemical structure of carbohydrates.
Geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan, who joined the Academy in 1904, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for mapping genes onto chromosomes, using fruit flies as his model organism. Morgan was also on the faculty at Columbia University, and helped expand the Academy’s Biology Section.
Dozens more scientists with Academy Membership claimed this honor in the following decades. Nuclear physicist Hans Bethe, for example, was awarded a Nobel in 1967 for discovering how stars produce energy. Rosalyn Yalow, a medical physicist, received the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing the technique of radioimmunoassay.
Of the many Nobelists who have participated actively in Academy affairs, two deserve mention for their service as Chairman of the Board of Governors. In 1993 geneticist Joshua Lederberg took charge of this role. He was a 1958 laureate in Physiology or Medicine, for his discoveries concerning bacterial genetic recombination.
Later, from 2001 to 2006, neuroscientist Torsten Wiesel served as Chair, leading the Academy through difficult financial times and reaffirming its scientific mission. Wiesel received the Nobel Prize in 1981 for discovering how the visual system processes information.
The Academy is proud to be associated with so many original thinkers and scientific leaders. Below is a list of the Academy Members (current and past) who are Nobel Laureates: