Skip to Main Content
Skip Nav Destination

Nobel physicists on the move

25 September 2018

An interactive map tracks the places where Nobel physics laureates lived and worked.

Henri Becquerel, who received a share of the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, spent his entire career in Paris, his birthplace. Masatoshi Koshiba, on the other hand, repeatedly crisscrossed oceans and continents before he earned his Nobel in 2002.

Science has steadily evolved into a global enterprise, and that’s evident in examining the lifetime movements of the 206 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics. The interactive map charts the cities where each of the laureates through 2017 has lived and worked. You can browse the laureates’ cartographic CVs either by name or by the year they received the prize.

The dates, locations, and reasons for relocations were collected primarily from laureate biographies on the Nobel Prize website, with information gaps filled in from other references. Each entry includes place of birth, place of death (if applicable), and where the person was living when awarded the Nobel. Other common relocation highlights include moving during childhood, attending an undergraduate or graduate institution, starting a job, and taking a sabbatical. The map includes only changes in location (so, for example, all schools and some workplaces for Alexei Abrikosov are not listed because he stayed in his hometown of Moscow for 63 years), with exceptions for recognizing Nobel-related milestones and place of death. The term secondary job is used when a laureate holds long-term positions at multiple institutions; temporary guest-researcher positions are not included.

All told, the 206 physics laureates lived or worked in 415 cities. The most frequented locales are Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York City; Princeton, New Jersey; Cambridge, UK; and Berkeley, California. Koshiba has traveled more among higher-education institutions, jobs, and sabbaticals than any of his fellow prizewinners; Becquerel and Pierre Curie stayed closest to home.

In exploring the laureates chronologically, the increasingly international reach of science is clear (see also Physics Today’s 2017 analysis of the geographic diversity of those nominated for the physics prize). And the effects of the world wars are apparent and long-lasting. Recipients including William Lawrence Bragg (1915 laureate) and Louis Néel (1970) were pulled away from their permanent positions for wartime work or military service. Albert Einstein (1921), James Franck (1925), and others were forced out of their jobs and fled their home countries as refugees. Many of the displaced never returned to their prewar homes: Ferdinand Braun (1909), for example, was traveling in the US at the outbreak of World War I and died in New York after several years of exile from his home in Strasbourg, France. Similarly, some recent laureates were children around the time of World War II and were forced to relocate with their families, and Arno Penzias (1978) was evacuated without his parents to the UK as part of the Kindertransport. Later this week, Physics Today will take a deeper look at the displacement of German scientists in the 1930s.

We welcome comments or requests for more information based on the data.

Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal