The Most Influential Universities in the World of 2020

True influence is embodied by the professors and students who make lasting contributions to their fields, professions, and the world at large. The most influential universities throughout history are those which – through the excellence and achievement of their most noteworthy students, alumni and educators – have had the most profound impact on our collective knowledge across time, space, and discipline. Read on to learn more about the most influential universities in the world today.

The Most Influential Universities in the World of 2020

What are the most influential universities in the world? Which schools have had the most profound impact on the academic landscape, and on the world at large? And what exactly makes a university so influential?

True influence is created by innovative professors and elite students, by the individuals who have made lasting contributions to their universities, their professions, and to civilization. The most influential universities throughout history are those whose students, alumni and educators have achieved the greatest degree of influence across the widest range of disciplines and time periods. quantifies this influence, using machine learning and human quality control to provide an objective and dynamic ranking of the world’s universities. Our Influence Ranking algorithm (IRTM) is based on the influence of the individuals who have taught and learned at each institution. The following ranking of the most influential universities in the world spotlights the U.S. Presidents and Oscar-winning actors, the Supreme Court Justices and Nobel Laureates, the philosophers and chemists who have elevated their schools and left a lasting influence on the world. Our ranking engine identifies influential faculty and alumni associated with schools as well as with specific degree programs, departments, and disciplines. The result is both an illuminating look at the categorical impact of elite universities like Harvard and Columbia and a well-deserved spotlight on highly influential public universities like the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois.

Read on for a dynamic and objective ranking of schools that have produced the most widely-cited faculty and students across time — The 50 Most Influential Universities in the World Today.

NOTE: Celebrated, pioneering thinkers are highly sought-after commodities, which is why the competition for them among universities can be stiff. It is also why the top people in a given academic discipline tend to move around a lot — which, in turn, explains why many of the names mentioned below show up more than once, in association with multiple universities.

For a look at the most influential universities today or to rank universities for a specific set of years, visit our Custom College Ranking tool.

See also: The Richest Schools in North America



1. Harvard University

Harvard University
(Est. 1636)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Harvard University is almost universally acclaimed as the world’s most prestigious university. There is little doubt that its towering reputation is well earned.

For starters, some 150 Nobel laureates have either studied or taught at the school — more than at any other university in the world.

Moreover, over 40 international heads of state or government have passed through its gates. Of these, eight were US Presidents (the most of any college or university):

  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy
  • George W. Bush
  • Barack Obama

Harvard Law School is also often considered the best in the country. It has contributed no fewer than 16 Justices to the US Supreme Court over the years (the most of any law school in the country). The sitting Justices who are Harvard Law graduates are Stephen Breyer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan.

Another reason for Harvard’s reputation is its strength across a wide variety of academic disciplines, not only in the arts and sciences — from Classics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations to biology, astronomy, and physics — but also in law, business, and medicine.

Philosophy has long been a particular strength, as witnessed by the following names:

  • William James
  • C.S. Peirce
  • George Santayana
  • Josiah Royce
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Alfred North Whitehead
  • C.I. Lewis
  • Alonzo Church
  • W.V.O. Quine
  • Hilary Putnam
  • Donald Davidson
  • John Rawls
  • Robert Nozick
  • Saul Kripke
  • David K. Lewis
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Hubert Dreyfus

Other distinguished, nineteenth- and twentieth-century individuals with connections to Harvard include:

  • Transcendentalist thinker and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Author, lecturer, and political activist, blind and deaf from birth, Hellen Keller
  • Great novelist, Henry James
  • Nobel Prize-winning, modernist poet, T.S. Eliot
  • Sociologist, Talcott Parsons
  • Anthropologist, Clifford Geertz
  • Physicist and Manhattan Project leader, J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Political theorist/historian and US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger
  • US Vice President, Al Gore
  • Microsoft founder, Bill Gates
  • Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg
  • Film directors, Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky
  • Actors, Jack Lemmon, Tommy Lee Jones, Matt Damon, and Natalie Portman, among many others far too numerous to mention.

Nor does it hurt that, with some seven million volumes, Harvard’s Widener Library is one of the largest academic libraries in the world.

But all of this raises the question: Why Harvard? Why did this particular school attain such a stratospheric academic stature?

For one thing, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in what is now the United States, having been founded, under the name of New College, a mere 16 years after the arrival of the Mayflower. On the other hand, though, by the standards of Europe where scores of universities date back to the Middle Ages, Harvard is a relative newcomer on the educational scene. Longevity alone, then, cannot explain the school’s international pre-eminence. So, what does?

If we focus on the period since World War II, we can clearly see that Harvard has risen to world prominence in conjunction with the nation of which it is a part — the United States — which at war’s end in 1945 found itself the military, technological, and economic leader of the world. Even before the war, during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, eminent Jewish academics and others who saw the handwriting on the wall had streamed into the US by the tens of thousands. After the war, with Germany in ruins, the migration of highly distinguished scientists and scholars to this country continued throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s.

Harvard was certainly a prime beneficiary of these historical trends, but many other institutions benefited, as well. Which raises the question: What accounts for Harvard’s outstanding excellence in relation to other American colleges and universities, which can be traced to well before World War II?

Here, we may point to a combination of factors, including the intellectual and cultural dominance of Boston, and New England as a whole, during the first couple of centuries of our nation’s history. Another factor is undoubtedly Harvard’s enormous endowment — in excess of $40 billion — making the school by far the wealthiest university in the US. Such riches bring with them the ability both to pay top-of-the-line salaries to its faculty and to provide them with cutting-edge facilities.

Who can say with certainty which of these many factors was decisive? Still, we can safely say that the more famous Harvard became, the greater the number of distinguished scholars and promising students who wished to be associated with it — which in the fullness of time increased its reputation still further.

And so on, until the present day . . . and, in all likelihood, long into the future.

2. University of London

University of London
(Est. 1826)
London, England, UK

An institution of higher education named University College London (UCL) was founded in the UK’s largest metropolis and capital city in 1826. A mere three years later, in 1829, a second, similar institution named King’s College London (KCL) opened its doors. Then, a mere decade after the founding of UCL, a third institution known simply as University of London (UL) was founded in 1836 by the merger of UCL and KCL.

Both UCL and KCL continued to operate, each with its own distinctive identity, under the UL administrative umbrella, and have continued to do so until today. However, over the years many other institutions have joined what has now become a vast educational conglomerate (resembling in this respect the University of Paris). Altogether, UL at present comprises some 17 semi-autonomous universities, colleges, schools, and institutes.

Among these, perhaps the most notable are, in addition to UCL and KCL, the following:

  • Heythrop College
  • Birkbeck University of London
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • SOAS University of London (formerly, the School of Oriental and African Studies)
  • School of Advanced Study
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • London Business School
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • University of London Institute in Paris

In its origins, UL was closely associated with the progressive moral and political philosophy of Jeremy Bentham known as “utilitarianism.” In line with this pedigree, it was the first university in the UK to admit students regardless of their religious affiliation, as well as the first to admit women (in 1878). As a curious side note, when Bentham died in 1832, he bequeathed his body to a physician friend of his, who had it stuffed. In 1850, the doctor donated the mummy to UCL, where it may be viewed to this day, dressed in Bentham’s own clothes and sitting in his own chair, between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, M–F.

Among the many notable alumni of UL, one may mention the following:

  • Philosophers, John Stuart Mill, Alfred North Whitehead, Karl Popper, Alasdair MacIntyre, Bernard Williams, Peter Singer, & Roger Scruton
  • Intellectual historian, Frances Yates
  • Anthropologist, Mary Douglas
  • Economists, William Stanley Jevons & Amartya Sen
  • Poets, A.E. Housman, T.S. Eliot, & Rabindranath Tagore
  • Novelists, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, & Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Composer, Gustav Holst
  • Inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell
  • Physicists Otto Hahn, Abdus Salam, & Peter Higgs
  • Physician and inventor of vaccination, Edward Jenner
  • Biologists T.H. Huxley, Alexander Fleming (the discoverer of penicillin), & Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule)

In addition, the politicians, statesmen, and heads of government and state — both from the UK and throughout the world — who have been affiliated with UL are far too numerous to tell about in any detail. We will only mention two outstanding UL-connected political personalities: the revered Indian independence leader, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and the renowned Burmese democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

All in all, a very impressive 74 Nobel Prizes are associated with UL alumni and faculty.

3. Stanford University

Stanford University
(Est. 1891)
Stanford, California, USA

Stanford University was founded by Leland Stanford, a wealthy railroad magnate and erstwhile US Senator from California, as well as a former Governor of the Golden State. He placed the university in an unincorporated area about 30 miles south of San Francisco, adjacent to the town of Palo Alto (which he also founded). The campus lies in what is now known as Silicon Valley, which contributes greatly to the immense intellectual and economic influence of the private, research university that still bears the Stanford family name. Today, Stanford University is perhaps the closest thing to a true Ivy League school on the West Coast.

The university can claim more than 80 Nobel laureates among its alumni and its full-time or visiting faculty, including:

  • Carl Wieman in physics
  • Roger Kornberg in chemistry
  • Thomas Südhof in physiology or medicine
  • Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz in economics

Stanford is also the world-leader in Turing Awards (for computer science) with 27 winners, including such luminaries as:

  • Vinton Cerf
  • Whitfield Diffie
  • Edward Feigenbaum
  • Martin Hellman
  • John Hopcroft
  • Donald Knuth
  • Barbara Liskov
  • John McCarthy
  • Allen Newell
  • Ronald Rivest

Another area of particular academic strength for Stanford is mathematics, as evidenced by the school’s eight Fields Medalists, including Maryam Mirzakhani and Akshay Venkatesh.

However, the particular area of strength that really sets Stanford apart from most other schools boasting similar academic firepower is its contribution to the world of business, especially successful start-up companies. Stanford is the alma mater of 30 living billionaires, including:

  • Sergey Brin
  • Elizabeth Holmes
  • Elon Musk
  • Larry Page
  • Peter Thiel

Its alumni have founded companies which combined have created 5.4 million jobs and generate $2.7 trillion in annual revenue (as of 2011). If these Stanford-connected companies were to join together and declare their independence, the country they would form would have the 10th-largest economy in the world!

Stanford is also the alma mater of many famous people from numerous other walks of life, including:

  • 31st President of the US, Herbert Hoover
  • Nobel Prize-winning novelist, John Steinbeck
  • Philosophers, Michael Dummett, Donald Davidson, & John R. Perry
  • Former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor
  • 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidates, Cory Booker & Julián Castro
  • Former astronauts, Mae Jemison, Ellen Ochoa, & Sally Ride
  • TV personality, Rachel Maddow
  • Movie stars, Jennifer Connelly, Sigourney Weaver, & Reese Witherspoon

Finally, with a library whose enormous collection contains more than nine million volumes, Stanford is a major research resource for the entire West Coast region across a wide variety of academic fields.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(Est. 1851)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded shortly before the American Civil War and universally known as “MIT,” is located just across the Charles River from downtown Boston. Starting from the MIT campus, if you walk, cycle, or drive in a westerly direction along Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave,” to the locals), or ride the Red Line underneath it, you soon arrive at Harvard Square, with the bulk of the town of Cambridge sandwiched in between. Thus, MIT is not unlike a bookend paired with Harvard, geographically speaking, and academically speaking, as well, it looks upon itself very much as the equal of the older school.

The main difference, of course, is MIT’s greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. This may be seen, above all, in the whopping 96 Nobel Laureates associated with the school, including such stellar names in physics as:

  • Hans Bethe
  • Max Born
  • Richard Feynman
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Robert Laughlin
  • Julian Schwinger
  • Frank Wilczek
  • Charles Townes

MIT-connected Nobel Laureates in chemistry include:

  • Sidney Altman
  • Thomas Cech
  • Elias Corey
  • Peter Debye
  • Robert Mulliken
  • Robert Woodward
  • Ada Yonath

Among those awarded the Prize for their work in physiology or medicine are:

  • Werner Arber
  • David Baltimore
  • Andrew Fire
  • Leland Hartwell
  • Robert Horvitz
  • Salvador Luria
  • Susumu Tonegawa

MIT also boasts 26 Turing Award recipients (second only to Stanford), including:

  • Tim Berners-Lee
  • Barbara Liskov
  • Fernando Corbato
  • Shafi Goldwasser
  • Butler Lampson
  • Ronald Rivest
  • Silvio Micali
  • Marvin Minsky
  • Michael Stonebraker

As for mathematics, MIT can claim eight Fields Medalists, including:

  • Paul Cohen
  • Alessio Figalli
  • John Milnor
  • Daniel Quillen
  • William Thurston

But MIT is not just about the STEM disciplines, important as they are. It is also highly respected for several of its social sciences departments, especially economics and linguistics.

In economics, MIT people include:

  • George Akerlof
  • Abhijit Banerjee
  • Esther Duflo
  • Bengt Holmström
  • William Nordhaus
  • Paul Romer
  • Robert Shiller
  • Richard Thaler
  • Oliver Williamson
  • Paul Krugman
  • Joseph Stiglitz

As for linguistics, suffice it to say that MIT has been the academic home of Noam Chomsky since 1955. This fact alone has been enough to turn MIT into Ground Zero of the deep structure/transformational grammar revolution in the study of human language during the 1950s and 1960s, and a veritable Mecca for generations of students ever since. Chomsky’s theoretical innovations, which swept away most intellectual opposition decades ago, continue to this day to provide the basic conceptual framework for linguistics as an academic discipline.

Among MIT-connected philosophers, we may mention Saul Kripke and Hubert Dreyfus.

5. Columbia University

Columbia University
(Est. 1754)
New York, New York, USA

Columbia is the eleventh-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. After New Jersey founded its college (now Princeton University) in 1746, New Yorkers, not wishing to be outdone, established their own college just eight years later. Its original name was King’s College.

However, following the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and George Washington’s final victory at Yorktown in 1781, King George III found himself in bad odor throughout the former colonies. So, in 1784 King’s College was formally rechristened in honor of Christopher Columbus. (With that doughty explorer being in equally bad odor today, a second rebranding sometime soon would not surprise us.)

Over the years, Columbia has flourished at several different sites around Manhattan, moving most recently (in 1896) from a Midtown location at 49th Street and Madison Avenue to its present location at 116th and Broadway in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side.

Under whatever name and wherever situated, with around 100 Nobel laureates Columbia has long been at the forefront of research in both the sciences and the humanities. For example, Thomas Hunt Morgan’s experiments between 1911 and 1928 with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, in his Columbia lab fondly known as “the Fly Room,” laid the foundations for the modern field of population genetics.

In 1938, I.I. Rabi discovery the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) at Columbia. Rabi’s discovery formed the basis for NMR spectroscopy and other techniques for studying the structure and behavior of matter.

In January of 1939, Rabi, Enrico Fermi, and several other physicists produced the first artificial fission reaction — i.e., the first “splitting of the atom” — in the United States. They did this just one month after Lise Meitner and her colleagues in Berlin had achieved this result, in December of 1938.

During World War II, the then-top secret, but now-world famous, Manhattan Project got its name from the fact that much of the early theoretical work on the first atomic bomb took place in Pupin Hall (named after the Serbian-American physicist, M.I. Pupin) and elsewhere on the campus of Columbia University.

In 1953, Charles H. Townes and his Columbia University team created the first working laser device.

In 1966, a team led by Maurice Ewing at Columbia’s Lamont Earth Observatory successfully interpreted magnetic field-readings of the ocean floor at the mid-ocean ridges as evidence of ocean-floor spreading. By implication, these findings also provided the first experimental evidence in support of the global plate tectonics, or “continental drift,” hypothesis advanced by Alfred Wegener in 1910 to explain the apparent mobility of the continents over geological time.

Most recently, in 2019, neuroscientists working at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute for research on mind, brain, and behavior achieved an astonishing breakthrough. For the first time, scientists have been able to produce clear, intelligible, synthetic speech by means of real-time computer processing of human brain activity.

Another history-making scientist who graduated from Columbia, but did his important work elsewhere, is Arno Penzias, co-discoverer in 1964 (with Robert Woodrow Wilson) of the 3° K cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.

As for the humanities and social sciences, Columbia is almost as distinguished in these fields as it is in the natural sciences. A full list of famous alumni would be much too long to reproduce here, but some of the highlights would include:

  • Aviator, Amelia Earhart
  • Philosophers, Robert Nozick & Jerry Fodor
  • Anthropologist, Margaret Mead
  • Economist, Simon Kuznetz
  • Urbanologist, Jane Jacobs
  • Film producer, David O. Selznick
  • Lyricist, Ira Gershwin
  • Violinist, Gil Shaham
  • Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca
  • Writers, Isaac Asimov, J.D. Salinger, & Hunter S. Thompson
  • Actors, Ossie Davis & Anthony Perkins
  • Creator of the original Star Trek television series, Gene Roddenberry

6. University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley
(Est. 1855)
Berkeley, California, USA

The University of California (UC) was founded by state charter in 1868. Its first operating facility was created through a merger with the private, religiously based College of California, which had been established in 1855 in the city of Oakland, directly across the bay from San Francisco. The College of California itself had grown out of Contra Costa Academy, a private boys’ school already functioning in Oakland since 1853. For historical context, recall that California had achieved statehood just three years earlier, in 1850, and the height of the famous Gold Rush (“the ’49ers”) had come the year before that.

At the time of the merger, the regents of the College of California had already purchased land in an unincorporated area immediately to the north of Oakland, with a view to future expansion. UC began operation in 1868 at the old location while ground was being broken and a new town built at the new one. The transfer of UC from Oakland to the new site occurred in 1873. The new town was dubbed “Berkeley” after George Berkeley, the celebrated idealist philosopher and Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, County Cork, in Ireland (note, however, that the philosopher’s name is pronounced as though it were written “Barclay”). In this way, the lofty ideals of the new university were sharply distinguished from the feverish gold-grubbing going on all around it.

Only in 1952 did Berkeley become a distinct administrative entity from UC as a whole, and begin to acquire a separate identity of its own. Today, Berkeley is just one of 10 campuses belonging to the UC System. While not the largest of these (UCLA, with around 45,000 students compared to Berkeley’s 42,500, is slightly larger), thanks to its history Berkeley is still considered the System’s flagship campus.

UC-Berkeley is a well-rounded liberal arts university, which enjoys strength across most areas of the arts and sciences. It has been associated with more than 100 Nobel laureates, the most of any public university in the US, and among the top half-dozen or so universities, public and private, anywhere in the world (depending on how one counts).

Among physicists, for example, one may mention:

  • Arthur Compton
  • Ernest Lawrence
  • Glenn Seaborg
  • Emilio Segrè
  • Luis Alvarez
  • Willis Lamb
  • George Smoot
  • David Gross
  • Charles Townes

Berkeley-related Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry include:

  • Willard Libby
  • Harold Urey
  • Melvin Calvin
  • Linus Pauling
  • Kary Mullis
  • Thomas Cech

In physiology or medicine, we have Arthur Kornberg, Sydney Brenner, Maurice Wilkins, and Stanley Prusiner, among many others.

Berkeley also has 14 Fields Medalists to its credit, including:

  • Shing-Tung Yau
  • Michael Freedman
  • William Thurston
  • Stephen Smale
  • Vaughan Jones
  • Maxim Kontesevich
  • Cédric Villani
  • Peter Scholze

In addition to the natural sciences, Berkeley has outstanding strength in the social sciences, especially economics. Among Nobel Prize-winners in that field connected with the school, we may mention:

  • Robert Lucas
  • Thomas Schelling
  • Douglass North
  • Gérard Debreu
  • Herbert Simon
  • Amartya Sen
  • Daniel Kahneman

Berkeley can also boast no fewer than three Nobel Prize-winning authors, all poets: Czesław Miłosz (Poland), Octavio Paz (Mexico), and Seamus Heaney (Ireland).

Finally, Berkeley-connected philosophers include:

  • Josiah Royce
  • Michael Dummett
  • Bernard Williams
  • Donald Davidson
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Hubert Dreyfus

7. Yale University

Yale University
(Est. 1701)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Yale was originally founded under the name of Collegiate School by Connecticut Colony in 1701. It is the fourth-oldest institution of higher learning in the US, after Harvard, the College of William & Mary (in Williamsburg, Virginia), and St. John’s College (in Annapolis, Maryland). Called the “Collegiate School,” its original mission was to train future ministers for the Congregational Church.

Yale is known as an all-around powerhouse, not unlike Harvard, with strength in a wide variety of fields. For one thing, five US presidents have passed through Yale, the second-highest number after Harvard. Three of them attended as undergraduates (Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush), while two attended Yale Law School (Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton).

Yale Law School is often mentioned as one of the two most influential in the country, along with Harvard Law. In all, nine Supreme Court Justices have been Yale Law graduates, including sitting Justices:

  • Samuel Alito
  • Brett Kavanaugh
  • Sonia Sotomayor
  • Clarence Thomas

More than 60 Nobel Prize-recipients have studied, taught, or conducted research at Yale at some point during their careers. In physics, they include:

  • Ernest Lawrence
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Willis Lamb
  • David Thouless

Yale Chemistry Nobelists include:

  • Lars Onsager
  • Brian Kobilka
  • John Goodenough
  • Sidney Altman

Yale Nobelists in physiology or medicine include:

  • John Enders
  • Joshua Lederberg
  • James Rothman
  • Elizabeth Blackburn

Nobelists in economics who attended or taught at Yale include:

  • Thomas Schelling
  • Paul Krugman
  • Joseph Stiglitz
  • James Tobin
  • William Nordhaus
  • George Akerlof
  • Robert Shiller
  • Edmund Phelps

Among literature Nobelists, the American novelist Sinclair Lewis received his BA from Yale, while the poet Derek Walcott, from the Caribbean island-nation of Saint Lucia, the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, and the American novelist Toni Morrison all held visiting lectureships there.

Other prominent persons connected to Yale during its first two centuries include the first great American theologian and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards; the inventor of the cotton gin, Eli Whitney; and the lexicographer Noah Webster.

Regarding distinguished, twentieth-century, Yale-connected individuals, we may mention:

  • Pioneering computer scientist, Grace Hopper
  • Songwriter, Cole Porter
  • Literary critic, Harold Bloom
  • Actor and film director, Oliver Stone
  • Actors Vincent Price, Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Jodie Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Giamatti, & James Franco
  • Russian democracy activist, Alexei Navalny
  • Brain surgeon and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson
  • Political scientist, Fareed Zakharia
  • 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidates, Cory Booker & Amy Klobuchar
  • Former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton
  • Former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney

8. Princeton University

Princeton University
(Est. 1746)
Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Although only the ninth-oldest university in the country, Princeton is one of the most historic. Originally founded as the College of New Jersey, the school’s sixth presidents, the Scottish theologian and educator John Witherspoon, signed the Declaration of Independence — the only college leader to do so. The next year, George Washington’s colonials dealt a small but significant blow to Lord Cornwallis’s superior forces at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. The victories at the earlier Battle of Trenton and at Princeton had an important positive effect on American morale, leading to increased enlistments in Washington’s army.

Princeton has pursued a different strategy over the years from its Ivy League confrères. For example, it has no law school, medical school, or business school. It has only loose academic connections to the nearby Princeton Theological Seminary and Institute for Advanced Study. In spite of its seemingly narrow focus on the arts and sciences to the detriment of professional training, Princeton nevertheless maintains a towering reputation for the cutting-edge academic research of its faculty, as well as for their teaching prowess (all professors are expected to teach undergraduates). Perhaps due to this focus, Princeton has also developed a reputation for academic “toughness,” resisting the grade inflation trend rampant elsewhere in American academia and insuring a challenging intellectual experience to even its very best incoming students.

On the roster of preeminent, Princeton-connected names in the sciences, Nobelists in physics have been the most prominent, including:

  • Arthur Compton
  • Wolfgang Pauli
  • Eugene Wigner
  • Richard Feynman
  • John Bardeen
  • Philip Anderson
  • Steven Weinberg
  • Frank Wilczek
  • Kip Thorne
  • James Peebles

Princeton has special strength in mathematics, being connected to many Fields Medalists, including:

  • John Milnor
  • Edward Witten
  • William Thurston
  • Terence Tao
  • Manjul Bhargava
  • Akshay Venkatesh

In addition, the great mathematician, logician, and father of the theory of computation, Alan Turing, received his doctorate from Princeton.

Among other eminent philosophers and logicians who have been associated with university, we may mention:

  • Alonzo Church
  • John Rawls
  • Robert Nozick
  • Donald Davidson
  • Saul Kripke
  • Jerry Fodor
  • David K. Lewis
  • Cornel West
  • Peter Singer

Four Princeton-connected individuals have won the Nobel Prize in Economics, namely,

  • Gary Becker
  • John Nash
  • Michael Spence
  • Angus Deaton

Another special strength of Princeton has lain in the fields of law and politics. The school has contributed three Presidents to the United States, namely,

  • James Madison
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • John F. Kennedy

as well as a host of other prominent statesmen, including:

  • John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Influential diplomat, George F. Kennan
  • James A. Baker, US Secretary of State under President George W. Bush
  • Supreme Court Justices, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, & Sonia Sotomayor

Finally, some other distinguished individuals linked to Princeton include:

  • Anthropologist Mary Douglas
  • Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Playwright Eugene O’Neill
  • Literary critic, Edmund Wilson
  • Attorney and consumer advocate, Ralph Nader
  • Financial journalist, Michael Lewis
  • Automobile company chief executive, Lee Iacocca
  • Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos
  • Army General and public servant, David Petraeus
  • Actor James (“Jimmy”) Stewart

9. University of Chicago

University of Chicago
(Est. 1890)
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The University of Chicago is one of the foremost universities in the world academically, albeit one of the youngest in that august company. In spite of its relatively recent founding, the school has been associated with some of the world’s most important scientific achievements, above all, the first controlled, self-sustaining, nuclear chain reaction (atomic fission), which was achieved in late 1942 by a team led by the legendary Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi, in a laboratory beneath a football field on the Chicago campus.

In another first, in 1952 then-graduate student Stanley Miller, with the assistance of his adviser, the distinguished University of Chicago chemist Harold Urey, demonstrated that organic molecules such as amino acids can be artificially produced in vitro from only inorganic precursor compounds. It is also worth noting that James D. Watson, the co-discover with Francis Crick of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule at the University of Cambridge — also in 1952 — completed his undergraduate education at Chicago.

However, Chicago is famed for far more than its contributions to science. For example, in 1896 renowned philosopher John Dewey founded the “Lab School” on the university’s campus to put his liberal pedagogical principles into practice. For better or for worse, the Chicago Lab School has had an incalculable impact on the course of educational philosophy in America.

In 1952, former University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins and philosophy professor Mortimer J. Adler teamed up to found the Great Books of the Western World publishing project and accompanying curriculum — one of the most important ancestors of the Great Books programs that are increasing in popularity today throughout the US.

Of the approximately 90 Nobel Prize-recipients connected to the University of Chicago, no fewer than 29 have been recognized for their work in economics, including such distinguished names as:

  • Friedrich Hayek
  • Paul Samuelson
  • Kenneth Arrow
  • Herbert Simon
  • Milton Friedman
  • James M. Buchanan
  • George Stigler
  • Robert Lucas
  • Ronald Coase
  • Gary Becker
  • Eugene Fama

Friedman’s free-market views, in particular, have been identified with the university — so much so that he and his close associates (Stigler, Lucas, Coase, Becker, Fama, among others) have come to be known collectively as the “Chicago School” of economics.

The American novelist and Nobelist Saul Bellow was a professor at Chicago, as well as a longtime member of the university’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought.

Of the many other distinguished scholars associated with the Committee on Social Thought, we may mention Hans Jonas, Hannah Arendt, Mircea Eliade, Allan Bloom, and Leon Kass.

In addition, the highly influential political philosopher, Leo Strauss, held the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professorship at Chicago for 20 years.

Other distinguished Chicago-related individuals include:

  • Astrophysicist, Edwin Hubble
  • Physicists, Luis Walter Alvarez & Carl Sagan
  • Statistician, Nate Silver
  • Novelists, Kurt Vonnegut & Philip Roth
  • Philosopher, Richard Rorty
  • Essayist, novelist, and culture critic, Susan Sontag
  • Historian, Carter G. Woodson
  • Anthropologist, Clifford Geertz
  • Economist, Thomas Sowell
  • Author, radio broadcaster, and oral history pioneer, Studs Terkel
  • Actor, Ed Asner
  • Actor and film director, Mike Nichols
  • Film critic, Roger Ebert
  • Dancer and choreographer, Katherine Dunham
  • Washington Post publisher, Katharine Graham
  • 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidates, Amy Klobuchar & Bernie Sanders

10. University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge
Cambridge University
(Est. 1209) Cambridge, England, UK

Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is one of the oldest universities in the world (or, at least, in Europe, not to prejudge the claims of several Islamic institutions to that title).

It was founded only a little more than a century after the University of Bologna (1088) and the University of Oxford (1096) — which are the oldest and second-oldest universities in Europe — and about half a century after the University of Paris (1150). Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world, after Oxford.

With more than 800 years of continuous operation, Cambridge has been home to a great many luminaries of the academic firmament during this long expanse of time. Without a doubt, the brightest of these by far was Isaac Newton, who most would say is the greatest scientist who ever lived (a minority holds out for Albert Einstein). Newton was mostly in residence at Cambridge from 1661 until 1706, first as a student and then a professor, attaining the distinctions of Fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in the university.

If no eminent thinker other than Newton had ever dwelled there, Cambridge would still have a considerable claim to academic eminence — but, of course, that is far from the case.

For example, the great English classicist Richard Bentley — only half a generation younger than Newton — both studied and taught there. Earlier in the seventeenth century, Cambridge had been home to the essayist and philosopher, Francis Bacon, as well as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, while Shakespeare’s rival and sometime collaborator, the playwright (and possible secret agent) Christopher Marlowe, received his education here. Overlapping with Newton was also a highly influential group of philosophers known collectively as the “Cambridge Platonists,” who included most notably Ralph Cudworth and Henry More, as well as several other thinkers of some repute. Moreover, two of the greatest English poets of all time, John Donne and John Milton, also studied at Cambridge during the remarkable seventeenth century.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cambridge was home to:

  • English classicist, Richard Porson
  • English Romantic poets, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, & Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Early computer pioneer, Charles Babbage
  • Noted physician, naturalist, and early proponent of evolution, Erasmus Darwin (Charles’s grandfather)
  • Anglican minister and important contributor to political economy and demographics, Thomas Malthus
  • World-famous naturalist and originator of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, Charles Darwin
  • Philosopher-scientist William Whewell
  • Folklorist and author of The Golden Bough, J.G. Frazer
  • Beloved British poet, Alfred Tennyson

Moving to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we find that a total of around 120 Nobel laureates have been connected to Cambridge, some of whom stand among the ranks of highly distinguished scientists crowding into the history books just behind Newton and Einstein. For instance, just among physicists we have:

  • J.W. Strutt (Lord Rayleigh)
  • J.J. Thomson
  • Lawrence Bragg
  • Paul Dirac
  • James Chadwick
  • Pyotr Kapitsa
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
  • Abdus Salam
  • Philip Anderson
  • Brian Josephson
  • Neville Mott
  • David Thouless
  • Celebrated Stephen Hawking, who until his recent death occupied Newton’s old chair as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge

Cambridge-connected Nobel winners in chemistry include:

  • John Kendrew
  • Max Perutz
  • Frederick Sanger
  • Lars Onsager
  • Peter Mitchell
  • Walter Gilbert

In the category of Nobel Prizes for physiology or medicine, we have:

  • Charles Sherrington
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi
  • Howard Florey
  • Hans Krebs
  • James D. Watson
  • Francis Crick
  • Maurice Wilkins
  • André Lwoff
  • Alan Hodgkin
  • Andrew Huxley
  • Sydney Brennerv
  • Elizabeth Blackburn

It was in 1952, in Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, that Watson and Crick made the epoch-making discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule.

Among other eminent scholars, perhaps the most influential economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes, both graduated from Cambridge and taught here for many years.

Another discipline with which the University of Cambridge is intimately connected is philosophy. In fact, the characteristic style of philosophy practiced in English-speaking countries throughout the twentieth century (almost exclusively so, until fairly recently) was born in Cambridge, just after 1900, when G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, in full revolt against the then-reigning British Idealist school, and under the powerful influence of the seminal work in mathematical logic by University of Jena professor, Gottlob Frege, invented the style of philosophical writing we now call “analytical.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s arrival in Cambridge from Vienna in 1911 to study with Russell (at Frege’s suggestion) cemented this tradition, which some now refer to as “Anglo-Austrian” philosophy. While the rival “Continental” tradition (grounded in Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger) has been making inroads in British and American universities for several decades now, the analytical style, on the other hand, has an ever-increasing presence on the Continent today. As a result, Cambridge’s historical importance for the way philosophy is done in the contemporary world is now being acknowledged — and the practice itself emulated — not just in Austria, Scandinavia, and Poland (this happened earlier in the past century), but even in Germany itself, as well as in France, Italy, the rest of central and eastern Europe, and beyond.

Among other distinguished Cambridge-linked scholars, we may mention:

  • Astronomer Edwin Hubble
  • Virtuoso mathematician, philosopher, logician, and computer-science pioneer, Alan Turing
  • Novelist Howard Jacobson
  • Philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead, Georg Henrick von Wright, & Roger Scruton
  • Sociologist Ernest Gellner

11. New York University

New York University
(Est. 1831)
New York, New York, USA

As the cultural mecca of the US, New York City naturally contains many fine colleges and universities. One of the very best is New York University (NYU), located in Washington Square in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. While NYU is a quintessentially urban school lacking a conventional, pastoral college campus setting, its site is immediately recognizable thanks to Washington Square Arch, which is a replica of the ancient Roman Arch of Titus and very similar in appearance to Paris’s celebrated Arc de Triomphe (though only half its size).

One of the principal founders of NYU was Albert Gallatin, president of the National Bank of New York, former US diplomat, and Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson. At the center of Gallatin’s vision for NYU was that the school would accept students from a wider variety of social and family backgrounds, thus making a college education available to young men who showed outstanding academic or personal merit.

This was a novel idea at the time, but one that NYU continues to take seriously today. For example, its entering undergraduate class each year represents nearly 90 foreign countries, in addition to almost all of the American states. NYU also has 12 mini-campuses, or “global academic centers,” located in cities around the world:

  • Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
  • Accra (Ghana)
  • Berlin (Germany)
  • Buenos Aires (Argentina)
  • Florence (Italy)
  • London (United Kingdom)
  • Madrid (Spain)
  • Paris (France)
  • Prague (Czech Republic)
  • Shanghai (China)
  • Sydney (Australia)
  • Tel Aviv (Israel)

Through this extensive network, more NYU students participate in study-abroad programs than those of any other American university.

Some 37 winners of the Nobel Prize are connected to NYU, including, notably,:

  • Severo Ochoa — chemistry
  • Eric Kandel — physiology or medicine
  • Wassily Leontief — economics

In addition, NYU can boast eight Turing Award winners, including:

  • Martin Hellman
  • Judea Pearl
  • Michael Rabin
  • Robert Tarjan

as well as five Fields Medalists, including Akshay Venkatesh.

Finally, notable NYU alumni from other walks of life include:

  • Philosophers, Thomas Nagel, Peter Singer, & David Chalmers
  • Film directors, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, & Tom Ford
  • Singer, Neil Diamond
  • Actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, James Franco, & Timothée Chalamet
  • Former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani

12. Cornell University

Cornell University
(Est. 1865)
Ithaca, New York, USA

Cornell University was founded in turbulent times. With the Civil War winding down, and less than two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Governor of New York signed the school’s official charter in the state capital, Albany, where only the day before Lincoln’s funeral procession had passed through the city’s streets.

Two men were behind the drive to establish a first-class university in upstate New York: wealthy businessman Ezra Cornell, the founder of Western Union, who was originally from Ithaca (where the new school was to be located), and Andrew Dickson White, a prominent historian and educator, who hailed from nearby Syracuse. Later on, White would be best remembered as the author of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), and from the beginning he envisioned Cornell as a rigorously secular institution with a special emphasis on the natural sciences.

This lack of an original religious orientation, as well as its geographical isolation from the American center of cultural gravity on the East Coast, make Cornell a bit of an odd-man-out among the eight schools that make up the Ivy League. However, the university’s right to a place among that elite grouping is more than justified by the intellectual firepower of its faculty. Moreover, despite its rural setting, Cornell’s sprawling campus and its total university population of over 23,000 (more than twice the size of the town of Ithaca itself) easily make it a rival of the other Ivy League schools in scale.

One of Cornell’s areas of particular strength is medicine. The Weill Cornell Medical School, located in Manhattan, is one of the most selective in the nation. Cornell also runs the Weill Cornell Medical College located in Doha, Qatar.

An astonishing 50 Nobel laureates are connected with Cornell, not to mention many other highly influential thinkers and authors. For example, among Nobel Prize-winners in physics, we many mention:

  • Hans Bethe
  • Richard Feynman
  • Hannes Alfvén
  • Kenneth Wilson
  • Steven Weinberg
  • Sheldon Glashow
  • Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
  • Kip Thorne

Cornell-connected chemistry Nobelists include:

  • Peter Debye
  • Richard Ernst
  • Manfred Eigen
  • Roald Hoffmann

In physiology or medicine, we may mention:

  • George Beadle
  • Fritz Lipmann
  • Barbara McClintock
  • Peter Medawar
  • Harold Varmus
  • Jack Szostak

Four Cornell-connected economists have won the Nobel Prize in their field:

  • Amartya Sen
  • Robert Engle
  • Richard Thaler
  • Robert Fogel

No fewer than four Nobel Prize laureates in literature have studied or taught at Cornell:

  • American novelists, Pearl Buck and Toni Morrison
  • Mexican poet, Octavio Paz
  • Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka

However, perhaps the most distinguished of all Cornell-connected literary figures (and one of the Swedish Academy’s worst oversights) is the great Russian émigré novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, who taught here from 1948 until 1959, when the international succès de scandale of his novel Lolita (1955) permitted him to retire from teaching.

Among other distinguished Cornell-connected individuals (in addition to the above), we may mention:

  • Physicists, Freeman Dyson & Huber Reeves
  • Novelists, Kurt Vonnegut & David Foster Wallace
  • Novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, Junot Díaz
  • E.B. White, author of the beloved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, and co-author of the ubiquitous writer’s manual, The Elements of Style
  • Philosophers, John R. Perry & Thomas Nagel
  • Psychoanalyst, Abraham Maslow
  • Political scientist, Benedict Anderson
  • Journalist, Raj Patel
  • Television personality, Bill Nye
  • Political author and columnist, Ann Coulter
  • Actors, Christopher Reeve & Gillian Anderson
  • Indian industrialist, Ratan Tata
  • Former President of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui
  • President of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen
  • US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

13. University of Oxford

University of Oxford
(Est. 1096)
Oxford, England, UK

The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, which affords it an aura of awe and respect that no amount of money can buy.

If Cambridge was preeminent in the analytical philosophy tradition during the twentieth century, Oxford was far more important for the Scholastic philosophical tradition during the High Middle Ages. For example, the great Scottish metaphysician John Duns Scotus (his name means, roughly, “John, of the village of Duns, in Scotland”) was in residence here during the 1290s, and again briefly between 1302 and 1304, between stays at the University of Paris. He fell out of favor in Paris, though, ending his days in Cologne.

Another towering medieval thinker, the Franciscan priest William of Ockham (who takes his surname from a town in Surrey, south of London), was a student and briefly a teacher at Oxford during the early years of the fourteenth century, before removing to the Franciscan house in London, and finally being summoned to the papal court in Avignon to defend himself against a charge of heterodoxy. He eventually fled to the court of Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV of Bavaria, where he died in 1347. Ockham is best known today as the author of the “parsimony principle,” which states that in an explanation “entities ought not to be multiplied beyond necessity” (Ockham’s razor).

Among others whom either studied or taught at Oxford, or both, during the intellectually fertile thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a large number of less well-known but still quite significant figures — including:

  • William of Sherwood
  • Roger Bacon
  • William Grosseteste
  • Walter Burley
  • Thomas Bradwardine
  • William Heytesbury
  • Richard Swineshead
  • John Wyclif
  • Paul of Venice

Jumping ahead several centuries, we still find a large number of British luminaries passing through Oxford, including:

  • Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor who lost his head opposing the king’s split with Rome
  • Philosophers, Thomas Hobbes & John Locke
  • Mathematician, physicist, and microscopist, Robert Hooke
  • Humanist scholar and author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton
  • Physician, antiquarian, and author of Religio Medici, Thomas Browne
  • Metaphysical poet, John Donne
  • Architect, Christopher Wren
  • Philosopher and father of economics, Adam Smith
  • Anglican bishop and philosopher, Joseph Butler
  • Philologist and originator of the Indo-European language family hypothesis, William Jones
  • Historian and author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
  • Poet, novelist, biographer, lexicographer, and raconteur, Samuel Johnson
  • Essayists, Joseph Addison & Richard Steele
  • Explorer and naturalist, Joseph Banks
  • Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Anglican-turned-Catholic religious philosopher and man of letters, author of Apologia pro vita sua, John Henry Newman
  • Poet and critic, author of “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold
  • Novelist, social thinker, and promoter of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris
  • Poet, playwright, and satirist, Oscar Wilde

In the twentieth century, as well, Oxford has been home to a large constellation of some of the brightest stars in the natural sciences, the humanities, and other fields. For example, the university’s Nobel Prize-winners in physics include Erwin Schrödinger and Anthony Leggett, while among Oxford-connected Chemistry Prize-winners are such notables as Frederick Soddy, Linus Pauling, Cyril Hinshelwood, and Dorothy Hodgkin.

The great cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who now lies buried in Westminster Abbey alongside Isaac Newton, did his undergraduate work here.

In physiology or medicine, we may mention:

  • Charles Sherrington
  • Howard Florey
  • George Beadle
  • Severo Ochoa
  • Peter Medawar
  • John Eccles
  • Niko Tinbergen
  • Paul Nurse
  • Sydney Brenner
  • Peter Ratcliffe

Oxford-connected Nobelists in economics include:

  • John Hicks
  • Gunnar Myrdal
  • Robert Solow
  • Amartya Sen
  • Joseph Stiglitz
  • Michael Spence

A number of Nobel Prize-winners in literature, including the poet T.S. Eliot and the novelists John Galsworthy, William Golding, and V.S. Naipaul, all studied at Oxford.

Other notable twentieth-century Oxonians include:

  • Astronomer, Edwin Hubble
  • Philosophers, Michael Dummett, Alasdair MacIntyre, Bernard Williams, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, David K. Lewis, Thomas Nagel, & David Chalmers
  • Anthropologists, E.E. Evans-Pritchard & Mary Douglas
  • Sociologist, Ernest Gellner
  • Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins
  • Poets, W.H. Auden & Philip Larkin
  • Author of the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Influential spy novelist, John le Carré
  • Beloved children’s author, Theodor Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”)
  • Famed Christian apologist and children’s writer, author of the Narnia books, C.S. Lewis
  • Philologist, medievalist, and author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Journalist & controversialist, Christopher Hitchens
  • Film director, Terrence Malick
  • Actors Richard Burton, Hugh Grant, Kate Beckinsale, Rowan Atkinson, and Emma Watson

However, the area in which Oxford really stands out is politics. All of the following presidents, prime ministers, and/or heads of state (among many others) attended Oxford:

  • Indira Gandhi (India)
  • Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Ceylon/Sri Lanka)
  • Eric Williams (Trinidad and Tobago)
  • Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma/Myanmar)
  • King Abdullah II (Jordan)
  • Lester Pearson (Canada)
  • Malcolm Turnbull (Australia)
  • Bill Clinton (USA)
  • William Gladstone (UK)
  • Clement Atlee (UK)
  • Harold Wilson (UK)
  • Margaret Thatcher (UK)
  • Tony Blair (UK)
  • David Cameron (UK)
  • Theresa May (UK)
  • Boris Johnson (UK)

You might say that Oxford is the global prep school for the future leaders of the world!

14. University of Michigan

University of Michigan
(Est. 1817)
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

The flagship campuses of many of the state university systems have superb faculties and excellent academic reputations. However, setting aside Berkeley as a special case, by our criteria the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is the most distinguished of all these many fine institutions. That is, Michigan has a strong claim to be considered (after Berkeley) the best public research university in the US.

One thing in Michigan’s favor is its sheer size (more than 46,000 students and 6,000 academic staff members) and corresponding wealth (an annual research budget of around $1.5 billion). Administratively, the university is subdivided into 17 schools and colleges offering some 600 undergraduate and graduate major programs.

Another reason for Michigan’s research prowess is its truly astonishing library, containing more than 14 million individual items, including over 220,000 serials.

Michigan has some 25 Nobel Prize laureates associated with its name. Prize-winners in physics include:

  • Wolfgang Pauli
  • Charles Townes
  • Samuel Ting
  • Donald Glaser

while Robert Shiller and Lawrence Klein were Michigan-connected Nobelists in economics. In addition, the great Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who taught at Michigan for many years after being expelled from the USSR, was a Nobelist in literature.

Many other famous people have been connected to the University of Michigan over the years, including:

  • Clarence Darrow, the famed criminal attorney who defended Nathan Leopold, Richard Loeb, and John T Scopes
  • Claude Shannon, the father of the modern theory of information
  • Distinguished poet, W.H. Auden
  • Celebrated playwright and author of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  • Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II
  • Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the US
  • Distinguished stage and screen actor, James Earl Jones
  • Legendary dramatic soprano, Jessye Norman
  • Google co-founder, Larry Page
  • Lori Lightfoot, the current mayor of Chicago

15. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania
(Est. 1740)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

The University of Pennsylvania (commonly known as “Penn”) is a leading private research university (note that nearly all US universities named after their state are public-supported — Penn is an exception to this rule).

The sixth-oldest institution of higher learning in the country, Penn was the brain child of American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who also served as its first president. Franklin’s educational ideas were highly innovative for the time, inclining more towards the teaching of practical skills and preparation for the learned professions, in contrast to the traditional curriculum based on the Classical languages, literature, and history, which aimed primarily to produce ministers and “gentlemen.”

Accordingly, the first medical school in the 13 colonies (now known as the Perelman School of Medicine) was founded at Penn in 1765. Also, thanks in large part to Franklin’s guiding principles, the first business school in the country (the Wharton School) opened there in 1881.

Penn has had a major impact on American politics and history: nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were either graduates of the university or members of its Board of Trustees. Hundreds of Penn graduates have served in the two houses of Congress, at the cabinet level of the executive branch, and as ambassadors in their country’s diplomatic service. Nearly 50 have served as governors of many different states. Finally, Penn can boast three US Supreme Court Justices (James Wilson, Owen J. Roberts, and William J. Brennan) and two presidents (William Henry Harrison attended the Penn medical school, but did not graduate, and Donald Trump received his bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School).

Located in racially and economically diverse West Philadelphia, Penn today has a student body that is “majority minority,” comprising numerous African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, as well as many international students (just under 500 in all) hailing from East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

Among notable alumni we may mention:

  • Philosopher, Hilary Putnam
  • Famed linguist, Noam Chomsky
  • Investors, Warren Buffett & Eric Weinstein
  • Entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, Steve Wynn, & Sundar Pichai
  • Actors, Bruce Dern, Candice Bergen, Vanessa Bayer, & Elizabeth Banks
  • Broadway producer, Harold Prince
  • Stand-up comedian, Whitney Cummings
  • TV personalities, Andrea Mitchell & Marc Lamont Hill
  • Distinguished American poets, William Carlos Williams & Ezra Pound
  • Renowned architect, I.M. Pei
  • Blogger, Cenk Uygur
  • Kaw professor and political activist, Lawrence Lessig
  • African independence leader and first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah
  • 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump

Altogether, some 28 Penn-connected persons have been recipients of the Nobel Prize, including:

  • Christian Anfinsen — chemistry
  • Stanley Prusiner and Gerald Edelman, — physiology or medicine
  • Edmund Phelps, Lawrence Klein, and Simon Kuznets, — economics
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., — peace

16. University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
(Est. 1919)
Los Angeles, California, USA

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is the fourth-oldest school in the 10-campus University of California System. Having begun as a modest, two-year teacher training program, it has grown into the largest of all UC campuses today, with a student body slightly in excess of that of the flagship campus, UC-Berkeley.

UCLA also receives more than 72,000 admission applications annually, making it the most sought-after university in the nation. It is subdivided into six undergraduate colleges, 11 professional schools (four of which are health-related).

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the university from the point of view of curriculum is its highly esteemed School of Theater, Film and Television, which functions as a sort of feeder school for the gigantic Hollywood film industry. Well-known actors like:

  • James Dean
  • Tim Robbins
  • Steve Martin
  • Tom Skerritt
  • Ben Stiller
  • Jack Black
  • Michael Stuhlbarg

and film directors like:

  • Charles Burnett
  • Allison Anders
  • Penelope Spheeris
  • Valerie Faris
  • Alexander Payne
  • Francis Ford Coppola

and screenwriters like Rob Reiner and Paul Schrader; and rock and roll musicians like Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek (of the Doors) have all studied here.

Of course, UCLA is also highly regarded for its achievements in more traditional disciplines — otherwise, it would not be on this list. For example, the school has been home to 13 Nobel laureates (including Glenn Seaborg for chemistry and Elinor Ostrom for economics), 10 National Medal of Science-winners, three Pulitzer Prize-winners, 12 Rhodes Scholars, 12 MacArthur Fellows, and one Fields Medalist (Terence Tao).

UCLA’s roster of five Turing Award-recipients is especially impressive:

  • Vint Cerf
  • Fernando Corbato
  • Alan Kay
  • Judea Pearl
  • David Patterson

Among other notable alumni not included above, we may mention:

  • Philosopher, mathematician, and logician, Alonzo Church
  • Philosophers, Hilary Putnam and John R. Perry
  • Composer, John Cage
  • Film composer, John Williams
  • Actors, Marilyn Monroe, Nicholas Cage, & Kristen Stewart
  • Actor and ex-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Cultural and political commentator, Ben Shapiro
  • Celebrity-attorney, Johnnie Cochran
  • Sports greats, Jackie Robinson & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

17. Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University
(Est. 1876)
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Johns Hopkins was designed from its origin to contribute to the cutting edge of scientific discovery. With time, this goal has been fully achieved, leading to the top-tier research institution that the university is today. The school is named after its founding benefactor, the entrepreneur and philanthropist Johns Hopkins, who contributed $7 million (approximately $145 million in today’s money) to create both the university and an associated hospital.

The educational philosophy of Hopkins (who had also been a noted abolitionist) and the university’s first president, the distinguished educator Daniel Coit Gilman, was heavily influenced by the model of the recently established German research universities, especially Heidelberg University, which had pioneered the concept of an arts and sciences graduate school analogous to the traditional professional schools for divinity, law, and medicine. For this reason, Johns Hopkins is often referred to as the first “research university” in the United States.

In particular, the school’s continuing emphasis on medical research and training (which has been present from the very beginning) has resulted today in one of the most highly regarded medical schools in the world. Not coincidentally, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is also the recipient of the largest amount of federal largesse in the form of research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The same thing is also true of the institution as a whole: Johns Hopkins receives more federal research funding than any other university in the country. As a result, the university comprises an entire array of top-tier schools, colleges, institutes, and laboratories. Among these we may mention:

  • Peabody Institute
  • Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)
  • Whiting School of Engineering
  • School of Nursing
  • Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
  • Carey Business School

Among Johns Hopkins’s numerous notable alumni are the following:

  • Pioneering geneticist, T.H. Morgan
  • Pragmatist philosopher and influential educator, John Dewey
  • 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson
  • American avant-garde novelists Gertrude Stein & John Barth
  • Psychologist and founder of behaviorism, John B. Watson
  • Influential environmentalist and author, Rachel Carson
  • Innovative heart surgeon, Denton Cooley
  • Distinguished obstetrician, Virginia Apgar
  • Influential horror film director, Wes Craven
  • Singer and pop star, Madonna (Madonna Ciccone)
  • Former US ambassador and Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright
  • Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg
  • Entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate, Andrew Yang

Altogether, some 29 Johns Hopkins-connected alumni and faculty have been recipients of the Noble Prize.

18. Northwestern University

Northwestern University
(Est. 1851)
Evanston, Illinois, USA

The founding of Northwestern University was spearheaded by the physician and politician John Evans, for whom the town of Evanston, Illinois, is named. The school is a private institution whose campus lies along Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.

Northwestern was originally intended to serve the needs of the geographical area corresponding to the former Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota) — hence the school’s name.

The university is particularly renowned for its many distinguished professional schools, including the:

  • Bienen School of Music
  • Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Pritzker School of Law
  • Kellogg School of Management
  • Feinberg School of Medicine
  • McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Northwestern is also home to several multi-disciplinary and more-focused research initiatives, including the:

  • Institute for Global Health
  • Institute for Sustainability and Energy
  • Global and Research Opportunities
  • Pritzker School of Law’s celebrated Exoneration Initiative

In addition, Northwestern is a premier research university in the arts and sciences; its enormous library holdings comprise some five million volumes.

Now with campuses in Chicago itself (including the state-of-the-art Northwestern Memorial Hospital complex only blocks from Lake Michigan) and in Doha, Qatar, Northwestern is one of the top private research universities in between the East and West Coasts. Situated as it is on the Great Lakes, Northwestern contributes greatly — together with the University of Chicago several miles to the south — to making the greater Chicago area the intellectually vibrant “third coast” of the United States.

Altogether, some 19 Northwestern-connected individuals have received the Nobel Prize, including:

  • George Stigler — economics
  • Franco Modigliani — economics
  • Robert Lucas — economics
  • Saul Bellow — literature
  • Ralph Bunche — peace

Northwestern’s Department of Philosophy was the long-time home of the distinguished Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, while Northwestern University Press played a pivotal role in introducing the translated writings of Continental authors working in the phenomenological, existentialist, poststructuralist, and postmodern traditions to an English-speaking philosophical audience.

Other notable Northwestern alumni and faculty include the:

  • Anthropologist, Mary Douglas
  • Actors, Patricia Neal, Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, & Zooey Deschanel
  • Television personalities, Jerry Springer & Stephen Colbert

19. University of Toronto

University of Toronto
(Est. 1827)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The University of Toronto received its royal charter in 1827 from King George IV. Originally known as King’s College, it was the first institution of higher learning in the colonial Province of Upper Canada (consisting of mostly what is now southern Ontario).

King’s College was a religious institution, operating under the auspices of the Church of England. In 1850, the university was transferred to a secular administration, at which time it also assumed its present name.

Today, the university comprises 11 schools at its principal location in downtown Toronto’s Queen’s Park neighborhood, as well as two satellite campuses.

In addition, several administratively autonomous but highly prestigious research centers are housed on the University of Toronto campus. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences.

Established in 1992 and named in honor of Toronto mathematician John Charles Fields, the Fields Institute bestows its coveted award (the Fields Medal) every fourth year on several of the best mathematicians in the world under the age of 40.

Another world-famous research center located at the University of Toronto is the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS), founded by the distinguished French intellectual historian and philosopher, Étienne Gilson, in 1929. The PIMS helped to spearhead the twentieth-century revolution in our understanding of the Latin-speaking Middle Ages, the birth of the university, and the contribution of medieval philosophy to later European thought.

The university has been associated with 10 Nobel laureates and five Turing Award-winners, some of whom are listed below. Other notable University of Toronto connected people include the following:

Fine Arts and Literature

  • Novelist, Margaret Atwood
  • Classicist, poet, Anne Carson
  • Novelist, Stephen Leacock
  • Poet, soldier, field surgeon, John McCrae
  • Novelist, Rohinton Mistry
  • Novelist, Michael Ondaatje

Film, Photography, and Performing Arts

  • Film director, David Cronenberg
  • Film director, Atom Egoyan
  • Film director, Arthur Hiller
  • Film director, Norman Jewison
  • TV screenwriter, David Shore
  • Actor, Donald Sutherland

Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Psychologist, Lisa Feldman Barrett
  • Literary critic, Northrop Frye
  • Economist, John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Sociologist, Erving Goffman
  • Political philosopher, Michael Ignatieff
  • Economist, Harold Innis
  • Communication and media studies, Marshall McLuhan
  • Psychologist, Daniel Schachter
  • Psychologist, Endel Tulving

Media, Law, and Public Affairs

  • Political commentator, David Frum
  • Social science journalist, Malcolm Gladwell
  • Political commentator, Naomi Klein
  • Former Prime Minister of Canada, William Mackenzie
  • Former Prime Minister of Canada, Nobel laureate, Lester Pearson

STEM Disciplines

  • Developer of insulin, Nobel laureate, Frederick Banting
  • Thoracic surgeon, innovator in field surgery, Norman Bethune
  • Mathematician, John Charles Fields
  • Computer scientist, Turing Award winner, Geoffrey Hinton
  • Computer scientist, Turing Award winner, William Kahan
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, John Macleod
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, John Polanyi

20. Duke University

Duke University
(Est. 1838)
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Duke began life as Brown’s Schoolhouse, on a site in what is now the town of Trinity in Randolph County, North Carolina, a little over 70 miles west of its current location in the city of Durham.

The small school experienced rapid growth in the years leading up to the Civil War, and underwent a succession of name changes: to Union Institute Academy (1841), Normal College (1851), and Trinity College (1859). In its cultural roots, the Methodist and Quaker faiths both loom large.

Finally, in 1892 the still-growing college was gifted with a major endowment from the wealthy tobacco entrepreneur, philanthropist, and devout Methodist, Washington Duke. It was at this time that its location was transferred to Durham.

A little later, Washington Duke’s son, James B. Duke, substantially increased the university’s endowment, to a total sum of about $40 million (around $580 million in today’s dollars). In honor of the contributions of the Duke family, in 1924the school changed its name one last time.

Washington Duke’s educational vision was to transform the modest teacher and minister training college into a major research university on the German model that would be capable of intellectually rivalling its Northern peers. In this, he succeeded beyond all expectation. Today, Duke is one of the premier private research universities in the South, and among the top tier of private schools in the country — effectively, the equivalent of an Ivy League school.

In addition to the influence flowing from the German research university model, Duke’s direction was also strongly shaped by its Methodist and Quaker roots, which toward the turn of the new century gave the school a decidedly progressive social impetus.

For example, Trinity College’s 1892 charter stipulated that the university’s doors be open to women on an equal basis with men. Also, in 1900, Duke became the first university in the country to host the renowned African American educator Booker T. Washington as an invited speaker. Native Americans also began to be included among its graduates around this same time.

There are some 15 Nobel laureates with Duke connections, including the:

  • Physicists, Charles Townes and Gerardus ’t Hooft
  • Biochemist, Robert Lefkowitz
  • Cancer researcher, William Kaelin, Jr.
  • Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka

Among other notable, Duke-associated scientists, we may mention the physicist and evolutionary theorist, Adrian Bejan. Duke can also boast of three Turing Award-winners:

  • Frederick Brooks
  • Edmund Clarke
  • John Cocke

Among the many other famous people who have been connected to Duke, the following are very notable:

  • Philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre
  • Novelists, William Styron & Reynolds Price
  • Historian, John Hope Franklin
  • Literary theorist, Stanley Fish
  • Psychologists, Jerome Bruner, Roy Baumeister, & Dan Ariely
  • Economist, Allan Meltzer
  • Television personalities, Judy Woodruff & Charlie Rose
  • Father and son Libertarian politicians, Ron & Rand Paul
  • Lawyer, judge, and Clinton-era special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr

Duke also administers two international sister colleges: a medical school in Singapore and Kunshan University in China.

21. University of Southern California

University of Southern California
(Est. 1880)
Los Angeles, California, USA

The University of Southern California (USC) was founded as the first private research university in the state (five years before Stanford) largely through the efforts of Judge Robert Widney, one of the most prominent citizens of Los Angeles at that time.

Widney’s vision was of an inclusive institution that would serve all sectors of the already-diverse LA community. Accordingly, the board of trustees he assembled included a wealthy Protestant businessman, a Catholic former-governor, and a Jewish banker. While USC was officially affiliated with the Methodist church during its early years, from the beginning its charter provided that no student would be denied admission on the basis of race.

Today, USC enrolls more than 48,000 students, of whom around a quarter (some 12,000) are international students — one of the highest percentages of any university in the country. Half of all students are undergraduates, while the other half are pursuing graduate or professional training.

Nine Nobel Prize laureates have been connected with USC, including the:

  • Physicist, Murray Gell-Mann
  • Chemist, Arieh Warshel
  • Economists, James Heckman & Angus Deaton

USC faculty member Leonard Adleman, who has a joint appointment in computer science and molecular biology, is a Turing Award-recipient.

Among its many other notable faculty and alumni, we may mention:

  • Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon
  • Architect, Frank Gehry
  • Electrical engineer and entrepreneur, Andrew Viterbi
  • Actors John Wayne, Tom Selleck, LeVar Burton, Cybil Shepherd, Daryl Hannah, Will Ferrell, & Forest Whitaker
  • Television producer and film director, Judd Apatow
  • Film directors, Robert Zemeckis, John Singleton, Ron Howard, & George Lucas
  • Mohamed Morsi, the former president of Egypt
  • Shinzō Abe, the current prime minister of Japan

22. University of California San Diego

University of California at San Diego
(Est. 1956)
San Diego, California, USA

The University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) was founded in 1956. (For the earlier history of the UC system, see the article on UC Berkeley.) At the same time, the pre-existing San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography was attached to the new university.

The university is organized into seven residential undergraduate colleges and four academic divisions. In addition, there are seven graduate and professional schools, and 19 specialized research units, not to mention a respected medical school and an extensive system of university-sponsored public healthcare facilities.

Two of the most prestigious research centers are the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind.

UC San Diego is linked to 27 Nobel Prize winners, some of whom are listed below. Other prominent UC San Diego associated people include the following:

Fine Arts and Literature

  • Classical composer, Mark Applebaum
  • Jazz musician, Nathan East
  • Novelist, Diana Gabaldon

Film, Photography, and Performing Arts

  • Actor, Danny Burstein
  • Actor, Benicio del Toro
  • TV showrunner, Mike Judge
  • Film director, Justin Lin

Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Economist, Kuan Chung-ming
  • Philosopher, Patricia Churchland
  • Philosopher, Paul Churchland
  • Philosopher, Angela Davis
  • Economist, Nobel laureate, Robert F. Engle
  • Economist, Nobel laureate, Clive Granger
  • Philosopher, Herbert Marcuse
  • Economist, Nobel laureate, Harry Markowitz

STEM Disciplines

  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Hannes Alfvén
  • Chemist, Jeffrey Bada
  • Immunologist, Nobel laureate, Bruce Beutler
  • Physicist, Paul Ching Wu Chu
  • Mathematician, Fan Chung
  • Biophysicist, Nobel laureate, Francis Crick
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Paul Crutzen
  • Virologist, Nobel laureate, Renato Dulbecco
  • Biophysicist, George Feher
  • Mathematician, Ronald Graham
  • Electrical engineer, entrepreneur, Irwin M. Jacobs
  • Immunologist, Polly Matzinger
  • Physicist, Maria Goeppert Mayer
  • Marine biologist, astronaut, Jessica Meir
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Mario J. Molina
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Linus Pauling
  • Neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran
  • Structural biologist, Nobel laureate, Venkatraman (“Venki”) Ramakrishnan
  • Computer scientist, Jef Raskin
  • Cognitive scientist, entrepreneur, Michael Robertson
  • Neuroscientist, Terry Sejnowski
  • Computer scientist, investor, David E. Shaw
  • Physicist, Hans Suess
  • Neuroscientist, Nobel laureate, Susumu Tonegawa
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Roger Y. Tsien
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Harold Urey
  • Biochemist, entrepreneur, Craig Venter
  • Mathematician, Efin Zelmanov

23. California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology
(Est. 1891)
Pasadena, California, USA

The California Institute of Technology (universally known as “Caltech”) is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena. It was originally founded as a vocational school, but took on the complexion of an institute at the cutting edge of scientific discovery quite early in its history.

The inflection point probably came with the move of Alfred Amos Noyes from MIT (where he had been serving as acting-President) to Caltech in 1919. Noyes, who had studied chemistry under Wilhelm Ostwald at the University of Leipzig, taught chemistry at Caltech for 17 years, until his death in 1936.

During his tenure at Caltech — which assumed its present name in 1921 — Noyes was responsible for revising the science curriculum in line with the latest advances in Germany, whose universities were the best in the world at that time. Noyes was also very active in institution-building at the national level (he was one of the founders of the National Research Council) and in recruiting both distinguished older and promising younger science faculty for Caltech.

For example, together with his friend, the distinguished astronomer George Ellery Hale (who discovered that sunspots produce magnetic fields, and who had preceded him to Caltech), Noyes persuaded the outstanding physicist Robert A. Millikan to move there in 1921, from the University of Chicago. Two years later, Millikan won the Nobel Prize for devising his classic “oil-drop experiment” — still described in many first-year physics courses — to measure the strength of the elementary charge of the electron.

Another early mover-and-shaker of science at Caltech was the Hungarian-born physicist and aeronautical engineer, Theodore von Kármán, who arrived in Pasadena in 1930, and went on to found there what eventually became the world-famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Yet another highly significant, Caltech-connected scientist was the astrophysicist Allan Sandage, who was the first person to come up with a good estimate for the value of the Hubble Constant. Sandage went on to make a large number of pathbreaking discoveries regarding the large-scale structure of various galaxies, and of the universe as a whole.

These early triumphs were only the beginning of an ever-growing roll call of great names in science. Altogether, some 74 individuals connected to Caltech have won the Nobel Prize — far too many for us to name here.

However, some of the highlights we must mention — just for physics — include:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Hendrik Antoon Lorentz
  • Albert Michelson
  • Rudolf Mössbauer
  • C.V. Raman
  • Richard Feynman
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • William Shockley
  • Charles Townes
  • Kenneth B. Wilson
  • Kip Thorne

For the other Nobel Prizes, the following Caltech-associated recipients, among many others, are especially noteworthy:

  • Linus Pauling and Martin Karplus — chemistry
  • T.H. Morgan, George Beadle, Max Delbrück, Howard Temin, Roger Sperry, Renato Dulbecco, David Baltimore, James D. Watson, Jacques Monod, Niels Jerne, and Barbara McClintock — physiology or medicine
  • Robert Merton, Vernon Smith, & Leonid Hurwicz — economics

It is worth noting that Linus Pauling also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Pauling is only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.

Finally, mention must be made of Fields Medalist Edward Witten, an important theoretical physicist as well as mathematician, who has been a Visiting Professor at Caltech.

In spite of the formidable reputation of much of its faculty, with its relatively modest size (around 2,200 students, and fewer than 1,000 undergraduates), Caltech is in many ways more reminiscent of a small liberal arts college than of a behemoth institution like its east-coast rival, MIT. Caltech’s small 3:1 student-faculty ratio is extremely good, ensuring that its students (who are themselves among the best the nation has to offer) really get to know their professors.

Caltech’s small size and disproportionately influential faculty account for Caltech dominating’s Concentrated Influence rankings.

24. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University
(Est. 1900)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

In 1900, the Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, donated the funds to establish a vocational college called the Carnegie Technical Schools. In 1912, the Technical Schools’ name was changed to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT).

Carnegie based CIT in Pittsburgh, where he had worked as a messenger boy for the Ohio Telegraph Company not long after arriving with his family in the US. By the turn of the twentieth century, that thriving industrial city had become the main base of operations for Carnegie’s vast steel factories. CIT’s site was adjacent to that of the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1913, the brothers, Andrew W. and Richard B. Mellon — scions of a wealthy Pittsburgh banking family (also of Scottish ancestry) — donated money to the University of Pittsburgh for the creation of a Department of Industrial Research. Andrew Mellon would go on to serve as US Secretary of the Treasury under President Warren G. Harding during the early 1920s.

In 1928, the Department of Industrial Research was reconstituted as a nonprofit corporation and renamed the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (MIIR). In 1937, MIIR moved into a new facility on the Pitt campus, across the street from the world-famous Cathedral of Learning.

In 1967, CIT and MIIR merged to create a new, technically oriented university called Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). CMU’s campus is physically adjacent to, and partially overlaps, the University of Pittsburgh campus.

A total of 20 CMU-related individuals have received the Nobel Prize, including:

  • John L. Hall & Otto Stern — physics
  • Ada Yonath & Paul Flory — chemistry
  • John F. Nash, Herbert A. Simon, Oliver Williamson & John Lucas — economics

Computer science is a special strength of CMU, as is shown by its large number of Turing Award-recipients — 13 in all — including:

  • Alan J. Perlis
  • Ivan Sutherland
  • Allen Newell
  • Geoffrey Hinton
  • Edward Feigenbaum
  • Edward M. Clarke
  • Manuel Blum
  • Raj Reddy
  • Shafi Goldwasser
  • Herbert A. Simon (the only person to win both a Turing Award and a Nobel Prize)

Also, one might say that CMU is not unlike a startup accelerator, given the number of CMU-connected engineers and entrepreneurs who have gone on to found important IT companies, including, notably, Xerox PARC, Adobe Systems, Sun Microsystems, Lycos, Red Hat, and Nest.

Finally, among other CMU-connected individuals, we may mention:

  • Painters, Andy Warhol & Philip Pearlstein
  • Novelist, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Actors, Holly Hunter, Christopher Reeve, Ethan Hawke, Patrick Wilson, & Ted Danson
  • Java programming language inventor, James Gosling
  • Statistician and machine-learning pioneer, Andrew Ng
  • NASA astronauts, Edgar Mitchell & Judith Resnik

25. University of Manchester

University of Manchester
(Est. 1824)
Manchester, England, UK

With more than 40,000 students, Manchester is the largest single-site university in the United Kingdom. While it traces its roots back to the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute founded in 1824, the present university was formed by the merger of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and Victoria University of Manchester in 2004.

Manchester can boast of some 25 Nobel laureates (including four who are on staff today) among its faculty and students, including such great physicists as J.J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr, and Hans Bethe. In fact, it was at Victoria University of Manchester, in 1911, that Rutherford performed one of the most celebrated experiments in the history of science.

In order to investigate the structure of the atom, Rutherford and his assistants repeatedly fired “alpha particles” (hydrogen nuclei) at a sheet of gold foil. While most of the particles went straight through the sheet, a small number of them were scattered at different angles, including a few that were reflected 180° backwards. Rutherford correctly interpreted this to mean that the atom consists of a small kernel (nucleus) surrounded by a large expanse of empty space — the “Rutherford model” of the atom. He later said that these results were so unexpected, he could not have been more surprised if he had fired a gun at a piece of tissue paper and the bullet had bounced back at him!

Besides such historical breakthroughs as Rutherford’s famous gold-foil experiment, Manchester can also boast a number of more-recent cutting-edge achievements in science in technology. For example, the first working, stored-program computer, named “the Baby,” was created here in 1948 by Frederic C. Williams and Tom Kilburn. The Baby was based on a cathode-ray tube digital storage system devised by Williams.

Another noteworthy representative of Manchester’s scientific prowess is Herschel Smith, an organic chemist who developed a new means of synthesizing novel steroid compounds (hormones) while at Manchester. After taking his patented inventions to the US in 1961, Smith went to work for Wyeth Laboratories, where he was instrumental in developing the first marketable birth-control pill. His inventions while at Manchester also led to the development of important drugs for treating endocrine disorders.

Of the 25 Nobel laureates with ties to Manchester — in addition to Thomson, Rutherford, Bohr, and Bethe, already mentioned — we may note:

  • James Chadwick, Charles T.R. Wilson, Lawrence Bragg, & André Geim — physics
  • John Polanyi & Melvin Calvin — chemistry
  • John Hicks & Joseph Stiglitz — economics

While Manchester is best known for the high caliber of its offerings in the natural sciences — especially in the Schools of Physics and Astronomy, of Biological Sciences, and of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Civil Engineering — the School of Social Sciences has an excellent reputation, as well. The latter is particularly strong in the fields of sociology and economics, especially development economics, as witnessed by the Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI), which was founded at the University of Manchester in 2005. The BWPI’s inaugural chair was Joseph Stiglitz.

Other distinguished individuals associated with Manchester include:

  • Philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre
  • Novelists, Anthony Burgess
  • Architect, Norman Foster
  • Comedians, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, Jennifer Saunders, & Milo Yiannopoulos
  • Actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rob James-Collier, Toby Jones, Jonathan Ke Quan, & Armeena Khan

26. Boston University

Boston University
(Est. 1839)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Boston University (universally known as “BU”) traces its roots to a Methodist Church training college, the Newbury Biblical Institute, founded in Newbury, Vermont, by a group of Boston-based Methodist ministers and elders. Ten years later, in 1849, the school was transferred to the much larger town (and state capital) of Concord, New Hampshire, where it operated as the Concord Biblical Institute for 20 more years. Finally, in 1869, it moved again, this time to Boston itself, under the new name of the Boston Theological Institute.

Just two years after that, in 1871, the school’s name was changed one last time — to Boston University. BU was built up piecemeal over a period of many years, in several different Boston locations, including the Beacon Hill and Copley Square neighborhoods. It only came to occupy its present main campus — in the Back Bay neighborhood along the south bank of the Charles River across from MIT — during the 1930s.

Despite BU’s origins as a Methodist Church training institute, its new 1871 charter stated that there should be no religious test for entrance to the university at large (the School of Theology excepted), placing BU among the ranks of the first American universities to officially sever their ties to their religious past. BU was also early in admitting women and African Americans to its student body on an equal basis with white men.

From today’s perspective, the transplantation of the school to Boston was prescient, as the city and its immediately surrounding region now have the highest concentration of top-ranking colleges and universities in the US. In addition to BU, the greater Boston area is home to Northeastern University and Emerson College (also in Boston proper), to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (in Cambridge), to Boston College (in Chestnut Hill), to Brandeis University (in Waltham), and to Tufts University (in Medford and Somerville).

Nine persons connected with Boston University have won the Nobel Prize. Of these, the best known are the:

  • American particle physicist, Sheldon Glashow — physics
  • American novelist, Saul Bellow and the Saint Lucian-born poet, Derek Walcott — literature
  • Romanian-born novelist, Holocaust-survivor, and prolific non-fiction author and political activist, Elie Wiesel — peace

Then there is the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist minister and primary leader of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s until his assassination in 1968, who obtained his doctorate in systematic theology from BU in 1955, and who received the Noble Peace Prize in 1964.

It is also worth noting that King’s dissertation advisor at BU was Edgar Sheffield Brightman, who taught philosophy there for more than 30 years. Brightman’s own teacher, Borden Parker Bowne, was the founder of the American philosophical movement known as personalism; he, too, taught at BU for 30 years. Finally, one of Brightman’s students, Peter A. Bertocci, also taught for three decades at BU, where among other things he edited MLK’s papers. Thus, the three most important figures in the history of American personalism all made their long and distinguished careers at BU, which may be considered the beating heart of that significant American philosophical movement.

Another well-known philosopher, the Kant-scholar, and conservative public intellectual, John Silber, served as President of BU for some 25 years.

Among other well-known BU-connected individuals, we may mention:

  • Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone at BU in 1875
  • Philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre & Roger Scruton
  • Poets, Robert Lowell & Sylvia Plath
  • Novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Folk singer, Joan Baez
  • Actors, Faye Dunaway, Geena Davis, Alfre Woodard, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, & Emily Deschanel
  • Radio personality, Howard Stern
  • Television personalities, Rosie O’Donnell and Bill O’Reilly
  • Prominent, recently elected member of the US House of Representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Finally, William Howard Taft lectured at BU’s law school between 1918 and 1921, in between serving as the 17th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Taft is the only person ever to hold both of those high positions.

27. University of Edinburgh

University of Edinburgh
(Est. 1583)
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

In spite of dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the University of Edinburgh is only the fourth-oldest university in Scotland (after St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen), hence the sixth-oldest in the English-speaking world (with Oxford and Cambridge, of course, in first and second positions).

As the city of Edinburgh itself grew in importance, however, its university also came to dominate its Scottish rivals. That is why, for such a relatively “young” university, Edinburgh is associated with a quite remarkable list of intellectual luminaries, including the following, including, during the seventeenth century, the well-known Presbyterian theologian, Samuel Rutherford.

During the following eighteenth-century — the Scottish Enlightenment — Edinburgh was home to a veritable galaxy of celebrated thinkers, including:

  • Philosophers, David Hume, Adam Smith, & Adam Ferguson
  • Theologian and mathematician, Thomas Bayes
  • Theologian, educator, and signer of the US Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon
  • Physician and US Declaration of Independence—signer, Benjamin Rush
  • Lawyer, US Declaration of Independence-signer, and US Supreme Court Justice, James Wilson
  • Physicist, Joseph Black
  • Geologist, James Hutton
  • Celebrated author of the Life of Johnson, James Boswell

During the Victoria era, two of the most-influential scientists of all time, the naturalist Charles Darwin and the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, both studied here. Other nineteenth-century, Edinburgh-connected scientists include the botanist Robert Brown (the first person to observe what is now called “Brownian motion”); the physician Joseph Lister (a pioneer of antiseptic surgery); and Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone).

We may also mention:

  • Philosopher, James Frederick Ferrier
  • Novelists Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, & Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Playwright, J.M. Barrie
  • Neoclassical architect, William Henry Playfair
  • Satirist and cultural critic, Thomas Carlyle

As for the twentieth century, among 19 Nobel Prize-winners who have been associated with the University of Edinburgh, we may mention:

  • Max Born and Peter Higg — physics
  • Peter Mitchell — chemistry
  • Hermann Muller, Alexander Fleming, and May-Britt Moser — physiology or medicine

There have been four Edinburgh-connected Turing Award-winners, namely:

  • Robin Milner
  • Alan Kay
  • Leslie Valiant
  • Geoffrey Hinton

Scientific breakthroughs that have occurred here include the first cloning of a mammal (the sheep Dolly) and the first genetically engineered hepatitis B vaccine. Edinburgh scientists also helped design the world’s first industrial-assembly robotic system.

28. University of Texas

Universith of Texas at Austin
(Est. 1883)
Austin, Texas, USA

By rights, the University of Texas (known within Texas itself as “UT,” for short) ought to be 40 years older than it is. In 1839, the Republic of Texas officially set aside 40 acres of prime real estate in the center of the new country’s capital city, Austin, as the site for the campus of a national university. The Texas Congress also granted 288,000 acres of land, mainly in the western regions of the Republic, as a financial endowment for the future university.

Much later, oil was discovered beneath a lot of that land. As a result, UT’s endowment is now worth a little more than $30 billion, making the school by far the wealthiest public university in the country. Indeed, among all American universities, UT is second only to Harvard (see above) in the size of its endowment.

However, the actual building of the university was long delayed, first by the accession of the Republic of Texas to the United States in 1845, and then by the coming of the Civil War. As a defeated Confederate state, Texas was dealt with harshly by the Federal government during the period of Reconstruction. Eventually, however, the state recovered enough independence in running its own affairs to carry through the long-delayed project of building a state university.

Today, UT is the flagship campus of the far-flung University of Texas System, and is now officially known as the “University of Texas at Austin” to distinguish it from the 13 other campuses, which include eight full-fledged universities and five separate medical school/hospital complexes. The overall system comprises more than 300,000 students, faculty, and staff, while UT’s share in that number stands at around 75,000.

Although it is only fair to say that Texas itself has never exactly been known as a cultural mecca, nevertheless with the cash at its disposal UT has been able to attract a faculty — and to provide them with facilities — that easily rival those of the best Ivy League schools. For example, in 1982, in an academic coup that reverberated around the entire country, UT managed to lure the world-famous Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Steven Weinberg, away from Harvard.

In all, UT is associated with 12 Nobel Prize-recipients, including (in addition to Weinberg):

  • Russian-born pioneer of the field of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, Ilya Prigogine — chemistry
  • American geneticist Hermann Muller and immunologist James Alison — physiology or medicine
  • Swedish economist, sociologist, and philosopher, Gunnar Myrdal — economics
  • South African-born novelist, J.M. Coetzee — for literature

Among other notable alumni and faculty, we may mention:

  • Celebrated Argentinian author of sui generis metaphysical fictions, Jorge Luis Borges
  • Singer, Janis Joplin
  • Film directors, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, & Richard Rodriguez
  • Actors, Eli Wallach, Jayne Mansfield, Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, & Marcia Gay Harden
  • Entrepreneur and entertainment industry executive, David Geffen
  • Television journalist, Walter Cronkite
  • Astronomer and television personality, Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Entrepreneur and founder of Dell Technologies, Michael S. Dell
  • Bestselling non-fiction author and 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidate, Marianne Williamson
  • Former and sitting Texas governors, Ann Richards & Greg Abbott

29. Imperial College London

Imperial College, London
(Est. 1907)
London, United Kingdom

The origins of Imperial College London (ICL) can be traced back to the Royal College of Chemistry, founded in 1845. In 1853, this school was merged with the Royal School of Mines, established two years previously.

The modern Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine (ICL’s official name) was established by royal charter in 1907 through merger of the Royal School of Mines with the Royal College of Chemistry and the City and Guilds College.

Imperial College Medical School was formed in 1988 through merger with St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School (itself dating back to 1845), while in 2004 a brand-new Imperial College Business School opened its doors.

It is important to note that in 1907 ICL merged with the University of London for administrative purposes, while retaining its own identity as to curriculum, faculty, staff, and students. In 2007, on the one-hundredth anniversary of obtaining its royal charter, ICL became completely independent once again.

Today, ICL has a combined faculty and staff of more than 8000 serving a student population of over 19,000.

ICL can boast 14 Nobel laureates, three Fields Medalists, and 1 Turing Award-winner, some of whom are listed below. Other distinguished ICL linked individuals are listed below:

Fine Arts and Literature

  • Classical musician, composer, Kit Armstrong
  • Popular musician, Brian May
  • Novelist, essayist, H.G. Wells

Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Philosopher, Kenan Malik

Film, Photography, and Performing Arts

  • Actor, Navin Chowdhry

Media, Law, and Public Affairs

  • Former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi
  • Physician, missionary, explorer, David Livingstone

STEM Disciplines

  • Space scientist, Maggie Aderin-Pocock
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Patrick Blackett
  • Physicist, William Crookes
  • Mathematician, Fields Medalist, Simon Donaldson
  • Physicist, Michael Duff
  • Microbiologist, Nobel laureate, Alexander Fleming
  • Electrical engineer, John Ambrose Fleming
  • Mathematician, Fields Medalist, Martin Hairer
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Norman Haworth
  • Physical chemist, Nobel laureate, Cyril Hinshelwood
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Frederick Gowland Hopkins
  • Physiologist, Nobel laureate, Andrew Huxley
  • Comparative anatomist, Thomas Henry Huxley
  • Physicist, Norman Lockyer
  • Physicist, Yuval Ne’eman
  • Mathematician, physicist, William Penney
  • Chemist, William Henry Perkin
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Rodney Robert Porter
  • Mathematician, Fields Medalist, Klaus Roth
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam
  • Computer scientist, Turing Award winner, Leslie Valiant
  • Computer engineer, Kevin Warwick
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Geoffrey Wilkinson

30. Brown University

Brown University
(Est. 1764)
Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Brown began life as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (officially) or Rhode Island College (unofficially). It is the twelfth-oldest institution of higher learning in the US.

Rhode Island College was established in the town of Warren on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, a few miles south of the city of Providence. The school moved to Providence in 1770.

The College was established by a group of Baptist ministers (that being the religious affiliation of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams), working in close cooperation with Quakers (Friends), Congregationalists, and Anglicans (Episcopalians). The College’s charter stated that there was to be no religious test for entrance.

A family consisting of four brothers — Nicholas, John, Joseph, and Moses Brown — was heavily involved in the College’s affairs from the beginning. Joseph Brown was a professor of Physics there, and John Brown served as treasurer for some 20 years during the Revolution and after.

In addition, Nicholas’s son, Nicholas Brown, Jr., was a very successful businessmen who made a series of generous gifts to the College to boost its endowment. In 1804, the College expressed its gratitude to the Brown family by changing its name to the present one.

Brown is linked to seven Nobel Prize laureates, namely,:

  • Physicists, Leon Cooper & J. Michael Kosterlitz
  • Chemist, Lars Onsager
  • Physiologists, George Snell & Craig Mello
  • Economists, George Stigler & Vernon Smith

Other notable faculty and alumni include:

  • Early-20th century Japanese scholar, educator, and social reformer, Fukuzawa Yukichi
  • Financier and philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  • Psychiatrist, Aaron T. Beck
  • Novelists, Jeffrey Eugenides & Edwidge Danticat
  • Singer, Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Actresses, Laura Linney & Emma Watson
  • Film director, Todd Haynes
  • Radio personality, Ira Glass
  • Media mogul, Ted Turner
  • Entrepreneur and investor; John Scully III
  • Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidate, Andrew Yang
  • Economist and former Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen
  • Former US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke
  • Former World Bank President, Jim Young Kim

31. University of Washington

University of Washington
(Est. 1861)
Seattle, Washington, USA

In the 1850s, the Governor of Washington Territory and some of his Seattle-based friends and business associates, including a prominent Methodist minister, put their heads together to figure out a way to advance two causes close to their hearts: the prospect of statehood for the territory and the economic welfare of the city of Seattle.

At first, the Seattle city fathers argued in favor of moving the territorial capital from Olympia to their own city. However, a better plan was eventually decided upon: they would build a university in Seattle. The idea was that an institution of higher education would function both as evidence of Washington Territory’s readiness for statehood and as a stimulus to Seattle’s economic development.

This explains why the Territorial University of Washington, occupying a valuable plot of land in downtown Seattle, opened its doors in 1861 — long before statehood was finally achieved in 1889.

After the latter date, both the new State of Washington and the City of Seattle began to grow rapidly. It was soon found that the needs of the students and faculty of the former territorial university — now called simply the University of Washington (UW) — had outgrown the school’s original downtown campus, where there was little room for expansion. Accordingly, in 1895 UW was moved to a more spacious location in the Union Bay neighborhood of what is now Northeast Seattle.

Today, UW — together with its two additional campuses in Bothell and Tacoma (north and south of Seattle, respectively) — boasts some 56,000 students, and a nearly $3 billion endowment. Such numbers have enabled UW to build a faculty and offer a curriculum that are second-to-none among state university systems in the US.

Seven UW-affiliated persons have won the Nobel Prize, including:

  • Hans Georg Dehmelt & David Thouless — physics
  • Edmond Fischer, Leland Hartwell, & Linda Buck — physiology or medicine

Among other notable UW-connected folks, we may mention:

  • Pioneering photographer, Imogen Cunningham
  • Television journalist, Chet Huntley
  • Actors Jim Caviezel, Dyan Cannon & Kyle MacLachlan
  • Martial arts adept, film actor, and director, Bruce Lee
  • Painter and photographer, Chuck Close
  • Glass artist, Dale Chihuly
  • Architect, Minoru Yamasaki
  • Novelist and essayist, Marilynne Robinson

32. University of Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin
(Est. 1848)
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

The University of Wisconsin was founded at the same time that the eastern part of the Wisconsin Territory became the new state of Wisconsin and entered the union. In accord with its charter, the new state university was physically located in the state capital, Madison.

Today, the University of Wisconsin System has grown into an immense network of more than 180,000 students distributed across some 26 campuses. However, the original Madison location still remains the flagship campus with the largest student body (around 44,000 students) and the most distinguished faculty. The university’s $3 billion endowment allows it to rank third in the US for expenditures on fundamental research.

The university is still growing rapidly, with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (for biomedical research), the Wisconsin Energy Institute (for alternative energy development), and the Human Ecology Building all having opened within the past ten years.

In 2007, the university’s Morgridge Center for Public Service undertook a five-year, fund-raising drive to take advantage of $1 million in annual matching funds that the Morgridge family made available to increase support for the Center’s programs and services, especially in the areas of community-based research and engaged scholarship.

Historically, a number of important scientific investigations have been conducted at Wisconsin, including:

  • the “single-grain experiment” (1907–1911) to determine whether cows could live on a diet restricted to one kind of grain, marking the debut of modern nutrition science
  • experiments on the diet of rats conducted by Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis in 1913, which led to the discovery of the first vitamin (vitamin A)
  • experiments by Karl Paul Link in 1924 on “sweet clover disease” in cattle, which led to the discovery of anticoagulant compounds such as warfarin and heparin
  • experiments by Har Gobind Khorana in the early 1960s, which led to the decipherment of the RNA code controlling protein synthesis
  • research by Howard Temin, also in the 1960s, which resulted in the discovery of the genetic composition of viruses, as well as the co-discovery (with David Baltimore) of reverse transcriptase
  • James Thomson’s synthesis in 1998 of the first line of human embryonic stem cells

Overall, some 19 Wisconsin-connected people have received the Nobel Prize, including:

  • John Bardeen — physics
  • Alan MacDiarmid and Paul Boyer — chemistry
  • Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum — physiology or medicine (in addition to Elmer McCollum, Har Gobind Khorana, and Howard Temin, already mentioned)

Other prominent Wisconsin folks include:

  • Naturalist, John Muir
  • Conservationist, Aldo Leopold
  • Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Aviation pioneer, Charles Lindberg
  • Richard T. Ely and John R. Commons, founders of the Wisconsin School of Economics
  • Biochemist, Albert Lehninger
  • Mathematician and population geneticist, Motoo Kimura
  • Anthropologist, Clyde Kluckhohn
  • Actors Fredric March, Agnes Moorehead, & Gena Rowlands
  • Poet, Delmore Schwartz
  • Playwright, Lorraine Hansberry
  • Novelists, Marjorie Rawlings, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, & Joyce Carol Oates
  • Glass artist, Dale Chihuly
  • 46th Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney

33. McGill University

McGill University
(Est. 1821)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

McGill University is the direct descendent of McGill College, founded by royal charter in 1821 and largely funded by a bequest from the Scottish-born Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist, James McGill. The university took its present name in 1885.

Though situated on the slopes of Mount Royal in the heart of French-speaking Montreal (with a satellite campus on the westernmost tip of Montreal Island), McGill was founded as an English-speaking institution, and remains so to this day.

Today, McGill is a flourishing, internationally focused university with a student body of around 40,000 — one of the largest in Canada.

McGill is associated with 12 Nobel laureates — the most of any Canadian university — and one Turing Award winner, who are listed below. Other prominent McGill-connected individuals include the following:

Fine Arts and Literature

  • Popular composer, Burt Bacharach
  • Classicist, poet, Anne Carson
  • Poet, novelist, singer, songwriter, Leonard Cohen
  • Poet, Irving Layton
  • Novelist, Stephen Leacock
  • Poet, Robert Service
  • Singer, songwriter, Rufus Wainwright

Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Philosopher, Mario Bunge
  • Linguist, S.I. Hayakawa
  • Political philosopher, Harold Laski
  • Economist, Nobel laureate, Robert Mundell
  • Psychologist, social critic, Jordan Peterson
  • Cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker
  • Political philosopher, Judith Shklar
  • Philosopher, Charles Taylor
  • Anthropologist, Lionel Tiger
  • Political philosopher, historian, Immanuel Wallerstein

Film, Photography, and Performing Arts

  • Actor, Hume Cronyn
  • Actor,Mackenzie Davis
  • Actor,Jessalyn Gilsig
  • Screenwriter,Evan Goldberg
  • Actor,Laurie Holden
  • Actor,Jennifer Irwin
  • Actor,Rachelle Lefevre
  • Actor,William Shatner

Media, Law, and Public Affairs

  • Political scientist, former US national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Journalist, John F. Burns
  • Former Prime Minister of Bermuda, Paula Cox
  • Political columnist, Charles Krauthammer
  • Former President of Jamaica, Michael Manley
  • Former Prime Minister of Costa Rica, Daniel Oduber Quirós
  • Political commentator, John Ralston Saul
  • Political commentator, Justin Trudeau
  • Former President of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga

STEM Disciplines

  • Botanist, David Baulcombe
  • Computer scientist, Turing Award winner, Yoshua Bengio
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Willard Boyle
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Val Logsdon Fitch
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Otto Hahn
  • Cognitive scientist, Stevan Harnad
  • Neuroscientist, Donald O. Hebb
  • Neuroscientist, Nobel laureate, David Hubel
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Rudolph Marcus
  • Neuropsychologist, Brenda Milner
  • Mathematician, Abel Award winner, Louis Nirenberg
  • Neuroscientist, Nobel laureate, John O’Keefe
  • Neuroscientist, Wilder Penfield
  • Astrophysicist, Hubert Reeves
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Ernest Rutherford
  • Endocrinologist, Nobel laureate, Andrew Schally
  • Chemist, Nobel laureate, Frederick Soddy
  • Neuroscientist, Nobel laureate, Ralph Steinman
  • Geneticist, Nobel laureate, Jack Szostak
  • Architect, Witold Rybczynski

34. George Washington University

George Washington University
(Est. 1821)
Washington, D.C., USA

George Washington University (GWU) was founded in 1821, under the name of Columbian College, by an act of the US Congress, signed by President James Monroe.

In 1873, the university underwent an expansion, changing its name to Columbian University. In 1904, it assumed its present name, and in 1912 it moved its campus to its present location in the Washington neighborhood of Foggy Bottom.

Today, GWU consists of 14 colleges and schools, including the:

  • Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (considered to be the direct descendant of the original Columbian College founded in 1821)
  • Elliott School of International Affairs
  • Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration
  • George Washington University Law School
  • Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

Both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank operate out of offices located on GWU’s main campus in Foggy Bottom, just blocks away from the White House and the US State Department.

With a student body topping 27,000, GWU is the largest university located in the United States’ capital city.

As might be expected, many GWU-connected students and faculty have been prominent in the public life of the United States and other countries.

For example, we may note the following well-known GWU alumni:

  • Current US Attorney General, William Barr
  • Political consultant, former US Presidential Counselor, Kellyanne Conway
  • Founding Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles
  • Former US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles
  • Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister and Ambassador to US, Abba Eban
  • Current US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper
  • Former US Senator, J. William Fulbright
  • Current President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbé
  • Current President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
  • Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó
  • Founding Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover
  • Former US Senator, Daniel Inouye
  • Former President of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak
  • Former US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, Colin Powell
  • Former US Senator, Harry Reid
  • Former President of South Korea, Syngman Rhee
  • Former President of Georgia,mMikheil Saakashvili
  • Former Prime Minister of Mongolia, Chimediin Saikhanbileg
  • Political correspondent, Director of GWU School of Media and Public Affairs, Frank Sesno
  • Lawyer, judge, university president, and special prosecutor of Bill Clinton impeachment investigation, Kenneth W. Starr
  • Current US Senator and candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren

Of special interest is GWU Law School graduate Belva Ann Bennett, who in 1879 became the first woman authorized to argue cases before the US Supreme Court. Also, sitting US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas formerly lectured at the GWU Law School.

Among GWU-connected individuals in the STEM disciplines, we may mention:

  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Julius Axelrod
  • Physicist, George Gamow
  • Physicist, Nobel laureate, Masatoshi Koshiba
  • Physiologist, Nobel laureate, Ferid Murad
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureate, Marshall Nirenberg
  • Physicist, Edward Teller
  • Biochemist, Nobel laureateVincent du Vigneaud

Other GWU-associated individuals include:

  • Actor, Karen Allen
  • Actor, Alec Baldwin
  • Sociologist, Amitai Etzioni
  • Novelist, Edward P. Jones

35. University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota
(Est. 1851)
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

The University of Minnesota (UM) traces its roots to a college preparatory school established in the city of Minneapolis seven years before Minnesota entered the Union in 1858. This school closed its doors during the Civil War, but reopened in 1867.

In 1869, the prep school was reconfigured as an institution of higher learning. Today, that modest college has grown into one of the largest universities in the country, with a student population of around 52,000.

During the 1880s, UM expanded to another campus located in St. Paul, the state capital and the city immediately adjacent to Minneapolis to the east. However, the Minneapolis campus remains by far the larger of the two, sprawling nowadays astride both banks of the Mississippi River as it flows through the heart of the city.

Due to its physical bi-location, albeit under a single administration, the school is now officially known as “University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.” It has become the flagship of a far-flung University of Minnesota System, which also includes colleges located in Crookston, Rochester, Duluth, and Morris.

Some 26 Minnesota-connected people have won the Nobel Prize, including the:

  • Physicists, Ernest Lawrence, Walter Brattain, & John Bardeen
  • Chemists, Melvin Calvin, William Lipscomb, & Brian Kobilka
  • Physiologists, Edward Kendall & Louis Ignarro
  • Economists, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Leonid Hurwicz & Robert Shiller
  • Novelist, Saul Bellow and the songwriter, Bob Dylan for literature

Other famous Minnesota alumni and faculty include:

  • Actors, Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall & Jessica Lange
  • Novelist, Robert Penn Warren
  • Poets, Allen Tate, James Wright & John Berryman
  • Folklorist, Jack Zipes
  • Author and radio host, Garrison Keillor
  • Op-ed columnists, Carl Rowan & Thomas Friedman
  • Television journalists, Eric Sevareid & Harry Reasoner
  • Plant geneticist, John Sanford
  • Primatologist, David Premack
  • Psychologist, B.F. Skinner
  • Philosophers, Herbert Feigl, Hector-Neri Castañeda, Fred Dretske, Keith Lehrer, & Ernest Lepore
  • US senator and anti-Vietnam War activist, Eugene McCarthy
  • US Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger
  • Civil rights activists, Roy Wilkins & Whitney Young
  • Vice presidents of the US, Hubert Humphrey & Walter Mondale

36. University of Virginia

University of Virginia
(Est. 1819)
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

The University of Virginia (UVA) was very much the personal project of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Virginia already had a venerable and distinguished university, the College of William & Mary, which is the second-oldest in the country — founded right after Harvard — and was Jefferson’s own alma mater.

However, in Jefferson’s day, William & Mary continued to require its students to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, whereas Jefferson had become a deist — not an atheist, but not a Christian, either, and certainly not a friend to the C of E.

Jefferson was a great admirer of the French Revolution, and nothing if not a child of the Enlightenment. Therefore, he wanted his home state of Virginia to benefit from a more modern kind of university that would advance the enlightened and progressive values he held dear.

In 1817, Jefferson met with three of his friends and political colleagues, the newly elected, fifth President of the United States, James Monroe; the outgoing fourth president, James Madison; and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. At this meeting, they decided on a location for the new university near the town of Charlottesville.

Two years later, UVA received its charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia and construction began, with Jefferson himself serving as the main architect. The new university’s first classes began in 1825.

Two centuries later, UVA has become one of the premier public universities in the Old South. It has been affiliated with nine Nobel Prize laureates, namely,

  • Norman Ramsey and Clinton Davisson — physics
  • Alfred Gilman, Ferid Murad, & Barry Marshall — physiology or medicine
  • Ronald Coase & James M. Buchanan — economics
  • William Faulkner — literature
  • Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919

Two UVA undergrads have gone on to win the Turing Award for outstanding achievements in the field of computer science:

  • Edward M. Clarke
  • John Backus

Other UVA-connected faculty and alumni include:

  • Early American poet, pioneer of detective fiction, and virtuoso of the Gothic horror story form, Edgar Allan Poe
  • Arctic and Antarctic explorer, Richer E. Byrd
  • Painter, Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Former US poet laureate, Rita Dove
  • Novelist, Edward P. Jones
  • Comedienne, Tina Fey
  • Political analyst, Larry Sabato
  • Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian
  • Television personalities Brit Hume, Laura Ingraham, & Katie Couric
  • Civil Rights-activist, Julian Bond
  • no fewer than eight NASA astronauts

37. University of Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(Est. 1867)
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA

The University of Illinois began life as the Illinois Industrial University, located in the city of Urbana. Although the original intention of lawmakers and the preference of many state residents was for the new school to concentrate on vocational training, the university’s first president, John Milton Gregory, wisely insisted on offering a full spectrum of liberal arts and science courses.

With time, the university grew considerably, causing the original campus to spread across the dividing line between Urbana and its sister city of Champaign, to the west. That is why the flagship campus of the University of Illinois System is now officially known as the “University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” to distinguish it from two other satellite campuses — one in Chicago and the other in the state capital of Springfield — that were incorporated into the System in 1913 and 1995, respectively.

Illinois has long been particularly known for its emphasis on the natural sciences and engineering, notably information and computer engineering. This can be seen in the fact that a number of semi-independent scientific research institutes have grown up on or near the main campus, including the Illinois Applied Research Institute, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and the National Center for Superconducting Applications.

The latter center’s location here is explained by the fact that it was a trio of Illinois physicists — John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and John Schrieffer — whose collaboration on what is now known as “BCS theory” in their honor, provided the first deep theoretical understanding of the phenomenon of superconductivity.

Practical applications of all of this cutting-edge research at Illinois are not neglected, either. The university also houses the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, as well as a Research Park, which gives space to more than 120 private companies employing some 2100 students and full-time researchers. Both of these centers help to make the University of Illinois a technology hub, as much for startups as for established corporations’ R&D operations.

Illinois has some 30 Nobel Prize-winners to its credit, including:


  • John Bardeen
  • Leon Cooper
  • John Schrieffer
  • Anthony Leggett
  • Brian Josephson


  • Martin Karplus
  • Elias Corey
  • Rudolph Marcus

Physiology or Medicine

  • Salvador Luria
  • Robert Holley
  • Rosalyn Yalow
  • Phillip Sharp


  • Franco Modigliani
  • Leonid Hurwicz

Other noteworthy Illinois-connected people include:

  • Novelist, Richard Powers
  • Film critic, Roger Ebert
  • Composer, George Crumb
  • Animal behaviorist and autism spokesperson, Temple Grandin
  • Playboy founder and publisher, Hugh Hefner
  • Former General Motors CEO, Jack Welch
  • Software engineer and entrepreneur, Marc Andreessen
  • Oracle founder, Larry Ellison
  • YouTube co-founders, Steve Chen & Jawed Karim

38. Georgetown University

Georgetown University
(Est. 1789)
Washington, D.C., USA

Georgetown University is a Catholic institution of higher learning that was founded in 1789 by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore.

Carroll was the first Catholic bishop in what is now the United States, and cousin of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Since 1805, Georgetown has been strongly associated with the Jesuit order. However, the governance of the school has always been independent of the Catholic Church. Today, the majority of Georgetown students are not Catholic.

Georgetown was a relatively small, religious-training college until after the Civil War. In the 1870s, Patrick Francis Healey, a Jesuit priest with Irish and African ancestry, undertook a major expansion and reform of the university on the model of the modern, secular, German research university. Healey’s tenure is sometimes referred to as Georgetown’s “second founding.”

Today, Georgetown is one of the largest Catholic institutions of higher learning in the US, with a student body of about 19,000.

Georgetown has produced many famous individuals in American and international media and public life, including:

  • King of Jordan, Abdullah II
  • Former President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
  • Former President of the US, Bill Clinton
  • Current President of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez
  • Current US Senator, Dick Durbin
  • King of Spain, Felipe VI
  • Former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri
  • Current US Representative, Steny Hoyer
  • Current US Representative, Hakeem Jeffries
  • TV journalist, David Muir
  • Current US Senator, Lisa Murkowski
  • TV journalist, Norah O’Donnell
  • Former US Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia
  • Journalist, Maria Shriver
  • TV journalist and political commentator, Greta Van Susteren

Among other distinguished Georgetown-associated individuals, we may note:

  • Mathematician, Michael Banchoff
  • Actor, Eileen Brennan
  • Actor, Bradley Cooper
  • Biophysicist, Karen Fleming
  • TV personality, Savannah Guthrie
  • Philosopher, Rom Harré
  • Actor, TV producer, Nick Kroll
  • Actor, screenwriter, Brit Marling
  • Former US foreign service officer, current Georgetown Professor of International Affairs, John Negroponte
  • Comedian, screenwriter, film director, Carl Reiner
  • Neuroscientist, Solomon Snyder
  • CFO of Facebook, David Wehner

39. University of British Columbia

University of British Columbia
(Est. 1908)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The University of British Columbia (UBC) was founded in 1908.

For the first several decades of its existence, the university’s activities were modest in scope. In 1925 a bold program to transform UBC into a modern research university was put into effect. At this time the main campus was transferred from the Fairview neighborhood just south of downtown Vancouver, to a larger campus at Point Grey about six miles to the west.

Today, UBC is the third-largest university in Canada. In addition to the main campus there is a satellite campus in the city of Kelowna. In all, the UBC student body tops 66,000 souls.

UBC is home to Canada’s national high-energy physics laboratory (TRIUMF), which houses a 520-million electron-volt, cyclotron-style, particle accelerator — the world’s largest. Other cutting-edge UBC scientific facilities include the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and the Stuart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute.

UBC is connected with eight Nobel laureates, namely:

  • Physicists, Bertram Brockhouse, Carl Wieman & Hans Dehmelt
  • Chemist. Michael Smith
  • Economists, Robert Mundell, Daniel Kahneman & Richard Thaler
  • Short-story writer, Alice Munro

Other prominent UBC associated individuals include the following:

  • Mathematicians, Robert Langlands, Peter Borwein & Nassif A. Ghoussoub
  • Computer scientists, Charlotte Froese Fischer, Arvind Gupta & Anne Condon
  • Physicists, Carl Wieman & George Volkoff
  • Electrical engineer, Vijay Bhargava
  • Anti-cancer drug inventor, Patrick Soon-Shiong
  • Epidemiologist, Martin Schechter
  • Geneticist, David Suzuki
  • Evolutionary biologist, Patrick J. Keeling
  • Geoscientist, William Richard Peltier
  • Psychologist, Albert Bandura
  • Ecological economist, C.S. Holling
  • Historian, L.S. Stavrianos
  • Essayist, historian, and TV personality, Pierre Berton
  • Poet, Fred Wah
  • Novelist, Steven Galloway
  • Science fiction writer, William Gibson
  • Operatic tenor, Ben Heppner
  • Artist, Jeff Wall
  • Actors, Manuel Jacinto, Ludi Lin, Michael Shanks & Torrance Coombs
  • Former Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLachlin
  • Former Canadian Prime Ministers, John Turner & Kim Campbell
  • Current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

40. Rutgers University

Rutgers University
(Est. 1766)
New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Rutgers University’s full official name is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Rutgers traces its roots to Queen’s College, which was founded in 1766, making it the thirteenth-oldest university in the US.

In 1825, Revolutionary War hero and philanthropist Henry Rutgers made a large financial contribution to the school, which in turn changed its name to Rutgers College.

Rutgers College was upgraded to full university status in 1924, and in 1945 Rutgers was officially designated The State University of New Jersey.

Today, Rutgers comprises three main campuses (New Brunswick-Piscataway — the flagship campus — Newark, and Camden), with over 4000 faculty members spread across 175 academic departments and a total student body approaching 70,000.

Rutgers is associated with six Nobel Prize laureates, namely:

  • Physicist, Heinrich Rohrer
  • Microbiologist, Selman Waksman
  • Economists, Milton Friedman & Harry Markowitz
  • Dominican poet, Derek Walcott
  • American novelist, Toni Morrison

Among other prominent Rutgers-connected people, we may note the following:

  • Singer, actor, and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson
  • Popular musician, David Bryan
  • Painter and sculptor, George Segal
  • Poets, Joyce Kilmer & Robert Pinsky
  • Novelists, Philip Roth, Junot Díaz & Janet Evanovich
  • Film director, Henry Selick
  • Actors, James Gandolfini, Roy Scheider, Calista Flockhart, Charles Hallahan & Keir Dullea
  • Historian, David Levering Lewis
  • Linguist, John McWhorter
  • Philosophers, Jerry Fodor, Zenon Pylyshyn, Stephen Stich & Jonathan Schaffer
  • Philosopher, computer scientist, and Turing Award winner, Judea Pearl
  • Physicist, Michael R. Douglas
  • Evolutionary biology, Robert Trivers
  • Former FBI Director, Louis J. Freeh
  • US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • US Senator and 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination candidate, Elizabeth Warren

41. University of Maryland

University of Maryland
(Est. 1807)
College Park, Maryland, USA

The University of Maryland is a system comprising 15 campuses. The system has a rather complicated history.

The oldest component of the system is the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB), which traces its roots to the Maryland College of Medicine, founded in 1807.

In 1812, the medical college was rechartered as the University of Maryland. In 1920, the University of Maryland System was created through a merger between the Baltimore school — renamed the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) — with a pre-existing agricultural school that then became the flagship campus of the overall system under the name of the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP).

For its part, UMCP descends from Maryland Agricultural College, founded in 1856 in College Park. During the Civil War the school underwent severe financial difficulties, and for two years was obliged to retrench severely, transforming itself into a boys’ preparatory school. The college reopened in 1867 and its financial situation became stabilized as enrollment gradually increased over the following years.

In 1912, another disaster befell the agricultural college when most of its buildings were destroyed in a fire. Nevertheless, students and faculty continued classes under improvised conditions. In 1916 the state took over the still-struggling agricultural college, which was then renamed Maryland State College.

Only four years later, in 1920 — as has already been mentioned — the now state-run agricultural college in College Park was merged with the already-existing University of Maryland in Baltimore to create the new University of Maryland System. UMB and UMCP both emerged out of this event in their present forms.

The system then underwent steady growth, with a major administrative reorganization in 1988. Today, the University of Maryland comprises 12 full-fledged universities and three regional education centers, with a total of more than 172,000 students. UMCP, with over 41,000 students, remains the flagship campus.

UMCP has been associated with nine Nobel laureates, namely:

  • Physicists, Raymond Davis, Jr., William D. Phillips, John C. Mather & Hannes Alfvén
  • Chemists, Herbert Hauptman & Jerome Karle
  • Biochemist, Marshall Nirenberg
  • Economist, Thomas Schelling
  • Poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez

Other distinguished UMCP-connected individuals include the following:

  • Children’s book authors, Jeff Kinney & Jason Reynolds
  • Cartoonist, Aaron McGruder
  • Comedian and screenwriter, Larry David
  • Actors, Dianne Wiest & Michael Ealy
  • Philosopher, Peter Carruthers
  • Mathematicians, George Dantzig, James Yorke & Charles Fefferman
  • Computer scientists, Sergei Brin, Keith Marzullo, Ashok Agrawala & Uzi Vishkin
  • Astronomers, Barbara A. Williams & Michael A’Hearn
  • Physicists, Michael Fisher, John Dawson, Sylvester James Gates, Jr., Christopher Jarzynski & Victor Galitski
  • Chemist, Tobin Marks
  • Microbiologist, Rita Colwell
  • Ecologist, Simon Levin
  • Electrical engineer and astronaut, Judith Resnik
  • Economist, Melissa Kearney
  • African American Studies pioneer, Manning Marable
  • Investigative journalist, Carl Bernstein
  • Radio personality, Robin Quivers
  • Puppeteer, Jim Henson
  • Comedian and podcaster, Ari Shaffir
  • TV journalists, Connie Chung and Gayle King
  • TV political analyst, Kirsten Powers
  • US Representative, Steny Hoyer

42. University of Bristol

University of Bristol
(Est. 1909)
Bristol, England

The University of Bristol traces its roots to a Merchant Venturers’ school (later the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College) founded in 1595 by the Society of Merchant Venturers, a Bristol-based charitable organization.

In 1876, a group of businessmen and religious leaders gathered to discuss the founding of a “College of Science and Literature for the West of England and South Wales.” This idea was brought to fruition in the form of University College, Bristol, that same year. A third institution, the Bristol Medical School, was founded in 1833.

In 1893, Bristol Medical School merged with University College, Bristol, while Merchant Venturers’ Technical School came on board in 1909 — the year the University of Bristol acquired its royal charter and its current name.

Bristol is associated with 13 Nobel laureates, among whom we may name

  • Physicists, Nevill Mott, Paul Dirac, Cecil Frank Powell & Hans Bethe
  • Chemists, Dorothy Hodgkin, William Ramsay & Gerhard Herzberg
  • Biophysicist, Max Delbrück
  • Economist, Angus Deaton
  • Playwright, Harold Pinter
  • French novelist, J.M.G. Le Clézio

Other distinguished Bristol-connected people include the following:

  • Novelist, Angela Carter
  • Actors, Emily Watson, Carolyn Goodall & Tim Piggott-Smith
  • Film directors, Alex Cox & Michael Winterbottom
  • Philosopher, Michael Ruse
  • Astrophysicist, Philip Campbell
  • Physicists, David Bohm, Klaus Fuchs, M.G.K. Menon & Yakir Aharonov
  • Biochemist, Michael Denton
  • Aviation pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont
  • Historian, Linda Colley
  • Economist, Alfred Marshall
  • Journalist and author, Misha Glenny
  • TV journalist, Alastair Stewart

43. Purdue University

Purdue University
(Est. 1869)
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

Purdue University was founded in 1869 with substantial financing provided by industrialist John Purdue. Its purpose was to train students in agriculture and engineering. The school officially opened for business in 1874 and grew quickly.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Purdue had been organized into five schools: agriculture, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and pharmacy. Later, schools of education and home economics were added. An early attempt at creating a medical school was later abandoned.

In other respects, Purdue was spectacularly successful. By 1925 the university was home to the largest number of engineering students in the US. It remained the nation’s largest engineering school for the next half-century.

Today, Purdue operates four satellite campuses: in Hammond, Fort Wayne, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Overall, the Purdue system has a student body approaching 75,000 souls.

Purdue is associated with 13 Nobel Prize winners, including:

  • Physicists, Ben Roy Mottelson, Edward Mills Purcell, Julian Schwinger & Wolfgang Pauli
  • Chemists, Ei-ichi Negishi, Herbert C. Brown & Akira Suzuki
  • Economist, Vernon L. Smith

In addition, the Turing Award winning computer scientist, Alan J. Perlis, spent time here as a researcher.

Among other prominent Purdue-connected individuals, we may note the following:

  • Astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee & Eugene Cernan
  • Heroic airline pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
  • Mathematicians, Andrew Majda, Shreeram Shankar Abhyankar & Feydoon Shahidi
  • Computer scientists, Mikhail Atallah, Markus Kuhn & Jill Zimmerman
  • Computer software developer, Sanjiva Weerawarana
  • Physicist, Albert Overhauser
  • Chemist, C.N.R. Rao
  • Chemical engineer, Rakesh Agrawal
  • Molecular biologists, Seymour Benzer & Ronald Breaker
  • Microbiologist, Rita Colwell
  • Nanotechnology pioneers, Supriyo Datta & James Tour
  • Physiologist, Leslie Geddes
  • Economist, Hugo Sonnenschein
  • Anthropologist, Peter Peregrine
  • Novelist and playwright, Booth Tarkington
  • Actors, George Peppard & Kenneth Choi
  • Stand-up comic, Jim Gaffigan
  • Photographer, Margaret Bourke-White

44. Tufts University

Tufts University
(Est. 1852)
Medford & Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Tufts University was founded as Tufts College in 1852 in the Boston Metropolitan Area-suburb of Medford, north of Cambridge. The school was built under the auspices of the Universalist Church of America on 20 acres of land donated by businessman and philanthropist Charles Tufts. Today, the university also has a satellite campus located in downtown Boston.

When Charles Tufts first purchased the land, it was an undeveloped parcel on the top of a barren hill, and when his family asked him what he intended to do with it, he is said to have replied: “I will put a light on it.”

The college was built up piecemeal over the years. In 1893 a medical school began operation, with electrical, chemical, civil, and mechanical engineering schools all opening during the same decade. In 1933 the internationally renowned Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy was founded.

Women began to be admitted to Tufts College in 1893, while Jackson College for Women — a closely associated, but administratively separate, four-year, women’s liberal arts college — opened in 1910. In 2002, Jackson College was wholly absorbed by Tufts’s School of Arts and Sciences.

In 1954 the college was officially elevated to university status and its name changed accordingly. However, the school’s rapid growth into a major research university began particularly with the presidency of French scientist, Jean Mayer, beginning in 1976.

Tufts is associated with seven Nobel laureates, namely,

  • Physicist, Rainer Weiss
  • Chemist, Roderick MacKinnon
  • Computed-tomography (CT) pioneer Allan MacLeod Cormack — physiology or medicine
  • Economists, Eugene Fama & Paul Samuelson
  • Egyptian-born international public servant, Mohamed ElBaradei — peace
  • President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos — peace

Other distinguished Tufts-connected individuals include the following:

  • Singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman
  • New York Times publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
  • TV personality, Meredith Vieira
  • Showman and philanthropist, P.T. Barnum
  • Actors, William Hurt, Peter Gallagher & Jessica Biel
  • Psychologists, Robert J. Sternberg & Richard Alpert (Ram Dass)
  • Mathematician and philosopher, Norbert Wiener
  • Linguist, Ray Jackendoff
  • Computer scientists, John Reif, Kathleen Fisher & Pierre Omidyar
  • Cell biologist, Frederick Grinnell
  • Evolutionary biologist, Sean B. Carroll
  • Electrical engineer and inventor, Elihu Thomson
  • Engineer and government administrator, Vannevar Bush
  • Economist, Peter Navarro
  • Historians, Gordon S. Wood & Jill Lepore
  • Indian politician and former United Nations diplomat, Shashi Tharoor
  • Former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson
  • Current US Representative, Dan Crenshaw
  • Former US Senators, Daniel Patrick Moynihan & Scott Brown

45. Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University
(Est. 1855)
University Park, Pennsylvania, USA

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) was founded in 1855 as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania.

In 1862, the school’s name was changed to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. In 1874 it was changed once again, this time to Pennsylvania State College, at which time a classical liberal arts curriculum was married to the agricultural training program.

In 1953, under the presidency of Milton S. Eisenhower — the brother of former US Army Supreme Commander and then-US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower — the college was upgraded to Pennsylvania State University.

With 23 campuses statewide in addition to the flagship University Park campus, Penn State is the first-tier public university system in Pennsylvania (the University of Pennsylvania being a private institution). With a total student population of more than 96,000, it is one of the largest universities in the US.

Prominent Penn State connected individuals include the following:

  • Poet, Theodore Roethke
  • Novelists, John Barth, Joseph Heller, Alan Furst & Richard Russo
  • Screenwriter, Steven E. de Souza
  • Computer scientists, Jef Raskin & John M. Carroll
  • Physicists, David Bohm, Roger Penrose & Lee Smolin
  • Nobel laureate in chemistry, Paul Berg
  • Climate scientist, Michael E. Mann
  • Plant geneticist, Nina Fedoroff
  • Population geneticist, Masatoshi Nei
  • Anthropologist, Nina Jablonski
  • Radical social critic and Catholic priest, Ivan Illich
  • Online education pioneer, Michael G. Moore
  • Former US Senators Richard Schweiker, Rick Santorum & Kelly Ayotte
  • Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley

46.University of Warwick

University of Warwick
(Est. 1965)
Coventry, England, United Kingdom

The University of Warwick (pronounced “Warrick”) was founded in 1965 near the West Midlands market town of the same name, which lies approximately halfway between Coventry and Stratford-upon-Avon, and has a population of a little over 30,000. However, the university campus does not lie in Warwick proper, but rather in a rural area to the north of the old town center, virtually on the outskirts of Coventry.

Despite the youth of its university, Warwick itself has a venerable heritage. Its most famous landmark, Warwick Castle, was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, while Warwick School—an independent “public school” (that is, private boys’ school)—is older still, dating to the early tenth century.

Though a latecomer to the university scene in the UK, ever since its founding the University of Warwick has steadily expanded its academic reach. Within two years, in 1967, Warwick Business School had been created, while Warwick Law School opened its doors the next year. In 1979, the university absorbed Coventry College of Education.

The following year, in 1980, Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) was established. WMG is an academic department devoted to furthering education, research, and knowledge transfer in the fields of manufacturing, management, engineering, and technology. The department both confers postgraduate academic degrees and helps to place its graduates in apprenticeship programs with industrial firms.

A parallel Warwick Science Park was opened in 1984 as a joint venture between the university, the city of Coventry, and the County of Warwickshire. In 2011, the university bought out the shares of its partners, and the University of Warwick Science Park (UWSP) came into being in 2012. UWSP provides laboratory, workshop, and office space for as many as 150 businesses.

Finally, Warwick Medical School opened its doors in 2000, while Horticulture Research International, an independent research institute, was absorbed by the university in 2004. Today, the University of Warwick also comprises two satellite campuses: one in the nearby village of Wellesbourne, the other in London.

Among the many notable people associated with the University of Warwick, we may mention the following:



  • David B.A. Epstein (hyperbolic geometry and group theory)
  • Martin Hairer (stochastic partial differential equations), Fields medalist
  • Jenny Harrison (geometrical analysis, measure theory)
  • Robert Sinclair Mackay (dynamical systems theory)
  • Tim Poston (catastrophe theory)
  • Miles A. Reid (algebraic geometry)
  • Gareth Roberts (statistics)
  • Ian Stewart (coupled oscillators, catastrophe theory), popular author
  • Christopher Zeeman (geometric topology, singularity theory)

Computer Sciences

  • Robert Calderbank (coding, information theory, network systems)
  • Michael F. Cowlishaw (programming)
  • Mike Paterson (discrete mathematics applications)
  • Leslie Valiant (computational theory), Turing Award–winner
  • Kevin Warwick (robotics)


  • John Cornforth (stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions), Nobel laureate
  • Keith R. Jennings (mass spectrometry)

Life Sciences

  • Howard Dalton (microbiology)
  • Brian K. Follet (ecology of circadian rhythms)
  • Oliver Sacks (neurology), popular author


  • Theater, Radio, Television, and Film
  • Paul W.S. Anderson, film screenwriter, director, and producer
  • Adam Buxton, actor and radio presenter
  • Alex Jennings, actor
  • Ruth Jones, actress, writer, and producer
  • Simon Mayo, radio presenter
  • Stephen Merchant, comedian, actor, writer, and director


  • Sting (Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner), rock musician



  • Anne Fine, children’s author
  • A.L. Kennedy, novelist, comedian

Literary and Cultural Criticism

  • Susan Bassnett, comparative literature and translation scholar
  • Germaine Greer, nonfiction author, feminist activist


  • Kit Fine (philosophical logic, philosophy of language)
  • Luciano Floridi (information theory)
  • Steve Fuller (science and technology studies)


  • Zahra Newby (classical mythology in ancient visual culture)



  • David Arnold (Asia)
  • John Rigby Hale (Renaissance)
  • E.P. Thompson (labor movement), social activist


  • Andrew Haldane, current Bank of England Chief Economist
  • Oliver Hart, Nobelist
  • Andrew Oswald
  • Robert Skidelsky, popular author
  • Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist
  • John H. Williamson

Sociology and Political Science

  • Margaret Archer (sociology)
  • Wyn Grant (political science)
  • Pippa Norris (comparative political science)
  • Shirin M. Rai (political science)
  • Susan Strange (international relations)


  • Jennie Bond, journalist and television presenter
  • Yakubu Gowon, former President of Nigeria
  • Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, current President of Iceland
  • Joseph Ngute, current Prime Minister of Cameroon
  • Tony Wheeler, entrepreneur, co-founder of Lonely Planet guidebooks

47.Australian National University

Australian National University
(Est. 1946)
Acton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Though officially established in 1946, Australian National University in the Canberra suburb of Acton actually traces its origins all the way back to a 1905 proposal for an Australian solar observatory. The observatory, known as the Oddie Dome, was established on the site of Mt. Stromlo in 1911. This in turn led to the development of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory in 1924, and the founding of Canberra University College in 1930, all of which would eventually become part of ANU in 1960. There were discussions during this period about establishing Australian National University. However, WWII put these discussions on hold. Finally, ANU was realized with the passage of the Australian National University Act 1946.

Though its 1946 founding is not so long ago, a lot has happened in that time. ANU has grown immensely, absorbing Canberra University College (now the School of General Studies) and the Canberra Institute of the Arts in 1992. ANU also opened its medical school in 2002. The main campus in Acton has grown to cover 358 acres, and is considered one of the “greenest” campuses in the world due to its dense population of trees. It is also home to four of the five main academic societies in Australia. The Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Australian Academy of Law are all based in the Canberra institution.

Today, ANU is often ranked as the best university in Australia, and among the best research universities in the world. In particular, it is often cited for its College of Medicine, Biology and Environment (which claims three Nobel Prize Laureates and countless groundbreaking research projects), and the College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences (formerly directed by none other than Mark Oliphant, “father” of nuclear fusion).

ANU boasts association with six Nobel Prize Laureates:

  • Howard Florey, former Chancellor to the university who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 for his major contribution in the development of penicillin
  • Sir John Carew Eccles, a neurophysiologist and philosopher who received the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his illuminating research into the human synapse
  • John Harsanyi, the economist who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994 for his contributions to the development of game theory
  • Rolf M. Zinkernagel, immunologist and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells (specifically Cytotoxic T cells)
  • Peter C. Doherty, veterinary surgeon and co-recipient (with Zinkernagel) of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996
  • Brian Schmidt, astrophysicist, Vice-Chancellor to ANU, and 2011 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for research into the expansion of the universe.

Standout Australian political figures claim ANU as their alma mater, including:

  • Bob Hawke, the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia
  • Kevin Rudd, the 26th Prime Minister of Australia
  • Annastacia Palaszczuk, the 39th Premier of Queensland
  • Barry O’Farrell, the 43rd Premier of New South Wales

The university claims numerous other Australian and international political figures among its alumni, as well as 49 Rhodes Scholars.

48.Rice University

Rice University
(Est. 1912)
Houston, Texas, United States

Rice University is regarded as a world-class institution. This highly influential private research university comes with a storied history. Rice was established in 1912, as per the will of its namesake and benefactor, William Marsh Rice. In 1891, Rice chartered the university, and wrote in his will that upon his death, his entire fortune of $4.6 million ($131 million in today’s money) should be used to build a world-class university. Rice decreed that the school should be free to Houston residents, though his will specified that Rice University was exclusively for white students. Rice was murdered in 1900 as part of a false-will conspiracy. After the ensuing trial concluded and the dust settled, the university was established.

Per Rice’s desire for a world-class institution, the university’s campus buildings were modeled after those of the University of Pennsylvania, which is why it feels a bit like an Ivy League institution in Texas. Rice modeled its residential college approach after that of Cambridge University. Though Rice originally stipulated the university should be white-only, the governing board of Rice University filed a lawsuit in 1963 allowing it to amend its charter and admit Black students (and also begin charging tuition).

Today, Rice University is among the richest universities in the world, and is known as a cultural, political, and academic touchpoint. It has been visited by numerous sitting U.S. Presidents, held the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations in 1991, and has produced numerous noteworthy olympic and professional athletes. It has also produced groundbreaking research in areas including astrophysics and chemistry. In fact, Rice is closely linked with NASA, collaborating on research, sending graduates there for employment opportunities, and even claiming 14 NASA astronauts among its alumni.

Rice boasts a long list of alumni and faculty holding awards and high honors, including Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, Marshall Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Humboldt Prize recipients. Rice also claims three Nobel Prize Laureates:

  • Richard Smalley, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (along with Robert Curl) for his role in discovering a new form of Carbon (named buckminsterfullerene, after R. Buckminster Fuller)
  • Robert Woodrow Wilson, an astronomer who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for his role in the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Robert Curl, who (in collaboration with Richard Smalley) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996

Other notable alumni include:

  • Howard Hughes, famed aviator and business magnate
  • Author, Joyce Carol Oates
  • Fred C. Koch, American industrialist and father of the Koch brothers
  • Lance Berkman, All-Star baseball player
  • Alberto Gonzales, former U.S. Attorney General under George W. Bush
  • James Baker, U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan

49.University of California, Santa Barbara

University of California, Santa Barbara
(Est. 1891)
Santa Barbara, California, United States

Dating all the way back to the 1891 founding of a small, vocational institution called the Anna Blake School, the University of California, Santa Barbara is now a full-blown public research university, and among the most influential schools in the world.

The Anna Blake school was initially established for the purpose of teaching trades and skills, particularly home economics and industrial arts. In 1909, it became the Santa Barbara State Normal School, focusing on teacher training. By 1921, it had grown into the Santa Barbara State College. Finally, in 1944, after much lobbying and debate, the institution became the third member of the University of California System, where it remains today.

Though at the time it was conceived as a small liberal arts school, the university quickly grew in size, particularly after acquiring its current campus in 1949 and subsequently absorbing a surge in baby boomer enrollment through the late 1950s. Today, the campus spans 708 acres and boasts its own personal beach.

UCSB is not unfamiliar with controversy. During the later years of the Vietnam War, the campus was the site of major anti-war demonstrations, which even included bombings, arson, and violent clashes with the National Guard.

Today, Santa Barbara is a member of the Association of American Universities, regarded as a “Public Ivy,” and the home of 12 major research centers, including the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Southern California Earthquake Center, and Microsoft Station Q.

UCSB counts seven Nobel Prize Laureates among its faculty and alumni:

  • Carol W. Greider, molecular biologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009, for her work in telomeres
  • Frank Wilczek, theoretical physicist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with David Gross) for their work in particle physics
  • Shuji Nakamura, electronic engineer and winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing energy-efficient blue LEDs
  • Finn E. Kydland, economist and winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2004 for his work in macroeconomics
  • Herbert Kroemer, physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his developments in semiconductor technology
  • Walter Kohn, theoretical physicist and chemist, and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in developing density functional theory
  • Alan J. Heeger, chemist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000 for his role in discovering and developing conductive polymers
  • David Gross, theoretical physicist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Frank Wilczek) for their work in particle physics

Additionally, UCSB counts Fields Medalists as well as members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Academy of Arts and Sciences among its faculty and alumni. Other prominent alumni include Olympic medalists, professional athletes, Academy Award-winning actors, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, and famous musicians and performers. Notables include:

  • Gwyneth Paltrow, award-winning actor
  • Michael Douglas, award-winning actor
  • Robby Krieger, guitarist for The Doors
  • Jack Johnson, singer and songwriter
  • Jason Lezak, a four-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer
  • Barry Zito, All-Star MLB pitcher
  • Don Hertzfeldt, animator and filmmaker

50.University of Arizona

University of Arizona
(Est. 1885)
Tucson, Arizona, United States

With an endowment of over $1.03 billion, and a student population of over 45,000 students, the University of Arizona is one of the biggest and richest universities in the world today. It is also a public research university, and has built its fortune and fame upon land- and space-grants. It is the oldest university in the state, and its 1885 founding actually precedes Arizona statehood, which was granted in 1912.

Like many institutions of the time, the University of Arizona was established with help from the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862. The Territory Legislature selected Tucson as its founding site. What was once a solitary institution surrounded by desert now encompasses 19 distinct colleges and schools. Recognized by Carnegie Foundation for Very High Research Activity, UA is home to numerous research centers and institutes, and works closely with NASA.

UA is a member of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Its Lunar and Planetary Laboratory led NASA’s 2007 mission to Mars. Some of its other notable projects include the Giant Magellan Telescope, and work on the HiRISE camera for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The university also owns the Biosphere 2 scientific research facility in Oracle, Arizona. Beyond its academic influence, the University of Arizona is also known for its Wildcats Division I athletics teams, which have claimed numerous national championships in basketball, baseball, golf, swimming, and softball.

University of Arizona counts four Nobel Prize Laureates among its faculty and alumni:

  • Brian Schmidt, astrophysicist, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in proving the acceleration of the expansion of the universe
  • Nicolaas Bloembergen, physicist and winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics for work in laser spectroscopy
  • Willis Lamb, physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 for research in the hydrogen atom
  • Vernon L. Smith, economist and winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 for contributions in behavioral economics

The University of Arizona also claims members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Pulitzer Prize winners, Olympic gold medalists, award-winning actors, directors, musicians, and a slew of American politicians among its faculty and staff. Such notables include:

  • Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics, and possibly the most influential voice in linguistics and political philosophy today
  • Jerry Bruckheimer, film and TV producer
  • John Hughes, producer and screenwriter
  • Barbara Kingsolver, author
  • Don Knotts, comedic actor
  • David Foster Wallace, figurehead of postmodern literature
  • Bob Dole, former U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful
  • Amanda Beard, Olympic gold medalist in swimming
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