Columbia University
#3 Overall Influence#6 Desirability Rank

Columbia University

Private Ivy League research university in New York City

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By James Barham, PhD

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

From Wikipedia

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. Established in 1754 on the grounds of Trinity Church in Manhattan, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. Columbia is ranked among the top universities in the world by major education publications.

Source: Wikipedia


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West 116 St and Broadway, New York NY 10027

Influential People

Who are Columbia University's Most influential alumni?

Columbia University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of . Columbia University’s most academically influential people include Richard Axel, Nicholas Murray Butler, and Jacob M. Appel.

Richard Axel
Richard Axel

Molecular biologist

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Nicholas Murray Butler

American philosopher, diplomat, and educator

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Jacob M. Appel
Jacob M. Appel

American author, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic

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James McClelland
James McClelland

American psychologist

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Ashley Montagu
Ashley Montagu

British-American anthropologist

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Lionel Trilling
Lionel Trilling

American academic

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Charles A. Beard
Charles A. Beard

American historian

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Alexander Haig

Former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Army general

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Niles Eldredge
Niles Eldredge

American biologist

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Arthur Danto
Arthur Danto

American art critic and philosopher

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John Ashbery
John Ashbery

Poet from the United States of America

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Roger Zelazny
Roger Zelazny

American speculative fiction writer

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