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:
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West 116 St and Broadway,
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Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.
Who are Columbia University's Most influential alumni?
Columbia University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Anthropology, Social Work, and Communications. Columbia University’s most academically influential people include Stephen Jay Gould, Milton Friedman, and Isaac Asimov.
American evolutionary biologistview profile
American economist, statistician, and writerview profile
American writer and professorview profile
First Secretary of the Treasury and Founding Father of the United Statesview profile
Geneticist and evolutionary biologistview profile
American evolutionary biologistview profile
American anthropologistview profile
American fantasy and science fiction authorview profile
American biologistview profile
American anthropologist and folklorologistview profile
American poetview profile
American business magnate, investor, and philanthropistview profile