University of Edinburgh
#12 Overall Influence

University of Edinburgh

Public research university in Edinburgh, Scotland

About This School

How does this school stack up?

By James Barham, PhD

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.

Influence Rankings by Discipline

How’s this school influential?

#3 World Rank
Medical
#4 World Rank
Nursing
#7 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#7 World Rank
Biology
#8 World Rank
History
#9 World Rank
Education
#9 World Rank
Law
#9 World Rank
Literature
#10 World Rank
Chemistry
#16 World Rank
Economics
#18 World Rank
Religious Studies
#18 World Rank
Philosophy
#18 World Rank
Engineering
#19 World Rank
Business
#20 World Rank
Anthropology
#21 World Rank
Mathematics
#21 World Rank
Physics
#24 World Rank
Psychology
#26 World Rank
Criminal Justice
#28 World Rank
Computer Science
#43 World Rank
Sociology
#74 World Rank
Communications
#173 World Rank
Political Science
#179 World Rank
Social Work

Influential People

Who are University of Edinburgh's Most influential alumni?

University of Edinburgh's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Medical, Nursing, and Earth Sciences. University of Edinburgh’s most academically influential people include Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, and David Hume.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

British naturalist, author of "On the origin of species, by means of natural selection"

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Adam Smith
Adam Smith

Scottish moral philosopher and political economist

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David Hume
David Hume

Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian

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James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell

Scottish physicist

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Walter Scott
Walter Scott

Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet

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Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell

Scientist and inventor known for his work on the telephone

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson

Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer

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Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle

Scottish physician and author

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Richard Owen
Richard Owen

English biologist

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Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle

Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher

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James Hutton
James Hutton

Scottish geologist, physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist, and experimental agriculturalist

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Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin

English physician, botanist; member of the Lunar Society

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