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CIFAR Nobel Laureates

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RESEARCH EXCELLENCE

Twenty CIFAR fellows and advisors have been awarded Nobel Prizes.

Over nearly four decades, more than 1,000 researchers from more than 30 countries have participated directly in our research programs as fellows, advisors, Canada CIFAR AI Chairs, and CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars. They are truly extraordinary minds, and many have been recognized at the highest levels of science. 

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CHEMISTRY

Walter Gilbert (1980)


“for [his] contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids”


Gilbert was on the Advisory Committee of the Evolutionary Biology program for 17 years, from 1990 to 2007. The work that won the Nobel Prize established fundamental methods for understanding how DNA is transcribed in bacteria.

John Polanyi (1986)


“for [his] contributions concerning the dynamics of chemical elementary processes”


Polanyi was a Senior Fellow of the Nanoelectronics program, from 2005 to 2013. He developed a method for studying the details of how energy is deposited in chemical reactions using infrared chemiluminescence.

Sidney Altman (1989)


“for [his] discovery of catalytic properties of RNA”


Altman was an Associate Fellow of the Evolutionary Biology program from 1998 to 2002. He discovered that RNA is not only an information-carrying molecule, but can also catalyze reactions with itself.

Michael Smith (1993)


“for his fundamental contributions to the establishment of oligonucleotide-based, site-directed mutagenesis and its development for protein studies.”


Smith was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Evolutionary Biology program from 1987 to 2000. He developed a method for reprogramming the genetic code in order to investigate new proteins.

Brian Koblika (2012)


“for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”


Koblika was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Molecular Architecture of Life program from 2015 to 2020. He contributed to the understanding of how cells sense their environment and was the first to image a protein receptor being activated.

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ECONOMICS

Kenneth Arrow (1972)


“for [his] pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory.”


Arrow was the chair of the Economic Growth & Policy program Advisory Committee from 1992 to 2002. Among other advances, he applied new mathematical techniques to the study of equilibrium systems.

George Akerlof (2001)


“for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information”


Akerlof was a Senior Fellow and Program Co-Director of the Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program from 2005 to 2017. He was also a Senior Fellow of the Institutions, Organizations & Growth program from 2010 to 2020, was an Associate Fellow of the program from 2004-2010, and an Associate Fellow of its predecessors Economic Growth & Institutions (2003-2004) and Economic Growth & Policy (1992-2002). Akerlof received his Nobel Prize for elucidating the negative effects of an imbalance in information between buyers and sellers.

Daniel Kahneman (2002)


“for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty”


Kahneman was an associate fellow of the Artificial Intelligence, Robotics & Society program (1984-1986) and was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program from 2005 to 2011. He showed that humans do not always act in rational self-interest by integrating findings from cognitive psychology.

Roger Myerson (2007)


“for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory”


Myerson was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Institutions, Organizations & Growth program from 2004 to 2020. He was also a member of the Advisory Committee for its predecessor, Economic Growth & Institutions, from 2003 to 2004. He developed the mathematical underpinnings for a field of economics concerned with designing the rules and institutions for trade.

Paul Romer (2018)


“for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis”


Romer was a Senior Fellow in the Economic Growth & Institutions program from 1991 to 1999. He developed a model for understanding how economic forces promote, obstruct, and shape the creation of ideas and knowledge.

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PHYSICS

Philip Anderson (1977)


“for [his] fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems.”


Anderson was an Associate Fellow of the Quantum Materials program from 2000 to 2013. He developed the theoretical basis for understanding how electrons move through disordered (non-crystalline) materials.

Robert Laughlin (1998)


“for [his] discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations.”


Laughlin was an Associate Fellow of the Quantum Materials program from 2000 to 2008. He provided a theoretical explanation for the observations that electrons at low temperatures in strong magnetic fields form a kind of quantum fluid.

Anthony Leggett (2003)


“for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids”


Leggett was the chair of the Quantum Information Science program Advisory Committee from 2002 to 2007 and a member of the same committee from 2007 to 2014. He developed a theoretical explanation of how the atoms of low-temperature superfluids like Helium-3 are arranged and interact.

Willard Boyle (2009)


“for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit - the CCD sensor”


Boyle was a member of the CIFAR Research Council in 1987 and led the task force in 1986 that proposed a program of research into superconductors and materials science more broadly. This led to the establishment of the Quantum Materials program. He invented the Charged-Coupled Device (CCD) with George E. Smith, the sensor in all modern digital cameras.

David Wineland (2012)


“for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”


Wineland was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Quantum Information Science program from 2004 to 2006. He invented a way to trap, control, and count ions without destroying their quantum properties.

Arthur McDonald (2015)


“for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”


McDonald has been an Associate Fellow of the Gravity & the Extreme Universe program since 2017. He was also an Associate Fellow of its predecessor, Cosmology & Gravity, from 2007 to 2017. Previous to program fellowship, he was a Research Council Member from 1997 to 2005, an Advisory Committee Chair from 2000 to 2005, and an Advisory Committee member from 2005 to 2007. He discovered that neutrinos, some of the most abundant particles in the universe, have mass.

James Peebles (2019)


"for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos"


Peebles was a founding fellow of CIFAR’s Cosmology & Gravity program in 1985, and remained actively engaged for more than 25 years as an advisor and associate fellow. He made fundamental contributions to cosmology, including a theoretical framework for understanding the microwave background radiation.

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PHYSIOLOGY OR MEDICINE

Richard Roberts (1993)


“for [his] discovery of split genes”


Roberts was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Evolutionary Biology Program from 2002 to 2005. He discovered that genes are often composed of segments of DNA separated by long strands of irrelevant material that get spliced out in the transcription process.

Eric Wieschaus (1995)


“for [his] discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development”


Wieschaus was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Humans & the Microbiome Program from 2014 to 2019. He identified and classified genes in fruit flies that are key to development in human embryos as well.

Leland Hartwell (2001)


“for [his] discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle”


Hartwell was a member of the Advisory Committee for the Genetic Networks program from 2006 to 2007. He discovered a class of genes that control many parts of the cell cycle, including the CDC28 “start” gene which begins the cell cycle.

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