No less than eight of this year’s 13 Nobel Laureates were American citizens, continuing a historic trend linked to the strength of American academia and its ability to attract the world’s best talent.
American universities consistently dominate the “Global Top 100” rankings, with a mix of lavishly endowed private “Ivy Leagues” and prestigious state colleges.
Since the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, the United States has accumulated 400 medals, followed by the United Kingdom with 138 and Germany with 111 – these figures include those affiliated with several countries.
“I am truly grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me in this country,” Ardem Patapoutian, co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on nerve receptors linked to touch, said of the United States at of a press conference. press conference after his victory.
The Armenian-American, who grew up in Lebanon, attributed his success to the public system at the University of California, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree and did his post-doctorate, as well as to the Scripps Research Institute where he studied. been based for two decades.
The University of California is also home to its co-winner David Julius of UC San Francisco. In total, UC staff and faculty have won 70 Nobel Prizes, one less than the total won by France, the fourth country.
This year’s physics award co-winner Syukuro Manabe, who left Japan in the 1950s and did his groundbreaking work on climate models in Princeton, New Jersey, told reporters that in America he was able to go where his curiosity led him, which was the key to his success.
Chemistry co-winner David MacMillan left Scotland for the United States in the 1990s and is also a professor at Princeton, where Philippine-American Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa graduated in 1986. .
Monday’s economy prize was shared by Canadian-American David Card, Israeli-American Joshua Angrist, both at Princeton, and American-Dutch Guido Imbens, who is at Stanford.
Funding for basic research, defined as a study aimed at improving scientific theories or understanding of subjects, is at the heart of America’s victories, David Baltimore, co-winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine, told AFP.
This is a “leak indicator” because, compared to applied research, dividends can be paid years or decades later, often in unpredictable ways.
“It is also the strength of our research institutes and universities that dates back to the founding of Harvard so many centuries ago, and their continued uninterrupted support,” added Baltimore, now President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Biology. at Caltech.
The American emphasis on basic research dates back to the aftermath of World War II and the creation of the National Science Foundation in 1950, which continues to coordinate federal funding for universities today.
Philanthropy and private foundations are also playing an increasingly important role in funding.
As China catches up with the United States in terms of total research funding ($ 496 billion vs. $ 569 billion adjusted for purchasing power parity in 2017), it has challenges related to academic freedom and the ability to attract top talent, said HN Cheng, president of the American Chemical Society.
Reward young people and migrants
Just as rich countries with strong sports infrastructures dominate international competitions like the Olympics, being the world’s largest economy makes the United States a scientific powerhouse.
“A scientist, for example, will find more job opportunities not only in academia, but also in industry, government laboratories and other opportunities,” Cheng told AFP.
Marc Kastner, professor emeritus of physics at MIT, added that American universities have long rewarded brilliant young researchers with their own laboratories.
“In places like Europe and Japan there would be large groups led by a very experienced teacher and it was only when that person retired that a younger person stepped in, and at that point “There she doesn’t necessarily have her best ideas anymore,” he said.
For example, Harvard neurobiologist Catherine Dulac, who won the 2021 breakthrough award for her work on parental instinct, decided not to return to France in her twenties for this very reason, as well as for gender bias. , she told AFP last year.
For the future, some fear that the drop in immigration will call into question the American preeminence.
“The United States has built a phenomenal welcoming culture,” Stefano Bertuzzi, who has migrated from Italy and is now CEO of the American Society for Microbiology, told AFP.
Lately, however, he and Kastner have been concerned about growing trends in xenophobia and nationalism, which are making the United States an increasingly less preferred destination.
This is especially true for Chinese students, who were vetted under the administration of former President Donald Trump for espionage concerns.
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© 2021 AFP
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