Immigration and the Nobel Prize
Every October, as the new Nobel Prize winners are announced, America gets a subtle reminder of the power of immigration. This year was no different.
The sole American winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was a German immigrant named Joachim Frank. Frank is a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of Biological Sciences at New York’s Columbia University.
“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 is awarded to Jacques Dubochet (Switzerland), Joachim Frank (America) and Richard Henderson (United Kingdom) for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which both simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules,” announced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “This method has moved biochemistry into a new era.”
The Academy also named immigrant Rainer Weiss the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with fellow Americans Kip S. Thorne and Barry C. Barish.
Weiss helps demonstrate the futility of trying to pick immigrants through a government-run “point system.” Weiss came to America as a teenager, about 70 years before he would be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics. He was born in Berlin to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, according to JTA. With the rise of Adolph Hitler the family left Berlin and settled in Prague. Germany annexed Czechoslovakia under the Munich agreement (1938) and the family managed to flee to America, which was not easy to do at that time due to tight U.S. restrictions on refugees and immigrants.
“As a high school student, he became an expert in building high-quality sound systems and entered M.I.T. intending to major in electrical engineering,” reported the New York Times. “He inadvertently dropped out when he went to Illinois to pursue a failing romance. After coming back, he went to work in a physics lab and wound up with a Ph.D. from M.I.T.” Weiss remains affiliated with M.I.T. as a professor.
Historically and up to the present day, immigrants have made significant scientific contributions to America. “Immigrants have been awarded 39%, or 33 of 85, of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics since 2000,” concluded a recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy.
The study noted these types of accomplishments are not automatic: “The right immigration laws matter, particularly in determining whether the United States gains from increased globalization and rising educational achievement in India, China and elsewhere. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the discriminatory national origin quotas and opened the door to Asian immigrants, while the Immigration Act of 1990 increased employment-based green card numbers.”
Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016 and an immigrant from the United Kingdom, noted that “his research group at Northwestern University has students and scientists from a dozen different countries.” Stoddart told The Hill that he believes scientific research will remain strong in America “as long as we don’t enter an era where we turn our back on immigration.”
The National Foundation for American Policy study noted, “When one asks successful entrepreneurs and scientists conducting groundbreaking research whether they favor liberalized policies on immigration, the answer they usually give is that more immigration and greater openness to international students, researchers and immigrants across the skill spectrum will help America grow and prosper.”
Let’s keep America competetive by keeping our immigration system open to immigrants of all nations and all skill levels. Listening to the best and brightest among us is always a good idea.