College of LAS « Illinois

Faculty Focus

Bringing Home the Gold

U of I garners two Nobel Prizes.

Paul Lauterbur

Two was a magic number at U of I this fall. Less than two weeks after Carl Woese accepted his Crafoord medallion from the king and queen of Sweden, the University of Illinois learned, in the span of two days, that two more of its professors would soon be making a trip to Stockholm.

On October 6, chemist Paul C. Lauterbur was awakened by a long-distance call informing him that he was the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, a prize he would be sharing with Sir Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in England for their work on magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Mansfield also had a U of I pedigree—he was a research associate in the Department of Physics from 1962-1964.

The next morning, the phone range at the home of U of I physicist Anthony J. Leggett. He soon learned that he was the 2003 recipient of the Nobel in Physics for his contributions to the theory of superfluidity. He would be sharing his award with Alexei A. Abrikosov of Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL, and Vitaly L. Ginzburg of the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow.

Anthony Leggett

Lauterbur, 74, was the first scientists to produce an image of live tissue using nuclear magnetic resonance and apply that technology to medicine. MRIs are considered by many to be the most profound diagnostic discovery of the 20th century because of the safe, noninvasive means they offer for diagnosing numerous diseases.

Leggett, 65, was credited for his theories on how matter behaves in its lowest, most ordered state. Superfluidity occurs when liquid helium is chilled to near absolute zero, at which point it flows unimpeded by friction. Leggett said that his work had exploited the research on superconductivity of legendary U of I physicist, John Bardeen, who won two Nobels, in 1956 and 1972.

These latest awards add up to another winning number for U of I: four. Four faculty have won Nobels while on staff in Urbana, which grants Illinois the distinction of winning more Nobels than any other Big Ten university. When former faculty are taken into account, U of I can claim nine Nobel laureates—another Big Ten record. Eleven of the University's alumni also have garnered Nobels.

By Holly Korab
October 2003