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Where do the world’s best scientists come from?

This month has seen the award of the 2009 Nobel Prizes. The choice of Barak Obama for the Peace Prize drew a lot of media attention, and there are high hopes that he will continue to work actively for world peace in the future months and years. Of course he is not the only American to have won a prize. Indeed, out of the nine science Nobels eight were awarded to US scientists. Or was it three? A closer look at the winners shows that while all of them have a link to the US, most of them are foreign born, and many of them have also been educated outside the United States. The ‘American’ science prize winners include among others a Chinese educated in London, a Canadian, a US citizens of Indian origins, working in a research centre in the UK, and an American, who was however born and educated in Australia.

This may remind us of the oddities in linking university rankings (in particular the Shanghai rankings) to Nobel Prize winners, as highlighted by the case of Albert Einstein and the two Berlin universities – Freie and Humboldt – fighting over which of them inherits the recognition of having Einstein as its alumnus, and the consequent points in the ranking system. However, the number of Nobel Prize winners currently working in the US may well confirm once again that America is still strong in attracting the very best scientists of the world, thanks to its advanced research facilities and investment in recruiting scientists globally.