Zoe Berg

Yale students, faculty and alumni have been lauded for their breakthroughs and innovations this year, winning prizes across many fields. These awards include Nobel, Pulitzer and Abel prizes, as well as Grammy awards and other prestigious fellowships.

97-year-old John Goodenough ’44, along with two other scientists, won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the team’s work on developing lithium ion batteries. Goodenough joins five other Yale affiliates who have been awarded Nobel Prizes in the past five years: economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 for economics in 2018, former researcher Richard Henderson for chemistry in 2017, former applied science professor David Thouless for physics in 2016, former SOM professor Bengt Holmström for economics in 2016 and former researcher Aziz Sancar for chemistry in 2015.

The Nobel Prize’s math-world equivalent, the Abel Prize, was awarded in April 2020 to a Yale mathematician, Gregory Margulis, for the first time in University history. Margulis has now won all three of the top mathematics honors: the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal and the Wolf Prize.

“It’s a great honor, since this prize is considered to be the most prestigious award in mathematics,” Margulis said. He joined the Yale faculty in 1991 and is now retired.

The 2020 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction was given to history professor Greg Grandin GRD ’99 for his book “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America,” which the Pulitzer Prize board described as “sweeping and beautifully written.” The history department now has three Pulitzer Prize winners on its faculty: Grandin, David Blight and John Gaddis.

Composer Anthony Davis ’73 won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for his opera “The Central Park Five,” based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case.

Davis was one of many Yale affiliates honored this year for their work in the arts. Sharon Isbin ’78 MUS ’79 — a self-proclaimed “accidental guitarist” — was named the 2020 Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America Worldwide. She is the only female classical guitarist to ever win a Grammy.

Yalies were well represented at this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, with four alumni recognized as winners and seven others receiving nominations. Kenneth Cowan MUS ’99 ’00 won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance, Andrew Craig Brown MUS ’11 ’12 won for Best Opera Recording, Andrew Norman MUS ’09 won for Best Orchestral Performance and Caroline Shaw MUS ’07 won for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.

“[The winners’] creativity and vision serve as inspiration and aspiration for future YSM students, and indeed for all of us,” said Dean of the School of Music Robert Blocker. He said they reflect “the exceptional nature of music at Yale.”

Many members of the wider Yale community also received prestigious scholarships and fellowships this year.

Jasmine Stone ’20 and Catherine Lee ’20 won Churchill Scholarships, which fund graduate study at the University of Cambridge. Five other students — Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Marwan Safar Jalani ’20, Christina Pao ’20, Laura Plata ’19 and Liana Wang ’20 — won Rhodes Scholarships and will continue their education at the University of Oxford.

“I think [this year’s female winners are] a testament to the growing power of women on campus,” Moore-Eissenberg said. “You see women leading publications, service groups, student governments. It’s really inspiring, and I hope that the four [Yale women] winning Rhodes scholarships helps to strengthen that trend.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship for “exceptional capacity for productive scholarship” or “creative ability” in the arts was awarded to 175 scholars, writers and artists, including three professors and 11 alumni.

The MacArthur Fellowship — or “genius grant” — guarantees a stipend of $625,000 to each of this year’s 26 winners. The grant was awarded to five Yalies: cultural historian Saidiya Hartman GRD ’92, cognitive scientist Joshua Tenenbaum ’93, criminal justice reformer Lisa Daugaard ’95, algorithmic theatre artist Annie Dorsen ’96 DRA ’00, and classicist and translator Emily Wilson ’01.

Individuals affiliated with the University’s science departments also received awards that recognize their work.

Genetics professor Arthur Horwich, along with biochemist Franz-Ulrich Hartl, won the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in life sciences and its $3 million jackpot for their work discovering the action of molecular chaperones that helps proteins fold without clumping together. Assistant professor Alvaro Sanchez received the Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering in October. Sanchez plans to use the $875,000 award to further his research on predicting the behavior of microbial communities.

In January, the National Academy of Sciences awarded chemistry and physics professor John Tully ’64 and psychology professor Richard Aslin prizes for their achievements in the chemical and cognitive sciences, respectively.

This past October, the National Academy of Medicine elected 100 new members who demonstrate “outstanding achievement” in the fields of health and medicine. The new inductees include six Yale faculty members: immunobiology professor David Schatz GRD ’80, neuroscience professor Nenad Sestan GRD ’99, microbiology professor Jorge Galán, immunobiology professor Akiko Iwasaki, epidemiology professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla and Chief of Surgery Nita Ahuja.

“These [accolades] are the icing on the cake,” Galán said. “What should drive you as a scientist is the challenges … and the privilege of doing scientific research every day — the grinding.”

The first Yale graduate to win a Nobel Prize was Sinclair Lewis, class of 1908, who won the 1930 prize in Literature.


Julia Brown | julia.k.brown@yale.edu