Hungary has two more Nobel laureates

Fri, 15/12/2023

The first Hungarian woman to win the Nobel Prize

As per his will Alfred Nobel left his fortune to a foundation, the most prestigious scientific award in the world awards those who had done the most for humanity in the previous years and today, the winners of the Nobel Prize are announced in the categories of physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, literature, economics, and efforts for peace.

This year two Hungarian scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy: Katalin Karikó for Medicine and Ferenc Krausz for Physics.

Katalin Karikó is the first Hungarian woman to win the Nobel Prize. She was awarded jointly with her colleague Drew Weissman for laying the foundations for mRNA-based medicine, which has also enabled the rapid development and practical application of new types of vaccines against COVID-19. 

Ferenc Krausz received the honor in Physics jointly with Pierre Agostini and Anne L’Huillier for their experimental methods to study the movement of electrons within the atom.

The two scientists join a long list of Hungarian academics as even before this year’s success, Hungary already had 13 Nobel laureates. As a matter of fact, Hungary occupies a prestigious place on the list of countries with the most Nobel nominees and it is ranked 14th among countries with the most Nobel Prize awardees. While Albert Szent-Györgyi and Imre Kertész, both Hungarian Nobel laureates, were honored for the work they did in Hungary, most of the Nobel-winning scientists were rewarded for work they did abroad. One of the many reasons why this year’s results are outstanding is because both Karikó and Krausz (although they both did work abroad as well) preserved very deep scientific and emotional connections with Hungary despite relocating to the United States and Germany respectively.

Since 2009 Hungary has celebrated the aforementioned and many other scientists on the 13th of June, on Hungarian Inventors’ Day. The date was selected to mark the day when one of the first Hungarian Nobel Prize winners, Albert Szent-Györgyi, who first isolated vitamin C, announced his achievement in 1932. However, Hungarians’ contributions to the world of sciences, economics, and literature had started even earlier, as it was in 1905 that the first Hungarian, Fülöp Lénárd, received a Nobel prize in physics for the work done on cathode rays. Since then, the fertile Hungarian intellectual soil has given birth to a series of Nobel-winning scientists, whose works covered all Nobel prize categories.

Among the other Hungarian winners who earned this honorable title in the 20th century Jenő Wigner, János Harsányi, and Dénes Gábor stand out. Jenő Wigner received a Nobel Prize for his contribution to the research of elementary particles and the atomic theory that is crucial for modern-day physics. János Harsányi holds immense importance in terms of social sciences, as he pioneered in studying game theory for which he received a Nobel Prize in economics, while Dénes Gábor received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971 for his invention and development of the holographic method and became world-famous following the development of laser. It is also important to mention Ferenc Hershkó who was a decorated Israeli-Hungarian scholar. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for the ground-breaking discovery of the mechanism by which the cells remove unwanted proteins. Ferenc Hershkó, being ethnically Jewish and having an Israeli passport, was born in Hungary and thus also held Hungarian citizenship. Much like Hershko, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, also had his connections to Hungary, albeit he is not considered to be a Hungarian Nobel Prize winner per se, only a laureate of Hungarian ancestry (similarly to economist Milton Friedman, chemist John Charles Polanyi and otologist Robert Bárány).

Congratulations to this year's winners!