Famous U.S. Immigrants in Science


Throughout history, American scientific discoveries and inventions were highly influenced by immigrant scientists and engineers. More so, we couldn’t imagine the world as it is today without the contribution of some great minds that left their origin countries to continue their research in the United States.

According to the latest report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), in 2013 there were over 5.2 million immigrant scientists working in the United States. 57% of them were born in Asia, 20% originated from North America (excluding U.S.A.), 16% had a European origin country, 6% were born in Africa and less than 1% in Oceania.

Let’s take a look below at 5 of the most famous U.S. immigrant scientists in the history:


1. Albert Einstein

Albert EinsteinConsidered the most influential physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is taught in classrooms all over the world. His contribution to science was formally acknowledged by the awarding of a Nobel Prize in 1921, but very few people know that the famous genius was an immigrant. He moved to the United States from his origin country Germany in 1933, during World War II, because of the Nazis not allowing him to do university work. Once in the U.S., he took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey and spent the rest of his life working on a unified field theory meant to comprise varied laws of physics.


2. Enrico Fermi

Enrico FermiItalian born scientist Enrico Fermi was one of the directors of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret plan to develop the world’s first atomic bomb. His idea to create new elements not found in nature by bombarding them with neutral particles earned him the Nobel Prize in 1938. After winning the award, Enrico Fermi and his wife moved from Rome to the United States in order to escape the fascist government of Benito Mussolini. He worked in the physics department of Columbia University (1939-1942) and accepted a position at the Institute for Nuclear Studies, University of Chicago in 1945. After his death, element 100 was discovered and was named fermium in his honor.


3. Mario Molina

Mario MolinaAnother U.S. immigrant Nobel Prize winner is Mario Molina, who discovered that the release of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) – used in refrigerators, spray cans, and cleaning solvents – could destroy the ozone layer in the stratosphere, allowing more ultraviolet light to get through to Earth. He was born in Mexico and moved to the United States in 1968 to pursue his career as a chemist with a physical chemistry degree at the University of California, Berkely. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995 and shared it with his research colleague Sherwood Rowland.




4. Albert Claude

Albert ClaudeBelgian biologist Albert Claude did pioneering work in the use of the electron microscope to study animal cells. After obtaining a doctor’s degree at the University of Liège, he immigrated to the United States in 1929, joined the Rockefeller Institute and spent the rest of his career there. His discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell brought him a Nobel Prize in 1974.






5. Nikola Tesla

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla was born in what is now Croatia and, ever since being only a child, he was interested in electrical inventions. This preoccupation was inspired by his mother, who spent her spare time inventing small household appliances. Tesla moved to America in 1884, at age 28, after studying and working in different European cities, like Graz, Prague or Budapest. His inventions, that revolutionized the world, include the alternating-current system and the “Tesla coil,” which laid the foundation for wireless technologies and is still used in radio technology today. Some of his inventions, like the dynamos (electrical generators similar to batteries) or the induction motor were officially patented by other scientists. He was also a pioneer in the discovery of radar technology, X-ray technology, remote control and the rotating magnetic field—the basis of most alternating-current machinery.


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