The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is alma mater to three Nobel Prize winners: George Beadle, Donald Cram and Alan Heeger.
George Beadle, a native of Wahoo, earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Nebraska in 1926 and a master’s degree in 1927. He worked on wheat breeding with Professor F. D. Keim, a protégé of the great botanist Charles Bessey. Beadle earned his doctorate from Cornell University in 1931, served as a faculty member at several universities, and later became chancellor and then president of the University of Chicago, where he served until his retirement.
George Beadle shared the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edward Tatum for the discovery that genes determine the structure of enzymes, and thereby affect heredity. Dubbed the “one gene-one enzyme” concept, Beadle and Tatum’s work, undertaken at Stanford University, helped found the field of biochemical genetics. Nebraska awarded Beadle an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1949.
Donald Cram earned a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Nebraska in 1942, and a doctorate in the same field from Harvard in 1947; he joined the UCLA faculty and worked there his entire career. Cram’s work allowed for development in the laboratory of functional enzymes that behave like natural enzymes. He discovered what has become known as “Cram’s rule of asymmetric induction,” which in part explains how molecules form.
Cram shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with four other scientists for successfully building molecules able to attract and bind, or host, other molecules. This “host-guest” work made a significant impact on the field of organic chemistry. Nebraska awarded him an honorary degree in 1989.
In his official Nobel biography, Alan Heeger relates that he entered Nebraska to pursue engineering, not knowing that science could be a career path. After one semester he decided to major in physics and mathematics, studying with Professor Theodore “Ted” Jorgensen, who introduced him to quantum physics and modern science.
Heeger earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Nebraska in 1957 and his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. He shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in discovering and developing certain plastics that can conduct electricity. Nebraska awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1999.