Jan
17
2009

What famous people went to the University of Cambridge?

Cambridge University - photo by Elin B - cc-by

Cambridge University - photo by Elin B - cc-by

Cambridge University has produced over 80 Nobel Prize winners, so it’s hard to know where to begin when assembling a list of notable Cambridge University alumni. And that’s before considering the scientists, monarchs, mathematicians, politicians, and even economists who attended the University of Cambridge.

Monarchs include King Edward VII, King George VI, and Queen Margrethe II from Denmark – plus a chukkar of Princes including Prince Charles.

Prime Ministers include over a dozen from the UK (including the first British PM, Robert Walpole), three from India, two from Singapore plus one from Australia – Stanley Bruce.

All of the following graduated from Cambridge: Francis Bacon, who codified the scientific method; Isaac Newton, who discovered the laws of motion; Joseph Thomson who discovered the electron; James Maxwell who unified electricity and magnetism into electromagnetism; Henry Cavendish who discovered hydrogen; Alan Turing who invented the Turing Machine; Crick and Watson who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA; Cockroft and Walton who split the atom; and Charles Darwin who discovered the role of natural selection in evolution.

So did these Nobel Prize winners: Niels Bohr, for his discoveries about quantum mechanics; Austen Chamberlain, for his work to strengthen the peace after World War I; Adrian and Sherrington, biologists, for discovering the function of neurons; Bertrand Russell, for his writings espousing freedom of thought and humanitarianism; Dorothy Hodgkin, for discovering the structure of insulin; Philip Noel-Baker, campaigner for disarmament; and dozens more.

Oh, I promised some economists. Richard Stone won the Nobel Prize for developing an accounting model to track economic activity. James Mirrlees demonstrated principles such as “optimal income tax” and “moral hazard”, and won the Nobel Prize for contributions to economic theory. Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to welfare economics.

Other interesting alumni include John Cleese (who gained a law degree but ended up doing more interesting things), Lord Byron (poet who kept a pet bear while at Cambridge), Alfred Lord Tennyson (Poet Laureaute who coined the phrase better to have loved and lost), Oliver Cromwell (regicidal dictator or hero of liberty; take your pick), Vladimir Nabokov (novelist) and Germaine Greer (feminist).

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