Rumford Prize

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Rumford Prize
A sharp-chinned man wearing a white powdered wig
Benjamin Thompson, whose grant paid for the formation of the Rumford Prize
Awarded for Contributions to the fields of heat and light
Country United States
Presented by American Academy of Arts and Sciences
First awarded 1839
Last awarded 2015
Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Founded in 1796, the Rumford Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is one of the oldest scientific prizes in the United States. The prize recognizes contributions by scientists to the fields of heat and light. These terms are widely interpreted; awards range from discoveries in thermodynamics to improvements in the construction of steam boilers.

The award was created through the endowment of US$5,000 to the Academy by Benjamin Thompson, who held the title "Count Rumford of the United Kingdom", in 1796.[1] The terms state that the award be given to "authors of discoverie's in any part of the Continent of America, or in any of the American islands". Although it was founded in 1796, the first prize was not given until 1839, as the academy could not find anyone who, in their judgement, deserved the award. The academy found the terms of the prize to be too restrictive, and in 1832 the Supreme Court of Massachusetts allowed the Academy to change some of the provisions; mainly, the award was to be given annually instead of biennially, and the Academy was allowed to award the prize as it saw fit, whereas before it had to give it yearly.[2] The first award was given to Robert Hare, for his invention of the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe, in 1839. Twenty-three years elapsed before the award was given a second time, to John Ericsson.[3]

The prize is awarded whenever the academy recognizes a significant achievement in either of the two fields. It has been given 62 times to 79 individuals, and once to a tri-group committee of 21 people. Awardees receive a gold-and-silver medal.[1] Previous prizewinners include Thomas Alva Edison, for his investigations in electric lighting; Enrico Fermi, for his studies of radiation theory and nuclear energy; and Charles H. Townes, for his development of the laser. One man, Samuel Pierpont Langley, has won both the Rumford Prize and the related Rumford Medal (the European equivalent of the Rumford Prize), both in 1886. Because the prize is awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, all of the recipients are American, except for one, John Stanley Plaskett, who is from British Columbia. The most recent award was given in 2008 to Sidney D. Drell, Sam Nunn, William J. Perry, and George P. Shultz "for their efforts to reduce the global threat of nuclear weapons".

List of recipients

A watercolor portrait of a sturdy man in a black suit with a large but tidy beard.
Robert Hare, first recipient of the prize in 1839
A man leaning on a chair. His hand is to his head as if he is thinking.
Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1886 recipient
An aged man sitting in a chair. His hands are at his hips.
Thomas Alva Edison, 1895 recipient
Portrait of a man wearing glasses, a jacket and a tie.
Ernest Fox Nichols, 1904 recipient
Portrait of an old man with a white beard. The man is wearing a jacket and a tie.
James Madison Crafts, 1911 recipient
A man looking to the camera, wearing a suit. He is standing in front of a machine.
Enrico Fermi, 1953 recipient
A portrait of a man looking a bit to the side wearing a suit
Hans Bethe, 1963 recipient
An old man sitting in a chair and wearing a shirt with a tie. He is holding his glasses with both hands and is sitting in front of his desk
Bruno Rossi, 1976 recipient
An old man, wearing a pullover is smiling.
Chen Ning Yang, 1980 recipient
A man with white hair is wearing glasses and looking forward. He is sitting on a chair, in front of a desk.
John C. Mather, 1996 recipient
A man wearing glasses with a tie and a suit jacket looks to the camera and smiles
Sam Nunn, 2008 recipient
George P. Schultz, 2008 recipient

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Year Name Location[a] Rationale
1839 Hare, RobertRobert Hare Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Inventor of the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe
1862 Ericsson, JohnJohn Ericsson New York, New York His work improved the field of heat management, but the award was specifically for his invention of the caloric engine of 1858.
1865 Treadwell, DanielDaniel Treadwell Cambridge, Massachusetts Heat management. He was awarded especially for his contributions towards a "cannon of large caliber, and great strength and endurance".
1866 Clark, AlvanAlvan Clark Cambridge, Massachusetts Improved refracting telescopes
1869 Corliss, George HenryGeorge Henry Corliss Providence, Rhode Island For improving the steam engine
1871 Harrison, Jr., JosephJoseph Harrison, Jr. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Towards his concern for safer steam boilers
1873 Rutherfurd, Lewis MorrisLewis Morris Rutherfurd New York, New York For improving the "processes and methods" of astronomical photography
1875 Draper, John WilliamJohn William Draper New York, New York For his work towards apprehending radiant energy
1880 Gibbs, Josiah WillardJosiah Willard Gibbs New Haven, Connecticut Founded the field of chemical thermodynamics
1883 Rowland, Henry AugustusHenry Augustus Rowland Baltimore, Maryland For his research in light and heat
1886 Langley, Samuel PierpontSamuel Pierpont Langley Allegheny, Philadelphia For his work towards the understanding of radiant energy
1888 Michelson, Albert AbrahamAlbert Abraham Michelson Cleveland, Ohio Measured the velocity of light, and contribution towards the motion of the luminiferous ether, and absolute determination of the wavelengths of light
1891 Pickering, Edward CharlesEdward Charles Pickering Cambridge, Massachusetts For his work on stellar photometry and stellar spectra
1895 Edison, Thomas AlvaThomas Alva Edison Orange, New Jersey For his investigations in electric lighting
1898 Keeler, James EdwardJames Edward Keeler Allegheny, Pennsylvania For the applications of the spectroscope, and especially his investigations of nebulae and the physical contents of Saturn's rings
1899 Brush, Charles FrancisCharles Francis Brush Cleveland, Ohio For the development of the electric arc lamp
1900 Barus, CarlCarl Barus Providence, Rhode Island For his heat research
1901 Thomson, ElihuElihu Thomson Lynn, Massachusetts For his work in welding and lighting
1902 Hale, George ElleryGeorge Ellery Hale Chicago, Illinois For his investigations in solar and stellar physics and for the invention of the spectro-heliograph
1904 Fox Nichols, ErnestErnest Fox Nichols New York, New York For his research on radiation, radiation pressure, stellar heat, and the infrared spectrum
1907 Acheson, Edward GoodrichEdward Goodrich Acheson Niagara Falls, New York For the application of the electric furnace to the production of carborundum and graphite
1909 Williams Wood, RobertRobert Williams Wood Baltimore, Maryland For light-related discoveries, including the optical properties of sodium and other metallic vapors
1910 Curtis, Charles GordonCharles Gordon Curtis New York, New York For his improvements to the steam turbine
1911 Crafts, James MasonJames Mason Crafts Boston, Massachusetts For his work in thermometry, and the development of new fixed points on the scale.[b]
1912 Ives, Frederic EugeneFrederic Eugene Ives Woodcliff-on-Hudson, New Jersey For his inventions in color photography and photoengraving
1913 Stebbins, JoelJoel Stebbins Urbana, Illinois For the development of the selenium photometer and its application to scientific problems
1914 Coolidge, William DavidWilliam David Coolidge Schenectady, New York For his invention of ductile tungsten
1915 Abbot, Charles GreeleyCharles Greeley Abbot Washington, D.C. For his research in solar radiation
1917 Bridgman, Percy WilliamsPercy Williams Bridgman Cambridge, Massachusetts For his high-pressure thermodynamic breakthroughs
1918 Lyman, TheodoreTheodore Lyman Cambridge, Massachusetts Awarded for his research on short-wave and long-wave wavelengths
1920 Langmuir, IrvingIrving Langmuir Schenectady, New York "For his research in thermionic and allied phenomena"
1925 Russell, Henry NorrisHenry Norris Russell Princeton, New Jersey Awarded for his research in solar radiation
1926 Compton, Arthur HollyArthur Holly Compton Chicago, Illinois Awarded for his research in Roentgen rays
1928 Nichols, Edward LeamingtonEdward Leamington Nichols Ithaca, New York "For his research in spectrophotometry"
1930 Plaskett, John StanleyJohn Stanley Plaskett Victoria, British Columbia For his astronomical spectrographic research[c]
1931 Compton, Karl TaylorKarl Taylor Compton Cambridge, Massachusetts He was awarded the medal for thermionics and spectroscopic research.
1933 Shapley, HarlowHarlow Shapley Cambridge, Massachusetts For his work with the luminosity of stars and galaxies
1937 Coblentz, William WeberWilliam Weber Coblentz Washington, D.C. For his improvements in the measurement of heat and light
1939 Harrison, George RussellGeorge Russell Harrison Belmont, Massachusetts "For pioneering improvements in spectroscopics"
1941 Zworykin, Vladimir KosmaVladimir Kosma Zworykin Princeton, New Jersey Awarded for the creation of the iconoscope and other related devices
1943 Mees, Charles EdwardCharles Edward Mees Rochester, New York For his contributions to photography
1945 Land, Edwin HerbertEdwin Herbert Land Cambridge, Massachusetts For his inventions related to the application of polarized light
1947 Harvey, Edmund NewtonEdmund Newton Harvey Princeton, New Jersey For his research in bioluminescence
1949 Bowen, Ira SpragueIra Sprague Bowen Pasadena, California For his work on the identification of nebulium and for other outstanding works
1951 Ives, Herbert E.Herbert E. Ives Montclair, New Jersey For his research in the field of optics
1953 Fermi, EnricoEnrico Fermi Chicago, Illinois For his investigations in electromagnetic radiation and nuclear energy
1953 Jr., Willis E. LambWillis E. Lamb Jr. Stanford, California Awarded for studying the hydrogen spectrum
1953 Onsager, LarsLars Onsager New Haven, Connecticut For his investigations in thermodynamics related to transportation
1955 Franck, JamesJames Franck Chicago, Illinois For his studies in the investigation of photosynthesis
1957 Chandrasekhar, SubrahmanyanSubrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Williams Bay, Wisconsin For his investigations of the radiative energy balance in stars
1959 Wald, GeorgeGeorge Wald Cambridge, Massachusetts For identifying the biochemical basis of vision
1961 Townes, Charles HardCharles Hard Townes New York, New York "For his development of the laser"
1963 Bethe, Hans AlbrechtHans Albrecht Bethe Ithaca, New York For pioneering studies in stellar nucleosynthesis
1965 Collins, Samuel CornetteSamuel Cornette Collins Cambridge, Massachusetts For the invention of the Collins Helium Cryostat and other pioneering work
1965 McElroy, William DavidWilliam David McElroy Baltimore, Maryland For his work on the molecular origin of bioluminescence
1967 Dicke, Robert HenryRobert Henry Dicke Princeton, New Jersey "For his contributions to microwave radiometry and to the understanding of atomic structure"
1967 Van Niel, Cornelius B.Cornelius B. Van Niel Stanford, California For his contributions to the study of photosynthesis
1968 Schmidt, MaartenMaarten Schmidt Pasadena, California For his work deducing the spectra of quasi-stellar objects
1971 M.I.T. Group

Canadian Group

NRAOCornell Group

"For their work in the field of long-baseline interferometry" (full list here)
1973 Wilson, E. BrightE. Bright Wilson Cambridge, Massachusetts For pioneering the importance of symmetry in polyatomic molecules and for his active work in the field of microwave spectroscopy
1976 Rossi, BrunoBruno Rossi Cambridge, Massachusetts For discovering the origins of cosmic radiation
1980 Weber, GregorioGregorio Weber Urbana, Illinois For researching the theory of, and working on the application of, fluorescence
1980 Yang, Chen NingChen Ning Yang

Mills, RobertRobert Mills

Stony Brook, New York

Columbus, Ohio

"For development of a generalized gauge invariant field theory"
1985 Dehmelt, Hans GeorgHans Georg Dehmelt

Deutsch, MartinMartin Deutsch

Hughes, Vernon WillardVernon Willard Hughes

Ramsey, Norman FosterNorman Foster Ramsey

Seattle, Washington

Cambridge, Massachusetts

New Haven, Connecticut

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Awarded for his work in the field of atomic spectroscopy
1986 Leighton, Robert B.Robert B. Leighton

Low, Frank J.Frank J. Low

Neugebauer, GerryGerry Neugebauer

Pasadena, California

Tucson, Arizona

Pasadena, California

For his work in developing infrared astronomy
1992 Norris, James R.James R. Norris

Katz, Joseph J.Joseph J. Katz

Feher, GeorgeGeorge Feher

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

San Diego, California

Awarded for working towards the understanding of photosynthesis
1996 Mather, John C.John C. Mather Greenbelt, Maryland For his research related to the cosmic microwave background
2008 Drell, Sidney D.Sidney D. Drell

Nunn, SamSam Nunn

Perry, William J.William J. Perry

Shultz, George P.George P. Shultz

Stanford University

Nuclear Threat Initiative[d]

Stanford University

Stanford University

For their efforts to reduce the global threat of nuclear weapons[4]
2015 Capasso, FedericoFederico Capasso

Cho, AlfredAlfred Cho

Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Alcatel-Lucent Bell Laboratory

For their contributions to the field of laser technology

References and notes

  • [a] ^ In this sense, location refers to the recipient's place of work or association.
  • [b] ^ The award names him as "James Madison Crafts".
  • [c] ^ Only time awarded to a non-US resident.
  • [d] ^ This is an affiliation rather than his location.



  1. ^ a b "Academy Prizes". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  2. ^ "The Rumford Medallists of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. The Royal Society. 8 (1): 90–94. October 1950. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1950.0004. JSTOR 3087234. 
  3. ^ Conant Church, William (1890). The Life of John Ericsson. Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 217–218. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  4. ^ "Nuclear Arms Control Leaders Receive Prestigious Rumford Prize from the American Academy". 2008 Rumford Prize press release (Press release). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 2008-10-09. Retrieved 2018-01-03. 
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