Physicist is Morocco’s 1st Nobel Laureate

How to win The Prize… 

By Andrew M. Rosemarine


Serge Haroche

Serge Haroche, the Moroccan-born expert on quantum optics, has won his native country’s first Nobel Prize.   He won the Physics Prize, together with Californian David Wineland.  Professor Haroche became the administrator of the prestigious Collège de France this year, where he has held the Chair of Quantum Physics since 2001.  He has also taught at Harvard and Yale.  Haroche was born to greatness – his very name means The Head in Hebrew, and he is certainly head and heels ahead of the rest of us.

He studied for his PhD in dressed atoms in Paris, under Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, himself a Jewish Nobel-prize winning physicist from Constantine, Algeria, and of Moroccan origins also.  (Tannoudji means from Tangiers.)

Professor Haroche was born in Casablanca in 1944. On Morocco’s regaining independence in 1956, he moved with his parents to France, for family reasons.  His father, a lawyer of Marrakechi origins, and his mother, née Rublyova, from Odessa, then in USSR, both died in 1998.  His wife Claudine, née Zeligson, is a sociologist, also of USSR Jewish parentage.  The Professor lives in Paris, and his success has been trumpeted by the French.  He is one of thirteen French Physics Nobels including both Pierre and Marie Curie.

Moroccan First

Moroccan journalists have been proud to point out that Professor Haroche has retained his Moroccan nationality.  Jews live with greater equality in Morocco than any other Arab country, have had Ministers in the government, and the King has two senior Jewish advisers to this day.  The community is thought to be under 5,000 out of a population of over 30 million, but the drafters of last year’s Constitution rejoiced in the “Hebraic” origins of some of the Moroccan people, a unique clause in any national Constitution worldwide, bar Israel (and, arguably, the Autonomous Oblast of Birobidjan.)

The Prize

Swedish armaments’ manufacturer Alfred Nobel awoke one morning just after his brother’s death to read his own obituary, which had appeared by mistake in a French newspaper.  It was entitled “Merchant of Death is dead.”  He decided that this was not how he wished to be remembered, so he left his great fortune for the setting up of prizes in his own name for those who bestow “the greatest benefit on mankind.”  The prizes are awarded annually for work in Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Medicine, Peace and Physics.

Jewish Recipients


Haroche’s predecessors in the Physics Prize, have included Einstein (for research on theoretical Physics,)  Niels Bohr (on atomic structure and radiation), Gustav Hertz (on the impact of the electron on the atom,) Isador Isaac Rabi ( on the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei), the UK’s Max Born (on quantum mechanics and waves), the UK’s Dennis Gabor (on the holographic method), the UK’s Brian Josephson (on the supercurrent in tunnel barriers) and Manchester’s Andre Geim  (for graphene, though he is equally well-known for frog levitation!) out of around 50 of Jewish origin, most of them USA based.  Italy’s Emilio Segre, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Serge Haroche are the first Sefardi Physics laureates.

This year

Professor Haroche is not the only Jewish laureate this year.  Robert Lefkowitz, an American Professor of both Medicine and Chemistry, won the Chemistry Nobel.  His parents were born in Poland, once the largest Jewish community in Europe.  Several Jewish laureates are of Polish origin.

Some Famously Jewish laureates

Other Nobel laureates include Holocaust extermination camp survivors Imre Kertesz and Elie Wiesel.  Oxford’s Hildesheim-born Hans Krebs had to flee Nazi Germany.  Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish-writing son of a Dayan, won the Literature prize for his “impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life.”

British Recipients

British laureates include Elias Canetti and Harold Pinter (both for literature), Cambridge’s Max Perutz, Aaron Klug (who lived up to his name,) and Harry Kroto (all for Chemistry), Imperial College London’s Ernst Chain and Oxford’s Sydney Brenner (for Medicine), and Joseph Rotblat (for Peace.)

Other Recipients

Other laureates include Israeli Premiers Begin, Rabin and Peres (all for Peace), Agnon (for literature), Aumann and Kahneman (both for Economics), and Shechtman, Yonath, Ciechanover, and Hershko (all for Chemistry, and all over the last 9 years.)  If you need a good chemist, Israel is a good place to look!

Boris Pasternak accepted the Literature Prize, but was then forced to reject it by the Soviet Government.  His novel Dr. Zhivago showed the Soviet Revolution in a more realistic light than the Bolsheviks wanted.  He had allowed the book to be smuggled into Italy for publication, and his government was furious.

Why have Jews been so successful, inspite of so much persecution?

Around 830 Nobel Prizes have been awarded in total to individuals. I estimate that about 182 or 22% of them have been Jewish.  Roughly 13.3 million Jews worldwide amount to less than 0.2% of the approximately 7.046 billion world population. These figures show that Jews are about 110 times more highly represented, than the average world citizen, among Nobel prize recipients.  If Jews worldwide were considered as a single country (but this is, of course, wholly artificial), it would top the list of prize-winning countries, per capita.  Why are Jews so successful in this field?  The answer is in the importance Jewish parents place on education and serving mankind.  Keep it up!

Copyright Rosemarine 2012

Andrew M Rosemarine is a European Union-based international lawyer.

Featured image is Einstein in Vienna 1921, photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer   (Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons)