In 1994, Andrew Wiles — perhaps the most famous living mathematician — proved the 350-year-old conjecture known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. Wiles was an undergraduate at Merton, finishing in 1974, and has now returned to the College as a Professorial Fellow in Mathematics.
JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, was Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959. Featured first in the banner above, he was an expert on Old and Middle English. [The photo by John Wyatt is reproduced courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.]
This Nobel Prize-winning poet spent 1914-15 studying philosophy as a graduate student at Merton. His most famous works include: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), The Waste Land (1922), and Four Quartets (1936-1942). In addition to his poems and plays, Eliot was an influential literary critic and editor.
After completing a second BA at Merton in 1961, Sir Anthony Leggett became one of three physicists to win the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on superfluids in 2003. He is now a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Nikolaas Tinbergen, a behavioural zoologist, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1973. He emphasized the "ethological" method of studying animals in their natural environments. He was well-known for his work on sticklebacks, wasps and birds. Later in life he applied his theories to the study of human autism. He came to Oxford from Leiden in 1949.
Frederick Soddy graduated from Merton in 1898 and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921 for his work on radioactive decay. He was the first to understand the idea of chemical isotopes. He returned to Oxford as a Professor in 1919.
The heir to the Japanese throne, Crown Prince Naruhito came to Merton in 1983 for two years of postgraduate research on the history of transportation on the Thames. He described this experience in The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford.
As an undergraduate engineer at Merton, Andrew "Sandy" Irvine was chosen for the third British expedition to Mount Everest in 1924, on the basis of his superb athleticism and engineering skills. On 8 June he and George Mallory disappeared as they attempted the final ascent. Mallory’s body was recovered in 1999, but Irvine was never found. There is circumstantial evidence that they made it to the top, but the mystery remains unsolved.
Adorno was a philosopher, sociologist, musicologist, art critic, and student-idol of the 1960s. He was one of the best-known members of the 'Frankfurt School', generally associated with the 'Critical Theory' propagated by Adorno and his colleagues M. Horkheimer and H. Marcuse and J. Habermas. When the Nazi regime forced Jewish academics out of their posts in 1933, he fled Frankfurt and found sanctuary at Merton, where he spent three years working on a second book on Husserl.
Harvey was a physician and the first person to describe in detail how blood is pumped around the body by the heart. By early 1618, he was physician-extraordinary to James I, an appointment that continued under Charles I. Although his theories were not fully accepted during his own lifetime, Harvey has since been celebrated for his momentous medical contributions, including his two discourses: An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals (1628) and Essays on the Generation of Animals (1651).
Bodley was a scholar and diplomat, and he established the Bodleian Library in 1602. Inspired by the new library at Merton — where he had taught Greek as a Fellow — he combined his passion for collecting with his fundraising skills to mobilise massive resources for the University library, which still bears his name.