Smith's Prize

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The Smith's Prize was the name of each of two prizes awarded annually to two research students in mathematics and theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge from 1769.[1] Following the reorganization in 1998, it is now awarded under the name of Smith-Knight Prize and Rayleigh-Knight Prize.


The Smith Prize fund was founded by bequest of Robert Smith upon his death in 1768, having by his will left £3500 South Sea Company stock to the University. Every year two or more junior Bachelor of Arts students who had made the greatest progress in mathematics and natural philosophy were to be awarded a prize from the fund. The prize was awarded every year from 1769 to 1998 except 1917.

From 1769 to 1885, the prize was awarded for the best performance in a series of examinations. In 1854 George Stokes included an examination question on a particular theorem which William Thomson had written to him about, which is now known as Stokes' theorem. T. W. Körner notes

Only a small number of students took the Smith's prize examination in the nineteenth century. When Karl Pearson took the examination in 1879, the examiners were Stokes, Maxwell, Cayley, and Todhunter and the examinees went on each occasion to an examiner's dwelling, did a morning paper, had lunch there and continued their work on the paper in the afternoon.[2]

In 1885, the examination was renamed Part III, (now known as the Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics) and the prize was awarded for the best submitted essay rather than examination performance. According to Barrow-Green

By fostering an interest in the study of applied mathematics, the competition contributed towards the success in mathematical physics that was to become the hallmark of Cambridge mathematics during the second half of the nineteenth century.[1]

In the twentieth century, the competition stimulated postgraduate research in mathematics in Cambridge and the competition has played a significant role by providing a springboard for graduates considering an academic career. The majority of prize-winners have gone on to become professional mathematicians or physicists.

The Rayleigh Prize was an additional prize, which was awarded for the first time in 1911.

The Smith's and Rayleigh prizes were only available to Cambridge graduate students who had been undergraduates at Cambridge. The J.T. Knight Prize was established in 1974 for Cambridge graduates who had been undergraduates at other universities. The prize commemorates J.T. Knight (1942-1970), who had been an undergraduate student at Glasgow and a graduate student at Cambridge. He was killed in a motor car accident in Ireland in April 1970.

J.T. Knight

Value of the prizes

Originally, in 1769, the prizes were worth £25 each and remained at that level for 100 years. In 1867, they fell to £23 and in 1915 were still reported to be worth that amount.[citation needed] By 1930, the value had risen to about £30, and by 1940, the value had risen by a further one pound to £31. By 1998, a Smith’s Prize was worth around £250.[1]

In 2007, the value of the three prize funds was roughly £175,000.[3]

Reorganization of prizes

In 1998 the Smith Prize, Rayleigh Prize and J. T. Knight Prize were replaced by the Smith-Knight Prize and Rayleigh-Knight Prize,[4] the standard for the former being higher than that required for the latter.

Smith's Prize recipients

For the period up to 1940 a complete list is given in Barrow-Green (1999) including titles of prize essays from 1889-1940. The following is a selection from this list.

Awarded for examination performance

Awarded for essay

Rayleigh Prize recipients

A more complete list of Rayleigh prize recipients is given in Appendix 1 ("List of Prize Winners and their Essays 1885-1940") of[1]

J. T. Knight Prize recipients

Smith–Knight Prize recipients

  • 1999 D. W. Essex, H. S. Reall, A. Saikia, A. C. Faul, Duncan C. Richer, M. J. Vartiainen, T. A. Fisher, J. Rosenzweig, J. Wierzba and J. B. Gutowski[45][46]
  • 2001 B. J. Green, T A. Mennim, A. Mijatovic, F. A. Dolan, Paul D. Metcalfe and S. R. Tod
  • 2002 Konstantin Ardakov,[47] Edward Crane[48] and Simon Wadsley[49]
  • 2004 Neil Roxburgh[50]
  • 2008 Miguel Paulos
  • 2009 Olga Goulko
  • 2010 Miguel Custódio
  • 2011 Ioan Manolescu
  • 2014 Bhargav P. Narayanan[51]

Rayleigh–Knight Prize recipients

  • 1999 C. D. Bloor, R. Oeckl, J. Y. Whiston, Y-C. Chen, P. L. Rendon, C. Wunderer, J. H. P. Dawes, D. M. Rodgers, H-M. Gutmann and A. N. Ross
  • 2001 A. F. R. Bain, S. Khan, S. Schafer-Nameki, N. R. Farr, J. Niesen, J. H. Siggers, M. Fayers, D. Oriti, M. J. Tildesley, J. R. Gair, M. R. E. H. Pickles, A. J. Tolley, S. R. Hodges, R. Portugues, C. Voll, M. Kampp, P. J. P. Roche and B. M. J. B. Walker[52]
  • 2004 Oliver Rinne
  • 2005 Guillaume Pierre Bascoul and Giuseppe Di Graziano
  • 2007 Anders Hansen[53] and Vladimir Lazić


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Barrow-Green, June (1999), "A Corrective to the Spirit of too Exclusively Pure Mathematics: Robert Smith (1689–1768) and his Prizes at Cambridge University", Annals of Science, 56 (3): 271–316, doi:10.1080/000337999296418<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Discussion on the establishment of a degree of Master of Mathematics and a degree of Master of Advanced Study, Cambridge University, 28 January 2009, archived from the original on 2 September 2009, retrieved 30 April 2009 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Cambridge University Trust Funds p.34
  4. Reporter 11/11/98: Graces submitted to the Regent House on 11 November 1998
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  6. Todhunter biography
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  12. Bateman biography
  13. Mercer biography
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  16. .Obituary Notices : Livens, George Henry, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 111, p.159 Bibliographic Code: 1951MNRAS.111..159 [1]
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  20. Ingham biography
  21. Milne biography
  22. Burkill biography
  23. Whittaker_John biography
  24. Todd biography
  26. Cambridge University Reporter, 5 March 1952, Awards, p865
  27. Cambridge University Reporter, 13 March 1957, Awards, p982
  28. Ian Hacking Home Page
  29. Kingman biography
  30. Professor Stephen Watson's biography on the Emmanuel College website
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  33. SPE AbuDhabi Section
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  35. Cambridge University Reporter 22/4/98: Awards
  36. Mehra, Jagdish; Rechenberg, Helmut (2000), The Historical Development of Quantum Theory: The Fundamental Equations of Quantum Mechanics 1925-1926 : The Reception of the Quantum Mechanics 1925-1926, Springer, p. 54, ISBN 0-387-95178-4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  39. Assa Historical Section
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  41. Staff Details
  42. Susan Stepney's mini CV
  44. Frank Kelly's CV
  45. Reporter 21/4/99: Awards
  46. Queens' College Record 2000
  49. Jesus College Annual Report 2005 p.13
  52. Cambridge University Reporter
  53. Anders Hansen