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Nobel Laureates 2001: A Brief Presentation

By twodot72 in News
Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 10:23:51 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Last week, the Nobel laureates of 2001 were presented. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, which is awarded every year for outstanding achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and striving for peace.

As a brief interruption in the "war against terrorism", "air safety" and "security vs. privacy" discussions, I think we shall take a moment to congratulate some individuals who have tirelessly worked towards goals that few people could even understand the significance of. Many of them work in relative obscurity, but their work will ultimately benefit us all.

Of course, countless people could be said to fit that description, but the Nobel laureates are among the most successful of these and have made significant contributions to their fields. The full list of laureates since 1901 and descriptions of their discoveries or achievements can be found in the Nobel e-Museum. I have taken the liberty to summarize the work that earned the 2001 laureates their prizes, for your reading pleasure :-)

Physics: Eric A. Cornell, Carl E. Wieman, and Wolfgang Ketterle

These chaps were the first to achieve "Bose-Einstein Condensation in dilute gases" in 1995. Apparently, this is something physicists have been striving to do since 1924, when Bose and Einstein first developed the theory. When Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) occurs, all particles are in the same quantum state, the one with the lowest energy. This requires near zero K temperatures. BEC is expected to be of use in areas such as lithography, nanotechnology, holography, and precision measurements of natural phenomena.

Chemistry: William S. Knowles, Ryoji Noyori, and K. Barry Sharpless

These fine chemists have been working on chirally catalysed reactions. Chiral molecules appear in two forms, one being the "mirror image" of the other. Pharmaceuticals often consist of such molecules, but it is imperative that only the right form is used, the mirror form can be very harmful. These laureates have developed catalyst molecules that can be used to make sure only the desired form of a chiral is produced. This method is, for instance, used in the production of antibiotics and heart medicines.

Medicine: Leland H. Hartwell, R. Timothy Hunt, and Paul M. Nurse

The medicine laureates have discovered "key regulators of the cell cycle". Basically, the cell goes through different states during its lifetime (such as growth, DNA synthesis and replication, and cell division). The laureates have discovered the molecular mechanisms regulating this cycle, which includes control over when the cell is entering the next state of its cycle. The work is important for the field of cancer diagnostics and may help produce better cancer treatment in the future.

Literature: Sir V.S. Naipaul

Sir Naipaul is a British writer, born on Trinidad, with Indian ancestry. Naipaul has written numerous novels and short-stories, both fiction and documentary. His earliest works are about the post-colonial West Indies. He has also written several documentary books on India, and some very critical works about Muslim fundamentalism in south-east Asia.

Peace: United Nations and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan has devoted most of his life to work within the United Nations. He is credited with having made more efficient use of the limited resources of the U.N. and risen to new challenges such as AIDS and terrorism. (The motivation for this prize is very short.)

The Nobel Prize is not only about recognition, the laureates also get some cash. This year the laureates in each category get SEK 10 million (about USD 1 million) to share.

Note 1: The Nobel Foundation also administers a prize in economics, "The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel," which is usually included among the Nobel prizes. But it is, in fact, not a Nobel prize, which is why I decided not to discuss it here.

Note 2: Someone other that me might have noticed the total lack of women among the laureates this year. Almaz.com has the (amazingly short) list of women laureates throughout the years.


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Nobel Laureates 2001: A Brief Presentation | 22 comments (21 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Note about note 2 (4.16 / 6) (#2)
by Neuromancer on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 06:48:29 PM EST

I know that this is a common observation, but I don't think that there is any room in academics to be "politically correct."

If there were no women this year, I am sure that this is merely by chance.

The prize should be determined based on the content of the work done. I am sure that the character of the judges does not reflect sexism or racism.

This is not to say that there are no women worthy of Nobel Laurate status, but surely hope that this will never become a game of "gosh, we really need more women to win."

While I am not attacking your comment or your character, I do feel that this bears note.

Defensive! (none / 0) (#3)
by Surial on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 08:10:34 PM EST

Yes, that not about female winners of nobel prizes does seem overly defensive. I don't think the K5 crowd would pounce upon such things at all. I believe most swing towards 'positive discrimination is just another form of discrimination'.

Anybody know who won the nobel prize in mathematics ;-)
"is a signature" is a signature.

[ Parent ]
Learn something new every day (none / 0) (#21)
by a humble lich on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 10:38:58 PM EST

I assume you were refering to the story that there is no Nobel prize in math because Nobels wife was banging a mathematician. I was originally going to post some goke about that, however urbanlegends.com has sadly informed me that that is not true. For one, Nobel never married.

damn, it's a good story though.

[ Parent ]

Nope (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by greenrd on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 09:06:24 PM EST

A systematic bias over the years cannot be put down to chance. The longer it continues the more improbable that becomes. There can only be two causes, as far as I can see: sexism, or women are less likely than men to reach the heights of achievements (for biological and/or cultural reasons). In my worthless opinion I think it is down to sexism in education, sexist parents, lingering sexism in the scientific establishment, and maybe some other factors.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

You are so wrong (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by Neuromancer on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 09:47:58 PM EST

Quota policies establish a mentality that the people who are boosted by them are not good enough to succeed on their own. They are a "quick fix" which prevents the actual cute, which is equal treatment.

Sexism in education?

Let me tell you a little something about the education system, there are more scholarships/programs/and so forth based on the idea that people need to be "fixed" than bear mentioning. Guess what, it doesn't change the bottom line. I for one would certainly like to see more women in my field. If nothing else it would make dating easier. I would prefer capable women over quota women though. Just because you give someone adulation or a job doesn't mean that they deserve either or can uphold the duties of either.

The bottom line is that these programs do more harm for their cause than good.

Also of note are the other implications...

These programs tend to encourage women towards engineering fields, shying them away from the humanities. What if a girl wants to take part in the humanities? Is there something WRONG with that? I would say that the field is just as noble, but it doesn't make for a healthy quota.

Can you see where this is just wrong?

I'm not saying that it isn't a nice thought, but I have seen these ideas fail more than help. That isn't to say that I don't think that women are just ask capable as their male counterparts. This is to say that they should ALWAYS be just as capable. Anything else cheapens the achievements of those who deserve it.

I happen to know many women in my field who would back me up on that statement. Some of them are professors who I hold a great amount of respect for.
For every person who spouts about the achievements of some unknown who just got quota'd in, there is a person who will say equally negative things about someone who TRUELY deserves their honors. The fact is that neither case is fair to either individual.

I hate to say that if we ignore this problem it will go away, but the simple fact of the matter is that quotas only exacerbate the problem. Racism and sexism are not problems that are solved by creating artificial barriers. They are problems that are solved by judging a person regardless or such superficial differences.

[ Parent ]
Oh, I see ;-) (5.00 / 3) (#6)
by tmoertel on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 10:50:20 PM EST

First, you deny that sexism is a factor, and then you have the audacity to write this garbage:
Quota policies establish a mentality that the people who are boosted by them are not good enough to succeed on their own. They are a "quick fix" which prevents the actual cute . . .
(Emphasis mine.)

Prevents the actual what? Are you trying to say that it prevents the actual cute scientists from winning? If this isn't blatant sexism, I don't know what is.

Further, how dare you suggest that only the cute award candidates deserve recognition. In your little fantasy world, has the scientific community's means of recognizing its outstanding peers devolved into little more than "hot-or-not" with lab coats? I am shocked.

Frankly, I expected more -- much more -- from a an outstanding K5 citizen of your caliber. Why, I have half a notion to ---

Oh.     Cure.

Nevermind.    ;-)

My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]

[ Parent ]
lol (n/t) (none / 0) (#7)
by Neuromancer on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 10:57:01 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Quotas? WTF?? (none / 0) (#16)
by greenrd on Tue Oct 16, 2001 at 05:25:26 AM EST

Firstly, where did I say I support quotas?? You are just seeing something that blatantly isn't there in my post!!

Furthermore, you ignored my point. I am right - approx 50% of the world population are women, so if significantly less than 50% of Nobel Prizewinners are women, it must be either because of sexism or cultural or biological factors. Difficult to rule out biological factors preventing women getting a Nobel Prize - but more importantly there is no evidence for them being significant either.

I will remember this as a classic example of missing the point.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

1? (1.00 / 1) (#17)
by greenrd on Tue Oct 16, 2001 at 05:28:18 AM EST

Why did this get a 1? I made a factual statement, drew a valid inference - and then threw out some personal opinions, explicitly qualifying them as "worthless". How does that justify a 1?

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

you forgot one more reason (none / 0) (#20)
by protocadherin on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 05:10:19 PM EST

You forgot one more explanation. Perhaps women avoid science-related fields during selection of careers. This would have nothing to do with sexism, rather a preference towards literary or medical areas.

Hence, since there are fewer women interested in science, they are fewer women scientists, and hence fewer Nobel prize winners.

Note that I am merely supplying you with another alternative explanation- I am not saying that this is the only reason for fewer female Nobel prize winners.

[ Parent ]

Agreed (none / 0) (#8)
by twodot72 on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 12:59:06 AM EST

I just acidentally stumbled over that list and was genuinely surprised over how short it was, I didn't include it just to be politically correct.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised though, I guess it has got to do with the number of practitioners. The Nobel prizes (except possibly literature) are all in traditionally male dominated areas. We can speculate in why this is so, but at least it is nothing the Nobel judges should include in their considerations.

[ Parent ]

Astute observation and doubly agreed (n/t) (none / 0) (#9)
by Neuromancer on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 03:09:21 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Female Ratio (2.00 / 1) (#10)
by darthaya on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 11:35:28 AM EST

There are only that many female scientists out there compared to male scientists. Last time you looked into your Physics department, how many ladies did you spot?
Blame this on sex discrimination is outright absurd and stupid.

yes and no (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by persimmon on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 01:36:04 PM EST

You're right in that we can't be shocked about the relatively small proportion of outstanding female scientists until there's a larger proportion of ordinary female scientists.

I don't think we should discount the effects of sexism in the career and academic choices of young women, though. Once Upon a Time I was known to say that math and science were Boy Subjects. Of course, I went and enrolled as a physics student in college after all that.

In my first-year class of around 50 physics students, there were 5 girls, and that's a pretty good ratio for a physics department. Am I saying quotas are a good idea? Am I saying we should indoctrinate little girls to go into sciences? No, not at all. I do think we should present science careers as a viable option to girls the same way we do to boys. And I do think there is a trend towards this, but it's naive to say women "just don't want to go into physical sciences" when socially, they hear their entire lives that physical sciences are Boy Subjects.

I eventually switched from physics to computer science, where the ratios are a little better. In my class of 30 there's 5 of us with boobs now.

It's funny because it's a blancmange!
[ Parent ]
In at least one case it wasn't (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by streetlawyer on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 01:47:25 PM EST

What about Crick and Watson being awarded the Nobel for Rosalind Franklin's work?

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Death (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by ucblockhead on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 04:49:23 PM EST

Rosalind Franklin was dead by the time the award came, and Nobels are never posthumous. Crick has been quoted as saying "Since Wilkins got it, then Franklin surely would have gotten it" (paraphrased because I don't have it in front of me), refering to the third man who got the Nobel for DNA.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Nobels are sometimes posthumous (none / 0) (#22)
by gorilla on Wed Oct 31, 2001 at 12:59:28 PM EST

Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the peace prize in 1961, after he died.

[ Parent ]
I don't think that's entirely correct... (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by Giant Space Hamster on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 05:02:26 PM EST

I agree that Rosalind Franklin probably deserved to share the Nobel with Watson, Crick and Wilkins. But I think it does them a disservice to say that only she deserved the prize.

In many ways the situation is similar to Lorentz and Einstein. Lorentz transformations form the basis of special relativity, (and both of them were proposed as Nobel recipients for special relativity), but where Lorentz proposed only the basis, Einstein proposed the more complete theory and his contribution is generally recognized as more significant.

Similarily, Watson and Crick built (a great deal) on Franklin's work, but their contribution is (again) arguably more significant.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]

Irony! (none / 0) (#15)
by mystic on Tue Oct 16, 2001 at 01:32:56 AM EST

>Physics: Eric A. Cornell, Carl E. Wieman, and Wolfgang Ketterle
>>These chaps were the first to achieve "Bose-Einstein Condensation in dilute gases" in 1995.

The irony is that Satyendra Nath Bose (the 'B' in 'BEC') has not been honored with a Nobel Prize, so far!

So far? (none / 0) (#18)
by twodot72 on Tue Oct 16, 2001 at 12:23:43 PM EST

You could have skipped the "so far". He can never get it now, since he died in 1974 (according to your own reference).

[ Parent ]
You never know.. (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by mystic on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 01:16:43 AM EST

what the Nobel prize committee will do next! That 'so far' was more like a 'pre-emptive bail' :) If I am not mistaken, there was a suggestion/call to award M.K. Gandhi the Nobel Peace Prize after his death- another sad omission.

[ Parent ]
Nobel Laureates 2001: A Brief Presentation | 22 comments (21 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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