Five Amazing Nobel Prize WinnersDecember 12, 2018
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has represented the legacy of Sweden’s Alfred Nobel. The prize acknowledges some of the world’s most extraordinary people and is awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economics.
In honor of Nobel Day (which took place on Dec. 10), here are five (well, technically nine) amazing Nobel Prize winners.
Marie Curie (Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel)
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, Marie Curie, alongside her husband Pierre and physicist Henri Becquerel, won the Physics prize in 1903 for their research and discovery of radioactivity. Curie also was the first person and only woman to win the award twice when she was awarded the Chemistry prize in 1911 for discovering the elements radium and polonium and investigating their properties. Curie still is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.
The German-born theoretical physicist is world-famous and was a no-brainer when compiling our list. Einstein most commonly is known for his theory of relativity and the discovery that matter and energy are equivalent (E=mc²). However, his award is unrelated to these theories. Einstein won the 1921 Physics prize for discovering the law of the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which atoms, when bombarded with light, emit electrons. The law of photoelectric effect was an integral step in Max Planck’s development of the quantum theory.
A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, American Norman Borlaug is known as the father of the “green revolution.” Having dedicated his life to solving world hunger by creating better crops, Borlaug won for his work developing a strain of wheat that was adaptable to various conditions. Borlaug successfully tested his strain of dwarf wheat in Mexico and was seen as an adviser to countries whose food production was unable to keep pace with their population growth.
“When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient of the 1970 award for my contribution to the ‘green revolution,’ they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry, both for bread and for peace.” – Norman Borlaug
American-born Hermann Muller was the recipient of the 1946 Physiology/Medicine prize for his research that discovered mutations due to X-ray radiation exposure. When the Nobel Committee recognized his work, it began to draw public attention to the health effects of nuclear war in the wake of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Muller became a leader in campaigns against nuclear warfare and the testing of nuclear weapons.
Sir Alexander Fleming (Ernst Chain and Sir Howard Florey)
Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Chain and Sir Howard Florey were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1945 for their discovery of penicillin and its use as an antibiotic. Fleming discovered penicillin by accident, and today the drug is used to treat staph infections, meningitis, pneumonia and diphtheria, among other conditions. While Fleming discovered penicillin, Chain and Florey contributed heavily to its success by conducting rigorous clinical trials. The trials proved the usefulness of penicillin and the two worked to purify it and then produce it on a larger scale.
“One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”
– Sir Alexander Fleming, Marvels of Science: 50 Fascinating 5-minute Reads by Kendall F. Haven