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NEW MULTIMILLION MEGAPRIZES FOR SCIENCE, PART II

 

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ??   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Part I of this 2-part series presented the origins, characteristics, and benefits of the several new megaprizes for outstanding scientific research (see “New Multimillion Megaprizes for Science, Part I” at:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/11/20/new-megaprizes-for-science-part-i/ ).  Part II now examines and discusses several unintended effects that these programs are likely to produce, all of which will hurt science, research, and scientists.

What will be the Effects of the New Giant Cash Prizes on Science and Scientists? 

Nobody anticipated that new rewards for outstanding scientific research would arise with cash rewards of several million dollars to each honoree, but this now is history!  In addition to the several good features of the new award programs by the Breakthrough Prize and the Tang Prize for Biopharmaceutical Science, several major unintended consequences of instituting these multimillion megaprizes will arise. 

The first negative effect is to set off an ongoing competition to establish additional new awards having even larger cash prizes.  This is caused by a mentality that mistakenly regards the very largest pot of gold as being the most significant way to honor the very best scientists. 

A second negative effect will be to induce some university scientists to shift their ongoing career from trying to make important discoveries through experimental research into working to get rich by winning one or more science megaprizes.  The traditional idealism in scientists then goes out the window!  These effects  move along nicely to solidify the increasing commercialization and rising significance of money in modern university science (see “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ).  I already have presented my view that such a financial situation has very destructive consequences for science and research (see essays on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” and “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ). 

A third negative effect involves public perceptions of science.  Since some of the new megaprizes are presented at an ostentatious extravaganza, the whole spectrum of public opinions is encouraged to shift from having interest and curiosity for research and  technology, to viewing science as an entertainment and research as an amusement.  That will merge with the very common mistaken belief that science has no real importance for daily life (see essay “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  Scientists then will become part of the entertainment industry, and will be competing for public attention and acclaim with professional athletes, movie stars, opera singers, rock musicians,  political celebrities, new billionaires, etc.  The directors of the new megaprizes evidently do not see the inherent contradiction between trying to increase public appreciation for scientific research, and putting the award ceremonies on global display as some new sort of Hollywood amusement.  Substituting movie stars for royalty just does not do the job!  

These misguided features will change the very nature of a research career, solidify the conversion of university science into a business activity, and encourage the public to view science as some kind of nonsense.  These unintended effects will be strongly negative and destructive for science and research, as I have already explained (see my essay on “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).

 Some Predicted Bizarre Developments have Become Past History! 

When I first composed this essay, I wrote that this whole new scenario could later become equivalent to the Academy Award ceremonies in the movie industry.  I now read that the 2014/2015 Breakthrough megaprizes just had an Oscar-style private gala for the presentation of its awards by popular celebrities [e.g., 1-3]; my first prediction has happened already!  It seems likely that some new science megaprize soon might replace the traditional medal given to the winners of a Nobel [4] or Kavli [5] Prize with a special very expensive artwork; that could be a bronze bust or an engraved portrait, to be permanently displayed in some science museum.  Further escalation could include an additional part in the award ceremonies featuring a bejewelled crown bestowed onto the head of each winner while they are seated on a throne with lots of flashing lights.  Any of this is ridiculous and inappropriate, sends the wrong message, and demeans science, research, and scientists!  

My Suggestions for a New Direction in Science Megaprizes 

The money problem that most university scientists worry about is not the size of their bank account.  Rather, it is the size and continuation of their research grant support.  The new megaprizes do not directly address this very prominent feature of modern science (see “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” and “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” ).  It is possible, and even likely, that winners of these megaprizes will spend some portion of their large financial reward to support their own research efforts; that might be used to either supplement their current research grant funds, or to start a new research project that they always wanted to work on, but could not get funded.  My suggestion here is that additional new megaprize programs should directly reward both the personal activities and the science ambitions of the most outstanding research scientists; the new Tang Ptize in Biopharmaceutical Science does exactly that [6]. 

Why not go even farther?  If some new science prize would offer 3-5 million dollars to be spent exclusively for unrestricted research expenses over an 8-10 year period, then that would be truly meaningful!  Not only would any university scientist be extremely overjoyed and utterly excited to receive that amazing reward, but it also would strongly encourage the progress of science. 

Concluding Remarks for Parts I and II

Some features of the multimillion megaprizes for excellence in science certainly are good, but it remains to be seen if these new programs can consistently result in honoring research achievements to the same high level as do the Nobel and Kavli Prizes [4,5].  Their other features seem to me to be very likely to cause further decay and degeneration in science and research. 

New entries in the unannounced contest to be the very biggest prize for science all base their claim on the amount of cash offered as a financial reward.  This loud emphasis on dollars is inconsistent with what scientific research is all about.  Any new programs with the bigger or biggest pile of money cheapen science, change the nature of university research in undesirable ways, and, present a false view of science to the public (i.e., it is some kind of Hollywood entertainment).  The wonderful article by Merali [1] presents the candid opinions of several other scientists having similar misgivings to my own about unintended negative effects of the new multimillion megaprizes on science (see: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 ). 

References Cited

[1]  Merali, Z., 2013.  Science prizes: The new Nobels.  Nature  498:152-154.  Available on the internet at: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168

[2]  Sample, I., The Guardian, 2012.  Biggest science prize takes web tycoon from social networks to string theory.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/31/prize-science-yuri-milner-awards .

[3]  BBC News, Science and Environment, 2014.  ‘Biggest prize in science’ awarded.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29987154 .

[4]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at:  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .

[5]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  About the Kavli Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about/ .

]6]  Tang Prize Foundation, 2014.  Introduction, award categories, and 2014 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.tang-prize.org/ENG/Publish.aspx .

 

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NEW MULTIMILLION MEGAPRIZES FOR SCIENCE, PART I

 

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ??   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

There are a very large number of awards and honors given to research scientists every year!  Most are much smaller than the 2 highest awards for excellence in science, the Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2].  Many of the other honorific prizes are local or narrowly dedicated to a certain subject, activity, location, or aspect of science.  A few of these others have achieved a wonderful record of significance such that they commonly are labelled as being precursors for receiving a Nobel Prize; the Lasker Awards for clinical and basic research in medicine are a very good example of this [3].  Receipt of any award for excellence is a gratifying honor for all the hard work and many challenges to being an outstanding research scientist.

Recently, several large new prizes for outstanding scientists have been initiated, featuring gigantic cash awards.  These major new honors generally are attempts to modernize awards for science, to elevate the public’s low esteem for science, and to bypass some of the restrictions for the Nobel and Kavli Prizes.  Part I of this 2-part series reviews the origin and features of these new megaprizes.  Part II then will evaluate their effects upon science and scientists. 

New Award Programs for Outstanding Scientific Research

A very well-written article about the new science megaprizes was written by Zeeya Merali and published last year in Nature [4].  I highly recommend that you read this dramatically informative  report (see: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 ).  Some of the new programs with large awards include the: 

(1)    Breakthrough Fundamental Physics Prize (2012), awarded annually to several honorees, with a prize of 3 million dollars to each person [5-8];

(2)    Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2013), issued annually to several awardees, with a prize of 3 million dollars to each one [5-8];

(3)    Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics (2013), awarded annually to several selections with a prize of 3 million dollars to each person [6-8];

(4)    Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science (2013), awarded every 2 years to several honorees, with a prize of up to 1.6 million dollars to each [9]; and,

(5)    Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (2013), aimed to be a Nobel Prize for engineering research and development, with a prize of 1.5 million dollars [5].

All these ‘new Nobels’ now have been actually awarded to very meritorious researchers [6-9] .  Yet other megaprizes undoubtedly will be added to this enlarging line-up.  In the following lists, numbers do not correspond to the same number in the list above.

What are the purposes of these additional awards?  The new Breakthrough Prizes  were established with funds generously donated by Yuri Milner and several other very successful leaders in  Silicon Valley and the internet world [5].  A variety of reasons have been given for the purposes of these new megaprize programs:

(1)   elevate  and encourage more public interest and appreciation for modern science;

(2)   encourage students to pursue a career in science or engineering;

(3)   attract more research funding for certain less prominent disciplines in science;

(4)   stimulate more development of science and research in certain regions of the world;

(5)   bring Nobel-level attention to other dimensions of research (e.g., engineering);

(6)   bring Nobel-level attention to new and novel areas in modern science;

(7)   give acclaim to outstanding younger researchers before they get old or die;

(8)   increase unrestricted research funds for support of outstanding scientists; and,

(9)   remedy problems and flaws in the Nobel Prize award programs.

What prompted individuals to fund the establishment of these mega-awards?  The story about how and why Yuri Milner, who resides in California and Moscow, established the Breakthrough Prizes is indeed fascinating [5].  Milner said that he “wanted to send a message that fundamental science is important”.  Several other prominent leaders in internet companies joined Milner to expand the Breakthrough Prize programs.  A host of possible motivations immediately are suggested for the extreme generosity of these cosponsors, including:

(1)     promotion of ego (e.g., ambition to become a mover and shaker in science);

(2)     self-interest (e.g., buying fame, power, and recognition);

(3)     politics and business interests;

(4)     acquiring publicity for a favorite cause; and,

(5)    inducing changes in the present direction of science and society.

Why are the new science awards so very large?  The cash rewards for the new science megaprizes all are greater than the one million dollar size of the rewards given by the Nobel or Kavli Prizes.  At the very least, this feature draws much more attention and publicity to the new award programs and new awardees.  Some donors to the Breakthrough Prizes have said that they want outstanding scientists to be recognized as corresponding to the ‘superheroes’ in comic books.  In most cases, the several million dollars in prize money awarded to each individual is unrestricted, and theoretically could be used for buying a new house, starting a small business, taking several round-the-world cruises, making large gifts, supplementing available research grants, investing to earn income, etc., etc.  Almost all modern scientists are not used to having such large amounts of personal money available, and are reported by Merali to be hesitant to decide what they will do with their new pile of big prize money [4] . 

How do the New Megaprizes Differ from The Nobel and Kavli Prizes? 

Several of the new award programs have been claimed in news accounts as being a greater honor than the Nobel or Kavli  Prizes, largely because they feature a bigger cash reward.  However, just because their prize money indeed is larger, it does not follow that the new awards are more prestigious honors.  It must be recognized that the size of awards for the Nobel and Kavli Prizes already are very large.  To receive even more money moves scientists into today’s realm of star athletes, heads of governments, and entertainment figures.  If that acts to normalize who and what modern society values, then the result could be good.  However, it seems more likely that giant awards will also have some very undesirable consequences; these negative effects will be examined later in Part II.   

The several good features of the new megaprize awards modify usual practices for the Nobel Prize by having: open nominations (also used by the Kavli Prize); selection by other scientists or by previous winners; much less secrecy in judging;  an increased number of awardees (e.g., an entire team, rather than just the one director); emphasis on unconventional subjects or special concerns ; and, inclusion of science areas not honored (yet) by the traditional Prizes (e.g., mathematics).  

The new Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science is given to outstanding scientists  in this one sub-branch of biological science  [9].  The other large prizes awarded by the Tang Foundation are for projects within Sustainable Development, but outside of science [9].  Headquartered in Taiwan, this megaprize program is notable because part of its large cash reward is given to the individual person being honored, and part is given specifically to support their further experimental research efforts. 

Conclusions for Part I

The new multimillion megaprizes for outstanding scientific research serve several useful purposes for science and society: the number of scientists being honored each year is increased, realms of science that are not used by traditional major award programs will be inaugurated and encouraged, and, the financial rewards for the honorees will be substantially elevated.  Subsidiary benefits include providing greater publicity and education  of the public for science and research, bringing recognition to entire teams of scientists working together, and, encouraging more good students to enter a career in science. 

Although the intents of these new award programs are very commendable, some of these also seem likely to result unexpectedly in negative outcomes.   The following Part II will discuss the unintended problematic features introduced by the new megaprizes. 

References Cited

[1]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at:  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  About the Kavli Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about .

[3]  Lasker Foundation, 2014.  The Lasker Awards overview.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/ .

[4]  Merali, Z., 2013.  Science prizes: The new Nobels.  Nature  498:152-154.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 .

[5]  Sample, I., for The Guardian, 2012.  Biggest science prize takes web tycoon from social networks to string theory.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/31/prize-science-yuri-milner-awards.

[6]  Breakthrough Prize, 2014.  Recipients of the 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics and Life Sciences announced.  Available on the internet at:  https://breakthroughprize.org/?controller=Page&action=news&news_id=21 .  

[7]  Flam, F.D., for Forbes, 2014.  Winners announced for the world’s richest science award: The $3 million Breakthrough Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/fayeflam/2014/11/09/winners-announced-for-the-worlds-richest-science-award-the-3-million-breakthrough-prize/ .

[8]  BBC News, Science and Environment, 2014,  Breakthrough science prize: Big names add glitz to ceremony.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29987154

[9]  Tang Prize Foundation, 2014.  Introduction, award categories, and 2014 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.tang-prize.org/ENG/Publish.aspx .

 

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WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN THE BIG PRIZES IN SCIENCE?

 

There are easier ways to acquire a million dollars than winning a Nobel Prize or a Kavli Prize !!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
There are easier ways to acquire a million dollars than winning a Nobel Prize or a Kavli Prize !!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

 Most persons regard the Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2] as the very highest award any scientist can earn.  Only a handful of researchers ever win one of these supreme honors.  The 2014 awards for both Prizes recently were announced (see “The 2014 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced!” and “The Kavli Prizes are Awarded for 2014!” ); an introductory background to these most prestigious awards was given in an earlier article (see “How do Research Scientists Become Very Famous?” ).  This essay looks at the characteristics of the 9 new awardees for each Prize, and discusses what conclusions can be drawn about which capabilities and activities let a scientist achieve such high renown.  

Key Features of the Nobel Prize and the Kavli Prize

Both Prizes aim to honor the most outstanding research scientists, but they also have a few significant differences.  The Novel Prize [1] was first awarded over a century ago, and uses a closed nomination process.  The Kavli Prize [2] is of very recent origin, and uses open nominations. The large financial reward offered to honorees by both Prizes is similar (i.e., about one million dollars for the prize in each topical area is divided between the several Laureates for any year.  Both Prizes feature week-long special festivities that include formal presentation of the awards to the Laureates by royalty from Sweden or Norway.

The Nobel or Kavli Prizes have prominently different coverages.  The Nobel Prize deals with areas in all fields of science (biology, chemistry, and physics), but the Kavli Prize is restricted to only consider astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.  Selection of the Nobel Prize awardees therefore must evaluate many more candidate scientists annually.  For example, Nobel Laureates who surpass others in achieving supreme excellence of research in their topical area (e.g., mammalian endocrinology) also must have outscored those who have made an equivalent high level of accomplishments in many other subfields of biology.  That differs from the Kavli Laureates, who only have to surpass other scientists within their own topical discipline (e.g., nanoscience). 

Characteristics of the 2014 Laureates

All the new awardees for both Prizes [3,4] are dedicated and distinctive individuals researching for many years.  These scientists come from many different countries, reflecting the global nature of science.  All honorees are at least in their middle age, and the senior honorees are still conducting further investigations.  Both males and females are being honored as this year’s Laureates for both Prizes.  The greater number of male honorees reflects the larger number of male scientists currently conducting research in universities; since there now are more females than males studying in graduate school, this will lead to many more female honorees in the future. In some cases research work of the new Laureates already has led to commercial  products put into widespread daily use (e.g., light bulbs with emitting diodes that produce white light). 

The subjects the 2014 awardees work on are diverse, but 2 areas of study, memory in the brain, and, theoretical and applied optics for imaging, are common to both Prizes this year.  Two of the new Laureates, Prof. John O’Keefe and Prof. Stefan W. Hell, even won both Prizes [3,4].  These 2 award programs thus have consistent criteria for selecting topical areas and the awardees.  This convergence of judgment counters the common criticism of the Nobel Prizes for not being appreciative of modern and novel subject areas.   This also suggests that producing dramatic new findings and working in a hot area having widespread investigations by other scientists can increase the chance of winning these Prizes.  

One might think that the attention of the Kavli Prizes given to very large and modern topical areas would produce more awards to younger scientists.  The 2014 awards show no evidence for this presumption; most new Kavli Laureates have researched for decades.  This is easier to understand if one realizes that progress in scientific research flows and advances in a progression, such that supreme accomplishments often result from important contributions and extensions made by many other scientists after the major initial  discovery by one individual.  

Both the Nobel and Kavli Prizes typically select to honor 2-3 different individual scientists working in the same topical area.  All 3 usually are well-known to each other, but they need not be direct collaborators.  The policy of selecting only a few awardees for each topical area also means that one research scientist doing very meritorious work as an individual in an area where few others are researching might become quite famous, but does not have the momentum needed to win one of these Prizes. If we look at the early history of the Nobel Prize in science, some single Laureates are found (see complete list of all Nobel Laureates on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ ).  

Common Questions about the Nobel and Kavli Prizes

Non-scientists often wonder if earning one of these supreme awards is an outcome that can be planned?  My impression is that the glory of winning a Nobel or Kavli Prize mostly is not directly sought and usually is a dramatic surprise to the awardees.  The Laureates, just like most other research scientists, simply strive to do meritorious investigations, find answers to important research questions, get their research grants renewed, and thereby become famous; both the most famous researchers and all other scientists are very aware that only a small handful of scientists can ever win either Prize.  Characteristics of the 2014 Laureates suggest that one promising strategy for success is to try to obtain breakthrough results in an area of intense importance, and to stimulate an increasing number of other scientists and engineers to undertake research studies in the same topical area. 

Another common question is why there never are more than 3 awardees for the Prize in each topical area?  The answer is that the administrators of the Nobel and Kavli Prizes impose this restriction.  That stringent limitation certainly elevates the prestigious character of these awards.  Sometimes this same policy unfortunately causes awarding one Prize to only half of a 2-person team, even where both are widely believed by many other scientists to have made equivalent contributions and to be very equally meritorious.  

A frequent criticism about the Nobel Prizes is that they mostly honor only very senior scientists.  Nevertheless, the youngest winner of a Nobel Prize in science (1915), Lawrence Bragg, was only 25 years old [5].  The limited number of Nobel or Kavli Prizes awarded also produces the result that some very meritorious senior scientists might die before any award is bestowed.  It is not publically known whether the 2-3 awardees or the topical area is selected first for either Prize

A substantial number of Nobel Prizes in science have been awarded for research on certain subjects, e.g., cholesterol, crystallography, and subatomic particles.  Why is this?  These areas and methods influence multiple other research subjects, and so have a wider impact and importance than do many others; as one example, research on cholesterol involves biochemistry, biology, biophysics, clinical medicine, methodology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology. 

Concluding Remarks

Looking at the 2014 version of the Nobel and Kavli Prizes, I can draw 5 general conclusions: (1) one individual scientist no longer is selected as the exclusive winner, and no more than 3 persons are honored with an annual  Prize in any topical area, (2) more senior scientists than younger workers are selected for these awards, and no Prize can be given to deceased scientists, (3) basic scientific research can be honored particularly where applied science and engineering developments have subsequently amplified and solidified these large advances, (4) theoretical science can be honored where this is modified and subsequently extended by other researchers, such that the theory becomes consistent with ongoing studies and is widely applicable, and (5) there is no general formula assuring earning the award of either supreme honor, and thus a certain amount of good luck also is needed to become a Laureate.

Several new types of science awards with gigantic c ash prizes recently have been established.  Their nature and distinctions will be described and discussed in the subsequent article. 

[1] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ . 

[2] The Kavli Prize, 2014.   About the (Kavli) Prize.   Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about / .

[3] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prizes 2014.  Available on the internet at:   http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/year/index.html .

[4] Kavli Foundation, 2014.  The Kavli Prize 2014 Laureates.  Available on internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2014-kavli-prize.  

[5] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Laureates by age.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/age.html .  

 

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THE 2014 NOBEL PRIZES IN SCIENCE ARE ANNOUNCED!

Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800's Taken by Gösta Florman.  Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg .
Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800’s.  Recorded  by Gösta Florman. Common domain image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg) .

The Nobel Institute has just announced the awardees of this year’s Nobel Prizes in science.  As always, the scientists selected are unquestionably outstanding researchers and contributors to the progress of science.  The Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2] are the very highest honor any scientist can earn.

In this article, I will first present a short introduction to the Nobel Prizes in science, and then I will very briefly summarize the research work of the new 2014 honorees.  For each topic I also will offer some good resources where more information can be found on the internet. 

[1]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about .

The Nobel Prizes in Science

Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) is famed as the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, and as a very successful industrialist.  Surprisingly, this Swede had very limited formal schooling.  At his death, he held over 350 patents.  Nobel left much of his substantial fortune to establish the honorific prizes that bear his name; his will directed that the awards in science should be for “those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”.  The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901. 

At present, separate Prizes are devoted to all of the 3 major branches of science, and also to literature, economic sciences, and peace.  The selection of honorees (Nobel Laureates) is administered by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences,  The Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute (Norway), and the Nobel Foundation.  The Nobel Prizes in science are presented by the royal ruler of Sweden during the large celebration of “Nobel Week” in December; each new Laureate gives a Nobel Lecture and receives a Nobel Medal, a Nobel Diploma, and a document stating their financial award.  As many Laureates have said, receiving a Nobel Prize is a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience; nevertheless, a few scientists actually have won a second Nobel Prize. 

The official history of Alfred Nobel is presented at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel/ .  General information about the Nobel Prizes, Nobel Prize Week, Nobel Laureates, and the topics for recent awards are presented at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/ .  A listing of all the awardees for each Prize is given at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .  Many good materials for science education and modern videos about the Nobel Prize awardees are available on that site.   First, you are required to select one item from very extensive lists of all the yearly Nobel Prizes and Laureates , and then to select one year; lastly, indicate whether you want to see a Nobel Lecture, an  Interview with a specific Laureate (highly recommended!), or a Commentary. 

2014 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physcs is awarded jointly to 3 professors : Isamu Akasaki, Ph.D. (Meijo University and Nagoya University, Japan), Hiroshi Amano, Ph.D. (Nagoya University, Japan), and, Shuji Nakamura, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA).  Their determined and detailed research investigations over several decades finally led to several successful ways to create emission of blue light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs).  That invention then led to the long-sought development of LEDs that emit white light.  There now is worldwide installation of commercial white LEDs as replacements for standard light bulbs, since these new LEDs are brighter, less costly, longer lasting, non-polluting, and  much more efficient.  These practical improvements for everyday life came about through the classical sequence of basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and, will benefit all humans. 

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics is available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2014/press.html , and at:
http://www.nature.com/news/nobel-for-blue-led-s-that-revolutionized-lighting-1.16092 .  

2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded jointly to 3 academic scientists: Eric Betzig, Ph.D. (Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Virginia, USA), Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D. (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and  German Cancer Research Center, Hdeidelberg, Germany), and William E. Moerner, Ph.D. (Professorships in Chemistry and Applied Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA).  Working independently, each contributed to enable the difficult technological breakthrough that permits light microscopy to become “nanoscopy” or “super-resolution light microscopy.  Much smaller details now can be seen than was previously possible with standard light microscopes.  This great advance in research instrumentation even allows detection of location and movements of individual protein molecules within living cells.

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2014/popular-chemistryprize2014.pdf , and at: http://www.nature.com/news/nobel-for-microscopy-that-reveals-inner-world-of-cells-1.16097 . 

2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to 3 university scientists: John O’Keefe, Ph.D. (Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, University College London, U.K.), May-Britt Moser, Ph.D. (Centre for Neural Computation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway), and Edward I. Moser, Ph.D. (Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway).  Their neuroscience research involves experimental studies of the brain, and seeks to define how place and navigation in the spatial environment are sensed, analyzed, and remembered.  Spatial memory is frequently affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.  Their investigations show that this sensing of spatial positioning occurs in certain cells within 2 brain locations; these cells talk to each other and together form a map of spatial locations that is recorded in the memory. 

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2014/press.html, and at:
http://www.nature.com/news/nobel-prize-for-decoding-brain=s-sense-of-place-1.16093 .

Concluding Remarks

The Nobel Prizes represent recognition that science, research, and scientists are producing new achievements that benefit all of us in our daily life.  Ordinary adults who are not scientists should be generally aware of the new Nobel Prize awards, and can point these out to any of their children showing interests in science.  For non-scientists, knowing the names of the Laureates is not important, but the nature and meaning of the research advances meriting these awards are significant (i.e., How are the results important to me and others?).  The Nobel Prizes are a recognition of preeminent progress in global science, and everyone is invited to join this celebration!  

Professional scientists should be particularly aware of the new Nobel Laureates in their branch of science.  Only a small handful of scientists ever win a Nobel Prize, and some who clearly deserve one are passed over.  All research scientists should join in celebrating the wonderful achievements of the 2014 Laureates, and also should celebrate their own less-recognized contributions to the progress of science! 

 

 

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HOW DO RESEARCH SCIENTISTS BECOME VERY FAMOUS?

 

How to Win a Supreme Prize in Science!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What does it take to Win a Big Prize in Science?     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            Not all good research scientists advance to become famous, and almost all famous researchers do not achieve the highest honor of winning a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2].  These facts make it seem rather mysterious how a scientist does achieve enough renown to be awarded one of those supreme honors.  What is it that makes a research scientist become famous? 

            Working scientists traditionally become acclaimed by their peers (i.e., other scientists in their field of study) primarily on the basis of one or more distinctive characteristics: (1) their experimental  findings achieve a breakthrough in research progress, thereby causing a dramatic shift of direction for many subsequent studies, (2) they resolve a long-standing research controversy, (3) they develop a new theory or concept that comes to have an expanding influence on the work of other researchers, or, (4) they invent and develop a new piece of research instrumentation or a new process for analysis of specimens.  These individuals, unlike the great bulk of ordinary research scientists, seem to have much good luck and are not so perturbed by the usual practical research problems with time and money; in one word, very famous scientists usually appear to be “blessed”.  These generalizations seem true for all the different branches of science, and are valid for scientists in numerous different countries. 

The Biggest Prizes in Science

            Only a very small handful of scientists are awarded the highest honors in science, a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2].  There are many other famous scientists besides those few winners!  Some scientists are so ambitious that they undertake some of their experimental studies specifically to acquire a big prize; however, winning one of these awards is well-known to partly depend on circumstances beyond their control, such as being in the right place at the right time, succeeding with their research project to produce a widely hoped for result (e.g., creating a cure for some disease), or, working in a large field of study where many other researchers are active.  In addition, it is widely suspected that earning one of these top science prizes also depends upon certain unofficial qualifications, such as who you know, who dislikes you, and what area of science you are working with.  There can be no doubt that the awardees are fully deserving and are great scientists. 

            Readers can gain a much larger understanding about what it takes to win one of these elite honors by viewing some of the many fascinating video interviews with winners on the internet websites for the Nobel Prize (http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/ ).  These excellent videos examine the life and work of very famous scientists, both in modern times and from the last century.  Other videos present explanations of why their research work was judged to be so very important; corresponding written material is available for the Kavli Prize (http://www.kavliprize.no/seksjon/vis.html?tid=61429 ).  I have personally seen many of these and very highly recommend them to all non-scientists, as well as to younger scientists. 

The Path to Fame and Fortune in Science

            The path to fame and fortune in scientific research often is a progression of steps leading from local to national and then to international renown.  These steps reflect the formation of an enlarging network of other research scientists who are aware of the ambitious scientist, and have respect and admiration for what he or she is doing in the laboratory; eventually, the network expands so that even teachers, students, and various officials all become quite aware of this scientist.  Another mark of progressing towards fame and fortune involves receipt of more and more invitations to speak, to write, and to participate in science events at diverse locations around the world.  This advancement can be recognized by appointments to serve on committees of national organizations and editorial boards for science journals; in addition, progress also is shown by invitations to author review articles, and by receipt of public recognition within descriptive news reports in important general science journals such as Science and Nature.   Professional reputation usually moves in parallel to achievement of these hallmarks. 

            Common signs of success and fame in research scientists are achievement of some breakthrough experiment or invention, enlargement of lab personnel and research budget due to success with the research grant system, and widely acknowledged mastery in one’s field of science.  These hallmarks increase the reputation of research scientists.  For many good scientists, a very wonderful major honor is simply getting their research grants renewed, so they then are no longer required to work only on projects lasting for 3-5 years.  Nobel Laureates often, but not always, have success in dealing with the research grant system.  In addition to all the glory of winning one of the largest science prizes, there also can be some undesired consequences, such as too much attention, too many new demands for time, and, difficulty in maintaining the awardee’s extremely elevated status. 

            With regard to fortune, certain universities are notorious for paying their junior faculty only a very meager salary, but that changes dramatically when they advance in rank.  Professional scientists in academia and industry become financially comfortable, but do not usually consider themselves to really be rich.  Some university scientists do become very wealthy by starting one or more new small businesses centered on their expertise, creativity, and inventions; industrial scientists can receive bonuses for key contributions in enabling some new or improved product to be produced and marketed.  By the time of retirement, scientists usually have good savings and are entitled to full retirement benefits. 

Comments for Non-Scientists about Reputations and Awards

            Non-scientist readers should try to understand that a renowned and very appreciated faculty scientist at a college or small university might be very highly honored locally, and deservedly so, but could have little national renown and no international reputation.  Some other famous scientist working at a prestigious very large university might be more appreciated nationally and internationally, than locally.  My message here is that the amount of “success and renown” is relative; researchers do not have to become a Nobel Laureate or a Kavli Prize awardee in order to be recognized as being a famous and excellent scientist.   

            Some readers will wonder about whether a young scientist could direct all their professional efforts towards winning a big science prize, and succeed in this ambition?  That is possible in theory, but is very, very unlikely in practice.  Even if a researcher earned a doctorate at Harvard, was a Postdoc at Berkeley and Basel, achieved tenure at Columbia University (New York), and was good with both politics and people, there is no guarantee that this scientist will receive one of these very large honors.  There simply are too many unknowns and too many personalities involved to make receipt of a Nobel Prize or Kavli Prize anything other than very uncertain and doubtful.  In fact, some really outstanding research scientists do not receive the supreme award that they so clearly deserve [3].  I believe that it is good for scientists to be ambitious and to strive to win a big prize, but the simple fact is that very few excellent and famous researchers achieve this highest honor.  

 Concluding Remarks

            Many research scientists in academia and industry work very hard to achieve excellence and to be appreciated by their peers, students, and employer, and by the public.  There is no single path to becoming labeled as a famous scientist, and the route always contains many hurdles and frustrations.  When all is said and done, it always is internally satisfying if a mature scientist regards themself as being successful, even if they also have some human defects or run into insurmountable problems.  Self-satisfaction and peer recognition indeed are very big rewards for doing an excellent job in science and research. 

 

[1]  The Nobel Prize, 2014.  876 Nobel Laureates since 1901.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/index.html  .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavliprize.no/artikkel/vis.html?tid=27868 .

[3]  E. Westly, 2008.   No Nobel for you: Top 10 Nobel snubs.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=10-nobel-snubs .

 

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WHAT IS THE FUN OF BEING A SCIENTIST?

What is Fun in Science?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What is Fun in Science?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

              Since most adults know so little about science and research, I thought it would be good to briefly present how scientists have fun with their job activities.

            Most research scientists, including me, have not won a Nobel Prize, are not heading a research institute, have never acquired research grants for many millions of dollars at one time, and publish a moderate number of good reports in professional science journals each year (i.e., rather than the minimum of 4-6 publications demanded yearly from “star scientists”).  Most professional researchers, whether working in academia or industry, generally enjoy their work despite the presence of several frustrating job situations that perplex their research activities (see my earlier post on “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic” in the Scientists category).

             What exactly do research scientists have fun doing?   I will briefly list below only  selected examples of common types of fun with being a faculty scientist in a modern university.  Certainly there are some other types of fun, and corresponding examples are found for research scientists in industrial settings.
                         (1) Working on experimental research in one’s own research laboratory, as contrasted to working in some other scientist’s lab, is big ego fun.
                        ( 2) Making discoveries via conducting experiments is fun, because that is the classical goal of almost all research work.  Being the very first to discover something (e.g., a new star or planet, a new species, a new enzymatic modulator, a new polymeric nanomaterial, etc.) is a complete thrill for any scientist; all the sweat and tears along the way then are made to seem quite unimportant.
                        (3) A science breakthrough differs from a simple discovery by forming a new concept, setting off further studies in a new direction, overturning some established viewpoint, unexpectedly inventing a new and better assay system, etc.; breakthroughs are great fun for creative scientists, especially when they are a surprise (i.e., not everything in scientific research can be planned or predicted).
                        (4) Working closely with students, postdocs, research technicians, and collaborators is fun because a well-organized lab group is almost like having a second family.
                        (5) Seeing a former graduate student or postdoctoral fellow you have trained go on to become a very successful independent investigator always is professional fun, because some credit still must be given to their older mentor even if many years have passed.
                        (6) Being put in charge of a research group or a research facility, or, being elected to a leadership position in a science society, is fun because it is public recognition that a scientist has expertise, problem-solving skills, reliability, and good judgment.
                        (7) Publishing a long and detailed research report in a science journal is much fun, and often seems to young scientists to be quite analogous to all the work in giving birth to a baby.  Being invited to write a review article or to contribute a chapter for a new edited book reflects a growing reputation amongst peer scientists, and always is fun even though it involves enormous additional effort.
                        (8) Going to an annual science society meeting or an international science congress is a very common enjoyment for faculty scientists; it is exciting to present a platform talk or a poster display, and, to hear seminars given by very famous scientists and later to converse with them; these enjoyments are often surpassed by the personal fun of chatting with old friends and colleagues from graduate school or early positions.
                       
(9) Doing a good job with teaching in basic or advanced courses certainly can be challenging, but often is fun for members of the science faculty.

             One big ongoing piece of satisfying fun for scientists is to personally conduct experiments successfully.  This necessitates very much coordination of hands, eyes, and brain, and involves technical skills, practical experience, and mental alertness; one must deal with design of experiments, on the spot evaluation of data as it is being produced, and, careful and complete analysis of all the research results.

            Many research instruments are fascinating and enormous fun to operate.  Using some fancy, expensive, and complex instrument with success actually is a type of fun analogous to playing with a toy made for adults!   Some research instruments, such as modern radio-telescopes and various multidimensional spectroscopes, require the operator to be very well-versed in computation, both for control and operation of the instrument, and for analysis of the data output.  Skillful mastery with using these research instruments is not something every scientist is able to achieve easily.

            Science really is people.  The chief scientist (Principal Investigator) must spend much time and patient effort to enable all the different graduate students, Postdocs, technical assistants, and visitors to learn how to be part of a research team; after doing this successfully, the research work is purely fun.  Lab parties are commonplace, and can be originated on the occasion of a new grant, someone’s birthday, a big new publication, an official holiday, etc.; all costs usually are paid by the chief scientist, but there also can be some private parties to which the boss is not invited.

            Most research scientists are happy just to achieve renown and peer recognition from other scientists working in their branch of modern science.  It is not necessary to win a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2] to become either a research leader or a very famous scientist.   Only a few researchers win one of these very prestigious honors each year.   It is widely recognized by professional scientists that the selection committee for Nobel Prizes in the sciences sometimes overlooks some very accomplished researchers who are truly outstanding [3].  Winning such a big honor can have both good and bad effects; it is not unusual that scientists winning one of these great awards suddenly find that it becomes more and more difficult to do further great research work because so very much attention, innumerable invitations, and enormous regard always are being directed onto them.

            Many of the different types of fun during a science career do not simply happen, but necessitate that the scientist has considerable dedication, patience, energy, determination, and flexibility.  Typically, fun occurs in conjunction with lots of hard work.  Being good at solving problems and having good luck always is a big help for research scientists working in both industries and universities.  Scientists can increase their fun and job satisfaction by finding a work environment that suits their individual characteristics, interests, and abilities.  Being a successful research scientist is not always easy, but one indeed can have considerable fun along the way!

[1]  The Nobel Prize, 2014.  876 Nobel Laureates since 1901.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/index.html  .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavliprize.no/artikkel/vis.html?tid=27868 .

[3]  E. Westly, 2008.   No Nobel for you: Top 10 Nobel snubs.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=10-nobel-snubs .

 

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