The Nobel Prize in science now is 117 years old and still remains the highest honor any scientist can receive (see Nobel Prize website at: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ ). Most people in the public view very famous research scientists with disdain, fear, helplessness, and wonderment because they don’t understand how research investigations are done or realize why the prize-winning research findings have immense significance. Accordingly, it is very difficult to get the public to have interest in science, research, and scientists!
Scientists do indeed have some fun conducting research studies and being a part of the global science enterprise (see “What Is the Fun of Being a Research Scientist?” ). Today I will relate some amazing and amusing true stories from the recent life of several very renowned scientists, in the hope that everyone will laugh heartily!
Nobel Prize medal of Dr. Francis Crick was sold for a big pile of money!
The late Francis Crick codiscovered the structure of DNA with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, leading to their winning the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. All Nobel laureates receive a special solid gold medal as part of their Nobel award. In 2016, Dr. Crick’s Nobel medal was sold at auction for over 2 million dollars [1,2]. Even more amazing is the fact that a handwritten personal letter by Dr. Crick to his young son was purchased at auction for more than double the sale price of his Nobel medal [1,2]! These sales by Crick’s heirs will be used to help support research at the Salk Institute (La Jolla) where he worked, and the recently established F. C. Crick Institute (London).
Nobel Prize medal of Dr. James D. Watson was sold for several million dollars!
In 2014 the renowned codiscoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, Dr. James D. Watson, sold his solid gold 1962 Nobel medal at auction for over 4.7 million dollars (including the commission for the auction house) [2-4]. Why would he sell his golden medal? Dr. Watson is quoted as saying he now needs some money because he receives only limited income after becoming an “unperson” by making a politically incorrect statement about human heredity and IQ in 2007 . He reportedly will donate part of the proceeds from this sale to charity, including gifts to support scientific research, his educational institutions, and research centers where he studied and worked . Today, Dr. Watson now is in his eighties and remains a flamboyant individual scientist!
The purchaser of Dr. Watson’s Nobel medal now is known: Alisher Usmanov, a major industrialist who is said to be Russia’s wealthiest citizen . His motivation in making this purchase was to return the medal to its rightful owner ! The happy end result is that Mr. Usmanov donated a giant amount of money to Dr. Watson’s intended gift recipients, and Dr. Watson gets his special Nobel medal back . How wonderful!
The Nobel Prize medal can’t easily pass by airport security!
Dr. Brian Schmidt is a famed astrophysicist who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering dark energy and relating it to the expanding universe. After visiting his grandmother in 2014 at Fargo, North Dakota, USA, he entered the airport security check-in line prior to boarding a flight on his way back to his home in Australia . The mandatory scanning detected a very dark small object in his carry-on bag, so a security agent demanded to know and see what that was . When Dr. Schmidt opened a small box containing his heavy golden Nobel medal, the suspicious agent asked who had given it to him? Dr. Schmidt answered truthfully that it was bestowed on him by none other than the King of Sweden ! The security agent was dubious and probably thought Dr. Schmidt was either a big criminal or some sort of nut case! These agents in the USA are similar to almost everyone in the public who knows nothing at all about Nobel Prizes and Nobel-winning scientists. Winning a Nobel Prize for excellence in research simply is completely off the radar for almost all nonscientists!
I consider these stories to be both amazing and hilarious! Why am I bringing these to your attention? After you laugh, they serve to help non-scientists see what sort of people are famous scientists. The winners of a Nobel Prize in science have to deal with the same real life problems (e.g., money) and issues (e.g., airport security) that ordinary people run into, so exalted scientists actually are just people like all the rest of us!
Yes, there is some big money in science for becoming a very celebrated researcher! In the case of Dr. Schmidt, his golden award aroused suspicion that he must be a terrorist, drug dealer, or money launderer! In the case of both Watson and Crick, their big pile of dollars received from selling their Nobel medals must be recognized as not even coming close to the true value and gigantic importance of their celebrated discovery that revolutionized genetics, molecular biology, and modern medicine.
 Associated Press, 2013. Letter from scientist who discovered DNA sells for $5.3m. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, April 11, 2013, World News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9986107/Letter-from-scientist-who-discovered-DNA-sells-for-5.3m.html )
 Crilly, R., 2014. James Watson to sell Nobel prize medal he won for double helix discovery. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, November 27, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11257066/James-Watson-to-sell-Nobel-prize-medal-he-won-for-double-helix-discovery.html ).
 Reuters, 2014. James Watson’s Nobel Prize for DNA discovery sells for record £3m. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, December 5, 2014, World News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11275085/James-Watsons-Nobel-Prize-for-DNA-discovery-sells-for-record-3m.html ).
 Perry, K.,2014. James Watson selling Nobel prize ‘because no-one wants to admit I exist’. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, November 28, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11261872/James-Watson-selling-Nobel-prize-because-no-one-wants-to-admit-I-exist.html ).
 Ensor, J., 2014. Russian billionaire buys James Watson’s DNA Nobel Prize to return it to him. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, December 10, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11284192/Russian-billionaire-buys-James-Watsons-DNA-Nobel-Prize-to-return-it-to-him.html ).
 Prince, R., 2014. ‘What is in the box?’ Scientist questioned by incredulous Fargo TSA agent for having Nobel Prize in his carry-on. The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, October 12, 2014, World News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11157117/Whats-in-the-box-Scientist-questioned-by-incredulous-Fargo-TSA-agent-for-having-Nobel-Prize-in-his-carry-on.html ).
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