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Template from Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953 (from  Science Museum London on Flickr)

Nobel Prize Special!


With the announcement of the Nobel Prizes this week I thought a Nobel-themed blog would be appropriate. Over the last hundred years or so there have been prizes for some truly amazing discoveries, but not without a bit of controversy along the way. With three categories of prizes for the sciences there’s plenty to be inspired by, as well as a few bizarre stories! So, here’s my top three Nobel Prize discoveries, plus a few inspirational quotes from Nobel Prize winners (taken from www.nobelprizeii.org – check it out to watch stories and advice from Nobel Prize winners!).

 

“I imagined I’d become a scientist, but I didn’t know the word – so I was going to be an inventor”… “and an inventor is a scientist” (Oliver Smithies)

 

Helicobacter Pylori

Helicobacter Pylori organism

Helicobacter Pylori organism

Helicopter what? No, it’s not a large flying piece of metal, Helicobacter pylori is in fact incredibly small. It’s a microbe responsible for causing gastritis and stomach ulcers in humans, which whilst being a bit gross seems like a reasonable statement. However, that wasn’t the case when Barry Marshall and Robin Warren suggested it back in 1982, when many doctors were sceptical of their discovery. That is until in 1984 Barry Marshall came up with an unusual way to prove his point – he ate some of the bacteria*, making himself pretty ill in the process! None-the-less 21 years later he got a Nobel prize for his work, so there must have been method in his madness, as they say.

*This is NOT a quick, or in fact easy way to get a Nobel Prize, so please don’t try this at home :)

Watch this video to see what his family had to say about his experiment!

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2005

Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren

“for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”

 

“Then the really good thing happened, which was the lab burned down…” (Tim Hunt)

 

Fluorine

You might recognise the name of this one from the fluoride you find in your toothpaste. But finding fluorine wasn’t easy, as I learnt in a lecture I went to on a school science trip to Cambridge. Fluorine is the most reactive element in the periodic table so it reacts with pretty much anything, which makes working with it rather dangerous. However, back in the day that’s exactly what a few daring chemists wanted to do. In the lecture I went to we were told how to identify fluorine chemists – by their missing fingers – and to take heed that the protective equipment they wear isn’t in fact for protection as such. The thick masks and aprons are apparently just there to give them more time to run away, as the ‘protection’ catches fire before they do. It’s funny the things from school that you remember! Anyway, in 1886 Henri Mossian managed to purify fluorine, by cooling it down enough that it didn’t react with the first thing it saw. Phew!

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1906

Henri Moissan

“in recognition of the great services rendered by him in his investigation and isolation of the element fluorine, and for the adoption in the service of science of the electric furnace called after him”

(Thanks to this site for a bit more about Fluorine and chemical safety fails! )

 

Some of the halogens (chlorine, bromine and iodine), but no fluorine, because it's too corrosive! (thanks to Grrl Scientist on Flickr)

Some of the halogens (chlorine, bromine and iodine), but no fluorine, because it’s too corrosive! (thanks to Grrl Scientist on Flickr)

 

“If you design your career so that you get awards, then you’re never going to get the awards, and you’re never going to feel like you’re a success” (Michael Brown)

 

X-rays

From Webster's New Illustrated Dictionary based on the Unabridged Dictionary of Noah Webster, Revised and edited by Edward T. Roe and Charles Leonard-Stuart, Published by syndicate Publishing Company of New York in 1911. (Thanks to creative commons from  Sue Clark on Flickr)

From Webster’s New Illustrated Dictionary based on the Unabridged Dictionary of Noah Webster, Revised and edited by Edward T. Roe and Charles Leonard-Stuart, Published by syndicate Publishing Company of New York in 1911. (Thanks to creative commons from Sue Clark on Flickr)

This isn’t exactly a single discovery, but I chose it because there are simply so many Nobel Prizes to do with X-rays! A quick search through the database of Nobel Prizes showed up 12 prizes that I thought were pretty closely related to x-rays, and the radiation that causes them, in physics, chemistry, and even biology. I can only really claim to know about the biochemical uses of x-rays, where they’re used to work out the structures of proteins that have been crystallized. The same technique was also used by Rosalind Franklin (who sadly didn’t win a Nobel Prize) to visualise the structure of DNA. The first Nobel Prize awarded in this field was to Wilhelm Roentgen, so originally they were called Roentgen Rays.

The British Library has a good page on Roentgen… http://www.bl.uk/learning/artimages/bodies/xray/roentgen.html

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1901

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

“in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him”

 

Here’s the others that I could find that are related to x-rays (click to find out more) – comment if you find any more though!
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1902, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1914, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1915, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1917, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1924, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1936, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1946, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1964, The Nobel Prize in Physics 2002

(Title Image is a ‘Template from Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953′ used thanks to creative commons from Science Museum London on Flickr)

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About the author: Lisa Heywood

Microbiology and biochemistry masters student at the University of Sheffield, with interests in science communication (and tea!)

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