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Nobel chemistry prize may show a trend

  1. Oct 10, 2007 #1


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    ==quote from AP==
    German Wins Nobel Chemistry Prize

    6 hours ago

    STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Gerhard Ertl of Germany won the 2007 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces.

    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said his research helps to understand how catalysts in automobiles work, fuel cells function and even why iron rusts.

    I think that US dominance in hard science Nobels (physics, chemistry) may be slipping and there may be a shift towards more European Nobels.

    The US physics establishment (at least outside astrophysics) may have lost its way----there was an interesting letter by J C Philips, a physicist at Rutgers University, in the recent issue of Physics Today about this ("American Physics Implosion")---discussing the cultural difference between physics in Europe versus US. Losing touch with reality. Media culture.

    Whether that is true or not, I get the feeling that the Nobel committee may be trying to send some messages:

    1. physics can contribute to information technology (your hard-drive) and to saving the planet (the catalyst in your car, the catalyst in fuel cells, more efficient materials). Remember that Nobel specifically said the prize was to recognize science benefit to humanity, and I guess that could include the planet humanity depends on as well :smile:

    2. the European science establishment has grown a lot and knows how to do international integration (ESF, the Euopean science foundation) and has a common language (English) and is leading bigtime science in a new way---the US scientific establishment needs a kick in the pants and a little shaking up. And it is time to expect a bunch of European Nobels.

    Of course this is just my two cents from the peanut gallery. But I was glad that Physics went to a French-German duo and that Chemistry went to a German and I hope that betokens some kind of change.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2007
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  3. Oct 10, 2007 #2
    I don't know if one year can be a trend. The US has Fermilab, the rest of the world has CERN, that says something about American physics.

    edit: on second thought, I remember reading that in the US more people got massage therapy degrees in the last year than engineering degrees for the first time ever. Maybe this Nobel year is a sign of things to come. Dick Cheney should start privatizing universities & labs to get more people into science again.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2007
  4. Oct 10, 2007 #3


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    to get more people into massage science? (or whatever else the consumer market dictates) :smile:

    fundamental science is an aristocratic phenomenon, I expect, rather than a market-capital-driven---or even a weapon-driven---phenomenon.

    elites compete for prestige, respect, honor, and some kind of undefinable greatness (a place in history that e.g. Grisha Perlman has even though he didnt take the money)

    actually, where I'm coming from is not just this one year.
    I see most of the progress in Quantum Gravity over the past 5 years happening outside the US (Canada, UK, Europe) and I see most of the fresh talent (PhD student and postdoc talent) outside the US----all except for the one US university that has a nonstring QG group, namely Penn State.
    So going forwards I don't see how the US is going to be able to compete in that field when the big discoveries come. There seems to be a shift in creativity and in creative science management. A kind of European resurgence----remember how it was say from 1830-1930? The old pre-eminence.
  5. Oct 10, 2007 #4


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    You know a stringy person would look at the same data and conclude that the US is indeed headed in the right direction. ;)
  6. Oct 10, 2007 #5


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    "right direction" or "not right" is not exactly the question, Gokul. I am speculating as to whether we are going to see a shift to more of the physics and chemistry Nobels going to Europe, or outside US.
    Instead of the way it has been in past where such a lot of them went to US scientists.

    the fact that people get Nobels doesnt necessarily mean that they are "right" or "not right" except in the view of the Nobel committee.

    Basically we will just have to wait and see if the distribution of nobels in these fields is shifting.

    I like your point about how different people foresee the future differently. Stringy-minded people probably would predict, and have been predicting, that some of their heros get the Nobel for string theory!
    I, because of a different perspective, would not predict that and would be surprised if it should ever happen.
    But my ideas are not definite enough to actually predict---I dont have opinions about the awards---except that I have a vague feeling that the age of US dominance in the prizes is now passing.
  7. Oct 10, 2007 #6


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    The problem with making such an assumption on trends is that the Nobel Prize winners are not particularly reflective of the current status of research anywhere, but rather what the status was 20, 30 or 40 years ago, enough time for it to be realized some very fundamental discovery has had a long-term and broad enough impact on a field to be worthy of the prize.
  8. Oct 10, 2007 #7


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    that is true! there is a huge lag. one has to look a long way up the pipeline :smile:

    Moonbear! it is nice to hear from you. I would like to know what you think of this letter from J C Philips, condensed-matter physicist at Rutgers University, that appeared in the October 2007 issue of Physics Today (an APS monthly.)


    He points out a connection between US-preferred and European-preferred theoretical approaches in two quite separate fields: particle/unification and high-temperature superconductivity.

    That is, he identifies a broad cultural divergence that is not just limited to one field, like high-energy or fundamental physics, and which could, I suppose, even go outside physics.

    have to go, back later
    Yeah, I'm back. Moonbear you say "the problem with making such an assumption..." I am not sure if I am making any assumption or what it would be. I am more in the mood for MAKING A BET than making an assumption. :smile: I have this hunch...
    So I will give you a list of the US physics nobelists from 1907 to 1957
    and another list of those from 1957 to 2007. And the kind of thing I am betting is that going forward from 2007 it is not going to look like that. for various reasons, for whatever reasons, or just my hunch. Have a look:

    1907, Physics, Albert A. Michelson
    1923, Physics, Robert A. Millikan
    1927, Physics, Arthur H. Compton
    1936, Physics, Carl D. Anderson
    1937, Physics, Clinton Davisson
    1939, Physics, Ernest Lawrence
    1943, Physics, Otto Stern
    1944, Physics, Isidor Isaac Rabi
    1946, Physics, Percy W. Bridgman
    1952, Physics, Felix Bloch
    1952, Physics, E. M. Purcell
    1955, Physics, Willis E. Lamb
    1955, Physics, Polykarp Kusch
    1956, Physics, John Bardeen
    1956, Physics, Walter H. Brattain
    1956, Physics, William B. Shockley

    cut at 1957

    1959, Physics, Emilio Segrè
    1959, Physics, Owen Chamberlain
    1960, Physics, Donald A. Glaser
    1961, Physics, Robert Hofstadter
    1963, Physics, Eugene Wigner
    1963, Physics, Maria Goeppert-Mayer
    1964, Physics, Charles H. Townes
    1965, Physics, Richard P. Feynman
    1965, Physics, Julian Schwinger
    1967, Physics, Hans Bethe
    1968, Physics, Luis Alvarez
    1969, Physics, Murray Gell-Mann
    1972, Physics, John Bardeen
    1972, Physics, Leon N. Cooper
    1972, Physics, Robert Schrieffer
    1973, Physics, Ivar Giaever
    1975, Physics, James Rainwater
    1976, Physics, Burton Richter
    1976, Physics, Samuel C. C. Ting
    1977, Physics, John H. van Vleck
    1977, Physics, Philip W. Anderson
    1978, Physics, Arno Penzias
    1978, Physics, Robert Woodrow Wilson
    1979, Physics, Sheldon Glashow
    1979, Physics, Steven Weinberg
    1980, Physics, James Cronin
    1980, Physics, Val Fitch
    1981, Physics, Arthur L. Schawlow
    1981, Physics, Nicolaas Bloembergen
    1982, Physics, Kenneth G. Wilson
    1983, Physics, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar
    1983, Physics, William A. Fowler
    1988, Physics, Melvin Schwartz
    1988, Physics, Jack Steinberger
    1988, Physics, Leon M. Lederman
    1989, Physics, Hans G. Dehmelt
    1989, Physics, Norman F. Ramsey
    1990, Physics, Jerome I. Friedman
    1990, Physics, Henry W. Kendall
    1993, Physics, Joseph H. Taylor Jr.
    1993, Physics, Russell A. Hulse
    1994, Physics, Clifford G. Shull
    1995, Physics, Martin L. Perl
    1995, Physics, Frederick Reines
    1996, Physics, Douglas D. Osheroff
    1996, Physics, Robert C. Richardson
    1996, Physics, David M. Lee
    1997, Physics, Steven Chu
    1997, Physics, William D. Phillips
    1998, Physics, Robert B. Laughlin
    1998, Physics, Daniel C. Tsui
    2000, Physics, Jack S. Kilby
    2001, Physics, Carl E. Wieman
    2001, Physics, Eric A. Cornell
    2002, Physics, Riccardo Giacconi
    2002, Physics, Raymond Davis Jr.
    2003, Physics, Alexei A. Abrikosov (also Russia)
    2004, Physics, David J. Gross
    2004, Physics, H. David Politzer
    2004, Physics, Frank Wilczek
    2005, Physics, Roy J. Glauber
    2005, Physics, John L. Hall
    2006, Physics, John C. Mather
    2006, Physics, George F. Smoot

    Moonbear, that is 16 in the first fifty-year period, and 64 in the second fifty-years. With US laureates raining down at a rate of about 2 per year recently-----if you look at 2001-2006, say.

    Let's play a guessing game. what do you think will happen to the annual rate of US physics laureates over the next year or two? Will it stay at 2 per year? Will it drop to 1 a year? Or will it be closer to zero?
    My hunch could well be wrong! It might stay constant----like most things usually do :smile:
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2007
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