Nobel Prizes   updated December 21, 2010 (subject line must be sensible)

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If you are interested in science you can learn a lot about how science develops by studying the lives of Nobel Prize winners. Students looking for term papers can try to explore who these winners interacted with, their colleagues and competitors. Why were they doing the work that brought them a prize? And, who were some of people that should have received a Nobel Prize and did not? This web site touches on a number of Nobel Prizes. When a page relates to a Noble Prize there is a link on the right of the navigation bar at the top of the page. Have a good term paper!
    Scientists are judged by their concrete achievements. Names like Newton, Galileo, Maxwell, Darwin, and Einstein will probably be remembered for millennia because of their life-changing discoveries. These discoveries will not disappear although they may be extended as Einstein's relativity extended Newton's mechanics. Few scientists will be Einstein's peer but many of them will also make important contributions to science and technology. Newton himself commented "If I have been able to see further than others, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants." (Hooke - 1675 - some aspects of the attribution are clouded). For the last century Nobel Prizes have been the gold standard in recognition of scientific achievement. Only Einstein of the five scientists above received a Nobel Prize. The others had all passed away by the time the prizes were established. The prizes have achieved great visibility because they are financially large, relatively fair, and they are also rare. Nearly all of science topics covered by prizes are interesting. Most of the prize-winners are also uncommon men and women. Gifted, driven, sometimes all too human, most of them have been graced with Newton's ability "to see further."
    Once more, there is plenty of really important scientific work done by a host of other giants that did not receive Nobel Prizes!

Enrico Fermi

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory or Fermilab is named after Enrico Fermi. Fermi was one of the fathers of elementary particle physics, the subject studied at Fermilab. Fermi was both a great theorist (the theory of beta decay) and a good experimenter (neutrons and the nuclear reactor). The scope of his scientific interests was enormous. Cronin in a 2003 colloquium at Fermilab displayed a page (slide 15) out of Fermi's notes from 1948 listing more that twenty possible topics he might speak on for a seminar at Berkeley. Some of these topics even now would make very interesting colloquia!
     Fermi passed away at the age of fifty-three in 1954 from cancer. A number of the early pioneers in nuclear physics and x-rays suffered from cancer due to exposure to radioactivity before the risks were fully appreciated. I never heard Fermi speak. I worked as an operating room orderly at the University of Chicago about the time when Fermi was treated there. With modern medicine and modern radiation safety one wonders if Fermi could have survived twenty to thirty years more. He would have been a tremendous influence at  Fermilab and would have enjoyed the great campaigns in neutrino physics and the start of the collider programs at Fermilab and CERN that led to the discovery and understanding of the famous intermediate vector boson that is at the root of beta decay theory.
     Fermilab was dedicated with the help of Fermi's wife, Laura Fermi on a very windy spring day in 1974. Mrs. Fermi's interesting book "Atoms in the Family" is a useful history of Fermi's life. It was my pleasure and honor to help Mrs. Fermi with some of the information needed for the dedication speech. During the talk chairs were blowing off the podium in front of the Fermilab high-rise (now Wilson Hall). Some of us feared Mrs. Fermi would also blow away. Norman Ramsey, the founding president of URA, stepped up to save her from the fall. Meanwhile he was taking care of a very small dog that was also in danger of being swept away. The dog belonged to Dixy Lee Ray, another speaker and then chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission.
Links below are to other  Nobel prize pages within the Carrigan Fermilab site
Particle physics
Cosmology & space