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What’s your favorite (and/or least favorite) Nobel-Prize-winning science?

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually in recognition of significant scientific advances. In my Bioelectricity class, we’ve already learned about many Nobel Prize winners. Arrhenius, for example, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903 for his electrolytic theory concerning the dissociation of ions (electrically charged particles), Nernst, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1920 for his work in understanding the energy of reactions, Hodgkin and Huxley won in 1963 for their discoveries concerning nerve action potentials, Neher and Sakmann received one in 1991 for work to isolate single ion channels in cells, and MacKinnon was awarded the Prize in Chemistry in 2003 for his discoveries concerning ion channels in cell membranes, just to name a few!
However, although the Nobel Prize for sciences is awarded formally for physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, there is no prize for engineering, for example, and also there have been controversies for prizes awarded in the past. And, so, why not ask:
What’s your favorite (and/or least favorite) Nobel-Prize-winning science? What makes science “good” or “bad” at all?


Closing Statement from Andrew Kiang

Thanks to all of you for sharing your favorite Nobel Prize winners and your opinions about what makes "good" science. In the end, "good science" is still hard to define clearly but it seems to lean on the side of working genuinely to benefit mankind. I am glad to hear there are other prizes with as much prestige as the Nobel. Good work in other categories besides the strict Nobel sciences need to be encouraged.

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  • Feb 10 2012: Hi Andrew,
    For me, I think it's easier to answer what makes "good science" good rather than what make bad science bad, simply because there are too many things that can masquerade as science when in fact they are not. The best science would be a well thought out question regarding a natural phenomenon (or series of questions) that is answered unequivocally and, as a result, solves a vexing paradox that just will not be forced to fit within the constraints of an existing model or paradigm. A good example of this would be quantum theory explaining the black body problem in physics. Or even a series of questions and answers that describe a phenomenon that was previously unacknowledged, thereby starting entirely new fields of study, such as in cell theory, following the invention of microscopy and modern astronomy following the invention of telescopes. Good science is required to achieve all of this, which requires proper controls and unbiased reporting of all data coming in. As well as carefully set up experiments so that your answers are unequivocal,i.e. either yes or no, rather than maybe. Everyone especially hates to get a "maybe" type of answer! This usually means that something hasn't been set up correctly in some way.
    As for my favorite Nobel Prize discovery? I particularly enjoy the story behind Dr. Kary Mullis and his invention of PCR. Not just because it is so useful to me and everyone else working in molecular biology, but because it is so simple that it made people say "why didn't I think of that!". Simple, yet powerful.
    • Feb 12 2012: Hey Oliver, on a somewhat related note did you hear about the Kary Mullis Nobel Prize controversy? I find the idea that good science being a product of teamwork fascinating. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Prize_controversies
      • Feb 13 2012: Hi Ted,

        Didn't know that. But I figured an invention like that may have been somewhat contentious due to it's "simplicity" and other people in the lab developing it further to optimize it's potential. Still, I wasn't aware of the work going back to 1969!

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