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Andrew Kiang

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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?

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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 11 2012: I imagine Fritz Haber is the most convincing argument I can think of, from revolutionizing warfare to maximizing food output to a point where ~50% of humans alive today could no exist without its discovery and application. To date it is the single-most largest expenditure of energy on earth (~3% all energy used). His discovery also permitted the lengthening of WWI from a few months to 8 years, as the nitrogen produced would be a key ingredient in munitions that was otherwise trade embargoed from Chile in its mineral form.
    He is a case study on blind patriotism and the impact on his values and ethics, after all he earned the name "Father of Chemical Warfare". As a winner, he is an interesting character to say the least.
    For its application to the betterment of mankind, and the worsening of it (?), Fritz Haber is my most/least favorite (and the most interesting I know of) nobel winner.
    Do we need to cite sources?
    • Feb 12 2012: I did not expect there to be a figure who is someone's favorite and least favorite at the same time! That is really interesting. His discoveries can be seen as both harmful and helpful to humankind. I don't think you need to cite. A google search can show Fritz Haber is what you articulated.
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      Feb 14 2012: Yes, I at once both lament and enjoy how discoveries can do massive amounts of good, or massive amounts of bad. I am fascinated by the people behind these experiments, and it's always hard for to know exactly what perspective to look from.

      To me, Haber is sort of the embodiment of the "evil scientist"--he made a scientifically sophisticated weapon, and even took part in directing its use on the battlefield. Yet at the same time, he can be credited with providing a way to sustain half the humans alive today.

      I find Heisenberg a similarly enigmatic figure. We like his Uncertainty Principle, but we don't like his politics (He worked as a physicist for the Nazis as they were trying to build a nuclear bomb). This bomb, of course, was never built and used, but his discoveries have revolutionized physics and technology.

      So how can we decide what to think of these scientists? This question evades answer. We can't judge them on all of these principles at once. This is what I mean when I say I enjoy the internal conflict over how I feel--These people are not 1-dimensional. The complexity of these characters is actually interesting--almost as interesting as the science!

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