TED Conversations

Andrew Kiang

TEDCRED 50+

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

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?

+2
Share:

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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Feb 12 2012: I've always been a little dubious about the peace prize... Seems a little presumptuous to award a prize for something that rarely, if ever, lasts very long for any of the folks involved.

    And, no, I don't think there should be one for engineering. I am an engineer, and I've won awards within my field. But Nobel had much broader aspirations. Nobody wants to hear about the best way to process or manufacture this or that.

    We want Borlaug. if you haven't done anything that important, you don't need a prize...
    • Feb 14 2012: Hello Alan,

      From a student’s perspective, it seems that you might be underestimating the creative potential of the engineer. Certainly, there are engineers whose day-to-day work involves mundane inspections and calculations. However, I would argue that historically, there have been engineers who have shown considerable skill and creativity and, in my opinion, would have been deserving of a Nobel Prize. Take, for example, the construction of the Panama Canal in the late 19th/early 20th century. Considering the technological limitations of the time, the fact that the engineers involved managed to see the project to completion is impressive. To this day, the Panama Canal is recognized as one of the greatest achievements in engineering. I don’t think that it would have been at all out of place for George Washington Goethals (the head engineer in the later years of construction) to receive a Nobel Prize for his work.
      • Feb 14 2012: Hi Veronica!

        We engineers have done many, many creative things, and Goethals is a great example (we've got a bridge named after him here in New Jersey)

        I did not mean to say that our work is mundane or ordinary, just that it rarely involves discovery. We generally apply other folks discoveries. Engineering is filled with great challenges (and great fun in the application of technology to problems), but rarely involves actual discovery.

        It's just my opinion that Nobel intended his (science) prizes to be more related to discovery.

        I would, however, be more than willing to accept any prize that paid that well...

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.