The Nobel prizes have often been controversial, in part because it can only be awarded to three people in each category, and it is only given to living scientists. However, sometimes a scientist is simply left out. Scientific American has put together a list of 10 scientists who deserved a Nobel prize, but did not receive one. Three of the scientists who were "snubbed" are women:
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943- ) detected the first pulsars as a graduate student working under Antony Hewish at the University of Cambridge. Both she and Hewish were recognized for that work, so it came as a surprise to some in the astronomy community that when the first Nobel prize in physics was awarded to astronomers in 1974, it went to Hewish and his colleague Martin Ryle.
Many prominent astronomers expressed outrage, whereas others argued that she only collected data for Hewish to interpret. Burnell never contested the omission, but most reports indicate she contributed more than just the initial observations.More info:
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell @ Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics
- Video of Jocelyn Bell Burnell answering student questions
Historians say that Hahn initially indicated that he intended to credit Meitner when it was safe to do so but that, in the end, he took sole credit, claiming that the discovery was his alone. Hahn received the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Meitner was nominated multiple times in both the physics and chemistry categories, but the award always eluded her. Many Nobel omissions are debatable, but, most physicists today agree that Meitner was robbed, says Phillip Schewe, chief science writer for the American Institute of Physics.More info:
- "The Woman Behind the Bomb", Washington Post, March 17 1996
- Chemical Heritage Foundation: Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Friz Strassmann
- Atomic Archive: Lise Meitner
In his book, The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige, Burton Feldman suggests that, had she been alive, Franklin almost assuredly would have received the prize over Wilkins, whose contribution was deemed nominal by most in the field. In a 2003 interview with Scientific American, Watson suggested she and Wilkins might have shared a separate prize for chemistry, thereby allowing all four of them to receive the award.More information:
- Elkin LO. "Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix" Physics Today, March 2003
- NPR: Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of Science
- PBS's A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Rosalind Franklin
While nominations for the Nobel Prize are made in secret, the Nobel Foundation has released a database of nominations made for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine between 1901 and 1951. A search of the database by gender turns up a list of other women scientists who were nominated by never received an award (if you do a search, note that the database is a bit wonky because there are some men who have been indexed as "female".) A sampling:
- Cécile Vogt (1875-1962) was a French neurologist who studied the structure of the brain. She was nominated along with her husband Oskar Vogt.
- Gladys H. Dick was a Chicago doctor and bacteriologist, who, along with her husband George F. Dick, worked on the "etiology, prevention and cure of scarlet fever". It has been speculated that they were not awarded the Noble prize because the fact that they obtained a patent for their scarlet fever test was frowned upon by the Nobel selection committee.
Read their paper: Dick GF and Dick GH "Scarlet Fever" Am J Public Health (NY) 14(12): 1022-1028 (1924).
- Helen B. Taussic (1898-1986) was a professor of petriatrics at Johns Hopkins Medical School. She and Alfred Blalock developed a pioneering cardiac surgical procedure, the Blalock-Taussig shunt, to treat infants suffering from blue baby syndrome. She received the Presidental Medal of Freedom in 1964 and was the first female president of the American Heart Association.
Tags: Nobel Prize, women in science