Category Archives: Nobel

Larry Summers on Uncles Ken Arrow & Paul Samuelson

Source: Larry Summers website, Feb 2017

My mother’s brother, the Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow, died this week at the age of 95. He was a dear man and a hero to me and many others. No one else I have ever known so embodied the scholarly life well lived.

I remember like yesterday the moment when Kenneth won the Nobel Prize in 1972. Paul Samuelson—another Nobel economist and, as it happens, also my uncle—hosted a party in his honor, to which I, then a sophomore at MIT, was invited. It was a festive if slightly nerdy occasion.

As the night wore on, Paul and Kenneth were standing in a corner discussing various theorems in mathematical economics. People started leaving. Paul’s wife was looking impatient. Kenneth’s wife, my aunt Selma, put her coat on, buttoned it and started pacing at the door. Kenneth raised something known as the maximum principle and the writings of the Russian mathematician Pontryagin. Paul began a story about the great British mathematical economist and philosopher Frank Ramsey. My ride depended on this conversation ending, so I watched alertly without understanding a word.

But I did understand this: There were two people in the room who had won Nobel Prizes. They were the two people who, after everyone else was exhausted and heading home, talked on and on into the evening about the subject they loved. I learned that night about my uncles—about their passion for ideas and about the importance and excitement of what scholars do.

Paul Samuelson (1970 Nobel Laureate – economics)

Kenneth Arrow (Nobel Laureate 1972 – Economics)


Simpsons (in 2010) predicted this year’s (2016) Nobel Economics Laureate

Source: Hollywood Reporter, Oct 2016

Millhouse picked Holmstrom

2016 Physics Nobel Prize uses Topology

The Nobel Prize explanation uses breads (e.g. bagel, pretzel) to explain topology

Related Resource: CBC/Canada, Oct 2016

It cited the three for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”

Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties of objects.

While most people are familiar with objects in three dimensions, the Nobel laureates analyzed materials so thin they have only two dimensions, or even one.

For example, Kosterlitz and Thouless showed that, against expectations, two-dimensional materials could conduct electricity without any loss to resistance. That property is called superconductivity.

Kosterlitz said he was in his 20s at the time and that his “complete ignorance” was an advantage in challenging the established science.

“I didn’t have any preconceived ideas,” he said. “I was young and stupid enough to take it on.”

Their analysis relied on topology, which is the mathematical study of properties that don’t change when objects are distorted. A doughnut and a coffee cup are equivalent topologically because they each have exactly one hole. In topology, properties change only in whole steps; you can’t have half a hole.

Cambridge University website, Oct 2016

Prof Kosterlitz heard the news of his win in an underground car park in Helsinki, Finland, where he is currently a visiting professor at Aalto University. Answering a call from Adam Smith, a journalist working for the Nobel Foundation, his first words were: “Jesus. That’s incredible. That’s amazing.”

Later he told the the Associated Press news agency that he was “young and stupid” when he took part in the research that earned him and two colleagues the prestigious award. “It was a piece of work that I did as a very ignorant post-doc. Complete ignorance was actually an advantage because I didn’t have any preconceived ideas. I was young and stupid enough to take it on.  “I’m a little bit dazzled. I’m still trying to take it in.”


Nobel Prizes: Average Time from Discovery to Award is Increasing

Source: Physics Today, May 2014

After 1985 about 15% of physics, 18% of chemistry, and 9% of medicine prizes were awarded within 10 years of the corresponding discoveries. By contrast, before 1940 about 61% of physics, 48% of chemistry, and 45% of medicine prizes were awarded within 10 years of the corresponding discoveries.

What’s more, after 1985 about 60% of physics, 52% of chemistry, and 49% of medicine prizes were awarded following a post-discovery delay of more than 20 years. By contrast, before 1940 only about 11% of physics, 15% of chemistry, and 24% of medicine prizes were awarded after a delay of more than 20 years.

In all fields, the frequency of the prize being awarded more than 20 years after discovery is increasing. The rate of increase in the frequency of receiving the award after 20 or more years is fastest for physics and slowest for medicine.

Stay Eternally Optimistic

Source: Asian Scientist, Jan 2016

Using the analogy of Lego bricks, Negishi described his vision for organic synthesis—he wanted to synthesize complex chemical compounds from basic starting materials in a fuss-free manner, such as how one can build virtually anything from Lego bricks.

… the importance of optimism in scientific research. “This is how I eventually got the Nobel Prize, with eternal optimism. Never get discouraged. Keep working,” he said.

Complicated Multi-Dimensional Problems

Source:  Asian Scientist, Jan 2016

Every individual counts

Large and complex projects such as those undertaken at the CERN highlight that the way science is being done is changing, Rubbia said. “50 years ago, you had a professor, an assistant, several technicians and a couple of students and that was it. Now you have complicated, multidimensional problems spanning a large number of subjects which each need an expert; you can no longer operate with just a team of ten,” he emphasized.

“The richness of science is surprise, breakthroughs can happen anywhere. So my advice to young scientists in Asia is to strike out on their own and go where nobody else goes. This is the only way you have the chance to think, invent things and have the time to make your mistakes.”

Embracing Luck & Failure

Source: SingHealth, Feb 2016

Two things are essential for success in research: the freedom to do blue-skies research, and embracing both luck and failure, said Sir Richard Roberts, who was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Phillip Allen Sharp for the discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA and the mechanism of gene-splicing.

He said that blue–skies research is valuable, because that’s where major breakthroughs come from. It allows scientists to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the world, without necessarily thinking of an immediate application of their findings.
“All the big advances in science don’t come from translational medicine from day one,” said Sir Roberts.
“Luck is incredibly important, but a lot of us feel guilty when it strikes. You have to make the most of it when a lucky break comes along,” said Sir Roberts.
He said, “I’ve learned to love failure. When you fail, you actually learn. If an experiment gives you results you didn’t expect, nature is telling you something.”