NSF PR 02-84 - October 15, 2002
Five NSF Researchers Win 2002 Nobel Prizes
Five of this year's eight Nobel Laureates in Physics,
Chemistry, and Economics have received NSF funding
during their careers. Three are current awardees.
This year's awards bring to 123 the number of Nobel
laureates funded by the National Science Foundation
- 41 in physics, 33 in chemistry, 22 in physiology
and medicine, and 27 in economics.
Raymond Davis, Jr., of Brookhaven National Laboratory
and the University of Pennsylvania was honored for
his detection of solar neutrinos. Before Davis' early
work in the 1960s, scientists had theorized that the
fusion reactions in the sun should produce massless
particles called neutrinos. At present it is believed
there are three types of neutrinos.
According to colleague John Bahcall of the Institute
for Advanced Study, Davis "risked his career" by building
a 100,000-gallon tank almost 5,000 feet underground
in a mine in South Dakota with the hope of catching
only 17 solar neutrinos per month. The number of neutrinos
his experiment detected was significantly less than
predicted. This result played a major role in development
of the theory that neutrinos change from one type
to another and that at least one type actually does
Since 1985 Davis' work at the University of Pennsylvania
and the operation of the Homestake neutrino detector
have been supported by the National Science Foundation.
In 2001, Davis was also awarded the National Medal
of Science administered by the National Science Foundation.
Riccardo Giacconi, of Associated Universities, Inc.,
received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking
work in X-ray astronomy. Because the Earth's atmosphere
absorbs cosmic X-rays, studying them required finding
ways to launch X-ray detectors to heights of 20 to
50 miles in the atmosphere. Giacconi's work in the
1960s developing rocket-based X-ray detectors was
instrumental in tackling this problem. His early experiments
detected the first X-ray sources outside of our solar
system, the cosmic background radiation of X-rays
and a pair of stars called Scorpius X-1 that unexpectedly
emitted more X-rays than visible light. Later experiments
with satellite-based X-ray telescopes probed other
high-energy sources like supernovae, quasars, and
black holes and have provided insight into so-called
"dark matter" in the universe.
Giacconi currently serves as President of Associated
Universities, Inc., which operates NSF's National
Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). NRAO operates
some of the most advanced radio telescopes in the
world, including the Very Large Array, the Very Long
Baseline Array, and the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank
Davis and Giacconi share this year's Nobel Prize in
Physics with Masatoshi Koshiba of the University of
John B. Fenn of the Virginia Commonwealth University
was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work
developing mass-spectrometric analysis tools that
allow scientists to "weigh" and identify large biological
molecules. Conventional mass spectrometry techniques
vaporize substances to identify individual molecules,
but proteins are too fragile to survive such harsh
methods. Fenn solved this problem by developing a
technique to spray water droplets containing proteins
into the mass spectrometer. As the water evaporates,
the "stark-naked" protein molecules that are left
behind can be analyzed. The technique now allows researchers
to identify proteins rapidly and analyze hundreds
of potential drugs and biological samples per day.
Fenn has received 13 research awards from the National
Science Foundation since 1975, including funding for
his prize-winning work on "electrospray ionization."
Fenn shares the chemistry prize with Koichi Tanaka
of Shimadzu Corp. in Kyoto Japan and with Kurt Wüthrich
of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH),
Zürich, Switzerland and The Scripps Research Institute,
La Jolla, USA.
This year's Nobel Prize in economics was shared by
two NSF-sponsored researchers whose work has transformed
economic theory by providing more realistic foundations
for economic research.
Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, the first
psychologist to receive the prize in economics, was
recognized for his ground-breaking work in behavioral
economics. While traditional economic models treated
consumers as purely rational decision-makers, Kahneman's
experiments have shown that people's decisions are
often biased and based on rules of thumb. By bringing
psychological insights into economic research, Daniel
Kahneman has helped explain consumer motivations and
influenced fields as diverse as advertising, the stock
market and medical decision-making.
Kahneman's work is currently funded by NSF's Decision,
Risk and Management Sciences Program at NSF.
Vernon L. Smith of George Mason University was honored
for founding the field experimental economics. While
at Purdue University in the 1960s and '70s, Smith
pioneered the use of controlled laboratory experiments
to test predictions from economic theory. He was also
the first to use controlled experiments as "wind tunnels"
where the designs of different economic institutions
could be tested before being implemented in real life.
Smith's work has been used in designing markets for
trading pollution rights, auctioning the broadband
communication spectrum, deregulating electricity utilities,
matching law clerks and medical residents with judges
and hospitals and allocating landing slots at airports.
His research influences scientists and policy makers
NSF has supported Vernon Smith's work since it's very
beginnings and continues to fund his laboratories
and students to the present day. Smith also served
on NSF's Economics Advisory Panel in the late 1960s
and was one of the first speakers in a Distinguished
Lecture Series sponsored by the Directorate for Social,
Behavioral and Economic Sciences.