Re-Prized

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the first Nobel Prize awarded in 1901. The recipients that year were:

  • Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (physics) "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him"
  • Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (chemistry) "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions"
  • Sully Prudhomme (Literature) "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect"
  • Emil Adolf von Behring (physiology or medicine) "for his work on serum therapy, especially its application against diphtheria, by which he has opened a new road in the domain of medical science and thereby placed in the hands of the physician a victorious weapon against illness and deaths."
  • Jean Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy (Peace)

The first woman to receive the prestigious award was Marie Curie, who was awarded twice with the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the history of the Nobel Prize, out of the 889 Nobel Prizes laureates, only 46 have been women. As Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette points out in her recent piece for the Hillman Photography Initiative, the small numbers don't represent the actual contributions women have made. LaFollette examines the culture surrounding physical chemist Rosalind Elsie Franklin, who was the first person to image DNA structure.

Without Franklin's knowledge, Maurice Wilkins, one of Franklin's colleagues, shared her photograph with two other scientists also researching DNA, James Watson and Maurice Crick. Because of their interpretation of the image, the three men went on to win the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA; basically an interpretation Franklin had hypothesized in 1952. For many years, Franklin was left out of the history books when it came to this historic discovery. As LaFollette describes, "Credit should go to the flyboys, the creative geniuses, not the others. 'Technical stuff' was 'woman's work.'"

In honor of this anniversary, we'd like to highlight the women scientists in our collections who have broken boundaries to capture the elusive Noble Prize. We also include one woman, Austrian-born physicist, Lise Meitner, who was overlooked when her colleague, Otto Hahn, won the Noble Prize for the discovery of nuclear fission in 1945.

Physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer received the Noble Prize in physics for the development of the model of atomic nuclei in which the orbits of protons and neutrons are arranged in concentric "shells".

Biochemist Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori and her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1947 for their work on how the human body metabolizes sugar.

Physicist Lise Meitner was overlooked for a Nobel Prize when her colleague, Otto Hahn (pictured here), received it in 1945 for the discovery of nuclear fission.

Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodowska Curie were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 for discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium.

Frèdèric Joliot (1900-1958) and Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956), 1940s

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