Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Outstanding contributions

Sunil talks about outstanding research contributions that did not get rewarded with a Nobel Prize. He lists some memorable scientific achievements that were unlucky to miss out on a Nobel - including Einstein's work on relativity, and Pauling's contributions on elucidating the nature of alpha helices in proteins. Considering that only one Nobel prize is awarded per discipline every year, its no surprise that a ton of outstanding contributions got left out of the awards list.

This post reminded me of an article in The Scientist that talked about seven outstanding technological advances that have revolutionized life sciences research. The same issue also gives a popular science description of these technologies, alongwith an excellent chronological listing of major breakthroughs leading to the development and maturation of the technology. These seven big achievements are:

1. The automated DNA sequencer - starting with the first one from Applied Biosystems in 1986 that enabled the success of the Human Genome Project
2. The BLAST algorithm - stands for Basic Local Alignment Search Tool - and remains the workhorse bioinformatics tool for navigating through the immense amount of sequencing data that poured out
3. The DNA microarray - that lead to the formation of Affymetrix, today a $2.5B corporation
4. The yeast two-hybrid assay - for identifying protein-protein interactions.
5. The MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer - to quantify the relative abundance of thousands of proteins in a cell lysate - the foundation for proteomics.
6. The lab-on-a-chip - certainly an area of interest for me these past 3-4 years - microfluidics has allowed the incorporation of analytical methods on microfabricated chips, the resulting miniaturization ushering in a new age of rapid, high throughput analysis of tiny samples.
7. The optical trap – sophisticated optical tweezers to manipulate cells.

These advances in technology have evolved over many years, with key contributions by a number of eminent scientists and engineers, several of whom could have been recipient of Nobel prizes. Yet, in the long run, the legacy of a scientist is not measured by the number of Nobels, but by the impact of his scientific contributions, so I dont think Einstein would have been so upset about not getting the Nobel for his work in relativity .... he would have been satisfied seeing the E=mc2 actually works to generates nuclear energy for this planet


Balai said...

Nice post.
"the legacy of a scientist is not measured by the number of Nobels, but by the impact of his scientific contributions"
Rigtly said.

Parag said...

Nice post, Aditya! The Nobel prize has become a kind of 'Lifetime achievement' award. Those scientists who consistently contribute to and advance a branch of science get the nod from the Nobel committee. Due to the large number of scientists around the world, I think it is hard to single out one scientific breakthrough in chemistry or medicine every year for the Nobel prize.

Sunil said...

yup......and those are indeed some more than useful contributions you've listed up there :-)