12 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, March 27, 1998
The University of Michiga the arg research universities in e world, has been
honored with many awards within the acaemic onmun ity. But not one of the many acclaimed
faculty menbers at the University hauve cmed oe icf the top awards in academia - the Nobel Prize.
University faculty have not given up on their drean of the prize, and many of them still have
By William Nash U Daily Staff Reporter
G arnering the top prizes in
areas from athletics to acad-
emia has become almost
routine for the University of
Michigan. But despite its status as
a highly funded and heralded
research university, one award'has
eluded the University - the Nobel
The Nobel Prize is regarded as
the top award that can be presented
to an individual for their accom-
plishments in the fields of econom-
ic sciences, physiology and medi-
cine, physics, chemistry and litera-
ture. The other award that has the
"Nobel" distinction is the peace
prize, which goes to individuals
who are recognized for promoting
Aiming for the prize
The winners of the physics and
chemistry awards are selected by
the Swedish Academy of Sciences,
but many of the nominations are
submitted by members of various
universities. Since only one of the
prizes is awarded each year, the
competition is fierce.
"It is not merely between the top
20 or 30 universities in the world,"
said chemistry Prof. Michael
Morris. "We also compete against
research companies to make it
between about 150 institutions."
There is also a certain amount of
individual competition for the big
prize. University of Maryland
physics Prof. William Phillips, who
won the award in 1997 for develop-
ing a method to use lasers to cool
atoms, said there was "friendly
competition" between his col-
leagues and other groups of
"When we were developing the
cooling method, their was a good
relationship between researchers,"
Phillips said. "Over the years, we
worked on it. We often shared infor-
Massachusetts Institute of
Technology Prof. Henry Kendal,
along with MIT Prof. Jerome
Friedman and Stanford Prof.
Richard Taylor, was recognized for
his discovery of quarks, which
make up atoms.
The major breakthrough in their
research, Kendal said, occurred by
"There had been a number of
attempts, which failed, and we
believed it was not feasible,"
Kendal said. "And though the dis-
covery was an accident, the collab-
orate with the other professors made
University faculty have not had
opportunities to experience such
prize-winning accidents in part
because funding to the chemistry
department was inadequate until 10
years ago, said chemistry Prof.
"Ten years ago, the facility for
the chemistry department was just
terrible," Lawton said.
"We didn't have the kind of
environment that gave people the
time or patience to make the obser-
vation which would lead to the dis-
Lawton said that even with recent
improvements in the chemistry
department, he doesn't think any
chemistry professors are close to
winning the top honor in academia.
In both the fields of chemistry
and physics, the Swedish Academy
asks universities and research insti-
tutions to submit nominations for
the award. The process of complet-
ing the nominations is extensive and
limits the number of people consid-
ered for the award.
Nominating an individual
requires a citation of their work, a
detailed background summary and a
long dissertation for the nominee.
"It takes a lot of time and
resources to nominate someone,"
"People usually don't get nomi-
nated unless there is a very good
chance that they'll receive the
While no University faculty have
won the award, the University has
nominated several individuals for
"It would be shocking if profes-
sors here have not been in the run-
ning for the award," Associate
Provost Paul Courant said.
But members of the University
faculty have gone on to win the
award after leaving the University.
Former University physics Prof.
Donald Glaser won the Nobel Prize
for developing the bubble chamber,
a project he worked on during his
career at the University. The pur-
pose of the bubble chamber is to
examine the behavior of charged
particles in magnetic fields.
Glaser won the award in 1960
after the University of California at
Berkeley recruited him from Ann
"Cal lured him away before he
won the prize," Lawton said.
"Apparently, U of M didn't think he
was going to win."
The benefits of the award
Along with the prestige of win-
ning the prize, comes a substantial
amount of money.
The monetary prize has risen to
about $1 million.
The winners also enjoy a fun-
filled week of parties and fancy din-
ners in Sweden.
"They've been doing this for a
hundred years," said Cornell
University chemistry Prof. Roald
Hoffmann, who won the award in
1981 for his theories on chemical
reactions. "They know how to throw
Each year, the ceremony takes
place Dec. 10 in Stockholm.
Winners receive a certificate and a
gold medal, which is presented by
the king of Sweden.
"Since I received the award,
reporters have called me up, people
have been asking me about my past
and I've been giving a lot more
talks," Phillips said.
Another advantage of winning
the prize is the increased respect
from peers and the scientific com-
munity, Hoffmann said.
"It may have helped to do some
things such as getting my books
published," Hoffman said.
Phillips also attended a function
at the White House with renowned
physicist Steven Hawking, who has
won fame for discoveries including
a formula to deterniine the radiation
of black holes.
Another result of winning the
Nobel Prize is an instant increase in
the professor's value to their col-
lege or university. Hoffman said
that once he won the award, Cornell
paid him more money per lecture.
Both Phillips and Hoffman said
that.after winning the Nobel, other
universities began recruiting them.
"The prestige of having a Nobel
Prize winner can be alluring for a
university," Phillips said. "They
also might look to hire them if they
feel their department isn't strong."
The number of Nobel Prize win-
ners employed by a university can
help the image of the university,
University alumnus Susan Kaminski looks into a microscope to examine fruit flies in the Natural Science Building.
said David Brand, science editor at
"I think people pay attention to it
very much," Brand said. "It's a
tremendous source of pride."
But with the prize comes a loss of
privacy and risk of exploitation.
"It was good for my mother and
my university, which used me for
propaganda," Hoffman said. "But
there was also a loss of time and
people wanted my name and not my
Hoffman said people sought to
get his name on petitions within
Cornell because of his status and
not his belief on certain issues.
Some of the Nobel winners said
that winning the Nobel prize was
one of the best experiences of their
"It was very exciting," said
Cornell physics Prof. Robert
Richardson. "The Nobel Foundation
in Sweden called me at 5 in the
morning in my hotel room."
Richardson also earned the prize
accidentally for discovering super-
fluidity in Helium-3 with fellow
Cornell physics professors David
Lee and Douglas Osheroff.
Richardson said the find is similar
to the discovery of the dark side of
the moon because there is no cur-
rent practical use of the find.
"I was dumbfounded," Phillips
said. "I had a meeting in California
the day before the Nobel was to be
announced and it was quite a shock
to find out I had won."
"... it's not like I'm Michael Jordan
and everyone recognizes me on the
--Cornell University chemistry Prof. Roald Hoffman
Others said that winning the
award was a result of their hard
work and that winning was not a
surprise because success accompa-
nies great work.
"I knew we had done damn good
work," Hoffmann said.
"And I knew I had been nominat-
ed before, so it wasn't as much of a
Hoffman also said that his life
remained, for the most part,
unchanged after he received the
"I don't get discounts at stores,"
"And it's not like I'm Michael
Jordan and everyone recognized me
on the streets," he added.
Bringing the Nobel home
The University lacks a Nobel
Prize winner despite being the most
heavily funded research institution
in the nation.
Other comparable institutions,
such as Cornell, which has four cur-
rent members of the faculty with
Nobel Prizes, have had more suc-
cess wi-th the prize, Kendal said
eight or nine MIT faculty members
have taken home the award.
Courant said there are other indi-
cators of top-notch academics and
research besides the Nobel.
"I think there's no one thing that
is the fame of the faculty," Courant
said. "We have a lot of famous fac-
ulty members in different fields. I
don't think the Nobel is necessarily
the major issue."
Courant said the University does
not have a policy concerning the
recruitment of Nobel Prize winners.
"It is based on our needs,"
Courant said. "But we definitely
look at the quality of the faculty
when making the decisions."
Courant noted that although the
University does not have any Nobel
Prize winners, it has been recog-
nized for the overall strengths of its
"Our greatest strengths are in
fields (not recognized with a) Nobel
Prize such as anthropology and psy-
chology," Courant said. "If there
had been one for psychology I think
there would be good chance we'd
have won it."
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