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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

The Nobel Connection by Melis A. '08

2 MIT alums have won Nobel prizes this week!

Over the past three days, two MIT-related researchers have been awarded the Nobel prize, bringing the grand total to 63 faculty, researchers, alumni, and staff.

On Monday, Andrew Fire, a professor at Stanford who received his PhD from MIT in 1983, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for co-developing a technique called RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi gives scientists the amazing ability to turn genes on and off at their whim. I used RNAi during my freshman year UROP at MIT’s Center for Cancer Research. The Center for Cancer Research also just so happens to be home to Phillip Sharp, who is an MIT professor and Nobel laureate who worked with Fire during his grad school days at MIT. Random fact: Andrew Fire began his PhD in Biology at MIT when he was only 19!

On Tuesday, George Smoot won the Nobel prize in Physics for using cosmic radiation data to support the Big Bang theory and verify the age of the universe. Smoot received B.S. degrees in math and in physics in 1966 and later also his PhD in physics in 1970 from MIT; he is now a professor at Berkeley. If his surname sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen the work of his distant relative, Oliver Smoot ’62, while walking across the Harvard Bridge. As part of a fraternity activity, Oliver Smoot and his fraternity brothers measured the bridge in the unit of the Smoot (equal to Oliver’s height) and found that it was 364.4 smoots + 1 ear long. Google even considers the Smoot to be an official unit of measurement, click here if you don’t believe me.

And today, I was hoping that we’d go 3 for 3! But, it was announced that Roger Kornberg, a professor at Stanford, won the Nobel prize in Chemistry. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have any MIT ties =(

Don’t despair! Today, in 5.13 (Organic Chemistry II), we learned about crown ethers. Charles Pederson won the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1987 for figuring out how to make crown ethers, and guess where he received his Masters in Chemistry? That’s right…MIT. According to Wikipedia, “Although his professors encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D. at MIT, Pedersen decided to start his career instead, partially because he no longer wanted to be supported by his father. He is one of the few people to win a Nobel prize in the sciences without having a Ph.D.”

Anyway, our professor said that they’re named “crown” ethers after the fact that they look like crowns…so about an hour ago I decided to build one with my molecular model kit because my roommate didn’t want to watch TV and I didn’t feel like studying for my test on Friday. What’s a girl to do? So, here it is:

It doesn’t really look like a crown, but I blame my cheap molecular model kit that doesn’t allow me to make bent ethers. Wow, I’m a nerd! Okay, so I asked my roommate to model the crown ether, and now I must it admit that it’s fit for a (nerdy Chemistry) king.

In summary, to become a Nobel laureate, your chances will be much greater if you do one of the following:
1. If you choose to get a PhD, begin when you are 19
2. Be distantly related to an MIT prankster
3. Hey, you can even skip the PhD altogether, just make sure you’re a genius, or something

Friday, they will announce the Nobel Peace prize, any bets?

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