Australia's Nobel Laureates and the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize is an international award for significant achievements and research that benefit humankind. Australia has produced 14 Nobel Laureates, which is the highest number per head of population of any country.
The Nobel Prize
Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Recently, the Bank of Sweden has been awarding a non-official, but associated, Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics.
Alfred Nobel (1833 - 1896), the inventor of dynamite, conceived the idea of the Nobel Prize following his concern of the increasing military uses of his invention. Nobel bequeathed a large amount of his assets 'which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.'
Most of the Prizes are awarded annually in Stockholm, Sweden, on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway. The Nobel Prize Laureates receive gold medals, which bear the portrait of Alfred Nobel. Laureates also receive the Nobel Prize Diplomas, which are created by foremost Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers on special hand-made paper. A cash amount is also awarded, which is over US$1 million for each Prize.
Australian Nobel Laureates
Brian P Schmidt (2011)
The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011 was awarded jointly, one-half to Australian Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Riess, and the other half to Saul Perlmutter, ‘for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae’. The two separate teams set out to study exploding stars or supernovae, and both were astonished to discover that the universe’s expansion was accelerating, rather than slowing down as expected. This discovery has led to speculation about the existence of ‘dark energy’ pushing the universe apart. Schmidt’s office-mate Sean Carroll has created a one-minute video explanation of the accelerating universe and its implications.
Brian Schmidt is an astronomer at the Australian National University in the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, formerly known as Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories. He continues to work on supernovae and also leads Mt Stromlo’s effort to build the SkyMapper telescope, a new facility that will provide a comprehensive digital map of the southern sky.
Elizabeth Helen Blackburn (2009)
Elizabeth Blackburn (b. 1948) shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009, with American scientists Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak. The Prize was awarded for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. The research showed that telomere sequences at the end of chromosomes protect the chromosomes from damage and maintain the integrity of the genome. The discovery has transformed our understanding of how cells age and die, and has opened up research in a new field of molecular biology.
J Robin Warren and Barry James Marshall (2005)
Australian science: Australian Nobel Prize laureates Barry J. Marshall (L) and Robin Warren exchange a high five to celebrate their shared Nobel Prize in Medicine after the Nobel Prize ceremony at the Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. Image courtesy of Herald Sun.
Dr J Robin Warren (b. 1937) and Professor Barry James Marshall (b. 1951) received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005 for their discovery in 1982 of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which causes stomach peptic ulcers and gastritis. Robin Warren, then a senior pathologist at Royal Perth Hospital, first observed the presence of small curved bacteria in a biopsy from the lower part of the stomach in 1979. He teamed up with Barry Marshall, a registrar in the gastroenterology department, in 1981.
Warren (now a retired emeritus consultant) and Marshall (now Professor of Clinical Microbiology at University of Western Australia) cultured the bacteria, identified as a new species, and demonstrated the association of H. pylori and peptic ulcers, particularly duodenal ulcers. Eradication of the bacteria resulted in healing of the gastritis and the ulcers rarely recurred. The implications of discovering the bacterium are significant. Peptic ulcer disease, once thought to be incurable, has been a major medical problem in most countries of the developed world. Now, treatment using antibiotics permanently eradicates ulcers.
Peter Charles Doherty (1996)
Professor Peter Doherty (b. 1940) shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996 with Swiss Professor Rolf M Zinkernagel (b. 1944) for the discovery of how the immune system recognises virus-infected cells. The research, carried out from 1973 to 1975 in Canberra, has laid a foundation in understanding how general mechanisms used by the cellular immune system recognise both foreign microorganisms and self molecules. During their studies of the response of mice to viruses, they found that white blood cells (lymphocytes) must recognise both the virus and certain self molecules - the so-called major histocompatibility antigens - to kill the virus-infected cells.
John Warcup Cornforth (1975)
Professor John Warcup Cornforth (b. 1917) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. He shared the prize with Swiss Professor Vladimir Prelog, for his research into the stereochemistry of organic molecules and reactions. While they did not work together, the commonalities of their research led to international recognition.
Cornforth's research was concerned with the mechanism of important reactions in biological systems, where a group of atoms takes the place of a certain hydrogen atom among two or three, which may appear to be equivalent. The problem is to decide which of the hydrogen atoms is replaced and if nearby groups retain their positions or if they are rearranged in some way. The enzyme leads the process in a quite uniform way. Without this guidance, chaos would break out in the biological system.
Patrick White (1973)
Alec T. Bolton, 1926 - 1996, Portrait of Patrick White, Centennial Park, 1983, photograph, gelatin silver. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia: an14600815-1 and Rosemary Bolton.
Patrick White (1912 - 1990) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973 for 'an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature'. White was recognised mainly for his growing reputation, gained in publishing seven novels. The novels each portray rich, emotional characterisation of Australians, with dramatic accounts of life, love and death. Notable books include his first, The Aunt's Story (1948), Voss (1957) and his last, The Eye of the Storm (1973). His achievement contributes to the development, both artistic and, as regards ideas, of contemporary literature.
Bernard Katz (1970)
Sir Bernard Katz (1911 - 2003), a naturalised Australian citizen, shared one-third of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970 with Swiss Professor Ulf von Euler and American Dr Julius Axelrod 'for their discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation'. Their research led to an understanding of what causes the transmission between the nerve cells, and between the nerve terminals and the effector organs. The transmission between the nerve cells is assisted by chemical substances (neurotransmitters) which carry the message from one cell to the other. The three scientists worked independently of each other, but their discoveries all contribute in solving principal questions concerning the neurotransmitters, their storage, release and inactivation.
Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov (1964)
Australian-born Professor Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov (1916 - 2002) was awarded one-quarter of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1964, with American Professor Charles Hard Townes and Russian Dr Nicolay Gennadiyevich Basov. The Prize was awarded 'for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle'. Their research led to the development of the maser, which is important in radio astronomy and are being used in space research for recording the radio signals from satellites. They also invented the laser, which is now used in a wide range of applications from surgery and engineering to bar-code scanners.
John Carew Eccles (1963)
Sir John Carew Eccles (1903 - 1997) shared one-third of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963, with British professors Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley. The Prize was awarded 'for their discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane'. The research concerned the basic processes that cause the electrical impulses which control nerves and, therefore, muscular movement. The results deal with the nature of the nerve impulse itself and with the electrical changes that it causes at the bodies of nerve cells. The electrical processes were recorded with microelectrodes, amplified about a million times, and then displayed on the screen of a cathode ray tube.
Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1960)
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899 - 1985) shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1960 with British Professor Peter Brian Medawar 'for discovery of acquired immunological tolerance'. Their work looked at how tissue grafts from one animal to another could be successful without the risk of the animal rejecting the graft. Their experiments introduced foreign tissue into the embryos of mice. The mice were then born normally and the same foreign tissue again injected. The mice did not have any reactions to the grafts, which showed that they had developed immunological tolerance to the foreign material.
Robert Robinson (1947)
Professor Sir Robert Robinson (1886 - 1975) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1947 'for his investigations on plant products of biological importance, especially the alkaloids'. The work focused on alkaloids, chemicals found in vegetables, and led to a greater understanding of the molecular structure of morphine, strychnine and other alkaloids. Sir Robert also contributed theories about how plants build up these molecules.
Howard Walter Florey (1945)
Portrait of Howard Florey, c. 1960. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia: an23609885.
Sir Howard Walter Florey (1898 - 1968) shared one-third of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with his British colleagues Sir Alexander Fleming and Ernest Boris Chain 'for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases'. Following the discovery of penicillin by Fleming in 1928, Florey and Chain headed a team of British scientists in 1938 to experiment on mice and then humans.Together with a team of researchers, Florey and Chain spent the next couple of years developing a method that allowed them to create a medicine that could be used to effectively kill harmful bacteria that caused infection, illness and death. Penicillin, now known as an antibiotic medicine which fights infection, was developed to control a range of illnesses such as general blood poisoning, cerebral meningitis, pneumonia and syphilis.
William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg (1915)
Professor Sir William Henry Bragg (1862 - 1942) and his son Professor William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915 'for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays'. W L Bragg constructed the x-ray spectrometer, which was used to determine the lattice structure of crystals such as alkaline haloid salts.
Last updated: 2 June 2013
Creators: David Gardiner, et al.