UK's top scientists miss out on Nobels

October 7, 2005

Britain has missed out on the three Nobel prizes for science again this year despite the Swedish foundation's interest in two leading medical scientists from this country.

The negotiations of the Nobel Foundation are notoriously secret. But sources have told The Times Higher that the committee sought references for Bob Edwards, the Cambridge University scientist who developed the technique of in-vitro fertilisation, and Sir Alec Jeffreys, professor of genetics at Leicester University who discovered DNA fingerprinting.

Professor Jeffreys was awarded the Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research last month. More than half the previous winners of this significant American award have gone on to become Nobel laureates.

The 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded this week to two Australians, Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren, for their discovery that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori plays a key role in the development of stomach and intestinal ulcers.

Three scientists were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in advancing optic technology, which could improve communication worldwide and help spacecraft to navigate the stars. Half of the prize went to Roy Glauber of Harvard University, and the other half was shared by John Hall of the University of Colorado and Theodor Hansch of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Yves Chauvin of the Institut Francais du Petrole, Robert Grubbs of the California Institute of Technology and Richard Schrock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They were honoured for the development of the metathesis method in organic chemistry, which has opened the way for the creation of many new molecules including pharmaceuticals.

This is the second year running that Britain has not made it to the finishing post for the most prestigious prizes in science.

Last year, America almost swept the board, with two academics sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, three in physics and one in chemistry. Israel won two prizes in chemistry.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize was due to be announced on October 7, followed by the Nobel Prize in Economics on October 10 and the Nobel Prize in Literature at an unspecified date.

A better year for Britain was 2003, with Peter Mansfield from Nottingham University winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and Anthony Leggett, who is British but based at the University of Illinois at Urbana in the US, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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