The Nobel Prize has the distinction of being the most sought-after prize and the fame associated with it is extravagant. There are many prizes that are older than the Nobel Prize like the Copley Medal of the Royal Society and also those that give higher prize money than Nobel Prize such as the Breakthrough Prize, yet nothing matches the popularity of the Nobel prize. There are tons of brilliant scientists who never won a Nobel Prize, in spite of their huge contributions.
If we consider the Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, and medicine, then there are only three Nobel prizes awarded per year to scientists, which are usually given to 1–3 scientists at a time. This number rounds at 10 scientists per year honoured as Nobel Laureates.
The Nobel prize has existed for approximately 100 years only. This means around 1,000 scientists honoured. It is really not much when compared to the magnitude of scientific knowledge that has come from brilliant scientists over the years.
List of famous Scientists who never won a Noble Prize
Ennakkal Chandy George Sudarshan (1931 – 2018)
ECG Sudarshan has been nominated for a Nobel Prize several times but has always missed out. The first time was back in 1957 when he developed something called the V-A theory of Weak Interaction with Robert Marshaks.
However, the publishing of their research was delayed by a few days, and in the meanwhile, a different duo coincidentally working on the same concept got published.
He was also the first to theorize the existence of tachyons, particles that travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. This remains impossible to prove in experiments to this day. However, he’s never been recognized by the Nobel committee and has remained amongst scientists who never won a Nobel Prize
Boltzmann (1844- 1906)
He is mainly known for his pioneering works in physics. Boltzmann was the one that uncovered the microscopic meaning of entropy within the second law of thermodynamics.
Boltzmann also laid the inspiration for Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics and conceived the thought of Boltzmann equation. Boltzmann was devastated by criticisms from people and this led to his suicide in 1906. He was nominated in 1903, 1905, and 1906 for the Nobel but he never received the award. The famous Boltzmann equation linking macroscopic entropy to statistics of molecules is engraved in his tomb.
Jagdish Chandra Bose (1858- 1937)
He was a polymath who has researched in physics, botany, and radio science. He was often named as the first biophysicist of India (not sure whether there are any others) who acknowledged that plants do indeed have a lifecycle and invented an instrument called Cresco graph for measuring the expansion in plants.
During a November 1894 public demonstration at a government building of Kolkata, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimeter range wavelength microwaves, much before Marconi tried to send electromagnetic waves through the air. For this reason, Bose is usually referred to as the father of wireless telecommunication. He also was never nominated for the prize.
Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)
A great pioneer in the field of old quantum theory. Also, a great teacher who has produced a plethora of excellent scientists. He was nominated for a record 84 times between 1917 and 1951, still, the academy couldn’t find that he is worthy enough to give an award.
It is interesting to note that many of his students went on to become Nobel Laureates. Max von Laue was his postgraduate student at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) under Sommerfeld. Lau got Nobel in 1914 and he had this strange fate to nominate his teacher for an award that he got- Laue nominated Sommerfeld five times in the time spanning 1917-1933. However, the Nobel Committee has a reason to explain this: He had no single, great achievement that the committee could point to, even though his collective body of work stacked up to those of contemporaries who won the prize.
Lise Meitner (1878–1968):
Famously known as “German Marie Curie” as called by Einstein. In 1938, Otto Han and Fritz Strassmann showed that when you bombard Uranium with a neutron, the element Barium is formed.
But it was Meitner and her nephew who interpreted the results correctly, thereby coining the term fission in physics for the first time. Her contribution was abated when the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Otto Han in 1944 “for his discovery of the fission of heavy nuclei”. She was nominated 48 times from 1937 to 1948, without any success. Also, one more point worth noting is that she was Boltzmann’s student.
Emmy Noether (1882–1935)
The symmetry of the mathematical equation gives rise to a conserved quantity. Simple as it sounds, this theorem (known as Noether’s theorem) had helped us to sort out various fundamental particles and to identify them.
She was highly regarded by Einstein, Hermann Weyl, David Hilbert, and Felix Klein. Her application for admission as a faculty to the University of Gottingen created much furor and it led David Hilbert to utter these words: “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as a privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bathhouse”. She was not even nominated for the Nobel Prize.
Edwin Hubble (1889-1953)
The ever-expanding universe in all the way was a paradigm-shifting observation. Edwin Hubble found out this observation using Carnegie Institute’s Mount Wilson Observatory.
Though Einstein himself found out that the Universe was expanding using his own theory of relativity but before that he had put forward a factor (cosmological constant) to prove that the Universe is static. But Hubble’s observation forced Einstein to accept the fact that the universe is expanding and made him tell that the introduction of the cosmological constant was the biggest blunder in his life. He got a nomination in 1953, but couldn’t convince the committee that he was worthy of it.
Meghnad Saha (1893–1956)
Let us quote Svein Rosseland, in the introduction to his well-known Theoretical Astrophysics: Atomic Theory and the Analysis of Stellar Atmospheres and Envelopes:
“Although Bohr must thus be considered the pioneer in the field (of atomic theory), it was the Indian physicist Meghnad Saha, who (1920) first attempted to develop a consistent theory of the spectral sequence of the stars from the point of view of atomic theory. The impetus given to astrophysics by Saha’s work can scarcely be overestimated, as nearly all later progress in this field have been influenced by it and much of the subsequent work has the character of refinements of Saha’s ideas”. He was nominated seven times, however, reminded one of the Indian scientists who never won a Nobel Prize
Satyendra Nath Bose (1894- 1974)
The whole world we live in is filled with the particle that has been named after him. He was nominated in 1956, 1959, and 1962. It is interesting to note that both Saha and Bose were classmates in Presidency College, Calcutta along with P. C. Mahalanobis, where they were taught by J. C. Bose.
In the final year exam, Bose came first and Saha came second. Also, along with Saha, Bose produced the first English translation ever published of relativity papers by Einstein and Minkowski in 1919. To this day, his contributions for Boson particle is revered greatly, unfortunately, he as well remained of the greatest scientists who never won a Nobel Prize
Robert H. Dicke (1916-1997)
Cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), which is the electromagnetic radiation left over by the big bang, has an interesting story to tell. The extremely hot, dense early universe would have expanded and temperature would have drooped down substantially. Alpher (1921- 2007) and Herman (1919-1997) in 1948 have found that the temperature of this thermal background would be 5K. As their theory could not account for the abundance of other heavier elements, this theory was forgotten.
Not knowing this, Dicke and his colleague Peeble carried out the calculation and came to the conclusion that the temperature of the radiation will be in the microwave range. As an excellent experimentalist, Dicke tried to build a microwave receiver to detect it at Princeton. The success eluded them and it was a strange coincidence that two other people found it, accidentally.
Also read: A brief history of Stephen Hawking
Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson were trying to clear out the noise that they were receiving in their microwave receiver. But it seems like this is not the effect of any other parameters like components of antenna or bird droppings. Penzias discussed this issue with Bernard Burke, who was his colleague, who in turn referred to Dicke.