Monday, June 29, 2020
Can you name a famous living Chemist? Can anyone?
I was re-watching the Greatest-of-all-time Jeopardy championship and the following happen (I paraphrase)
Alex Trebek: The category is Chemistry and we have a special guest reading the clues.
Darling: I wonder who that will be.
Bill: Hmm. I assume some famous chemist.
So who was it? Bryan Cranston, the actor who PLAYED chemist Walter White on Breaking Bad.
Why couldn't they get a famous living chemist to read the clues?
My guess: there are no famous living chemists.
The number of famous living scientists is fairly short and they are often known for things that are not quite their science. Some are famous because the popularize science (deGrasse Tyson, Dawkins) or because of something unusual about their life (Hawkings when he was alive) or for something else entirely that they did (Ted Kaczynski). Are any famous for the actual work that they do in the science?
Andrew Wiles was famous for a brief time, and even made People Magazine's 25 most intriguing people of the year list in the early 1990's (after he solved Fermat's Last Theorem). So he was famous but it was short lived.
Terry Tao was on the Colbert Report (see here) after he won the Fields Medal, the MacAuthor Genius award, and the Breakthrough prize. And even that fame was short lived.
I looked at the web page of Nobel Prize winners, here.
The only Chemistry Nobel's I recognized were Marie Curie, Irene Joilet-Curie (Marie's Daughter), and Erst Rutherford.
The only Physics Nobel's I recognized were
Eugene Wigner (for writing about The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences),
Richard Hofstadter (since he was the father of Douglas H and an uncle of Leonard H)
Andrew Geim (since he won both an Ig-Noble prize and a Nobel prize, see here)
Wolfgang Pauli (I've heard the term `Pauli Principle" though I did not know what it was until I looked it up while preparing this blog. I prob still don't really know what it means.)
Max Karl Ernest Ludwig Planck (I thought his last name was `Institute')
Johannes Diderik van der Waals
So, some questions:
a) Am I wrong? Are there famous living chemists I never heard of? Are there any famous living scientists who are famous for their work in science?
b) If I am right then was there ever a time when there were famous scientists?
c) If there was such a time, what changed?
(I ask all of this non-rhetorically and with no agenda to push.)