Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry 1911 - 1915

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry from 1911 to 1915 including Curie, Werner, and Grignard, what they won for, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1911 Marie S. Curie (1867-1934), French (b. Poland). Work: Discovered the elements of radium and polonium, isolated the element radium, and studied its compounds.

Behind the Award--Pierre and Marie Curie shared the 1903 prize in Physics with Becquerel for their work on radiation phenomena. In 1898, the French couple, working laboriously with pitchblende--only one gram of radium salts could be obtained from 8 tons of pitchblende--reported their discovery of the new elements radium and polonium. It remained for Arrhenius to declare, as one of her nominators, that Madame Curie's discovery of radium ranked as the "most important during the last century of chemical research." Technically, the 1903 Physics Prize award presented a possible obstacle for the selection of Curie again, since radium had been discovered during the experimentation leading to the earlier honor. Fortunately, the committee noted and took advantage of specificity: the discovery of radium, per se, had not yet been the subject for an award. Had Pierre Curie not been killed in a street accident in 1906, he, too, would have been named as a prize recipient. Madame Curie's selection for a 2nd prize was not equaled, in any category, until Dr. Linus Pauling received 1st the Chemistry Prize in 1954 and then the Peace Prize in 1962.

1912 Victor Grignard (1871-1935), French. Work: Discovered the so-called Grignard reagent.

Paul Sabatier (1854-1941), French. Work: Developed a method for hydrogenating organic compounds in the presence of finely divided metals.

Behind the Award--Grignard protested the decision made by the Nobel committee, saying the award should have been split between Sabatier and his colleague, the Abbe Jean-Baptiste Senderens. He added further to the committee's embarrassment when he suggested that a 2nd prize then be given, to himself and his teacher, Barbier.

1913 Alfred Werner (1866-1919), Swiss (b. Germany). Work: Promulgated new theories on atom linkages in molecules.

Behind the Award--Werner's theories were attacked, and charges were leveled that his prizewinning work had been incomplete. Ten years later, G. N. Lewis, a codiscoverer with Harold Urey of heavy water in 1932, defended the Swiss's ingenious deductions with his own pioneer work on chemical valence, saying, "While some of his theoretical conclusions have not proved convincing, he marshaled in a masterful manner a great array of facts which showed the incongruities into which chemists had been led by the existing structural formulae of inorganic chemistry."

1914 Theodore W. Richards (1868-1929), American. Work: Determined exact atomic weights for a great number of elements.

Behind the Award--For the 1st time, the Academy acknowledged a non-European with the choice of Harvard professor Richards. The selection compensated partially for the ignoring of his compatriot, Josiah W. Gibbs, Yale professor of mathematical physics at the turn of the century. Gibb's work in thermodynamics unquestionably qualified him for nomination, along with Jacobus van't Hoff and Emil Fischer, for one of the 1st awards. Had he lived beyond 1903, Gibbs would have been a certain winner.

1915 Richard M. Willstatter (1872-1942), German. Work: Researches on coloring matter in the vegetable kingdom, especially on chlorophyll.

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